Cosmology, the Study of Origins

by WordExplain

"and darkness was over the surface of the deep" Genesis 1:2

How Did Our World Get Here?

An Exegesis of Genesis 1:1 - 2:3

By James T. Bartsch


Day One of Creation: Preliminary Darkness

Genesis 1:2. The Preliminary Condition of the Earth When First God Created It.

“and darkness was over the surface of the deep”

Darkness (choshek) is the absence of light. Those who espouse the Gap Theory or some variation thereof seize upon darkness as proof of something evil and sinful that must have happened after Genesis 1:1 to corrupt the earth (see, for example, Ross, p. 28). 1 John 1:5 states that “God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” But to import a later concept of darkness into the second verse in the Bible constitutes a deficient hermeneutic. An appropriate response to the notion that darkness symbolizes evil is, as Constable ("Arguments and Responses, Point #4) has stated, “This is true in some cases in Scripture, but not always (Psa. 104:19-24). Furthermore, evening was part of the days God declared good.” The truth of the matter is that the word darkness (choshek) is used only four times in Genesis, and only in chapter 1 (Gen. 1:2, 4, 5, 18). There is no trace of moral evil in any one of these uses. The light that God created (in Gen. 1:3-4) and separated from the darkness was good (tob). But the darkness was never called evil. Rather, God named it. He called the light "Day" and the darkness "Night." Together, the evening and the morning comprised “Day One” (Gen. 1:5). Later, God would create two great lights, one to govern the day, and the second to govern the night. These along with the stars, would “give light on the earth,” govern the day and the night,” and “separate the light from the darkness” (Gen. 1:16-18). Far from being evil, this darkness, balanced by light, became part of that which God saw was good (Gen. 1:18)! So much for darkness being evil in Gen. 1! So the earth that God created on Day One existed in a state of darkness. That darkness was not evil. Nor yet could it be labeled good. Rather it was a characteristic that, on Day One, contributed toward the earth’s being tohu, unsuitable for human, animal, or even plant habitation. Darkness would be the first unsuitable characteristic that God would rectify. He would do so, not by eliminating it, but by adding light. Ultimately light-bearers (sun, moon and stars) would balance off that characteristic of darkness which makes it unsuitable for viewing anything, but which makes it a wonderful condition in which animals and man could refresh themselves in rest. The data in the text, not some imported theory, must drive exegesis.

and darkness was over the surface of the deep” – On Day One of creation, it was said that “darkness was over the surface of the deep” (Gen. 1:2). The word surface translates the Hebrew word for faces (panim, plural of paneh). “Surface” is an acceptable translation, even though panim occurs in the plural. It is worth noting that paneh always appears in the plural (panim) in the OT, even when one person’s face is in view (see Gen. 4:5, 6, where panim is translated as a reference to Cain’s countenance). It is equally true that the clause could be accurately translated, "and darkness was over the surfaces of the deep" (emphasis mine).

The word deep (tehom) refers to the waters which evidently covered the entire surface of the earth when first God created it. Unfortunately, some conservative commentators give the word deep (tehom) a sinister connotation in this passage. For example, Constable states, “In the Old Testament tehom refers to the ocean, which the ancient world regarded as symbolic of chaos and evil that needed overcoming and which Yahweh overcame.” Fortunately, Constable distances himself from that interpretation of tehom in Genesis 1:2. That sinister interpretation is certainly an inaccurate characterization of tehom in the book of Genesis, and it is driven, I believe, by the misguided Chaos Theory of Interpretation of Genesis 1:2.

There are four uses of tehom in the book of Genesis: Gen. 1:2; 7:11; 8:2; 49:25. In Genesis 1:2 there is no inherent evil whatever associated with “the deep.” Quite to the contrary, in fact, “the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” In Genesis 7:11, “the fountains of the great deep burst open,” not because tehom was evil, but because the people of the world were evil, and God was compelled to destroy all but eight of them. Here tehom is an instrument of God for judgment. The same can be said for Genesis 8:2, where “the fountains of the deep and the floodgates of the sky were closed…” The fact that God had used tehom to judge evil people does not make tehom, in and of itself, evil. In Genesis 49:25, the last occurrence in Genesis, “the deep” is part of a blessing from God bestowed by Jacob upon his son Joseph: “…blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath.” We conclude that in Genesis tehom is morally neutral, and God uses tehom for judgment and for blessing.

What was the makeup of tehom, the deep? The text does not tell us. We know that tehom consists of water. We are told that in Genesis 1:2. On the third day, God commanded the waters to be gathered together into one place, and for the dry land to appear (Gen. 1:9). Was that which became “dry land” a solid land mass underneath the surface of the water prior to that? Or were water and soil all mixed together? We cannot know for certain, for this text does not say. All we can know from this text is that prior to Genesis 1:9, there was soil underneath that was not dry, and there was water on the surface. I believe it is safe to say that tehom, the deep, as it existed by the end of the third day of creation (Gen. 1:9-13), was significantly different from what it is today. Prior to the Flood of Noah’s day, an enormous portion of tehom existed beneath the surface of the earth, and possibly under great pressure. In Genesis 7:11 “the fountains of the great deep (tehom) burst open”; simultaneously, “the floodgates of the sky were opened.” It may well be that the greater contributors to the Flood that engulfed the entire globe were “the fountains of the great deep.” Once the “fountains of the deep and the floodgates of the sky were closed” (Gen. 8:2) after a period of 150 days (Gen. 7:24; 8:3), the water began to recede from the earth (Gen. 8:3). Over the next 221 days God apparently used the same process for uplifting the land masses from the ocean that He had done in one day at Creation (Ps. 104:6-9 cf. Gen. 1:9-10). Though Psalm 104:5-9 speaks of Creation, there is no reason to suppose that God did not use the same process to uplift the land masses to end Noah’s Flood that He had used to form dry land at Creation, only at a much slower rate in order to protect the inhabitants of the ark. God raised the land masses and mountains upward, and He sank the ocean floors and valleys downward. After Noah’s Flood, “the fountains of the deep” no longer held the enormous volume of water that they once had. That volume had been largely emptied into the global sea of today’s Earth. Today we have aquifers underneath the surface of the earth, but they evidently contain only a fraction of the volume of water that they once did prior to Noah’s Flood. Massive caves such as the Carlsbad Caverns and Mammoth Cave give fragmentary, but powerful testimony to possible former reservoirs of tehom. Today, of course, the great bulk of tehom resides in the ocean depths. Today, water covers seventy per cent of the earth’s surface. Tehom continues to provide a massive influence upon life and climate upon earth.

Cosmology Index Page

Exegesis Index for Genesis

(Scripture quotations taken from the NASB 1995.)

Updated February 9, 2022