Table of Contents
Vol.7: Hidden Things of God's Revelation
A TRANSLATION OF GENESIS 1:1 to 2:4
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Setting the Stage: Genesis
1:1, 2, and 3-5
The Creation of Life: Genesis
The Creation of Man: Genesis
Epilogue: Genesis 2:1-4
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)
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.
2 of 5
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.
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
6:13 be 7:2
6:15 am 7:12
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
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.
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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