Bibliotheca Sacra

 A Response to the Book Review

Published in Bibliotheca Sacra, October-December 2005 issue

by Gorman Gray 

Mr. Douglas Bozung has reviewed my book, The Age of the Universe: What Are the Biblical Limits? I was pleased with the tone of his article which was refreshing and without the rancor often generated on this controversial subject.

He selected one chapter entitled “Four Foundational Imperatives” to direct our attention. Being a Hebrew student, most of his remarks relate, not to the overall picture, but to grammar, syntax and dictionary sources for authentication (or lack thereof) of the translations and interpretation I have chosen.

Mr. Bozung, understandably, could not address everything in my book but in reference to his objections I cannot make myself understood very well without introducing an interpretive device which I have found central to understanding Genesis 1 and in particular the earth’s condition on the first day. I call it the subtraction method which is described following. 

We uniformly agree that on day six the earth and the biosphere was completed and perfect, so by carefully subtracting each day’s work we can deduce the condition described as “tohu wabohu.” What does God mean, “Now the earth was tohu wabohu and darkness was on the surface of the ocean?” I quote from the book pages 28-30.

SPECIAL INTERPRETIVE DEVICES

Expositors have argued over the meaning of tohu wabohu (KJV without form and void) without unanimity for centuries. But by starting at day six, when we know the earth was “very good” and “rewinding” through each day’s work, we are able to forcefully evict the “fluidic chaos,” or a vague ball of water concept. “Without form and void” is also unacceptable. This “subtraction method” requires a fully formed, coherent, ocean-covered planet, all created with the heavens at verse one. Here is the rather simple reasoning.

Subtracting day six, we lose Adam and much animal life. The loss of day five leaves plant life untouched but no fish or birds remain. With day four subtracted we lose the stars, and the greater and lesser lights; at least they are not “given forth” (nathan) in the air and cannot function for signs, seasons, days and years. Their “light had been sealed off (Job 9:7 NIV). But the planet is still fully formed and intact. We still have an ocean, continental lands, the rocky crust, mantle and the gaseous, biologically favorable atmosphere. Even when we lose day three, only plant life is missing and the continents become submerged. The planet is now totally covered with a sterile ocean but it is very much the same planetary base. As we subtract day two, only the non aqueous atmosphere is lost. The waters are divided between the ocean below and an atmosphere of pure water in some clouded form above the ocean. The “waters above” now contact, but remain above, the ocean surface. But light is permitted through this exclusively water-laden atmosphere and we have never lost day and night. An observer riding on the rotating planet would experience evening and morning.

Now subtract day one and we will be at the condition called “tohu wabohu.” Let us be careful not to extinguish all light throughout the universe with the loss of day one, because the plain description only specifies the ocean surface as being dark; nothing more. “The earth was deserted and empty and darkness was on the surface of the ocean.” Light was absent from the ocean surface because the “cloud of thick darkness” surrounded the newborn earth like “swaddling clothes and a garment” clothe a newborn baby (See Job 38:1-9 discussed below). Apparently, the “waters above” must become so dense, if we subtract day one, that light cannot penetrate and there are no evenings or mornings for an observer to experience.

What do we have left? We have a genuine planet, with its with its rocky crust enveloped in water, a featureless ocean which itself is also enveloped in an opaque water cloud, giving total darkness to the surface. The earth is barren and empty, desolate and void, uninhabited and waste, in short, the earth is “tohu wabohu.”

Now, where is the fluidic chaos imagined by some? It is nonexistent. God did not create a completed biosphere but neither did He create a chaotic earth  It was not “unformed and unfilled” or “without form” or “a formless mass” or “formless.” It was barren and empty, yes, but, make no mistake, it was an earth–perfect, fully formed, uninhabited, without chaos, and without a biosphere. “Tohu” may mean chaos in other settings but here it is constrained by the context to mean barren or uninhabited, desolate or deserted. It is a created planet–not a blob of fluid, thus answering the question, “What is meant by “earth”” in the opening verse.

The subtraction method appears to be an infallible device for interpretation with no way of squeaking out of the conclusion that tohu wabohu, describing the earth, means “desolate and empty” or similar renditions. By no means does this described earth mean “chaos,” (early Greeks) or a mere “mass of water,” (Humphreys 6, p32) or “all the matter in the universe” (Morris 8, p50) or “unformed and unfilled” (Fields 14, p129). It simply does not mean “formless” and when that idea crumbles, ancillary arguments collapse forever with it. “Without form” is perhaps the worst possible translation of a most crucial scripture. Rather the earth is a full-fledged planet created and complete (although minus a biosphere) at verse one.

