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What evidence is there, either for or against, the idea that Gen 1:1-2 are not part of the first day but rather that the first day starts with Gen 1:3?

The following information isn't strictly necessary for the question, but if you'd like more context as to why I'm asking...

The significance of this question is whether the earth could have existed for a very long time before man was created. I find that many Christians automatically dismiss this idea because they automatically equate it as an argument for evolution. They reason that evolution is false, therefore this must be false because many Christians who believe in evolution use it to justify their position.

I, however, do not believe in evolution but I still do believe that the earth is very old. But this is a position that just doesn't seem to compute when I talk to other Christians. They automatically assume I must be defending evolution. It's pretty annoying.

So I thought I might do some research on the topic to see if there are any compelling arguments for or against Gen 1:1-2 being part of the first day. I notice that many Bibles format it separately... but I don't know how to find out whether that's simply because of the publisher's bias or if there is something in the structure of the original language or maybe even in the oldest copies of the texts we have to indicate it should be formatted as such.

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    That sounds like the Gap Theory, which is well known, though doesn't have too many proponents. But even young earth creationists would say that 1:1-2 is a heading and not necessarily part of "day 1".
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 4:38
  • I think it is part of the gap theory, though I'm not really concerned about that. I'm more just interested to know whether Gen 1:1-2 can reasonably be used to prove a young earth theologically (assuming a literal 6 days... which I know is another can of worms, but just focusing on one thing at a time you know). I think at best one has to say it's unknown. I just can't see any real evidence to suggest the 1st two verses must be part of the 1st day, which really unravels the Young Earth view... and does so without even affecting whatever interpretation of a day one might have.
    – BVernon
    Commented Oct 8, 2022 at 5:21

3 Answers 3

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You might look at my answer to:
genesis - Are there any denominations that accept the gap theory? - Christianity Stack Exchange.

It includes a list of some of the denominations that believe that both "The days of creation were about 6000 years ago." and "The universe is billions of years old", plus my summary of the theory.

Here are some excerpts from some of their publications:

Is the Bible’s record of Earth’s history incompatible with scientific discoveries? A resounding no! And you do not have to change your beliefs to fit the science. The Trumpet and its predecessor, the Plain Truth, have been publishing these same Bible principles for about 60 years, before much of this new scientific research has emerged. Genesis is not some murky, unscientific attempt to postulate a 6,000-year-old Earth and universe by writers ignorant of dinosaurs or the Ice Age. Scientific discoveries over the past several centuries have only served to confirm what was in the Bible already.

Setting aside the flawed dating methods, when comparing the modern scientific timeline of Earth with the biblical timeline, you see a remarkable synthesis of events. Scientists are at a loss to explain many of these events: the Quaternary extinction event, humans and animals descending from a single male and female ancestor, the rapid development of new life at the start of the Cenozoic Era, the extinction of life at the end of the Mesozoic Era, and the very origin of life and the universe.

The Bible explains all of these things. And it explains why.
The Prehistoric World vs. Genesis

The effect of God plunging Satan into Earth’s surface—or of other fallout of space objects—could have left the planet devoid of life. This explains Genesis 1:2, that the Earth became “without form” (meaning desolate and deserted) and “void” (meaning an indistinguishable ruin).

The Earth remained like this for perhaps millions of years until God began renewing the surface of the Earth (Psa. 104:30; Gen. 1:2). This involved bringing back plant and animal life that had been killed—just in different forms. God then told those creatures to “be fruitful and multiply…and let fowl multiply in the earth” (vs. 22).

When Scripture is examined properly, it shows science and the Bible are in perfect harmony.
What Really Happened to the Dinosaurs?

Did dinosaurs and human beings walk the earth together before the great biblical flood described in the book of Genesis? If so, why does human history not record this? If not, where do dinosaurs fit in the history of planet Earth? Many sincere people assume that the biblical account in Genesis reveals our universe, and our planet, to be about 6,000 years old. Watch this program to discover what many miss when reviewing the Genesis account of creation, and learn why “young Earth” creationists are wrong.
Why Creationists Are Wrong

As the famous paleontologist G.G. Simpson once remarked: "The most puzzling event in the history of life on the earth is the change from the Mesozoic Age of Reptiles, to the ... Age of Mammals. It is as if the curtain were rung down suddenly on a stage where all the leading roles were taken by reptiles, especially dinosaurs, in great numbers and bewildering variety, and rose again immediately to reveal the same setting but an entirely new cast, a cast in which the dinosaurs do not appear at all, other reptiles are supernumeraries and the leading parts are all played by mammals of sorts barely hinted at in the previous acts" (Life Before Man, 1972, p. 42).

This apparently reflects the change from the pre-Adamic world to the world of man. Certainly there are smaller reptiles in our world, but they are insignificant in comparison to what existed in the previous age.

