GeoScriptures — Genesis 1:1 — When did “In the beginning” occur?

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” — Genesis 1:1

One thing that young-Earth creationists and the New Atheists agree on is that if one were to believe the Bible, one would have to believe that the universe, including planet Earth, is only 6000 years old. Of course, both the YECs and the atheists are wrong.

Genesis 1:3 through 2:3 is divided into seven days; six days of creative activity, and the seventh day, which is God’s Sabbath. For days one through six, there is a pattern of “And God said, __________” for the beginning of the day, and “And there was evening and there was morning, the nth day” for the end of the day. Genesis 1:1-2 lies outside of this pattern, and so is likely not intended to be considered part of the first day of creation:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. — Genesis 1:1-2 (ESV)

Because the first two verses are outside of the “days” structure, the “heavens and the earth” are, according to the text, of indeterminate age. “In the beginning” could have occurred immediately before the six days (as YECs believe), 13.5 billion years earlier, or some other amount of time. The Bible does not say.

There is much more to the Biblical case for an old Earth (or better, the Biblical case for Biblical ambiguity regarding the age of the Earth), just as there is much more to the YEC case for a young Earth. But I think it is extremely important to point out that the starting point of the creation passage in Genesis is not “Earth is young” but ambiguity regarding the antiquity of the creation.

Grace and Peace

9 thoughts on “GeoScriptures — Genesis 1:1 — When did “In the beginning” occur?

  1. Mike Riter

    Science tells us Earth came into being about nine billion years “after” the beginning of the Universe. This means Genesis 1:1 is not about that beginning, since Earth is there in the Genesis 1:1 beginning. So if it’s not about the very beginning, what does 1:1 refer to? The most likely explaination, is that 1:1 is a summary of the six days and is a relative beginning. The beginning as man knows it. The beginning of our history.

    Grace, Mike Riter


  2. geochristian


    I agree, Genesis 1:1 could be summary of the entire passage. Or it could be something that happened before the six days. I lean towards the latter, as 1:2 seems to be tied to 1:1, and yet is outside of the days of creation.


  3. There is no ambiguity if the correct translation of Gen.1:2 is used. The ‘was’ without form should read ‘became’
    without form and void meaning the Earth had supported life before Gen.1:3.
    The Bible makes a lot of sense if it is realized that there are three Earth ages to consider. The First Earth Age started in the beginning (Gen1:1) and we get a glimpse of its ending in Gen.1:2. It went on for as long as science tells us (600 million years since life first began) but I have reasons to believe it was probably only a few hundred thousand years based on my own interpretation of the Geological Column. .
    The Second Earth Age starts with Gen.1:3 and we are now in this Age which will end with the second coming of Christ. The Third Earth Age starts with the Millennium reign of Christ and will be interrupted after this by the White Throne Judgement. After this the Earth will be renewed and we will move on to the eternal state.
    Biblical support for this can be found on numerous web sites dealing with the First Earth Age.
    A global ice age lasting several thousand years separates the First Earth Age from the present Second Earth Age


  4. geochristian


    Grammatically, Genesis 1:2 could read “The earth became formless” rather than “The earth was formless.” This alternative translation is footnoted in the 1984 NIV, and is the basis of the gap theory, which dates back to Escopius in the 1600s (well before Darwin or modern geology). I don’t believe the gap theory is the best way to look at Genesis 1, but it is a possibility and should be on the table for discussion.

    Some of the other ideas you are promoting—three Earth ages and a global ice age between the first and second age—seems to be rather speculative both in terms of the Bible and science.


  5. geochristian

    Jeff (#4),

    Can you summarize what Dr. Shaw has to say? Most readers (including me) don’t listen to links to audio presentations.


    1. Jeff

      If you do not listen to audio presentations, you are certainly missing out on a lot, but you can get the same material in Did God Create in 6 Days?. Shaw mentions, and I would agree that “it is a better to understand verse one as being the account of the first act of creation, which is that of the entire mass from which the heavens, but particularly the earth, as the focus of the account, are then formed.” Point being, verse 1 is a part of day one. If it is not a part of day one, you have matter being eternal, according to verse two. So, your claim that “the first two verses are outside of the “days” structure” is simply false.


  6. geochristian


    Most old-Earth interpretations hold verse one as being creation from nothing (ex nihilo), whether or not they believe the verse is a summary of the entire passage, or something that occurred at the beginning of the creation.

    In terms of the structure of the passage (“And God said, __________” through “And there was evening and there was morning, the nth day”), verses 1 and 2 are clearly outside of the pattern that describes each day. Days one through six each have this pattern, and verses one and two fall outside of the pattern. My claim that they are outside of the pattern is simply true. That, in itself, does not prove that verses 1 and 2 are outside of day 1, but this interpretation is certainly consistent with the text.

    Contrary to what you stated that Shaw says, there is absolutely no reason to jump from “Gen 1:1-2 are outside of the days” to “matter is eternal.” Verse two is simply a description of the starting point for the six days, whether one holds that verse two is before day 1 or part of day 1.


  7. Geoffrey Gee

    Our reconstruction of past events is heavily influenced by the Principle of Uniformitarianism; originally proposed by Hutton (1785) and Lyell (1830). The Principle says (broadly), that the present is the key to understanding the past.

    These gentlemen were not, as I understand, kindly disposed toward a Christian world view. However the Principle does appear to be embodied in Scripture no less!
    From Ecclesiastes 3:15 NIV:

    “Whatever is has already been,
    and what will be has been before
    and God will call the past to account.”


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