In the first clause of Genesis 1:2 there is a verb הׇיְתָה. Some versions translate it as "was" when it also bears the meaning "to become" and many more. My question is what should הׇיְחׇה be translated as, "was" or "became", and why?

The question is of concern as the translation can lead to either a Gap Theory if rendered as "became" or a static condition of the earth when it was created if rendered as "was".

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    The word you have in your title and the word you have in the body of your question are not the same word.
    – colboynik
    Sep 19, 2018 at 20:38
  • The earth was formless and void, because it hadn't been populated and brought into order yet. It consisted of the chaos waters typical of Mesopotamian origin stories. Of course God didn't create it that way; it was that way and creation brought it out of that state. If you're wondering why verse 2 follows "God created" in that analysis: verse 1 is just the heading for the section, not the first stage of a chronological sequence the author decided to give no details on. We are not being asked to imagine an entire created heaven and earth and destruction event in the vacuum between two verses. May 18, 2019 at 11:37

7 Answers 7


The word (תהו) that comes right after the word you asked about (היתה) is also used in Isaiah 45:18, which according to YLT says:


For thus says Yahweh who created the heavens, the God who formed the earth and made it, who established it and didn't create it a waste (תהו), who formed it to be inhabited: "I am Yahweh; and there is no other.


Since Isaiah 45:18 says God did not create it as a waste (תהו), it makes a lot more sense that it became a waste (תהו), and not that it was that way right after He made it.

  • Are you aware of the theories regarding v. 1, that it may mean 'in the beginning of God's creating ...' and hence does not have to indicate that God created heaven and earth and that they may have pre-existed? This is consistent with arguments in present scholarship that ברא should rather be translated "separating", i.e., heaven and earth pre-existed but were not separated (by the 'firmament') yet. Then, v. 2 describes the situation before any act of God, and hence, it is not odd that this situation is described with words with negative connotations.
    – user2672
    Sep 27, 2018 at 17:53
  • There is an את ("et") before the Hebrew words for heaven and earth. That word denotes the direct object of the verb. So in this case, the heavens and the earth were what God created. I lived in Israel for a few months, and every time I asked the locals what that word meant in English they told me "it didn't mean anything", which I thought was bewildering. It took me months to find out what that word was for. In English, we designate the direct object just by putting it after the verb - so את really does translate into... well, nothing.
    – colboynik
    Sep 29, 2018 at 22:49
  • I know what את means, that is not the issue here. The issue is that all other occurrences of ראשׁית are construct forms. By translating 'in the beginning' you assume an otherwise unattested absolute form. By translating 'in the beginning of God's creating/-ion / separating/-ion' you do not, and את can still be the direct object marker in such a clause. I'm not saying your reading is wrong, but it is certainly not the only possibility and your answer could do more right to that. See Rashi for 'in the beginning of God's creating'; on ברא as separating see Van Wolde, JSOT 34.1 (2009), 3–23.
    – user2672
    Sep 30, 2018 at 11:29
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    van Wolde's arguments in this are not as strong as she wants them to be. Beckel and Korping have pointed that out. She is also against all the major lexicons in this area as well as every single ancient translation. Which means those who were the closest to the language all disagreed with her. Qimhi also showed that Rashi was incorrect. Likewise, van Wolde and Holmstedt both ignore Is 46:10 which is in an absolute temporal phrase with a prep without the article. All usage of rshit in the HB in construct is with a noun that follows (Jer 26:1, 27:1, 28:1, etc); never a verb.
    – Paul
    Oct 20, 2018 at 17:05
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    *Psalm 102:25 Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands. -- It appears that David did not believe as Rashi. Dec 19, 2018 at 1:27

Taken from Apologetics Press Does the Hebrew Word Yōm Endorse an Old Earth? – Apologetics Press

[Apologetics Press auxiliary writer Justin Rogers, PhD serves as an Associate Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He holds an M.A. in New Testament from Freed-Hardeman University as well as an M.Phil. and Ph.D. in Hebraic, Judaic, and Cognate Studies from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.]

