Table of Contents
Part III: Between the Lines: An Analysis
of Genesis 1:1-2
1. The Meaning of the Word
In an effort
to obtain a reasonably unbiased opinion from prominent contemporary
Hebrew scholars on the probable meaning of this word, a letter
was sent personally to the appropriate department heads of nine
major universities (three in Canada, three in the United States,
and three in England). Among other things they were asked: Do
you consider that the Hebrew yom as used in Genesis 1
accompanied by a numeral should properly be translated
(a) a day as commonly understood,
(b) an age,
(c) an age or a day without preference for either.
Seven out of nine replied, and all of these
stated that it means a day as commonly understood, in their opinion.
They were also asked whether it
could be taken as a rule that whenever the word day is accompanied
by a numeral, it must normally be interpreted as a period of
twenty-four hours. Five said "yes," one said "no,"
and one said "hardly." (29)
2. The Meaning of the Verb "Make"
by contrast with the Verb "Create"
It is sometimes
pointed out that the use of the word day in Genesis must
be metaphorical since Genesis 2:4 makes this statement: "These
are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they
were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and
the heavens." The implication here is that a single day
29. See "A Brief Note on the Translation
of the Word 'Day' in Genesis 1," by John R. Howitt Journal
American Scientific Affiliation, vol.5, no.1, March,
1 of 4
to have occupied the
creative process which had previously occupied six days. Manifestly
in this instance, the word day stands for six days, in
which case the six days could equally well be said to stand for
However, there are two matters
for consideration here. In the first place, the word day is
not accompanied by a numeral; it does not say in one
day, but in the day, a metaphorical use of the word
which is found frequently in Scripture where it is not defined
by a numeral. In the second place, the word used to qualify the
phrase "in the day," is 'asah and not bara.
This word is used on numerous occasions to convey the idea
of "appointment." For example, the Ten Commandments
and the Cities of Refuge were both appointed; they were not created,
since they were already in existence in one form or another.
The significance of the appointment is that they received divine
sanction as part of God's plan. In a similar way, the evils which
may exist in a city can only be by God's appointment (Amos 3:6).
In 1 Kings 12:31, priests are "made" of the lowest
of the people by Jeroboam. One of the best ways to find the original
meaning of such a word is to examine names of which it forms
a part. Here are some examples of names which incorporate the
Asahel (2 Samuel 2:18) "God
Asiel (1 Chronicles 4:35) "Appointed
Asahiah (2 Kings 22:12,14) "Jah has appointed"
are found in which variant forms of the root word occur with
this basic meaning. We may reasonably conclude, therefore, that
in Genesis 2:4 the word day without a numeral simply means
"time," so that the verse refers to the time when the
Lord appointed the earth and the heavens as a setting for the
introduction of man. It is in this sense that the sun and the
moon and the stars, which already existed, were given their special
appointment in Genesis 1:16.
Not a few commentators believe
that the word 'asah and the word bara both mean
the same thing, "to create." Their "proof text"
is Exodus 20:11, which speaks of the process of making the
heavens and the earth as having occupied six days. It is argued
that this six days' work is intended to cover the whole of Genesis
1:1-31. But actually Genesis 1:1,2 are set apart by themselves
as though they were preliminary. The six days' work begins with
the phrase "And God said. . ." -- a phrase which introduces
each day's work very distinctively, as will be seen in verse
3 (day 1), verse 6 (day 2), verse 9 (day 3), 14 (day 4), 20 (day
5), and 26 (day 6). This introductory
phrase is not limited
to the events of each day, for sometimes it occurs twice
on a single day. But it always precedes the activity of any particular
day, and it does not appear in connection with Genesis
1:1,2 at all, clearly setting these statements in a class by
Moreover, the word 'asah is
used quite clearly in the sense of appointment only, as is
the case for example in Job 14:5 (appointed) and Psalm 104:9
(set). In the latter instance, we clearly have a reference to
Genesis 1:16 and to the appointment of the sun and the moon as
markers of time. It does not seem likely that those who hold
as an apparently essential part of their faith that the earth
is only a few thousand years old, and that the one great catastrophe
to have ever overtaken it was the Flood of Noah's time, will
now be persuaded that Genesis 1:2 has reference to a far greater
catastrophe in terms of the earth's past history, nor that the
six days' work were re-constitutional, not initiative. But I
believe that these two words, to make and to create,
are clearly distinguishable and cannot really be equated.
It is not creation that God completed in six days in this case,
but rather a process of re-constitution. Had it been otherwise,
Scripture would surely have used the Hebrew word bara in
Exodus 20:11 in order to make it clear that creation really
was the subject of those six days.
3. The Meaning of the Phrase "The
Foundation of the World"
The Greek word
katabole, translated foundation in the Authorized
Version, is evidently derived from the verbal form kataballein.
This word was used quite frequently by the Alexandrine Jews
who produced the Septuagint version of the Old Testament in Greek.
They used the word kataballein to translate some nine
Hebrew forms which are given below. The meanings of these words
are taken from Gesenius and Furst Hebrew Lexicon, edited
by B. Davies. Four other Hebrew lexicons were also consulted
and are in essential agreement.
to tear down, break down, devastate, overthrow, destroy, extirpate.
2. laqah, to take, lay hold of,
seize, snatch away, captivate.
3. natash, to stretch or spread
out, scatter abroad, reject, let loose, disperse, give up.
4. naphal, to fall, fall away, fall
out, fail, hurl down, cast down, fall upon (attack).
5. nathatz, to break down, destroy,
6. paratz, to break, demolish,
scatter, break up, spread abroad.
7. satam, to lurk for, way-lay, entrap.
8. shahath, to break to pieces,
destroy, ruin, lay waste, devastate, violate, injure, corrupt.
9. shaphel, to fall or sink down,
to be laid low, humiliate, humble.
This list represents
the total range of meanings covered by the Greek verb kataballein
as found in the Septuagint, and they provide, therefore,
a basis for determining the meaning of the noun katabole as
used in the New Testament.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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Since we know that the New Testament
writers were deeply influenced by the Septuagint version, we
may reasonably assume that the word katabole conveyed
to them what the verbal form conveyed to the authors of the Septuagint.
Its meaning is clearly one of destruction. The noun katabole
does not occur in the Septuagint translation of the canonical
books of the Old Testament, but it does occur in one single instance
(2 Maccabees 2:29) where it has the meaning of a building foundation
(see Revised Version, marginal note). Perhaps this extended meaning
originated with the rubble which formed the building platform
in earlier times.
An examination of those passages in Scripture
(some ninety in all) in which a Hebrew word is used that clearly
conveys the idea of, or explicitly uses the word, foundation,
reveals that in no single instance did the Septuagint employ
any form of the verb kataballein. The word used is always
themelios or some modified form of it, exactly as the
New Testament writers used it.