Tohu wa -bohu, Earth “Was” or “Became,” Waste and Void?

The Original Hebrew Reveals What God Is Saying In the Creation Of The Universe

When we conduct a serious study in the correct usage of the Hebrew language, we find that Genesis Chapter 1 verse 1, was not written as a collection of verses which describe the original creation of God.

The sentence, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” is an ending to God’s description of the creation of the universe. If it was intended as a part of God’s summary of the entire creation, then the second verse—”The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters”—would have been the beginning of the description of this creation. It is not. Verse 2 is a completely separate and distinct subject.

We See A Clear Example Of This In Genesis Chapter 5:

Genesis 5:1 This is the book of the genealogy of Adam. In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God.

Genesis 5:2 He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind in the day they were created.

Notice that the first verse of Genesis 5, “This is the book of the genealogy of Adam,” is immediately followed by the connecting words: “In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God.” Notice that the second verse does not give us any details of the preceding verse, but is a separate and distinct event: “He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind in the day they were created.”

We do not see this as clearly in the English translation of Genesis 1:1-2 as it is apparent in the original Hebrew translation.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

bə·rê·šîṯ ’ĕ·lō·hîm bā·rā ’êṯ haš·šā·ma·yim wə·’êṯ hā·’ā·reṣ

Hebrew reads from right to left. Starting with the preposition “In,” which is always attached to the feminine noun “beginning.” This tells us that this is the original creation of the heavens and the earth, that is being spoken here as a separate and distinct event from all that follows. Also, it is worth noting that the word “Elohim” is plural, a compound unity of God. This is to say that God is One, but made up of more than one person.

The second verse is clearly intended as a separate and distinct statement about an event which took place at great distance from the original creation.

The earth was or became without form, and void;

wə·hā·’ā·reṣ hā·yə·ṯāh ṯō·hū wā·ḇō·hū,

The term “without form, and void” is preceded by the Hebrew word ha-ye-ta, which has been translate “was.” There is some evidence that ha-ye-ta could also be correctly translated as “became.”

It is interesting that those who have an agenda to prove that verse 2 of Genesis Chapter 1 is a part of the first verse—always translate hayeta as “was.” While at the same time they translate Genesis 19:26—where Lot’s wife turns back to look at Sodom—they translate hayeta as “became” (a pillar of salt). Both Genesis 1:2 and Genesis 19:6 use the same Hebrew word: hayeta; yet, one is translated “was” and the other, “became.”

This appears to be solely for the sake of convenience in proving that Genesis 1:2 is stating that the earth was in a state of formlessness, rather than something occurred which caused it to become formless and void.

Genesis 1:2 The earth was (hayeta) without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Genesis 19:26 But his wife looked back behind him, and she became (hayeta) a pillar of salt.

A point certain—since the Hebrew word hayeta may be translated as “became” in the context of Lot’s wife; it can also certainly be translated as “became,” in Genesis 1:2. You will read from some scholars that the Hebrew does not allow for the translation “became formless and void,” but this is simply not true. There are just as many Hebrew scholars who will adamantly declare that the Hebrew demands the translation “became.”[1]

Formless And Void Confirmed By Hebrew Scholars

One of the primary areas of disagreement between those who observe a catastrophic event having occurred at Genesis 1:2 and those who do not hold this view, is the use of the Hebrew text contained in verse 2.

The term: “waste and void”, was translated from the Hebrew text, Tohu wa bohu (תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ).

This Hebrew phrase describes the condition of the earth before God began the six days of restoration (‘ā·śāh) depicted in Genesis chapter 1:3-31. There is great evidence here to conclude that the term “the earth was without form and void” (tohu v’bohu), is not simply speaking of the earth in a primitive state before God formed it for habitation. Many Hebrew scholars have written that this phrase is describing a judgment of God whereby everything on the earth was destroyed. The is indicated by many of the original ancient versions of this text, such as the Aramaic Version, the Chaldee Version, and the Septuagint Version of Genesis 1:2.

  • The Chaldee Version:“But the earth had become desert and empty.”[1a]
  • The Aramaic Version: “And the earth had become ruined and uninhabited.”[1b]
  • The Septuagint Version: “But the earth had become unfurnished and empty.”[1c]

Tohu is utilized on 20 occasions in the Hebrew Scriptures and is translated as “vain” or “waste.[2]

Bohu is used three times in the Hebrew Scriptures: (Genesis 1:2—without form and void; Isaiah. 34:11—confusion; Jeremiah. 4:23—without form and void) Bohu is always placed together with Tohu, in consistently quoting the event that occurred in Genesis 1:2.[3]

The view that Genesis 1:2 is speaking of a catastrophic event of destruction, orchestrated by God, is confirmed by one is Israel’s greatest Rabbi’s: Akiva ben Joseph.

