To determine the best translation of the word 'was' we can look at a few other verses in the Bible where the word hayah is used and see what it tells us. A good example of the use of the word hayah in a parallel verse is in the second verse of Genesis 4.
"And she (Eve) again bare (gave birth to) his brother Abel. And Abel was (hayah) a keeper of sheep . . . "
Now, compare the above verse with Genesis 1:2.
"And the earth was (hayah) without form, and void. . . " (Genesis 1:2)
Both sentences that use the word hayah begin with the word "And" and are then followed by a noun ('Abel' and 'the earth'). Then they both have the word hayah. When reading the second verse of Genesis 4 it is clear that Abel was NOT, from birth, a person who kept sheep. He BECAME a 'sheep keeper' sometime after birth. A more logical translation would be ". . . and Abel became (hayah) a keeper of sheep. . . " Another example of the word hayah translated as "was" but should be translated as "became" (meaning a change of state) is the following.
"And Adam called his wife's name Eve, because she was (hayah - better translated as BECAME) the mother of all living." (Genesis 3:20, see also 4:20)
Using the above principle of the Bible defining how its words should be used, we can more accurately translate Genesis 1:2.
"The earth BECAME (hayah) without form, and void . . ."
Evidence of a catastrophe
What does Genesis the second verse mean when it states our world became "without form, and void"? The Hebrew word for "form" is tohu (Strong's #H8414) and "void" is bohu (Strong's #H922). Tohu is defined as formless, confusion, empty, waste or a wasteland. Bohu means an indistinguishable ruin or emptiness. This information means that the earth, after it was initially created (Genesis 1:1) became a confused, empty, indistinguishable wasteland or ruin. But what would have caused something created by the hand of God to turn into a wasteland?
Lucifer and all the angels were created long before mankind entered the picture. When God first made the earth the Bible says all the angels (which included Lucifer) sung with joy (Job 38:4-7). But something happened to Lucifer. He began to corrupt his own thinking and believe that HE should run the universe and not God. Where at one time he was one of God's special covering cherubs, at the very throne of God, his vanity and sin caused him to be rejected (see Ezekiel 28:12-19, Luke 10:18, Isaiah 14:12-16). Lucifer became Satan the devil, God's chief adversary. Not only did he become deceived and evil, he also convinced one third of the angels to follow his rebellious ways (Revelation 12:3-4).
The devil's attempt to storm heaven and seize God's throne brought destruction and chaos to the earth. The war that occurred in heaven left telltale evidence of chaos scattered throughout the planet's surface, the solar system and the universe. God does not make anything that is tohu and bohu, meaning he does not create chaos, confusion, emptiness and a wasteland. What occurred between God's perfect creation in Genesis 1:1 and the chaotic earth mentioned in verse 2 is the rebellion of Lucifer and the destruction and devastation it brought. Although verses 1 and 2 follow each other in the Bible, they do not follow one immediately after the other in time sequence. What God did in verse 2 was to RE-CREATE the planet and prepare it for man after Lucifer's battle for control.
Evidence from the Bible indicates the following.
In the very distant past God created the heavens and all that is in them (Genesis 1:1). This would include the sun, moon, stars, etc.
Sometime after God's initial creation Lucifer tried to take over God's throne by force (Ezekiel 28:12-19, Luke 10:18, Isaiah 14:12-16). The battle and chaos that ensued wrecked the planet.
God had to recreate and refashion the world in preparation for man during what is referred to as creation week (Genesis 1:2 - 25).
Unfortunately, the gap of time between Genesis 1:1 and verse 2 is unknown. Given modern scientific findings regarding the universe, however, it is safe to say that the earth is indeed quite old.