Genesis Never Claims God Created the Earth!

We see prefatory comments before several different accounts in Genesis: 1:1; 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27. [read them now]. The prefatory comment introduces (and sometimes briefly summarizes) what the author is about to give a detailed account of following that comment. What follows the prefatory comment is a detailed description of the comment itself. These prefatory comments keep getting smaller and smaller until we simply read, "This is the account of Terah." (11:27).

With this context in mind, Genesis 1:1 is basically saying, "The following is an account of when God created the heavens and the earth," and then beginning in verse 2 we read the account of when God created the heavens (sky) and the earth. The Hebrew words in Genesis 1:1 could be interpreted to say God created the heavens and the earth, or they could be interpreted as a prefatory comment, like we see later contextually. The reason the prefatory comment translation is better isn't necessarily because of the Hebrew words in Genesis 1:1, but because of the later context. [Again read those I listed].

What I find amazing though, is that if we take the contextual translation we have an already existing but unformed and even chaotic earth, even though Christians claim God created the earth "out of nothing." [a belief that was adopted later in history among the Hebrews as their views of God developed into the highest form of monotheism in 2nd Isaiah]. An already existing earth parallels ancient polytheistic beliefs where the gods merely formed the earth as well. They did not create the earth out of nothing, either.

Contextually, in Genesis, we do not find God creating the earth at all, at least not out of nothing. Contextually speaking, when it says God created the earth it means God formed an already existing planet. It just exists. And even more amazing it exists prior to the universe of stars and planets which were all created on the fourth day. This goes contrary to astronomy and the findings of science so clearly that scholars who adopt the more natural contextual reading of the first verse in Genesis usually see the whole account as mythical in nature.


Anonymous said...

I like your interpretation of Gen 1:1 as a preface and that it's not claiming God created the earth of nothing, but out of pre-existing stuff. The pre-existing stuff was the primordial water.

In the rest of Gen 1, the author describes the order of events.

One of the problem words in Gen 1 is the use of "and" to begin Gen 1:2. Many people see this as meaning the earth exists in verse 2. Two problems with this interpretation are:

1. The earth of verse 2 is described as a formless void. I see that as a poetic way to say "The earth was a nonethingness." In other words, the earth did [b]NOT[/b] exist yet.

2. God creates the earth on day three.

Rather than "and" meaning the earth already exists in verse 2, I think verse 2 is starting before the earth exists, before day 1, when the earth is a mere nonethingness.

According to Gen 1:2, what exists before the heavens or the earth is the water.

Don't think like a modern sphericist, but like an ancient flatist. Don't assume that if an ancient writer talks about the ocean that he means that the planet Earth already exists. To the ancients of this time period, earth was not a planet containing land and sea and sky, but earth was just the land. The sea and sky were distinct from the earth. The land was thought to come out of the sea. The author was aware of new islands appearing in the midst of the sea. We explain them today as due to plate tectonics..

According to Gen 1, on day 1 God causes daylight. Apparently, the writer believed daylight was not caused by sunlight probably because daylight occurs even when the sun is not seen, but he thought the sun merely makes the day brighter.

On day 2 God creates the heaven by taking the primordial water and dividing it into the blue sea below and the blue sky above and placing a transparent firmament to prevent the sky water from falling down. Later in Genesis, windows in the firmament are mentioned which allow some of the sky water to fall as rain or all of it to fall in a land-covering deluge.

On day 3 God creates the earth out of the sea below. The appearance of the land in the midst of the sea constitutes the beginning of the earth.

And so on.

John Powell

John W. Loftus said...

Excellent John! Here's something about that flat earth. See also here.

Martin Wagner said...

It's a very interesting post, John, and I love coming to your blog all the time to read this kind of thing. But at the same time, is this kind of Biblical exegesis even necessary from our camp? Seems to me it's kind of like debating whether or not Cinderella's slippers really were glass or only just acetate.

John W. Loftus said...

Well, all I can say Martin is that I'm curious to get inside the minds of the authors that have produced this fairy tale that has caused so much bloodshed. I think Christians just need to understand exactly what the Bible is claiming in its context. If they can grasp this then they can see it for what it truly is, a series of myths, parables and stories based upon ancient superstitious thinking that should be rejected by modern educated and scientifically literate people.

John W. Loftus said...

The more I think about it, your interpretation of the creation account in Genesis is the best one that makes the most sense. I've known about it, but in light of my argument it all comes together for me now.

