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Table of Contents



  Chapter  1
  Chapter  2
  Chapter  3
  Chapter  4
  Chapter  5
  Chapter  6

  Appendix I
  Appendix II
  Appendix III
  Appendix IV
  Appendix V
  Appendix VI
  Appendix VII
  Appendix VIII
  Appendix IX
  Appendix X
  Appendix XI
  Appendix XII
  Appendix XIII
  Appendix XIV
  Appendix XV
  Appendix XVI
  Appendix XVII
  Appendix XVIII
  Appendix XIX
  Appendix XX
  Appendix XXI

  Biblical References

General Bibliography




               "In the beginning God created the heavens

and the earth.    And the earth was without form

and void and darkness was on the face of the deep."


               "And the earth was without form..." or "But the earth had become

          a ruin...". Which is the more correct translation? It could make

          a tremendous difference.

The first two verses of Genesis chapter one have been trans-

lated in essentially the same way in virtually every English Version

from that authorized in 1611 by James I (no mean Hebrew scholar

himself!) to those 'modern idiom' versions which seem to have been

appearing with ever increasing frequency in recent years.   One

might therefore reasonably suppose that the rendering from the Heb-

rew into English of this particular passage is a perfectly straight-

forward matter without any ambiguity whatever. Not a few modern

writers would like us to think so.                                   

Unfortunately, this is not really the case.   Some difference of

opinion about the precise meaning of the original has existed for

centuries. A substantial number of Hebrew scholars have held that

the wording of verse 2 may be translated in a way which gives the

reader a fundamentally different impression as to its meaning. And

                                even the relationship between verse 1 and verse 2 is a matter of


pg 1 of 9       


continuing debate because this relationship hinges very largely upon

how verse 2 is translated.

Although this disagreement has existed for a very long time, I

cannot find that anyone has really set out to review the whole issue

with the thoroughness it deserves. Analysis of verse 2 shows that

both the words themselves, as well as the order in which they are set

forth (a matter of considerable importance in Hebrew), have been

chosen with particular care; and each qualifying term is illuminated

elsewhere in Scripture in a way which seems to show that this verse,

far from being a mere continuation of what precedes it, may be

intended to describe a somewhat later period of the earth's history

which subsequent revelation takes as an important reference point.

It is far more than merely a poetically worded picture of a world in

the making. Indeed, no Hebrew manuscript that I am aware of ever

presents this portion of Genesis in that literary form which is re-

served for poetry throughout the rest of the Old Testament.   This

may be drama, but it is written as prose, not poetry.   Were it

merely a poetic statement, it need not be taken too seriously as a

precise description of the early history of our earth, but considered

as prose its correct interpretation is a matter of much greater


The importance of establishing its intended meaning does not stem

from the fact that if it is interpreted in one particular way it can

then be used to resolve certain apparent conflicts between the Mosaic

cosmogony and modern geological theory.   Its importance stems

from the fact that it is a foundation statement; and the foundation

statements of any belief system are the more critical as they lie

nearer the base of its structure. An error at the end of a long line

of reasoning may be very undesirable but it is much less dangerous

than an error at the beginning.   And in the first three chapters of

Genesis we have the basic facts upon which are erected the whole

theological superstructure of the Christian faith. Uncertainty here,

or misinterpretation, is likely to have repercussions throughout the

whole of the rest of the system of belief.

Essentially, there are two possible interpretations of Gen. 1.2.

Either it is a chaos which marks the first stage of God's creative

activity, or it is a chaos which resulted from some catastrophic

event marring what had formerly been an orderly and beautiful world.

Not infrequently it is argued that it cannot be a picture of a "dest-

royed" earth because there is no geological evidence for such an event

on a global scale. But the fundamental question at issue here is not

the absence or otherwise of geological evidence for such an event.


     pg.2 of 9      


          The real question is, "What does the text really mean?" For it is

a well recognized fact that when some particular idea is unpopular

and runs counter to the current orthodoxy of the times, it will be

widely held that it cannot be true because of lack of evidence in its

favour. But when current opinion veers around for some quite un-

forseen reason until the originally unfavourable idea comes to be

looked upon with less disfavour, it suddenly turns out, unexpectedly,

that there is evidence to support it, evidence that is obviously in

its favour! This happened with the theory of Continental Drift, for

example, which after being popularized by Wegener, Du Toit, Taylor,

and others, fell into strong disfavour because the mechanism was

lacking. But now it has come right back and appears as a very useful

theory indeed. We should not be too anxious if the text as it stands

turns out to mean something which conflicts with present geological

orthodoxy.   The same thing may happen here.

