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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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Cha´os, a term taken from the Greek mythology, and employed to denote the unformed condition of the world. Our present object is to inquire what the Chaos was of which Moses speaks (). Was it the first form in which matter was created? and do the succeeding operations described relate to the very beginning of material order and animal life? Or was it merely a condition preparatory to the re-organization of the world, which had already been the abode of living beings?—in other words, is the first verse of the inspired record to be dissociated from the succeeding, and to be understood only as a declaration of the important truth, that the visible universe was not made from anything already existing (); while the confusion and darkness which are described in the succeeding verse, relate to a state long subsequent to the 'beginning,' and were introductory to a new order of material existence, of which man is the chief and lord? The first of these opinions is not only in accordance with the ancient notions of chaos to which we have referred, but is that which would be naturally maintained, unless cause be shown to the contrary. No one would gratuitously assume a long interval, where it must be admitted there is no intimation of such an interval having occurred. Accordingly, most interpreters, who have been ignorant of geological phenomena, have at once decided that the chaos of which Moses speaks was the form in which matter was first created. Some have even declared that there cannot have been any such interval as we have spoken of. But, on the other hand, the world gives intimations, in the rocks which compose its crust, of various and long-continued changes both of condition and of inhabitants. Those who have carefully examined these different forms of being, and have attentively studied the circumstances in which their remains are now found, have been forced to the conviction, that in many cases the rocks have been gradually formed by deposition at the bottom of an ocean, which has been successively the habitation of races differing alike from each other and from those now existing; that the coeval land likewise has had its distinct races of inhabitants, and that the land and water have changed places many times in the history of the world. It is impossible to do more than barely glance at these geological facts; but it will be seen that they lead to these three conclusions—(1) That the world has existed during some long period before the Mosaic record of creation in six days—(2) That, during that period, it was the abode of animals differing in organization and structure from those now found on its surface—and (3) that it has been exposed to various convulsions and reorganizations, more or less general. In the face of these facts it appears impossible to hold the ordinarily received opinion that the universe was created only just before the creation of man; and the question then is, how are these facts to be reconciled with the Mosaic narrative? Not by denying the evidence of our senses, nor, on the other hand, by treating the Mosaic account as an allegorical representation, but surely by reexamining the interpretation we have put on the words of Scripture, and by seeking to ascertain whether the discrepancy does not arise from our view of the narrative. A favorite mode of explaining the Mosaic account, a few years back, was to take the six days of creation for unlimited periods, during which the changes we are speaking of took place. This ground has, however, been almost completely abandoned, both because the account so understood does not agree with the physical phenomena, and because such an interpretation is, to say the least, hardly admissible on exegetical principles. If we keep in mind that the revelation of God to man is not intended to teach physical science—that it never speaks the language of philosophy, but of appearances—and that it tells of these only so far as they relate to the human race, we obtain a clue by which we may be safely guided through these difficulties. We shall not then wonder that no notice should be taken of previous conditions and inhabitants of this earth, supposing such to have existed. The first sentence of the inspired record will then be regarded as the majestic declaration of a fact, which the world had lost sight of, but which it deeply concerned men to know. What occurred subsequently, until the earth was to be furnished for the abode of man, is to be gathered not from the written word, but from the memorials engraven on the tablets of the world itself. The succeeding verse of the Mosaic account then relates to a state of chaos, or confusion, into which the world was thrown immediately before the last reorganization of it. Geologists are not indeed at present (if ever they may be) in a condition to identify the disruption and confusion of which we suppose Moses to speak with any one of these violent convulsions, of which geological phenomena plainly tell; but that events which might be described in his language have taken place in the world's history, over considerable portions of its surface, seems to be fully established. Whether the chaos of which we are now speaking was universal, or was confined to those regions which formed the cradle of the human race, is a question on which we do not feel it needful to enter. We do not regard the evidence which geology furnishes as complete enough to decide such a point.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Chaos'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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Saturday, October 24th, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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