“And the earth.” There seems to be much evidence for a much younger universe (and earth) than secular scientists believe. The Universe could be even in the range of thousands of years old, not billions or even millions.
However, we do think that it makes the most sense that there is a gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:3, in which the world becomes without form and void, or, as the Hebrew says, tohu va bohu. E. W. Bullinger in The Companion Bible does a good job in showing that the world “became” without form and void.
Also, it is very important to take into account that Isaiah 45:18 says God did not create the world tohu. If He did not create it that way, and it became that way, then something happened to make it so. We believe that “something” was the rebellion of Satan (Isa. 14; Ezek. 28). In Genesis 3, Satan is already against God. If Satan did not fall between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, and there is a 6 day creation as many now teach, then he had to fall while Adam and Eve were in the Garden. That seems untenable. It seems it would have taken many years for the pride to so build in Satan’s heart that he would consider rebelling against God, and even more years for him to convince a third of the angels to join him.
It seems that history could have played out like Bullinger and others suggest, that after God created the heavens and earth, in the following many years potentially allowed for in Genesis 1:1 before things became without form, there was plenty of time for pride to grow in Satan’s heart and a rebellion form. Then, that rebellion would be a clash of great powers, enough to disturb the earth and make it without form and void. It certainly seems that such a clash of titanic powers could have caused the devastation spoken of in Genesis 1:2, and that devastation is also a reason that it is unlikely that the fall of Satan could have occurred after Adam and Eve were created and they were in the Garden of Eden.
Taking all the evidence together, a very likely possibility of what happened is that there was the time of Genesis 1:1 when God created the universe and the angels. We do not know exactly how long ago that was, but even 20,000 years is long enough. Then pride grew in Satan’s heart and he convinced a third of God’s angels to join him in rebelling against God. There was a war in which the earth “became” without form and void, a time when God’s creation, which was not originally without form and void, became that way. Then God began to put things back in order by speaking order into the universe.
One book that covers the subject in much detail is Without Form and Void by Arthur Custance. Custance points out that the Hebrew text of Genesis 1:1 can be translated: “In a former state God created the heavens and the earth.” The entire book is on the opening verses of Genesis. As of this writing, this book may be found on the internet here.
Another book that had some insights was God at War by Greg Boyd. This book is not about Genesis, but contains evidence for the gap from his studies and from ancient myths which portray a great war between cosmic powers that destroy the earth.
“was formless and empty.” This could also be translated, “became formless and empty,” and there is evidence that that is exactly what happened.
“the Spirit of God.” This is a difficult phrase to interpret, and in fact it is easier to get a “big picture” of what is going on than a specific interpretation. This is due to the broad range of meanings of “spirit” and even “spirit of God.” The Hebrew word translated “Spirit” is ruach (#07307 רוּחַ), and it can refer to a large number of things. It is important in the study of God’s Word to become familiar with the large semantic range of ruach because it includes things such as God in motion; wind; breath; the gift of holy spirit God put upon some people in the Old Testament; good spirit beings, evil spirit beings, the natural life of our fleshly bodies that is sometimes referred to as “soul;” the life force that will animate resurrected bodies in the future; and the activities of the mind including people’s thoughts, attitudes, and emotions.
Here in Genesis 1, there are at least three main possible meanings that make sense in the larger scope of the Word. One is “the Spirit of God” is used as a designation of God in action, i.e., God was acting, brooding, moving, hovering over, the waters, preparing to bring forth the earth as we know it.
Another meaning is the “wind of God” (cp. NAB; NJB; NRSV), and according to that use of ruach, God’s wind was moving on the face of the deep, again giving us the picture of God moving and about to bring forth the earth as we know it. The idea of God’s wind gets support from the records in which the wind of God helped accomplish God’s purposes, such as when a great wind parted the Sea during the Exodus and Israel crossed the Sea on dry land. Also, in Hebrew, the “wind of God” can mean a “mighty wind,” but that idea has less scholarly support.
Still a third possible translation would be that the “breath of God” was moving over the waters. That translation is supported by God’s then speaking the earth as we know it into being. In that scenario, God was breathing over the waters, as if studying them, and then He spoke and brought the earth as we know it into being. Sometimes “the spirit of God” and the “breath of God” are basically used as synonyms. For example, Job saw “the spirit of God” and “the breath of God” as the same thing when it came to bringing him into being: “The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life” (Job 33:4).
While scholars hotly debate the “correct meaning” of ruach in Genesis 1:2, it might not ever be possible to be absolutely certain which meaning God intended. In fact, it is likely that God did not have one specific meaning in mind but rather wrote in a way that revealed His loving attention to His creation. Genesis 1:2 could apply to God being in action, and His breath, and His wind moving over the face of the watery deep in preparation for His acts to come. One thing that can be learned from all three of these possible meanings is that God was moving and preparing to bring the earth as we know it out of the chaos of Genesis 1:2.
[For more on the usages of ruach, spirit, see Appendix 6, “Usages of ‘Spirit.’”]
“hovering.” The Hebrew word is rachap (#07363 רָחַף), and here it means “to hover” with the implication of brooding over, cherishing. Some scholars and translators prefer the translation “moving.”