To repeat, therefore, the question at issue in this study is not

"What is the geological evidence?" but "What does the passage really

mean?" In short, if we are once sure what some particular passage

is saying, we should not allow science to determine for us - and I

speak as a scientist - what we may believe in Scripture; nor are we

to allow a clear statement of Scripture to determine what the scientist

may observe in his laboratory. Demonstrable fact in the one cannot

ultimately conflict with demonstrable fact in the other, though in-

terpretations often do. Where a conflict of evidence seem s to exist,

we must search for some means of reconciliation: failing this, we

need not abandon either piece of evidence if we are reasonably sure

of both, but only wait for further light. Contradictory things some-

times equally turn out to be true, and in the past it has not infrequently

happened that further light has shown such contradiction to be more

apparent than real. Invariably Scripture has been vindicated where

it often seemed most obviously in error. The light of Archaeology

has consistently demonstrated this.

So the basic issue to be resolved here, as I see it, is the precise

intention of this verse: and the most likely way to succeed in this

enquiry is not to be guided by a branch of science (Geology) that is

still comparatively young and far from precise, but by examining the

rules which have governed the writing of Hebrew and by studying

carefully the statements of Scripture elsewhere whenever they shed

light.   Other linguistic evidence (as, for example, from cognate

languages) may be used to advantage to provide background inform-

ation, though such evidence is seldom conclusive. In any case, the

best commentary on Scripture is Scripture itself, and it is upon


     pg.3 of 9      


Scripture that we have to depend ultimately for light on Hebrew usage.

It seems to me of secondary importance to determine to what extent

the meaning we derive from the passage can be squared with current

geological doctrine, even though it is reasonable enough to attempt a

reconciliation where possible. But such reconciliation must always

be held with reserve, for the current scientific view with which

harmony might thus be achieved may itself fail to survive an increase

in our knowledge of the earth's past history.   Modern theories of

cosmogony and of earth history are very much in a state of flux and

the certainties of yesterday (a steady-state universe, for example)

are no longer the certainties of today.   This, in a nutshell, is my

feeling about the means whereby to determine the correct translation

of Gen.1.2.

But I also think that the issue needs resolving, if at all possible,

because it has increasingly become a fertile source of provocation

for all sorts of hard feelings and pontifical pronouncements on the

part of both its adherents and its opponents. Some will surely appear

in this book! The subject has become emotionally charged and, as

a consequence, it is difficult to evaluate it without becoming involved

in the crossfire. There is no middle ground any longer. One must

apparently accept all the accretions and assigned implications if one

expresses any opinion that favours either view.   It is no longer

possible, or at any rate it has become increasingly difficult, to isolate

the fundamental issue of the precise meaning of the Hebrew original

from all the superstructures that have been built upon particular

interpretations of it. And the quite erroneous opinion that the view

adopted in this volume originated only with the challenge of modern

Geology dies very hard indeed.

The term, "Gap Theory", has become an epithet of dissaprobation

in many quarters.   It is widely supposed that only pinheads and

nitwits give any serious thought to the matter any more.   We are

assured that the interpretation has not an ounce of weight in its favour

from the linguistic point of view....   It is linguistic nonsense "as

every Hebrew scholar knows", or so says the voice of one authority.

Or to quote the views of a more recent author, an organic chemist,

who dismisses a question that has engaged some of the best Hebrew

scholars with complete assurance by stating categorically that the

thesis is "unscriptural, unreasonable, and unscientific".   So one

might wonder if it is worth a moment's notice.

But history shows that as soon as "all authorities are agreed",

this is when there is greatest need for caution. Majority opinion is

important.... but never decisive.   We accept majority rule in


     pg.4 of 9      


             government not because the majority is most likely to be right but

because if they are wrong they are not likely to be so dangerously

wrong as the minority would be.   It is a safety device - not a

guarantee of infallibility.

Unfortunately, human beings accept authority rather easily. It

saves having to think for oneself.... We find it more convenient to

quote an authority than to become one: and such is human nature that

if we quote authorities with sufficient force or frequency, we become

an authority merely by the doing of it! As George Eliot said, it is

possible for a man to appear so learned by his quotes that the appear-

ance becomes a proof of what he believes. Quotation marks provide

a reinforcement for an observation which lessens (or seems to lessen)

the more important requirement that it be the truth. So authoritar-

ianism spawns itself.    Tremendous vocal support can be given

through the medium of the printed word to statements made by genuine

authorities who have been misinterpreted or misrepresented or mis-

understood by lesser authorities, or to statements which the original

authors have themselves since abandoned.    The printed word is

powerful in its persuasiveness! Things get repeated so frequently in

the literature that they be gin to achieve the status of unchallengeable

and inspired truths.    The cliche that the Hebrew word  (bara)

means "to create out of nothing" and that it is used only of divine

activity, is a case in point. Both parts of the statement are demon-

strably false. As to the first, we know that Scripture says of Adam

that he was created out of the dust of the ground, not ex nihilo. And

as to the second, a Young's Concordance will soon show the English

reader that the supposed rule is not true in this regard either. The

fact is that the Hebrew word may indeed mean creation ex nihilo....