What has been presented here is not the only "ancient earth" explanation available, but it seems to make the most biblical sense. It is the only explanation I know of that accepts the literal 24-hour days of the creation (or re-creation) week and, at the same time, makes room for an indefinite period before the creation of mankind that could include the dinosaurs and previous eras.

Recent geological and astronomical discoveries, such as cosmic expansion and signs of meteor impacts at the geologic Cretaceous-Tertiary border, better known as the "K-T boundary," have only served to substantiate this view.

So, if anyone tells you he or she doesn't believe in the Bible because of a dilemma with the dinosaurs, let that person know there is more than the young-earth explanation available—one that fits well, as best we know, with the biblical facts.
Where Do the Dinosaurs Fit?

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Most translations of Genesis 1:1 are not perfect. Beresht does not mean in the beginning. Bareshit does. One of the ways the first verse of the Bible can be translated is this:

When God began to create heaven and earth (JPS, 2006)

So the first thing that happened was the revealing of the light. In Judaism, they call it haOr haGanuz (the hidden light) and believe that this is the light of the Messiah. It is also how John talks about the beginning in the prologue of his gospel.

Like Dottard said above, the creation of the earth starts on the day three.

Also keep in mind that the main purpose of the first chapters of the Bible is theological. They debate with the Mesopotamian and Egyptian creation stories and correct them.

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  • "Like Dottard said above" — you assumed his answer would always score higher than yours (at the moment, it doesn't). Commented Oct 7, 2022 at 16:29
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    The answer box is at the very bottom of the page. When I write my comment, earlier ones are always higher than mine. That is what I meant. Commented Oct 7, 2022 at 20:51
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There is no, so-called, "gap". Let us observe several things about the literary structure of Gen 1.

  1. The ancients had no concept of what we now call "planet earth"; so it is not surprising that its creation is not mentioned in the Gen 1 account.

  2. Indeed, the closest we get to the actual creation of "earth" (Heb: erets) is on day #3 where the record states:

9 And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered into one place, so that the dry land may appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land “earth,” and the gathering of waters He called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

Thus, earth (ie, dry arable land) was created on day #3. Further, the heavens were created on day #2 as per the record:

6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse between the waters, to separate the waters from the waters.” 7 So God made the expanse and separated the waters beneath it from the waters above. And it was so. 8 God called the expanse “heavens.”

  1. The creation activities for each day follow the absolutely strict formula:

And God said, let there be ...

... and it was so. Evening and morning were the "nth" day.

Day #1 must also follow this same pattern and thus, day #1's activity begins in V3 and NOT v1.

  1. This means that V1 &2 form two functions for the narrative that follows:
  • V1 - a heading that summarizes all that follows - the creation of everything about our world
  • V2 - a preparatory statement that says that the earth was "formless and void" before day #1. However, when God had finished the creation of our world, it was pronounced (in obvious contradistinction to V2) "very good" (V31).
  1. The creation of the sun and moon is not recorded in this passage. All that is stated is that God created lights in the expanse of the heaven (“sky” NIV, not outer space or the starry heaven), which according to Gen 1:6 is what separated the waters below (what became on day 3 rivers, lakes and seas) from the waters above (presumably the source of dew, rain and snow in the atmosphere). Hebrew has perfectly good words for “sun” (שֶׁמֶשׁ shemesh) and “moon” (יָרֵחַ yareach) that the author obviously goes to some trouble to avoid using.

This is confirmed by the statement that these "lights" were placed in the firmament between the waters above and waters below, ie, our atmosphere (compare V14 to V7, 8). The sun and moon do not exist in our atmosphere but far beyond it; however, their light does exist in our atmosphere.

Thus, all that is described in Gen 1 is the creation of our world consisting of sky and arable land with all its animals and plants. Again, there is no record of the creation of planet earth which had presumably been created at some earlier time.

This can be confirmed by the description in V16 which literally reads:

And God made the two great luminaries, the great luminary for the rule of the day, and the small luminary -- and the stars -- to rule the night;

Thus, there no record in Gen 1 of God creating the stars. They must have been created at a much earlier time so that their light was visible on earth at all (some stars are many millions of light-years distant). Further, there is no record of God creating the water that covered the planet - the water already existed at the beginning of creation week.

Therefore, a simple reading of Gen 1:1–2:3 suggests that a formless, worthless, dark, lifeless, watery planet already existed at (ie, before) the beginning of creation week. This suggests that God had previously created it – a suggestion supported by Job 38:4-7,

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? … Who laid its cornerstone while the morning stars and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”

Thus, other life forms existed elsewhere in the universe (apart from God) who witnessed the creation of the Earth during the planet’s very foundation.

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