An Examination of II Peter 3:5
by Gorman Gray
Those who hold the theory of a primeval universe compacted out of water depend on a faulty interpretation of II Peter 3:5. “For this they willingly forget that by the word of God the heavens were of old and the earth standing out of the water and in the water, by which the world that then was perished, being overflowed with water” (NKJV, and compare KJV and Living Bible). The water-universe view prefers the NIV, NASB, RSV translations–earth “formed out of water” and the ASV earth “compacted out of water” –but these latter are misleading translations for the following reasons.
Peter is not providing new revelation regarding the composition of the earth but he is reminding us of the already established revelation in Genesis. He reminds his hearers of the words spoken before by the holy prophets (3:2). The blame he applies to the apostate scoffers (theologians, no less) who “willfully forget” about the record of Genesis proves the point (3:3,4; Cf. 2:1-22). This will help us correctly interpret II Peter 3:5. Peter is warning that scoffers will come in the last days denying the global flood record. They ought to have known it without any input from the apostle Peter because the record of Genesis reads that way on day three, “Let the waters be gathered together in one place and let the dry land appear” (Genesis 1:9). The global flood of Genesis 7 was a reversal of that condition (the continent sank and/or oceans elevated to cause the flood) and after one year it began to be restored. The oceans sank and the mountains rose (Psalm 104:5ff).
So the wording of NIV, NASB, RSV and ASV is highly ambiguous because it does not fit the record in Genesis 1:9 which says nothing about the composition of the land formations more than it was dry land suitable for vegetation. Until one can see a fit with the record in Genesis one and Genesis seven (which it must fit) we do not have the correct interpretation.
It seems to me that the water-universe view would prefer that the text read, “Let some of the water be transformed into dry land.” For example, Dr. Russell Humphreys wrote regarding Genesis 1:1, “the earth is a formless, undefined region of water at the center of the deep.” He defines the “deep” as a super huge ball of water containing all of the matter of the universe and engulfing a smaller ball of water which on day three becomes the earth (Starlight and Time, 1995 Master Books, Colorado Springs, CO p. 32,58,73). This is complete speculation, driven by his theories of the “raquia” (expanse) gravitational time dilation and thermonuclear synthesis.
Peter is simply rehearsing the words of Genesis 1:9. There was an ocean initially inundated over all the land formations until day three when, by divine command, the land formations rose and began to “stand out of” the ocean to make dry land. Peter realized that the later global flood was the reverse of the third day emergence using the very same water. Then, following Noah’s flood, the land emerged again as the “mountains rose and valleys sank down” described in Psalm 104:5-9. The earth’s interior mantle and asthenosphere is somewhat plastic which allows sinking and reemergence as described, because catastrophic forces were unleashed when “all the fountains of the great deep were broken up.” “The world (that then was) perished, being overflowed with water (3:6).” After one year the land is restored, “standing out of the water and in the water” as on day three and today (Genesis 7:11; 8:13; 1:9).
Whatever interpretation we give to II Peter 3:5 it must be derivable from the record in Genesis just as Peter derived it. The plain record in Genesis says nothing about water as the primordial earth materials later transformed into a planet. Peter refers to familiar, everyday geofeatures. The picture is simple, straightforward and reasonable! Dr. Humphreys, in particular, resorts to imaginary physics, like water being transmuted to all the multifarious earth materials we have today. In my opinion this is a terrible eisegesis (reading into the text). The ball of water idea is not simple, not straightforward, not directly derivable from a plain reading of Genesis and very unreasonable plus it depends on new revelation from Peter which Peter’s words deny as being new. If God meant transmutation, then He did a very poor job of expressing Himself (and no one would suggest that).
So, the crucial word is “sunestosa” (perfect active participle, feminine singular nominative, from sunistemi). ASV destroys any hope of understanding it by translating it “the earth was “compacted from” water and amidst water.” NIV, NASB, and RSV render it, “formed”- not quite as bad but still possibly misleading. These translations are probably where the water-universe people got their misinformation and consequent misinterpretation. Peter has no purpose at all to inform physicists on a massive transmutation of water elements into the multitude of complex materials comprising planet earth. It is simply not in the text. Much better is, “the earth standing out of the water and in the water. By which the world that then was perished, being overflowed with water.”
The New Living Translation agrees: “They deliberately forget that God made the heavens by the word of his command, and he brought the earth up from the water and surrounded it with water.”
Similarly, God’s Word translation accurately renders the verse, “They are deliberately ignoring one fact: Because of God’s word, heaven and earth existed a long time ago. The earth [appeared] out of water and was kept alive by water.”
The preposition translated “out of” is “ek.” Thayer gives its basic meaning: “a primary preposition denoting origin (the point whence action or motion proceeds), from, out (of place, time, or cause).” The preposition fits the Genesis 1:9 allusion of the earth (land) rising from the realm of the deep; it need not denote “out of” as “constituted from” water.
Likewise, “through water” is a translation of the preposition “dia”: “through,” (or of place) “in.” Thus the visible land (earth) would be still encompassed by oceans and would largely remain under these vast waters (as the ocean floor).
I have perused every use of “sunistemi” (The earth standing…) in the NT. Usually it means to stand out conspicuously as a single entity or group (e.g.,Luke 9:32). Paul uses it regarding people who “commend themselves.” Those are people who “stand themselves out conspicuously as a single entity” in a personal, prideful way (II Cor.10:12) but similar to the conspicuous land emergence on day three and after the flood, surrounded by water conspicuous to all even today.
The land formations were not “compacted from water”. So sad that some have based so much on this misleading translation. When God created the heavens and the earth they were completed entities, ready for the preparation of the biosphere.
(This addenda was required due to space limits in AOU chapter 7, page 102. Revised 10/2005)