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Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI


Vol.7: Hidden Things of God's Revelation








A Translation

Setting the Stage: Genesis 1:1, 2, and 3-5
The Creation of Life: Genesis 1:6-25
The Creation of Man: Genesis 1:26-31
Epilogue: Genesis 2:1-4



Publication History:
1961: Doorway paper No.30, privately published by Arthur C. Custance
1977: Part VI in Hidden Things of God's Revelation, vol.7 of The Doorway Papers Series.
1997: Arthur Custance Online Library (HTML)
2001: 2nd Online Edition (design revisions)

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     SO MANY new translations of Scripture are being offered these days that it might be difficult to justify another one (even though this is limited to so few verses), but for the fact that one important point of Hebrew syntax has consistently been overlooked. This is the use of the verb "to be". It is particularly significant in many key verses in the early chapters of Genesis.
     One of the great advantages of the Authorized Version is the use of italics for words which have been supplied by the translators which do not appear in the original. For this reason, in the text which follows, italicized words as they appear in the Authorized Version are also italicized, but not specifically to emphasize them. After each verse taken directly from the King James Version, a new translation appears in small capitals with further emphasis where necessary. After each re-translation, some comments will be found for throwing further light upon my alternative.
     The Hebrew language is in one sense simple. Thus some of the subtleties of thought and meaning depended upon special devices, including the omission of some words in certain contexts where we would consider their inclusion essential to complete the sense. To the Hebrew writer, the omission had important significance. This applies in a special way to the use of the verb "to be".
     A second method of making distinctions in meaning was by the use of special word orders, particularly changing the position of the verb, its object, and its subject in a sentence.
     To ignore these literary devices is to miss entirely the original intention of the writer. To respect these carefully in translation is sometimes to discover a quite wonderful new light on many familiar passages, and sometimes to find an entirely new meaning of very great importance, possibly averting a serious misunderstanding of the writer's intention.

     pg 2 of 5     

     Let me give one simple illustration -- which will be repeated in due course, but may serve to prepare the way. In Genesis 3:10 in the Authorized Version, Adam is recorded as having said, "And I was afraid because I was naked." In the English text, the verb was is printed in italics because it has been supplied by the translators. By contrast, Genesis 3:20 reads, "And Adam called his wife's name Eve because she was the mother of all living." In this instance the word "was" is not written in italics because it did not have to be supplied by the translators: it appears in the original as part of the verb "to be".
     The significance of these two uses is as follows. In Hebrew where it is desired simply to use the verb "to be" in any of its tenses, no verb at all appears in the original. However, if the verb "to be" has the more involved meaning of "a change of state or condition or circumstance", then it is written in the original Hebrew. Thus, whenever the word was is written in italics in the Authorized Version, it means simply what we mean by the word. For example, Adam was naked: this is the way he was created, this is the way he observed himself at the time of making this statement. No change had taken place in this basic condition. On the other hand, Eve at the moment of Adam's speaking in verse 20 was not the mother of all living. She might have been in a prophetic sense, but at this moment she was not, for not until chapter 4, verse 1, did she become pregnant. It is therefore necessary to have regard to the fact that in the original Hebrew of verse 20 it does not say, "She was the mother of all living", but rather "She became  ()    the mother of all living".
     This is an important point to observe, and in a few instances it makes a profound difference in the meaning of the sentence.
     For further illustration, turn to Judges 6:12 in any edition of the Authorized Version and read through chapter 7, verse 14. Notice that various forms of the verb "to be" appear in italics as follows:

6:12   is                         6:22   was
6:13   be                          7:2   are
6:15   am                       7:12   were

     All of these are in italics and therefore are properly rendered as shown in the text by these simple forms. There is no change of state in any of these cases. In verse 15 Gideon is the least in his father's house and his family is poor. In verse 22 he perceives that the being who stands before him is an angel, and so forth. But in verse 27 the text reads, "And so it was, because he feared his father's household and the men of the city, that he could not do it by day, that he did it by night." In this passage, the was is in the original Hebrew and it

     pg.3 of 5    

should more properly be rendered, "and so it became that . . ." or more familiarly, "and so it came to pass that. . . . "
     The point here is that recognition by the scholars responsible for the Authorized Version of the need to pay attention to this distinctive use in Hebrew was accorded by their use of italics. As will become apparent now, this device makes it possible for the English reader with no knowledge of Hebrew to read the translation with much better understanding than is possible, for example, with the Revised Standard Version, which has not adopted this principle.
     There is one caution here that is rather important. Sometimes the word was (or is, etc.) belongs to the verb that follows. Only a student acquainted with Hebrew will be able to resolve this difficulty by reference to the original where there is any doubt. But there are numerous cases where an ordinary understanding of English is sufficient guide. This is true in Genesis 3:20, for example, as already quoted -- "because she became the mother of all living" -- since the verb was is the only verb in the sentence.
     The other point of importance, especially in certain key verses, is the fact that Hebrew does not have all the tense forms found in English. It does not have a specific form for expressing the future, nor is there a specific form to express the pluperfect. The future is expressed by using either the present tense or the past tense in a special way: the pluperfect is expressed by changing the order of the words. It is the second of these that concerns us particularly at this time. The normal order for a Hebrew sentence is verb, subject, object. When the subject is placed first, one of two meanings is intended: either the writer wishes to draw attention to the fact that he is talking about a new subject, or he wishes it to be understood that the verb is in the pluperfect tense.
     It is with the observance of these linguistic devices in mind that the translation that follows has been undertaken. Yet, while it is most desirable to hold as closely as possible to the original Hebrew at all times, it did not seem to us necessary to render slavishly the same word in the original by the same exact phrase in English every time it occurred, provided that there was no real departure from the manifest intent of the original. This will be found to be true in our rendering of the Hebrew which underlies the English phrases "the firmament of Heaven", "the moving creature that hath life", and "after his kind", for example. The really important thing is to grasp what the original text signifies and then find as many fresh ways of conveying the same meaning as is consistent with freedom of expression.

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     One further observation. This is not intended to be an attempt to reconcile Scripture with geology. It is an attempt rather to get at the Author's intent. This is not possible merely by word equivalents, faithfully giving the same meaning each time the same word occurs. For this reason, there can scarcely ever be any such thing as an absolutely literal rendering if the text is to have any flow of language to it. Interpretation becomes necessary, and interpretation always suffers from the bias of the interpreter. My own bias will be obvious enough, yet I think we have not betrayed the Hebrew text.
      Finally, as we have it in existing manuscripts, the early chapters of Genesis are not written as poetry. The Psalms are written as poetry, and so are many other portions of Scripture. Poetry is most obviously indicated by the manner in which the text is arranged in lines, though there are more subtle means of signifying poetry, such as parallelism in couplets. But Genesis is not presented in this way. It would seem presumptuous, therefore, for anyone with this piece of information available to allegorize the text freely on the grounds that it is, after all, a poem of creation and not a sober history.
     This is a "commentary" for study purposes and is not intended in any sense as an aid to devotional reading.


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