If Genesis 1:1 is a prefatory comment, then the question arises, where is the later description of the earth and the sky being created?

The answer: The earth was created out of the water, and then God created to sky. Where the water comes from isn't answered in the text, and there still isn't a creation out of nothing.

The Bible talks about creation by Theomachy (or divine conflict; cf. Isaiah 51:9-10; Ps. 74:13-14; 89:10-12; Job 26:7-13). When it comes to creation by divine conflict, whom was God fighting?

In the Bible there is a mythical beast named “Rahab.” According to [U]Harper's Bible Dictionary[/U]: This is "the mythical chaos dragon whom God killed in battle and thus made an orderly creation possible (Job 26:7-14; Isa. 51:9; Ps. 89:10)."

John W. Loftus said...

This I received from Ed Babinski:

To the ancients, water epitomized the forces of both chaos and creation. For
instance, the Babylonians were familiar with the chaos in the roaring waters
of the restless sea, which, impelled by high winds, would attack the shore
and wreck their cities and farms even far inland. The Tigris and
Euphrates rivers also flooded the Mesopotamian region each spring. But the
creative and sustaining power of water was equally evident to the
Babylonians in the thirst of all living creatures, the growth of vegetation
from irrigated land, the breaking of water prior to giving birth, and the
multitude of creatures inhabiting the sea and its tidal pools.

Job 38:8-11 says: Who shut the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the
womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness,
when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said,
This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt

Stephen Meyers, a theistic evolutionist, points out at his website:

Ugaritic Literature
The sea, ocean, and rivers were all thought to be connected to a single body
of water which completely surrounds the universe (Pope 1955, 63). In
Ugaritic there are two divisions of water, the earthly and heavenly oceans
(Gibson 1978, 60). The phrase mbk. Nhrm, qrb.'apq. thmtm which I translate
as "the source of the two rivers, amidst the springs of the two oceans," may
indicate this because the words nhrm and thmtm are dual forms (KTU 1.3 V:6,
1.4 IV:21-22; Herdner 1963, CTA 3:v,14-15; 4:iv 21-22). Notice that rivers
and oceans are used in parallelism. This is also true in the OT. Notice the
parallelism of "river" and "sea" in Psalm 24:2, which says, "Because He
founded (the earth) upon the seas and established it upon the rivers." By
observing a spring of water coming up from nowhere by a mountain, then going
into the rivers, and the rivers going into the ocean, they probably
concluded that all water was from the same source.

By observing the sky as blue just like the color of the ocean, and that rain
came from the sky, it was very easy to surmise that there is a heavenly
ocean. Since Ugarit is right by the Mediterranean Sea, they sky and ocean
form a beautiful pair. This awesome duality leads naturally to an equal
dichotomy of waters, below and above. There must be some source for all this
water. El's abode is said to be the source of these two oceans which might
be located at the Eastern Horizon or on a high mountain that reaches to

A Spring of water seems to magically come forth from rocks near mountains.
So water must magically come from El's mountain to feed or give birth to
Yam, the sea, the son of El. This also suggests a personification of nature.
They used anthropomorphic terms of birth, and father-son relationships to
explain physical forces.

To explain the heavenly ocean, the Canaanites used the same terms as the earthly ocean.
There must be a spring of water from a mountain to feed the heavenly ocean. Therefore, the two oceans must have sprung from El's abode.

John W. Loftus said...

This too is from Ed babinski:

Let us compare the opening verses of the Babylonian and Hebrew creation epics:

ENUMA ELISH [28] (on seven clay tablets)Tablet I Verse
1-2) When on high the heaven have not been named, firm ground below had not been called by name, 3-9) none but primordial Apsu, their begetter, (and) Tiamat, she who bore them all, their waters commingling as a single body; when fields were still unformed, reeds still nowhere to be seen, when no gods whatever had been called into being, when no name had been named, when no fates had been determined.

GENESIS [29] (a seven day creation tale)
Chapter 1Verse
1) When God began to create the heaven and the earth,
2) the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water.


