Genesis 1:1 - “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
It is commonly thought that Genesis 1:1 is merely a summary of Genesis chapter 1. One reason is because the earth is thought by some to have been created on Day 3 (v. 9) and the Heavens (i.e., the sun, moon, and stars) are throught to have been created on Day 4 (v. 14-15). However, to conclude that the earth, sun, moon, and stars did not yet exist on Day 1 overlooks other things that Genesis 1 says.
Evidence the Earth Existed on Day 1
Genesis 1:2 says that before there was light, there was the deep, and God was hovering over it. Furthermore, Genesis 1:6 clearly says there was an atmosphere largely of water. In other words, God created the deep and the waters before He said, "Let there be light," yet it seems their creation is not recorded. But isn't it?
“1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
If other words, God created the earth in verse 1. It was surrounded by water, the "deep," and it had an atmosphere composed largely of water. It is the deep God was hovering over.
Evidence the Heavens Existed on Day 1
As it turns out, mainstream scientists have identified a time in Earth's past (3.9-4.4 Ga (billion years ago)) when the earth existed precisely as the scripture implies: under water with a watery atmosphere. They call it the hydrosphere, and its ancient oceans are believed to have been created from a process called out-gassing, where the hot primordial earth released massive amounts of steam, which cooled into water... enough to cover the globe.
But why was the atmosphere full of water? Why didn't all the water remain in the deep? It is clear from Genesis 1:6-8 that God would separate the waters above from those below, but why were there waters above? The key is found in the crators of the moon.
The pattern and quantity of the moon's crators suggest a time of frequent meteor bombardment in Earth's past. Based on the size and depth of the craters, such meteors striking the earth would have decimated the ancient ocean, forcing it into the atmosphere. Due to gravity, the water would then rain tumultuosly until things either settled or another impact ocurred. The conditions following such an impact are accurately described by scripture, and assumed in verse 1. To summarize, the earth had a world-wide ocean, there was no visible land, and it had a watery atmosphere. But it was the moon that revealed much of these the conditions. Isn't scripture clear that there was no moon yet? Not exactly.
Scripture does not actually say that the moon was created on Day 4. What it does say is that God created a greater light and a lesser light. The moon is the lesser light. All scripture requires of the moon on Day 1 is that it was not serving as the lesser light, as viewed from the surface of the deep.
A key to understanding God's placement of the lesser light within the sky can be found in Day 2's description of the sky.
6 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.”
7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so.
8 God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
Do you see the relationship between the sky and the waters above? When God separated the waters below from the waters above, he placed between them a vault (or firmament), the top of which is the sky. And above the sky are the upper waters, the bottom of which would have been visible as a deep blue, much as the sky appears today. Yet clearly, our sky is not blue because of the waters above it, and that is not why it was blue back then. But, here is the key: this matches the ancient Egytpian Creation Myth that Moses would have grown up with. Egypt's myths record that the blue of the sky really is the bottom of the waters suspended over the vault, and that the gods (or just God, as Moses clarified) eventually placed (embedded that is) the sun, moon, and stars within the surface of the sky, below the waters above it. Well, no one today believes that is true, yet that is what the scripture describes. This suggests we look for an explanation that Moses could not have known through his ancient science, yet is consistent with what Moses saw. And we have. The sky is blue because of the light scattering through the atmosphere, while the Sun and Moon -- though far away -- are visible as lights against the sky.
The fact that Moses description paints an accurate "picture" of reality, yet using terminology that is not true tells us that he was being literal, but had only faulty science to describe it. However, the science is not his point; the existence of the watery earth and the appearance of lights in the sky are, and these can all confirmed scientifically. It allows us to accept Moses at his literal word, in terms of the reality he was trying he was trying to describe. We can therefore take the word of scripture seriously and literally without having to adopt ancient Egyptian science to do it.
Once we understand the role of the moon in describing for us the conditions of Day 1, conditions that are described so well in Genesis 1:1-8, we can begin to understand that when Genesis 1:1 speaks of the Heavens and the Earth, it is telling us that God created them "in the beginning," meaning before Day 1's creative event. Genesis 1:1 is therefore not a summary, but a statement of God's first action. With the Heavens and Earth created, the Creation Week itself could now begin.
Also see: Job 38:5b-9, Proverbs 8:27b, Psalm 104:2. Also interesting: 1Enoch 2.1b
09/09/2012 - Added references to parallel creation accounts
04/11/2013 - Rewrote to smooth things out. Material is the same.