Genesis 1:2


Genesis 1:2
← 1:1
1:3 →
Wenceslas Hollar - Chaos (State 1).jpg
Depiction of Genesis 1:2 by Wenceslaus Hollar.
BookBook of Genesis
Hebrew Bible partTorah
Order in the Hebrew part1
Christian Bible partOld Testament
Order in the Christian part1

Genesis 1:2 is the second verse of the Genesis creation narrative. It is a part of the Torah portion Bereshit (Genesis 1:1–6:8).


Masoretic Text[1]

וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחֹשֶׁךְ עַל פְּנֵי תְהוֹם וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם


Wəhā’āreṣ hāyəṯāh ṯōhû wāḇōhû wəḥōšeḵ ‘al-pənê ṯəhôm wərûaḥ ’ĕlōhîm məraḥep̱eṯ ‘al-pənê hammāyim.[1]
  1. Wəhā’āreṣ: "and the earth"
  2. hāyəṯāh: "was"
  3. tohu wabohu: difficult to translate, but often rendered as "formless and void"
  4. wəḥōšeḵ: "and darkness
  5. ‘al-pənê: "[was] over (or covered) [the] face"
  6. ṯəhôm: a mythological or cosmological concept often translated as "the Deep"
  7. wərûaḥ: "and [the] ruah", a difficult term translated as "spirit" or "wind"
  8. ĕlōhîm: the generic Hebrew term for God or gods, distinct from Yahweh, the name of the god of Israel
  9. məraḥep̱eṯ: often translated as "hovered/was hovering"
  10. ‘al-pənê hammāyim: "over the face of the waters"


Tohu wabohu is commonly translated as "formless and empty", and denotes the absence of some abstract quality such as purpose or worth.[2] Tohu by itself means desert, desert-like, empty, uninhabited (see Jeremiah 4:23 and Isaiah 34:11), so that "Tohu wabohu" signifies that the earth was empty of life, whether plant, animal, or human.[3] "Tehôm" was the cosmic ocean both above and below the earth.[4] Ruah means "wind"; the wind blows (rather than hovers) ‘al-pənê hammāyim, over the face of the waters of Tehom.


Genesis 1:2 presents an initial condition of creation - namely, that it is tohu wa-bohu, formless and void. This serves to introduce the rest of the chapter, which describes a process of forming and filling.[5] That is, on the first three days the heavens, the sky and the land is formed, and they are filled on days four to six by luminaries, birds and fish, and animals and man respectively.

Before God begins to create, the world is tohu wa-bohu (Hebrew: תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ): the word tohu by itself means "emptiness, futility"; it is used to describe the desert wilderness. Bohu has no known meaning and was apparently coined to rhyme with and reinforce tohu.[6] It appears again in Jeremiah 4:23,[Jer. 4:23] where Jeremiah warns Israel that rebellion against God will lead to the return of darkness and chaos, "as if the earth had been ‘uncreated’."[7] Tohu wa-bohu, chaos, is the condition that bara, ordering, remedies.[8]

Darkness and "Deep" (Hebrew: תְהוֹם tehôm) are two of the three elements of the chaos represented in tohu wa-bohu (the third is the formless earth). In the Enûma Eliš, the Deep is personified as the goddess Tiamat, the enemy of Marduk;[8] here it is the formless body of primeval water surrounding the habitable world, later to be released during the Deluge, when "all the fountains of the great deep burst forth" from the waters beneath the earth and from the "windows" of the sky.[9] William Dumbrell notes that the reference to the "deep" in this verse "alludes to the detail of the ancient Near Eastern cosmologies" in which "a general threat to order comes from the unruly and chaotic sea, which is finally tamed by a warrior god." Dumbrell goes on to suggest that Genesis 1:2 "reflects something of the chaos/order struggle characteristic of ancient cosmologies".[10]

The "Spirit of God" hovering over the waters in some translations of Genesis 1:2 comes from the Hebrew phrase ruach elohim, which has alternately been interpreted as a "great wind".[11][12] Victor P. Hamilton decides, somewhat tentatively, for "spirit of God" but notes that this does not necessarily refer to the "Holy Spirit" of Christian theology.[13] Rûach (רוּחַ) has the meanings "wind, spirit, breath," and elohim can mean "great" as well as "god". The ruach elohim which moves over the Deep may therefore mean the "wind/breath of God" (the storm-wind is God's breath in Psalms 18:15 and elsewhere, and the wind of God returns in the Flood story as the means by which God restores the earth), or God's "spirit", a concept which is somewhat vague in Hebrew bible, or simply a great storm-wind.[12]

See also



  1. ^ a b Hebrew text analysis: Genesis 1:2.
  2. ^ Walton 2015, p. 28.
  3. ^ Tsumura 1989, p. 156.
  4. ^ Walton 2017, pp. 158–159.
  5. ^ Carlson & Longman 2010, p. 109.
  6. ^ Alter 2004, p. 17: Alter represents this in English by alliteration: "welter and waste"
  7. ^ Thompson 1980, p. 230.
  8. ^ a b Walton 2017, p. 158.
  9. ^ Wenham 2003, p. 29.
  10. ^ Dumbrell 2002, p. 14.
  11. ^ See: Darshan, Guy, “Ruaḥ ’Elohim in Genesis 1:2 in Light of Phoenician Cosmogonies: A Tradition’s History,” Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages 45,2 (2019), 51–78.
  12. ^ a b Blenkinsopp 2011, pp. 33–34.
  13. ^ Hamilton 1990.


  • Alter, Robert (2004). The Five Books of Moses: A Translation With Commentary. W. W. Norton. p. 17.
  • Blenkinsopp, Joseph (2011). Creation, Un-Creation, Re-Creation: A Discursive Commentary on Genesis 1-11. T&T Clarke International. pp. 33–34.
  • Carlson, Richard F.; Longman, Tremper (2010). Science, Creation and the Bible: Reconciling Rival Theories of Origins. InterVarsity Press. p. 109.
  • Dumbrell, William J. (2002). The Faith of Israel: A Theological Survey of the Old Testament. Baker Academic. p. 14.
  • Hamilton, Victor P. (1990). The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17. New International Commentary on the Old Testament (NICOT). Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. p. 114. ISBN 0-8028-2521-4.
  • Thompson, J. A. (1980). The Book of Jeremiah. New International Commentary on the Old Testament (2 ed.). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. ISBN 978-1467423038.
  • Tsumura, David Toshio (1989). The Earth and the Waters in Genesis 1 and 2: A Linguistic Investigation. Journal for the study of the Old Testament: Supplement series. Vol. 83. Sheffield Academic Press. ISBN 978-1850752080.
  • Walton, John H. (2011). Genesis. Zondervan. ISBN 978-0310866206.
  • Walton, John H. (2015). The Lost World of Adam and Eve. InterVarsity Press. ISBN 978-0830824618.
  • Walton, John H. (2017). The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest. InterVarsity Press. ISBN 978-0830890071.
  • Wenham, Gordon J. (2003). Exploring the Old Testament: The Pentateuch. SPCK. ISBN 978-0281054299.

Further reading

  • Jewish Publication Society. The Torah: The Five Books of Moses (3rd ed). Philadelphia: 1999.
  • Darshan, Guy, “Ruaḥ ’Elohim in Genesis 1:2 in Light of Phoenician Cosmogonies: A Tradition’s History,” Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages 45,2 (2019), 51–78.

External links

  • "Genesis 1:2." Online Parallel Bible.
Preceded by Book of Genesis Succeeded by