Contrary to popular opinion, there exists more than one accurate translation
of Genesis 1:1-2:

A. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth
was unformed and void." [30]

B. "When God began to create the heavens and the earth -- the earth being
unformed and void." [31]

C. "At the beginning of the creation of the heavens and the earth, the earth
was unformed and void."

D. "At the beginning of the creation of the heavens and the earth, when the
earth was unformed and void." [32]

Notice that none of these translations state, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth 'out of nothing.'" Rather, "In the beginning" only means "at the commencement of time, in the remotest past that the human mind can conceive, God created the heavens and the earth." How God did that is depicted in the verses that follow Genesis 1:1-2. [33] For instance Genesis states that heaven was formed on the second day of Creation "in the midst of the water." And the earth was called forth on the third day from the watery "deep." But what was this primordial "water" from which (or in which) heaven and earth were created? Nought but primordial Apsu and Tiamat, their waters commingling as a single body (Enuma Elish)! Because it was agreed among all the Hebrew's neighbors that vast primeval "waters" existed "in the beginning":

"At the beginning the world was a waste of water called Nu, and it was the abode of the Great Father. He was Nu, for he was the deep...and Ra bade the earth and the heavens to rise out of the waste of water."
-- Creation Myth of the Sun Worshippers (Egyptian) [34]

"Nothing existed except the vast mass of Celestial Waters."
-- The Book of Knowing How Ra Came Into Being (Egyptian) [35]

"In the beginning there existed neither heaven nor earth, and nothing existed except the boundless mass, of primeval water which was shrouded in darkness."
-- Another Telling of the Origin of the Gods (Egyptian) [36]

"Sing the sacred race of immortals...who sprang from Earth and starry Heaven, and murky Night, whom the briny Deep nourished...In truth then foremost sprang haos."
-- Selections from Hesiod's Theogony (Greek) [37]

"The beginning of all things was a...windy air...and a chaos, turbid and black...destitute of form. But when this wind became enamored of its own first principles (the chaos), an intimate union (commingling) took place...(and) from its embrace with the wind was generated Ilus (Mud)...the putrefaction of a watery mixture, And from this sprang all the seed of creation and the generation of the universe."
-- A Phoenician (Canaanite) Creation Myth [38]

Eusebius of Caesarea quoted Philo Byblius on the ancient Phoenician cosmogony, "As the beginning of all things he assumes (i.e., Philo Byblius) a dark and windy air or a blowing of dark air and a marshy, dark chaos." [39]

One cannot fail to see how much the Hebrew creation story owes to its neighbors' conception of "primordial waters." However, the Hebrew God, unlike the rest, is not portrayed as being born of those waters. Instead, He is with them in the beginning, commanding them. No doubt the beginning of all things did appear both "watery and chaotic" to ancient minds, but by placing one God at the forefront of creation the Hebrews were proclaiming to the nations around them that their God ruled those waters, unchallenged, right from the beginning. So the Hebrew author was making a theological statement in ancient Near Eastern terms, and by employing ancient Near
Eastern ideas of creation.

John W. Loftus said...

I got to looking at the text itself:

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
6 And God said, "Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water." 7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the expanse "sky." And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
9 And God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear."

It states in verse two that the earth already existed, as I had said.

Then later it says God let dry ground appear.

I think John Powell is right that the dry ground arose out of the seas. But the flat disk of the earth already existed. It was just a chaotic sea. It was called earth.

Does the text ever state where the earth came from? NO! So the creation of the heavens (sky) and the earth were definitely NOT out of nothing! the Hebrew word for create (Bara) in context means formed or shaped.

But it would mean that the word earth includes MORE than just dry ground.

valuablecrop said...

Hey John, In my Bible all of the other so-called prefatory comments include the phrase 'this is the account of'. The only one without this phrase is the one in Genesis 1:1. Doesn't this create problems for your new interpretation? Enquiring minds want to know.

John W. Loftus said...

No more than the fact that the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is a parable even though it contains the name of Lazarus. It has all of the other markings of a parable. Genesis 1:1 is a prefatory comment, espcially given the facts of what Ed Babinski said above.

Jim said...

John, Genesis states that God created the heavens and the earth (v.1) then goes on to tell how He did it by successive "let there be" statements. He spoke - it existed.

What I find hard to believe is how so many can believe in evolution which to me takes much greater faith and suspension of belief than believing in God ever does.

There are no transitory fossels, there is no evidence of one species evolving into another (adaptation within a species yes but not changing from one to another), no explanation of how simple organisms could somehow "gain" genetic information over time to form into more complex beings, or where the matter from the big bang came from - it is all speculation and frankly nonsense - fairy tales and myths.

No one truly wants to believe in evolution and all its ramifications - if you do, you have no real moral recourse against Nazis, Islamic Sudanese, Hutus, or any other genocidal faction that chooses to single out any other people group for domination - after all, it is just the strong surviving and "doing what animals do" In fact, you have no moral authority over anything in this world.