Question of the Week: There is something odd about the transition from Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 1:2. It doesn’t make sense to me that God created the earth in the first verse and in the second verse Earth is only in its initial state. How do you make sense of Genesis 1:1–1:2?
My Answer: God did NOT create Earth “in the beginning.” Biblical Hebrew has a much smaller vocabulary size than English. In biblical Hebrew, there is no word for universe. Instead, the Hebrew phrase that is translated “the heavens and the earth” is used to refer to the universe—the entirety of physical reality. The phrase is used thirteen times in the Old Testament, always referring to all matter, energy, space, and time.
Genesis 1:1 refers to the cosmic creation event. Genesis 1:2 refers to a later time when God formed the Earth. Genesis 1:2 indeed describes the initial conditions of Earth. As C. John Collins explains in his book, Genesis 1–4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary, the verb translated “created” in Genesis 1:1 is in the perfect tense, and the normal use of the perfect tense at the beginning of a narrative (Genesis 1:1–Genesis 2:4) is to denote an event that occurred before the storyline gets underway. In other words, the structure and grammar of the Hebrew in Genesis 1:1-2 establishes that a significant passage of time transpires between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. For a thorough explanation of what Genesis 1:1–1:3 is communicating about the history of the universe and Earth see my book Navigating Genesis, pages 25–46.