Gap theorists insist the term means “became” or “had become.” They assert the bārā’ stage of Creation “became” or “had become” a desolate waste, and thus a re-creation (the ‘āsāh stage) was necessary. In the assessment of Fields, “It is the mistranslation of this word which has, perhaps, added more to the ranks of gap theorists than any one factor” (1976, p. 88).

First of all, let us acknowledge that Gap theorists are correct about the Hebrew verb hāyāh. It can mean “became” or “had become.” BUT THE MEANING OF ANY WORD MUST BE DETERMINED BY ITS CONTEXT, AND NOT BY THE TRANSLATOR’S ARBITRARY CHOOSING OF A MEANING FROM A LEXICAL LIST. In Genesis 1:2, the copular usage of the verb hāyāh in biblical Hebrew must be understood. The community of Hebrew grammarians is uniform in recognizing that the term hāyetāh (a feminine form of hāyāh) in Genesis 1:2 functions as a copula (see, e.g., Joüon and Muraoka, 2006, §154m), and thus simply links the subject with the object without implying any true verbal quality. Let us explain.

Hebrew has no proper equivalent to the English verb “to be.” Therefore, several syntactical approximations, called copulas, communicate the essence of the English “to be.” For example, the pronouns hū’ (literally “he” or “it” for masculine objects) and hî’ (literally “she” or “it” for feminine objects) can serve this purpose (often translated “is”). The same is true of the verb “he became” (hāyāh). The copula hāyetāh is not, therefore, functioning in Genesis 1:2 in its true verbal sense as “became,” but in the copular sense as “was.”

It is recognized universally that “the Hebrew verb translated was refers to the time when God began his work of creation. Was does not mean that the earth remained in this shapeless state for a long time; nor does it mean that it became such after being something else earlier” (Reyburn and Fry, 1997, p. 30). This point is recognized in virtually every decent translation of the Hebrew text since the Septuagint (cf. the Latin Vulgate and the mountain of English translations). Gap theorists must find a different justification for their theory.


In spoken Hebrew Hayitah is the feminine singular form or "Haya" which means "was", which is past tense. A past tense singular personal form of it would be Hayiti shama (I was there) It is zman avar, or past tense. Future tense would be "eheyeh shama"(I will be there).

If it was something that transformed or morphed then we would use to change, Lehaphoch לַהֲפוֹךְ

The translation of "was" would not take away any credibility from the Gap Theory, it is just that it would not add more credibility to the theory like "became" would.

King David spoke of it in *Psalms 102:25

On the face of the land you have founded, and the works of your hands the heavens.26 They will perish and You will stand, and every one like clothes will become worn like what you put on, you will transform them and they will be changed.

(My translation from the Hebrew text)

David seems to see a transformation and change, as the New Heaven and New Earth will be. Like a change of garments... as well as us!


The following reasons made me convinced that the earth became without form (tohu) and void (bohu):

  1. Isaiah 45:18:

“For thus said YHWH, Creator of the heavens, He is God, Former of earth, and its Maker, He established it—He did not create it empty (tohu), For He formed it to be inhabited: “I am YHWH, and there is none else”.

God never created the earth as formless and void. As is His usual manner, God creates perfectly. He does not create anything partial or incomplete. God originally created the earth as a habitable place.

  1. Job 38:4, 7:

“Where were you when I founded the earth?........ when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”

When God originally created the earth, it was so breathtakingly beautiful that the angels sang together praising God and shouted for joy. This would not have happened at the establishment of the earth if it had originally been formless and void in darkness.

  1. The word “was” (hayetah) in the clause “the earth was formless and void” can also be translated as “became” as in the following verses:

“And the man called the name of his wife, Eve; because she became (hayetah) the mother of all living” (Gen 3:20; LITV).

“And Joseph made it a law until this day on the land of Egypt, the fifth part is for Pharaoh; only the land of the priests being excepted; it did not become (lo hayetah) Pharaoh's” (Gen 47:26;LITV, ASV, ESV, GNB, JPS, KJV etc.).

“And there was hail, and fire flashing in the midst of the hail, very heavy, which never had been in all the land of Egypt since it became (hayetah) a nation” (Exo 9:24; LITV, ASV, ESV, JPS, KJV etc.).