Rabbi Judah taught That Akiva Ben Joseph Said:

“Tohu is a green line encompassing the world from which darkness emanates.”[4]

In other words, the text of Genesis 1:2, in the opinion of Akiva: God is indicating that the darkness which is described by this verse is indicative of a judgement of God which caused the darkness and desolation of the earth.[5]

Akiva ben Joseph, was leading contributor to the writing of the Mishnah and Midrash Halakha. Akiva is referred to in the Talmud as “Rosh la-Chachamim” (The Head of all Sages).[6] Rabbi Akiva was instrumental as one of the architects for the canon of the Tanakh. Akiva became a devoted follower and friend of Rabbi Gamaliel, who was Paul’s chief teacher in the Hebrew Scriptures.[7]

The Following Is A Description Of Rabbi Akiva From One Of His Contemporaries:

“A worker who goes out with his basket. He finds wheat – he puts it in, barley – he puts it in, spelt – he puts it in, beans – he puts it in, lentils – he puts it in. When he arrives home he sorts out the wheat by itself, barley by itself, spelt by itself, beans by themselves, lentils by themselves. So did Rabbi Akiva; he arranged the Torah rings by rings.”[8]

It is clear that those who were originally responsible for the correct interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures, believed that the text of Genesis 1:2 is describing the total destruction of the earth which occurred prior to the re-creative days of verses 3-31.

The Opinion Of Biblical Scholars

In the highly regarded “Pulpit Commentary,” on Genesis, chapter one, it is noted that “In the beginning: “Bershith (created),” is neither from eternity,” nor at a time specific. The Hebrew text simply states that it was at the commencement of time, without indicating when the beginning was.” The reference to the “first day, points to verse 3 as its proper terminus a quo (“A point of origin, or a first limiting point in time.”[9]), In which the beginning may have been antedated by an indefinite period.”[10]

In other words; the original creation of the Universe is not specifically stated by the Hebrew language, only that it took place “in the beginning, “bershith.” The reference to the beginning of God’s six days of work on the earth, is not a part of this original creation, but uniquely linked to verses 3-31 only.

A Verse Of Contention

One of the verses from the Bible which has been used to make the case that the entire universe was “created” in six days, is found in Exodus 31:17.

Exodus 31:17 It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made (‘ā·śāh) the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.’ ”

Notice that there is a different word used in Exodus 31:17: “made” (‘ā·śāh), from the text of Genesis 1:1, “created,” (bârâ).

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created  (bârâ),  the heavens and the earth.

bârâ: “Create,” an original event, which had not occurred previously, from non existent materials.[11]
‘ā·śāh: “Accomplish,” a subsequent event, after creation–from pre-existent materials, specifically speaking of Earth, as God formed it for inhabitation by man.[12]

‘ā·śāh is used on 358 occasions in the Old Testament scriptures.

Most often translated as “made, did, or done.”
Genesis 18:8, translated as: “prepared.”
2 Samuel 14:22, translated as: “performed.”
2 Samuel 19:24, translated as: “trimmed.”

Clearly, the intent of the Hebrew word, ‘ā·śāh, is to indicate a creative act or acts of God, whereby He takes something that He has already created and prepares it for a purpose which He has in mind or makes it complete by a further work.

This Is Further Clarified In The Text Of Jeremiah 10:12:

Jeremiah 10:12 He has made (‘ā·śāh) the earth by His power, He has established (mê·ḵîn) the world by His wisdom, And has stretched (nā·ṭāh) out the heavens at His discretion.

It is also interesting that the word: “established,” (mê·ḵîn),[13] is also translated as:[14]
prepared (37)
fashioned (1)
formed (1)
made it ready (1)
made preparations (1)
made…ready (1)
make ready (2)
make preparation (1)
makes ready (1)
prepares (5)

It is clear that Exodus 31:17, and Genesis 1:3-31 are not referring to the original creation of the universe as described in Genesis 1:1, when God created (bârâ) the heavens and the earth, but to the time afterwards, when He made (‘ā·śāh) the earth ready for human inhabitation in six days, as described in Genesis 1:3-31.

A Final Note:

It is not necessary to accept the text: “became without form and void,”(as a result of a judgment of God) in order to acknowledge that God created the universe “in the beginning,” at moment that is unknown. Even with the traditionally accepted term “was without form and void,” this indicates that the earth was not complete when God initially created the universe. Verse 1 of Genesis, chapter 1, states only that God created, bârâ, the heavens and the earth in the beginning. Verse 2 states the condition of the earth, before God made it ready, ‘ā·śāh, for man–by six days of creation, in Genesis 1:3-31.

