What does it mean that "The Earth was without form and void"?

Hi Vince and Jo,
Another question I have is concerning Creation. Genesis 1:2 “The earth was without form and void” and next, “The Spirit was hovering over the waters” I believe the Bible is God’s inspired Word. I wonder if the earth being without form and void could refer to a previous existing earth judged similar to that of Noah?


I think some people make much more out of this phrase than is necessary. The words literally mean “desolate and empty”. The simplest way to take this, in light of all that’s going on, is without form just means the surface was desolate of any topography – no mountains or valleys, rivers or ravines – it was a vast smooth surface with no shape to it. And void, or empty, means nothing was on it – no trees or animals. It was shapeless and empty.

And that’s perfectly reasonable since the rest of the verse indicates that it was completely covered by water. The land mass beneath doesn’t appear until Day Three. The firmament, or atmosphere, above isn’t created until Day Two – when the clouds (the waters above the firmament) are formed. So, Day One would have no winds to disturb the water or make any waves. The world was as empty and flat as a silent sea without a shore.

But the days that follow are all about giving the form, and filling the void – raising the land, covering it with air, lifting the mountains, carving the lakes, seeding the fields and forests, populating them with fish and fowl, beasts and bugs and birds, and putting them all under dominion of God’s children who reflect His glory.

Hope it helps!


Thanks. Did God start with a partially created world - water?

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The scene at the end of Day One is described as a water world - a completely submerged planet. It’s not until the third day that God says in verse 9, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place and let the dry land (singular) appear. This describes the emergence of a single super-continent, what geologists now call Pangea, surrounded by a single super-ocean (what I’d jokingly call Panmarea!) You’ve probably seen pictures of all the continents fitting together like giant puzzle pieces with the Atlantic Ocean removed from between them. I think it’s a testimony to the Bible’s integrity that God described this in 1500 BC!

@dbdavon, Thank you for posting such an observant question that reveals you’re really taking in what you’re reading. A timely reminder for me!

I hope Vince and Jo will address your question on the podcast to enrich the discussion here!

It’s such an interesting thought to consider what had to take place before the earth was formed. As God was creating the heavens and the earth, He would be launching the elements we know are in the atmosphere such as nitrogen, oxygen, etc. while the earth was without form in the darkness.

My Amplified Bible has an interesting footnote about this verse:

The Hebrew text here has two rhyming words, tohu and bohu , which have similar meanings of “wasteness” and “emptiness.” The construction is a figure of speech called hendiadys , in which two words are used together to express the same idea. The meaning is that the earth had no clearly discernible features at this point in creation but essentially was a mass of raw materials. This proves to be very important from philosophical and scientific viewpoints, because it documents the fact that the raw matter of the earth—and by extension, of the universe—did not coexist eternally with God, but was created by Him ex nihilo (Latin “out of nothing”)