Thus, it is also possible to translate Gen 1:2 as:

“and the earth became (hayetah) without form and empty”.

  1. Psalms 104:30:

“You send out Your Spirit, they (the living things) are created, And You renew the face of the earth (ground)”.

This is exactly what happened in Genesis first chapter. God’s Spirit was moving (Gen 1:2) and God renewed the face of the ground of the earth and its atmosphere.

So we could say fairly well that the earth “became” formless and void due to some catastrophe (the catastrophe is explained in other parts of the Scripture).


To answer the question (in my opinion), the word should be translated as “became” and not “was”.

Genesis 1:1-2 KJV (1) In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

The earth became without form and void.

(2) And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

I’m looking at Genesis 1:2 as a metaphor for man’s broken relationship with God and it is man who has turned away from God’s righteousness and His knowledge and is currently in “darkness”….the darkness is within man’s heart.

We can see the meaning of the verse in Jeremiah 4. The earth became without form…without righteousness…..as His people are wise to do evil but to do good they have no knowledge.

The earth is void of the knowledge of God as His people have not known Him and have no understanding…as they cannot do the good.

Jeremiah 4:21-23 KJV (21) How long shall I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet? (22) For my people is foolish, they have not known me; they are sottish children, and they have none understanding: they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge. (23) I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light.

The earth became without form (became without righteousness as there is none that does good) and void ( became without knowledge of God) as all men have turned away from truly seeking after Him and doing His righteousness. “They are altogether become filthy…”

Psalms 53:3-4 KJV (3) Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. (4) Have the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread: they have not called upon God.

This is also echoed in the New Testament book of Romans:

Romans 3:10-12 KJV (10) As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: (11) There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. (12) They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth ….and man is without excuse (for becoming without righteousness and without knowledge of Him) as God manifests His invisible, eternal qualities in the visible creation that can be readily seen by all mankind.

Romans 1:18-22 KJV (18) For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; (19) Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. (20) For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

Mankind became without form…without righteousness…. and void of knowledge (became vain in their imaginations). Darkness is upon the face of the deep….their foolish heart was darkened.

(21) Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (22) Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

Mankind’s heart is all together darkened and needs to hear the knowledge of God (the Light shines in the darkness of man’s own heart).

Thanks for reading and considering.


The actual word used in the text is הָיְתָה (hayetah), which means "had become". Christian references use the root word הָיָה (hayah), which means "to be" or "to become". But they translate it as "was" to force the text to mean what they want it to say.

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    Welcome to Bible Hermeneutics SE and thank you for your contribution. Much of your "answer" was already stated in the original question but still doesn't answer the why. Also, when you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others.
    – agarza
    May 5, 2022 at 23:43

The correct word is הָיְתָ֥ה - Hayetah. I usually translate this word as "was".

According this website, it has three meanings:

  1. The even begin to be.

  2. There’s a change of state. That is, ‘became’. The properties or relations change.

  3. It’s a state. The most common meaning used.

  • Your answer has some bones, but it needs a little meat. Don Aug 16, 2018 at 12:19
  • For hayah (feminine form used in Genesis 1:2) to clearly mean become (without question) a preposition such as lamedh should precede the objects (תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ).
    – Perry Webb
    Aug 16, 2018 at 21:00
  • but we also find other instances where hayeth has the idea of "to become" without even needing the preposition "le". To my best reading I have noticed that hayeth in Genesis is only used to describe a dynamic condition. In the case of Genesis 1:2 if we think that the author is using hayath in the same way as other passages i.e. speaking to a dynamic and not a static condition we can come very close to say that the condition of the earth was not static. Thus, raising another question, why (the way you think) is the word hayath rendered as "was" indicating a static condition only in Genesis 1:2.
    – Theo
    Aug 17, 2018 at 5:52
  • Do not get me wrong, I am not debating to defend a position, I am asking to understand the usage of this word and why is the kind of meaning used to translate this word.
    – Theo
    Aug 17, 2018 at 5:55
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    Hello and welcome to the site. This question is asking for what it means in context, which you haven't really answered. You've given three options of what the word can mean, but words don't mean every sense in every context. So what does it mean here?
    – curiousdannii
    Aug 22, 2018 at 11:56

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