If the subtraction method can be established, many other conclusions are established, like freight cars follow the locomotive. One of those conclusions invalidates the idea that verse one is only a summary statement because actual hardware is shown to have resulted from creating the heavens and the earth. This eliminates the summary or introduction assumption because a summary deals with topical ideas, not hardware. Another of those conclusions is that tehowm, while it does, indeed, mean “abyss,” is merely another name for “the ocean” as in almost all (and perhaps all) usages and should not be translated with an obscure “the deep.” There is nothing obscure about the earth and its ocean described here. Furthermore, the subtraction method logically limits the “raqiya” (expanse) to the local atmosphere where birds fly. The six day activity refers to the earth, the whole earth and nothing but the earth, including the activities of day four. The great lights and stars provided signs, seasons days and years as viewed from the earth, not Mars or Pluto.

Since the earth is shown to be a completed body and entirely covered with ocean, then we must ask, “Does it follow that the heavens were also created at verse one in a similar state of completion, shining and orbiting with the earth?” The answer is, “Yes.” David defines celestial heavens as sun, moon and stars (Psalms 8 and 19). “When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained, what is man that you are mindful of him?” No exegetical basis exists for defining “heavens” as space or the space-time continuum using twentieth century concepts meaningless to Moses. To take such liberties in word definition is nothing short of bad and misleading exegesis. Why would the earth be created as a planet (established firmly by the subtraction method) and the stars not be corporeally created, when the text intones both earth and stars? If the sun and stars were created on the fourth day then would not verse one read, “In the beginning God created the earth and the heavens?” Rather it reads, In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Stars first, then earth.

This subtraction method forcefully evicts the chaos idea of primordial earth and many erroneous concepts prevailing today. Any Bible translation that renders verse two as “without form, formless, a formless mass or unformed” is thus shown to be in basic error with inevitable, consequent confusion–perhaps the all-time champion of misleading translations. The subtraction method establishes a completed, non-chaotic planet before day one and proves that respected translators, like the rest of us, can err big time.

It is amazing how astute and learned theologians can take such simple language and turn it into an incomprehensible fog. How many brilliant thinkers have seen chaos and disorder from verse two when the planet should be described as “uninhabited and empty” or similar renditions, certainly not chaos. How misleading is a poor translation! One must ask, “How many other errors are promoted by well-meaning but mistaken expositors?” I caution myself as well.

The subtraction method is basically important. But secondly, also basic is the deeper meaning of the entire sentence, “Now the earth was deserted and empty and darkness was on the surface of the ocean.” Does the Bible give us clues as to the nature of this darkness? How long did darkness prevail over the ocean surface before the first day? Readers need more background on this concept also, so again I quote from the book.

A MISSING KEY

Job 38:9 (a primary creation passage relating to earth’s “foundation” and birth) reads, “I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band (over the sea).” It is a crucial creation passage yet almost totally ignored by origins theorists and, as one might expect from such an obvious and fundamental omission, major errors have resulted. The concept of a “cloud of thick darkness” enveloping the earth, is central to understanding Genesis 1 but this truth is missing from the plethora of origins books available today whether creationist or intelligent design.

As Columbus sought India and discovered two continents in between, so origin theorists need to discover Job 38:9 and a multitude of overlooked realities. The message is plain enough just from reading Genesis 1 with no reference to Job, but Job enhances and explains the “waters that were above” in Genesis. No “day one” can occur until that primeval cloud is at least partially dispersed to a heavy overcast (to allow light to penetrate to the “surface of the ocean”) and there can be no sun, moon and stars visible until full transparency is achieved on day four. The “darkness” before day one must have been total, like that of the three day judgment over Egypt (Exodus10:21). The duration of this state is not defined. Biblically, darkness on the ocean could have lasted for two weeks or a billion years. God may have used the cloud of thick darkness as an insulator to preserve the planet’s heat and chemistry while He “waited” for light to arrive from distant galaxies. That is sheer speculation, of course. The only certain thing is that a cloud of thick darkness enveloped the ocean-covered earth, and no one knows the duration of that darkness, and therefore, no one knows the age of the earth mineral base.

So the question is, “Was there or was there not a cloud of thick darkness surrounding the newborn earth like swaddling clothes and a blanket surround a newborn babe?” This is more than an unsubstantiated assertion but is required from the simple language of Genesis 1:2. If God had said, “Darkness was very where,” and then, “Let there be light,” my statement would be a baseless assertion, but if darkness is specified on the surface of the ocean, one local area, then the implication is unavoidable that elsewhere there was light. This necessary background allows me to address Mr. Bozung’s concerns more sensibly. Now to his objections.

The “Four Foundational Imperatives” which I proposed were: 1) Genesis 1:1-2 records an event – not a summary. 2) Genesis 1:1-2 precedes the first day chronologically. 3) Asah means to do or work,- not create in Genesis 1:16 and Exodus 20:11. 4) Exodus 20:11 refers to air, land and sea, not stars, planet earth and sea. Mr. Bozung approved points one and two, but he objected to points three and four so I will confine my response to his objections beginning with point three.

