The Mystery of Tohuw and Bohuw


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One of the things I like to do is take a verse of scripture and looking up every word in it. I look up dictionary meanings as well as the Hebrew and Greek meanings to see if there is anything ‘hidden’ in the verse I haven’t seen, some deeper thread or connection. It always pays off in gold!

One of those verses was Genesis 1:2,

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.

Again, there is the Trinity: earth without form and void; darkness on the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God separated from His creation, moving on the surface of the waters.

There is so much to see in this verse, but the part I want to look at today is the earth being ‘without form and void’. I like to use the Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance because not only is it paired to my favorite bible (the KJV), but it also has a Hebrew and Greek Dictionary in the back where you can look up the Hebrew and Greek meanings of the words and their usages. The Blue Letter Bible online can do the same thing with the added advantage of being able to see all the ways in which the original Greek or Hebrew words were translated to English. Awesome resources for any one looking to go deeper into their studies of the Word.

Back to ‘without form and void’. The words ‘without form’ come from the Hebrew word ‘tohuw’ which means:

  • formlessness, confusion, unreality, emptiness
  • that which is empty or unreal (fig. of idols)
  • wasteland, wilderness (of solitary places)
  • place of chaos

According to Strong’s, it derives from an unused root meaning to lie waste; a desolation (of surface), i.e. desert; used figuratively, it means a worthless thing; used as an adverb, it means in vain.

The word translated as ‘void’ is the Hebrew word ‘bohuw’, derived from an unused root word meaning to be empty. It is translated as void, and emptiness and only used three times in Scripture.

The Strong’s definition describes it as a vacuity, i.e. (superficially) an indistinguishable ruin. It was also always used in conjunction with the word ‘tohuw’ and all three uses of it (Gen. 1:2, Isa. 34:11 and Jer. 4:23) all speak of ruins.

These definitions beg many questions to be asked, the primary one of which is, How could God make something a desolate ruin, a place of vanity and emptiness, of confusion? To do so would deny all that God is. If God is Reality, then how can His Creation be empty of it?  Websters 1829 dictionary defines a vacuity as something in want of reality.  I take this to mean that this earth of Genesis 1:2 is empty of the reality of God and how can that be if God is All in all?

Some may argue that verse two describes how God formed the earth, but I disagree with that simply because in order for something to be considered an indistinguishable ruin, it had to have been something that was whole and complete beforehand. You can’t create something original and new as a ruin for the only way to recognize it as a ruin is to compare it against the original and pristine.

Finding answers to these questions led me to discover what countless others before me had already discovered.  In fact, it used to be an accepted tenet of the Protestant faith.  It is commonly understood as the Gap Theory, or the Ruin-Reconstruction Theory.

The Theory states that between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 the earth was visited with a cataclysmic judgment from God which was how the earth resulted in becoming a desolate ruin on the surface, and empty, devoid of reality, filled with the confusion of idolatry.

The issues and questions that arise from this are like a buzzing of bees around your ears, but acceptance of it also reconciles so much.  It gives all the necessary clues to Satan and his malice against man, the reason for God’s creation of man, and the underlying understanding for what the salvation is that God is working out in us through Jesus Christ.  So much, so much, so much to dig into and explore!  So much richness and glory to see!

I wholeheartedly agree with this theory because of the above, but primarily because the Holy Spirit led me to it.  He opened my eyes to challenge my assumptions.  He was the one who showed me the meanings of these words and led me to question and research.  I found out about the Theory, not as some new idea or bandwagon to jump on, but as a confirmation of what I was already coming to understand.  Some may argue that Satan can do the same, but he cannot give the witness in your spirit that the Holy Spirit can when you find truth and just know it to be so, even without proof.

I also agree with it because it would then say that everything you ever needed to know about God rests in the first two verses of Scripture and the gap between them. God is the Creator God. God is the Just Judge of the Earth. God is also the author of salvation and restoration. Again, the Trinity in evidence and operation.

The Gap Theory also works much in the way of reconciling so many of our pointless Christian arguments. One is the Old Earth/New Earth Creationist argument. God simply used the old and ancient materials of the original earth to recreate it the recorded six days. If all the heavens and the earth declare and make known the hidden things of God, then it is perfectly reasonable that as the Ancient of Days, He would have used the original and ancient materials of the first creation. It also reconciles with the realities of salvation.

Simply seeing the possibility of this reality changed my entire understanding of God, His salvation and what it is all about. It’s simply too much to put all in one post. In the meantime, if anyone wants to dig deeper into the Theory and learn more for themselves, there are a number of good resources that argue both for and against the theory. Just do a Google search for The Gap Theory or The Ruin Reconstruction Theory as well as Thomas Chalmers, a Scottish Theologian who popularized the Theory and you will find them.

Having said that, I highly recommend you visit this site first: The Bible, Genesis and Geology. He does a thorough explanation as both Bible teacher and through science. Many Christians refuse to accept scientific evidence as being contrary to faith. Perhaps it goes back to the words in 1 Tim. 6:20 where Paul speaks of the oppositions of science, falsely so called.

However, there are two things you need to keep in before you. In the above verse, it is entirely possible that Paul was not taking about science being contrary to faith, but that the oppositions of science were not science. Many of the great scientists of the past sought to reconcile what they were discovering about the earth with their faith, not use it to deny their faith. Christianity has to get its head out of the proverbial sand and start accepting some of the undeniable facts of science that are in front of us and start looking to God for His truth to reconcile them. I honestly believe the Gap Theory is one of those reconciling truths, for the singular reason that it’s existence reconciles everything you need to know about God and His salvation in Christ Jesus.

Genuine faith can discern the lie. It also seeks for the truth. If you have a genuine faith in God, you will know what is truth and what isn’t, not because of persuasive arguments, but because God Himself witnesses to what is true. So don’t be so afraid to look into the science and let it challenge your assumptions and preconceptions. Change cannot come about any other way. Neither can growth or maturity. If God is with you in truth, it will only deepen your faith not undermine or destroy it.