and probably does in Gen. 1.1. But it is not something that inheres

in the word itself. And the word is only limited to divine activity in

one particular verbal form (the Kal), while in its other forms it is

used of human activity. To say that in these 'other' cases it does not

mean "to create" is not the issue.   The statement, so often made

without qualification, is that the verb is never used except of divine

activity.   And this is simply not true.

Now, in order to avoid misunderstanding, I must repeat something

which I said earlier, namely, that the question of whether Genesis,

Chapter one, can be squared with modern geological theory is of

secondary importance.   I do not for one moment say it is quite

un-important. It is important.  But the more important thing is,

undoubtedly, to determine what Genesis says.   Other issues are

secondary. My own conclusions as to the meaning of Gen. 1.2 does


     pg.5 of 9      


             not accord with that reflected in almost every version published in the

last fifty or sixty years.    This might seem sufficient reason for

discounting it. But it is well to keep the door of inquiry open anyhow,

and this is really all that one can hope to achieve by such a study as

this.   And I think it can be demonstrated that in some respects at

least, current generally accepted views are not altogether correct.

This book is not written therefore for anyone who, for example.

has already decided that the correct and only reasonable rendering of

  in Gen.1.2 is as the simple copulative "was" and who as a con-

sequence has no interest in any further light which may be available

on the subject. It is written for those who still have an open mind

and who do not expect in such questions as these to achieve absolute

certainty where we are dealing with an ancient language whose

grammar and syntax we still do not understand completely.   It is

written for those who would like to know something of what is to be

said on both sides. There is no question that virtually all the usual

authorities quoted at the present time, if they are not against my

rendering, at least have not seen fit to recommend it as a preferred

alternative, though some certainly admit it. But this need not deter

one, because these same authorities contradict them selves in certain

critical ways. Keil refuses to recognize the possibility of "became"

for "was" in Gen. 1.2 but suggests it for "was" in Gen. 3.20 where the

same word occurs in precisely the same form. And in some cases

they later changed their minds on the matter, as Delitzsch seems to

have done, and as Dillman expressly did, for example.   And other

authorities like S. R. Driver, unhesitatingly acknowledged the schol-

arship of contemporaries such as Pusey who held precisely the views

I hold and for the same linguistic reasons.

Some writers, of course, are impatient and cannot be bothered

to examine the question with sufficient thoroughness. If one has not

actually examined the occurrences of the verb   that are listed for

illustrative purposes in the best lexicons of the Hebrew language, one

can say with some show of self-confidence, as one well-known writer

has, "the verb  is sometimes used to mean 'became' if the context

demands it, but the verb as it stands is 'was' as anyone who has

studied Hebrew will testify". This has the appearance of a profound-

ly learned observation, but is in fact quite incorrect. It is so easily

proven false that one wonders what is happening to Christian scholar-


Some hold that the meaning of Gen .1.2 is obvious. Such writers

dismiss the complexity of the problem in a paragraph and then propose

to return to "the simple study" of the meaning of the passage. Such


     pg.6 of 9      


writers seem to hold the view that the matter can be safely left to the

ordinary reader's good sound common sense. The obvious meaning

is obviously the true meaning.

Many years ago. J. Harris wrote:

"When it is objected that the decision of the question

might safely be left to any unbiased mind on a perusal of the

English version of the text, the objector is evidently calculat-

ing on the effect likely to be produced on the 'unbiased' mind

by the mere juxtaposition of the opening verses, and by

the conjunction and given to the Hebrew particle waw, which

commences the second verse. His, however, is an appeal

not to his knowledge but to his ignorance.   It is to take

advantage, not of his judgment, but of his lack of it.   For

unless, by an act of marvelous intuition, he could infer the

Hebrew original from the English rendering, he may, for

aught he knows to the contrary ,be pronouncing on the meaning

of a faulty translation.   So that the question to be first de-

cided relates to the correct rendering of the original."

This was written in 1874.