He dislikes my rendering nathan (Genesis 1:17) as “And God gave them forth (the great lights and the stars) in the expanse of the air to give light upon the earth.” He asserts, “Yet this rendering (“give forth” for nathan) is not attested in any Hebrew lexicon.” 

That may be true for lexicons but at least one prestigious source validates my choice. The KJV in Numbers 20:8 reads, “Speak ye to the rock before their eyes and it shall give forth his water…” But it is a small point and if a problem, just remove the “forth” modifier. It is there only to help the flow of English as the KJV people used it in Numbers.

Mr. Bozung also writes, “Gray’s assertion that day one provided merely a translucence for an observer on earth is just that – an assertion. There is nothing explicit in the text to support his view of a partial removal of the darkness on day one and subsequent complete removal of the darkness on day four. Gray is forced to this expedient because he has no other way of explaining what happened on day four given his position on verses 1 and 2. In summary this third imperative lacks lexical and exegetical support.”

When something is not explicit but there exists an insurmountable logical necessity, then one does not need explicits more than that. Where in the Old Testament does it explicitly state that Abel or Enoch or Noah or Rahab or Jephthah exercised faith? Nowhere, but the writer of Hebrews found it as a logical necessity, evident from the actions of all these old covenant believers. Some say God is not mentioned in the book of Esther, but God is everywhere in the book of Esther and with no explicit textual support. If there was a cloud of thick darkness surrounding the earth at its birth, then it had to be cleared to at least translucence before there could be a first day, and no matter when God created the great lights and stars, they could not be seen for signs and seasons until the atmosphere was cleared to transparency. It is a logical necessity, and every bit as valid as an explicit textual reference. I feel that my friendly critic is hung up on semantics when the big picture is clear and irrefutable.

He also emphasizes as a bad choice for me to render asah as “brought forth” in Genesis 1:16 but I remind readers that I provided a dozen alternative choices. On page 138 summary I suggest: 

Hence a better translation, which does not mislead casual readers is enjoined for day four. “God brought forth, or prepared, or established, or did, or put into execution, or produced, or performed, or brought about, or put, or arranged, or provided, or set in order two great lights and the stars” on day four–take your pick. Or make up a word which is a blend of all those choices and it will probably be close to “did.” “Made” is okay if accompanied and understood with the Jonah caveat. The verb is a commonly translated over six dozen ways including those cited above. “Do” or “did” is, by far, the most common translation.

So his hangup on my choice of “brought forth” is not justified. We may take our pick. My point is that “made” tends to mislead unless understood in the same way that Jonah tells us that Yahweh “made” the sea and the dry land. Day three is clear that the making of the dry land was accomplished by uncovering it or thrusting the land above water, not creation ex-nihilo. So also on day four God made the great lights and stars by clearing the translucence of day one to transparency. It is a logical necessity. So what if the lexicons restrict the phrase to agricultural uses? What God actually did on day four was to bring forth the celestial bodies to visibility. But if you do not like that one use “did.” Or if you choose “made” think of it in the Jonah context first and the day three “making” of dry land which constrains the meaning of making stars on day four. It is imperative that we understand the wide latitude and uses of the Hebrew verb asah (basically to do).

Point four in my book states: “Exodus 20:11 refers to air, land and sea – NOT to stars, planet earth and sea.” 

Mr. Bozung states, “This is perhaps the most problematic verse to reconcile with Gray’s view.” He says that it overly restricts the term shamayim in chapter one because “air” is used as a translation only in association with birds. He states further that shamayim refers to all that one can see when looking up: birds, clouds and celestial bodies. He concludes, “In summary, Gray’s novel translation of Exodus 20:11 does not accord with the evidence of usage and meaning of the Hebrew text. His (my) translation is in fact and expedient that is necessitated by the view he takes of Genesis 1.” (My “novel rendition” was, “For six days Yahweh worked on the air, the land and the sea and all that is in them and rested the seventh day.”)

Well, firstly, the same dual meaning of shamayim applies to our word “heavens.” When we say, “The heavens are threatening rain,” we mean the atmosphere of air but when we say, “Orion is visible in the heavens,” we mean the stellar heavens. So shamayim means air when referring to the raqiya (expanse) where birds fly (Genesis 1:20) but the stellar heavens when referring to the universe (Genesis 1:1). I could have used the usual choice of translators for shamayim (heaven) but then no one would know which I was referring to, and that is essential to the discussion. The purpose of translation is to be as clear as possible as to the writer’s meaning in a specific context, not to conform to a count of how many times various translators rendered a word and not to accord with assumed laws of lexicography or semantics. Shamayim during the six day work is identified with raqiya which is identified with birds which is identified with air and excluded to air.