See the chapter: “Reconciling Six Days with 13.7 Billion Years,” for more details.

[1] Thomas O. Lambdin. (1971). Introduction to Biblical Hebrew. Darton,Longman and Todd Ltd. ISBN 978-0-232-51369-1.
[1a]1.Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible translates the passage “Now the earth had become waste…” The Authorized Version says, “without form and void”; the American Revised, “waste and void”; the Chaldee Version, “But the earth had become desert and empty”; the Aramaic Version, “And the earth had become ruined and uninhabited”; and the Septuagint Version, “But the earth had become unfurnished and empty.”
2.Translations from the Septuagint and Chaldee.
There are three stages of Jerome’s work of Scripture Translation. The first is during his stay at Rome, a.d. 382-385, when he translated only from the Greek-the New Testament from the Greek mss., and the Book of Psalms from the LXX. The second is the period immediately after his settlement at Bethlehem, when he translated still from the LXX., but marked with obeli and asterisks the passages in which that version differed from the Hebrew: the third from a.d. 390-404, in which he translated directly from the Hebrew. The work of the second period is that which is now before us. The whole of the Old Testament was translated from the LXX. (see his Apology, book ii. c. 24), but most of it was lost during his lifetime (see Letters CXXXIV. (end) and CXVI. 34 (in Augustin Letter, 62)).
[1b] Ibid.
[1c] Ibid.
[2] The Blue Letter Bible Lexicon
[3] Ibid.
[4] Chagigah 12a
[5] Ibid.
[6] Louis Finkelstein, “Akiba: Scholar, Saint, and Martyr.” New York: Covici, Friede, 1936.
[7] Tosef., Ber. iv. 12.
[8] Avot deRabbi Natan chapter 18.
[9] Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary; the definition of the Latin term: “terminus a quo,” circa, 1555.
[10] From the Pulpit Commentary, Verse 1. – In the beginning, Bereshith, is neither “from eternity,” as in John 1:1; nor “in wisdom” (Chaldee paraphrase), as if parallel with Proverbs 3:19 and Psalm 104:24; nor “by Christ,” who, in Colossians 1:18, is denominated ἀρχὴ; but “at the commencement of time.” Without indicating when the beginning was, the expression intimates that the beginning was. Exodus 20:11 seems to imply that this was the initiation of the first day’s work. The formula, “And God said,” with which each day opens, rather points to ver. 3 as its proper terminus a quo, which the beginning absolute may have antedated by an indefinite period.
[11] Strong’s Hebrew # 1251e, bârâ, defined in Strong’s Hebrew Concordance
[12] Strong’s Hebrew # 6213e, ‘ā·śāh, Defined in Strong’s Hebrew Concordance
[13] Strong’s Hebrew # 3559e, mê·ḵîn, 219 Occurrences
[14] From the New American Standard Bible Exhaustive Concordance:

Categories: The age of the Earth, The fall of Lucifer

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6 replies

  1. I am an “Old Earth Creationest” with a likeness to “Columbo” the tv detective. I commend you for helping me solve this case 🙂 Downside:) I have been looked upon as a toad in eyes of other Chistians.


  2. Studying this. Thank you.


  3. Thank you.
    Clarification and affirmation of our Biblical beliefs and interpretation. It is stated in an organized “common sense” format and backed up by prolific scholarly research.
    Such a blessing to find this… We truly consider this gift from God to enable us to share our thoughts more clearly.


    • Thank you Jerry for your kind words. The Lord bless you in all your life!


      • Thank you, Rob, well written.

        For me Genesis 1:1 is saying GOD “created” the heavens and the earth”. The term “created” in this passage means GOD first thought and designed within His Mind everything which He would afterward “make” or bring into existence, that is, the physical heavens and the earth and all that is in them, as also witnessed in John 1:1-3 and Proverbs 8:22-31.

        In regards to “was” or “became”: I understand that the first stage of making or bringing into existence the “heavens and the earth” was the water; and within the water all the matter, that is, the physical substance which afterwards was used to “make” the universe. In Genesis 1:2 “the deep” and “face of the waters” indicates this. Verses 6-8 describes how GOD separates one small portion of the waters and matter in preparation for the next stage when the “earth” would be formed (verses 9 and 10).

        Another passage in Scripture which I love is in Psalms 139; how GOD frames and forms human life within the womb:

        See verses 13 to 16.
        16. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.

        May the LORD Jesus bless you.



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