               Some have held that linguistically it is not possible to determine

with certainty how the passage should be translated and that therefore

one must decide the issue exegetically.    They then propose that

          "contextual support" for any other view than that commonly accepted

is entirely lacking.    But this begs the question altogether. The

context of so many passages is nothing more than the bias of the

reader. To argue that "context" supports one's own views in such

a case is merely to say that one's particular interpretation of the con-

text supports one's own particular bias.   Moreover, it is difficult

to see how a context could be established for what is only the second

sentence in a book covering such a vast span of time and subject

matter as the Bible does.

To me, this issue is important, and after studying the problem

for some thirty years and after reading everything I could lay my

hands on pro and con and after accumulating in my own library some

300 commentaries on Genesis, the earliest being dated 1670, I am

persuaded that there is, on the basis of the evidence, far more reason

to translate Gen. 1.2 as "But the earth had become a ruin and a deso-

lation, etc." than there is for any of the conventional translations in

our modern versions. This persuasion rests upon an examination

of the evidence itself not only in the light of commentaries and


     pg.7 of 9      

lexicons but of other related works on linguistics, of some of the

better known ancient versions in languages other than English - such

as the Targum of Onkelos, the Book of Jasher, the Septuagint, the

Vulgate, and of the voluminous works of the early Church Fathers

(of which I have the 40 volume Scribner edition), as well as upon the

writings of the Medieval Scholars.

I used to enjoy argument, but I no longer do.   Whatever the

impression to the contrary which my particular style of writing may

give, I have not set down these conclusions merely to provoke a

battle with those who will disagree.   I am prepared to leave the

matter to sort itself out with time, in the firm belief that the truth

will ultimately become apparent. Some wrong conclusions will be

manifest enough to those better qualified than I: no claims to finality

are made.   After some years in scientific research where one

always has the privilege at all times of the sharp criticisms of one's

colleagues, it has seemed to me that more value would be attached

to a work which honestly and genuinely sought to note the weaknesses

(as well as the strengths) of the position favoured by the author.

Perhaps in an underhand kind of way, one may hope to lessen the

force of the contrary evidence by admitting its validity! Sometimes

a note of sarcasm has crept in.   This is not the best weapon as I

know only too well - but it can add spice to an otherwise rather indi-

gestible menu. Occasionally it has been necessary to repudiate or

ignore a favourable line of argument which others have felt important.

But this has usually been done only where the evidence is of an

ambiguous nature. For example, the command given to Noah, after

the old order had been destroyed by the Flood, was to "replenish"

the earth. The same command was given centuries earlier to Adam

(Gen. 1.28).   One could argue that the implications of the second

occasion should properly apply to the first also, thus allowing one to

assume a similar situation - namely, an old, old order destroyed, an

emptied world in need of re-filling. Perhaps.... Yet the Hebrew

word  (malah) does not really mean to re-fill, but only to fill.

There are other such instances. The evidence is not, to my mind,

decisive enough and has not been considered worthy of inclusion. The

case is strong in its own right and needs no doubtful assists.   A

series of appendices provides background evidence (in some quantity)

without disrupting the flow of the argument in the text itself.

So these, then, are the principles upon which this volume has been

written.   We hope only by opening out fresh views that we may

contribute light to minds of greater precision who may thus be enabled

to hit upon the exact truth.


     pg.8 of 9      


One further matter which I consider of some importance before

proceeding to this study. There are not available to me any libraries

of the kind which would hold volumes particularly relevant to the issue

involved here. Some of the Jewish literature, for example, is not

obtainable for study, and I lack a few of the older commentaries of

such scholars as Keil, for example.   As far as possible, I have

purchased copies of everything I could locate in Europe, in England,

and in the United States. Sometimes a particularly desirable work

has been advertised in some catalogue but sold before my order

reached the agent. At other times I have been more than ordinarily


On the whole, my own research library forms an enviable collect-

ion. Nevertheless, I am still limited to secondary sources in some

important areas, besides being very limited indeed with respect to

the reading of works in other languages - such as German. I greatly

dislike quoting second-hand but it has been unavoidable at times.

The reader will quickly discern where this has occurred, but I have

made every attempt to make it apparent.   By far the greater part

of this volume, however, is based on first hand verification.   The

loan facilities (by mail) of libraries such as that of the University

of Toronto have been used to advantage but many theological colleges

whose holdings would have proved most valuable do not have such


And, lastly, translations from Hebrew, Greek, or Latin are my

own unless otherwise stated.   The Italians have a proverb: trad-

ittore traditture, 'to translate is to betray'. I may now and then

have betrayed the original, albeit unintentionally. But some free-

dom in the use of idiom is essential, and in my rendering of the Latin

quotations, for example, I may have taken liberties which a purist

will not like.   But the original is also given in any case - and I do

not believe any injustice has been done to the excerpts.


     pg.9 of 9     


 Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved   


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