If “heaven” means “all one can see when looking up: birds, clouds and celestial bodies” then consider on days two and three, one could not see birds, nor celestial bodies when looking up – only clouds and felt breezes, because a cloud of thick darkness surrounded the earth like a diaper and blanket surrounds a newborn. If there had been three suns, ten moons and double quantity of stars they would not be visible from man’s home until cleared to transparency on day four. It is a logical necessity.

Mr. Bozung makes the assertion that “…verse 15 and verse 20 bring together the modern concepts of “atmosphere” and “outer space” in one phrase…” “the expanse of the heavens”…” but that is merely his assertion. Nowhere in the Bible does God go to the trouble of defining any words except during the six day record. He defines the daily accomplishments in the simplest of terms which small children can understand such as Day, Night, Sea, and Dry land, So would He define raqiya on day two in terms of things which did not even exist yet? Some say the shamayim is the “space-time continuum!” Small children know what day and night are, and they know what the sea and dry land are, but now they must leap into the 20th century physics and be sure to understand that “heaven” is the space-time continuum! If raqiya is space, that leaves God with failing to record the creation of the air anywhere. Air happens to be a biological necessity. No, raqiya is what the observer could perceive when looking up on day two before stars were visible, namely, the felt breezes of air and cloud cover. There is no need to bend raqiya into the universe or space idea. Raqiya simply means the air, for no observer could see distant items from space on day two. On day four what they would see is the stellar heavens that were created “in the beginning.” God called the expanse air (raqiya shamayim). 

If one can accept the translation, “God worked on (or produced or accomplished or brought forth or put into execution or arranged or did or brought to pass or put in order or furnished) two great lights and the stars, then when you carefully analyze exactly what God worked on etc. (or all those other verbal choices) during the six days it turns out that He worked on air, land and sea and the living things in them exclusively. All He did on day four was remove the cloud covering to “make” the stars similar to the previous day three when He removed the water covering to “make” the dry land. When we “make” a path in the snow, we simply brush away the snow to the important part, the ground underneath. No new materials are created – just made visible as stars were made for signs and seasons. “Yahweh made the sea and the dry land” says Jonah, and the record of day three tells us how He “made” it – by uncovering existing, submerged wet land.

Again, Mr. Bozung is the kind of reviewer who allows us to remain friends even in disagreement. He actually offers an alternative logic to confirm my basic thesis even over his own stated lexical objections which is nice. However, his objections are not very convincing in my opinion. Having carefully considered them, I remain certain that my thesis is supported firmly on all points.

His alternative explanation suggests that perhaps God created the sun and stars incomplete before day one then ignited them on day four. But if the shamayim and raqiya is space, as he thinks, then space was created in the beginning with the incompleted stars, not on day two. I find this incongruent.

This “solution” solves nothing anyway for we still have to wait 2 million years for the light from Andromeda’s M31 galaxy to arrive, and billions of years for quasars, and the remote galaxies. No, God created the stellar heavens complete “in the beginning,” undefined in date, probably long enough ago for light from distant galaxies to arrive and isotope ratios to develop in the earth. It leaves us with no major scientific problems and no textual problems. God “made” the great lights and stars by uncovering them just as He “made” the dry land by uncovering it.

My friend wants to translate nathan as “set” or “placed” in Genesis 1:17 (God placed the great lights and stars in the expanse of heaven) based on his assumption that the “expanse” includes space as well as atmosphere. I have to disagree. God “gave” (nathan) the great lights and stars in the expanse of air. When a cloud obscures the stars they are not given nor set nor placed nor put in the sky for visible signs and seasons no matter how long they had been shining. The only concept which fits the total context and conforms to the constraints of the Hebrew language is the “doing” of the great lights and stars by allowing their visibility. They certainly are not functioning for signs and seasons if the sky is overcast. Darkness was on the surface of the ocean until the first day, a cloud of thick darkness surrounded the planet like a diaper and blanket surround a newborn. That darkness by logical necessity had to be cleared at least partially for day one and had to be cleared to transparency at sometime by logical necessity with no other option available. I say it happened on day four when God brought forth, did or produced the great lights and stars. I have not “run roughshod over basic meanings of words.” Rather I would kindly suggest that Mr Bozung has run roughshod over controlling contextual constraints. An ounce of understanding is worth a pound of grammar and syntax. Further yet, an ounce of understanding is worth a ton of grammar and syntax if the basic paradigm is skewed. True, we do not interpret Scripture to suit the opinions of scientists but it is also true that we can expect and inspired record to harmonize perfectly with demonstrable facts.
 x

Thanks to Mr. Bozung for a fair-minded critique. Others are welcome. Much more could be said, but please read chapter one from this website, then get the book which answers all the problems with clarity.

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