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Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI


Part VI: A Translation of Genesis 1:1 to 2:4

Genesis Chapter One

Setting the Stage:

Verses 1-2

Authorized Version:

    In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
And the earth was without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep,
and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

An interpretative rendering:



ORIGINALLY:      The choice of this word in place of the phrase "In the beginning" was very carefully made. Almost every commentary of an exegetical kind on the Book of Genesis has struggled to find an appropriate phrase whereby to represent what is wrapped up in this original Hebrew compound word (be-reshith, ).
      The trouble is that this noun, reshith, does not have a complete meaning in itself, but always needs some modifying word which must be supplied in English as the context seems to require. For example, in Job 42:12 it is written, "So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning." I do not think that by "the latter end" is meant the last few moments of his life, but rather the last few years. By contrast with "his beginning," these latter years were blessed indeed, provided that the word "beginning" (reshith) is not taken to mean literally

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his first birthday, but rather the whole period prior to the catastrophes which overwhelmed him. In other words, the word "beginning" denotes a state rather than a moment in time.
     In Proverbs 8:22, wisdom is said to have been the Lord's possession in the beginning. Since the Lord had no beginning in the temporal sense, it must be clear that this is not a reference merely to a point in time. In Ecclesiastes 7:8, patience is advocated for those who wait upon the Lord so that the "end" is better than the "beginning," i.e., the state of things improved with time. The idea of a moment or point in time is not involved, but rather a later stage as opposed to an earlier one. Israel once enjoyed a measure of prosperity under the Judges prior to the monarchy. In Isaiah 1:26, God makes a promise to a faithful remnant that such a period of prosperity, still without a monarchy, would in time be restored to them. Once more the idea is not that of a point in time, but a period characterized by a condition or state of affairs.
     There are a few cases in the Old Testament in which a true beginning is intended, this intention being clearly reinforced by a corresponding quotation in the New Testament. One of these is in Psalm 102:25, a passage quoted in Hebrew 1:10 in such a way as to make it pretty clear that we are dealing here with the foundations of things. In Psalm 102:25, the Hebrew word reshith is not used. This seems good evidence that this reshith is not strictly the word for "beginning". For this reason and for grammatical reasons (see Part III, "Betweem the Lines, An Analysis of Genesis 1:1-2" in Time and Eternity, vol.7, The Doorway Papers Series), it is necessary to translate it by some such phrase as "In the former state" or -- for simplicity and to use but one word -- we might render it "Originally." For this word implies "beginning," but it also implies something which the Hebrew writer, I think, intended by his use of the word reshith, namely, a condition different from that which he describes subsequently. He is contrasting the first and therefore original condition with a second and changed condition in verse 2.

GOD:      As is well known to every Bible student, the original Hebrew word, Elohim, takes a plural form followed by a singular verb. It has been customary for biblical conservatives to interpret this as evidence of a very early revelation of the fact that there is more than one person in the Godhead, yet acting as a single agent. With almost equal unanimity, liberal theologians have declared this to be an unfounded assumption; their explanation is that this is an example of the use of a plural form to designate majesty. As though to reinforce the

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dignity of their office, absolute monarchs would refer to themselves as "we" rather than "I." It is a little bit, though not quite, analogous to the editorial "we". This pronouncement, once it had been sponsored by one with sufficient authority in theological circles, was unanimously approved and accepted and reiterated by critics thenceforth right up to the present. It is always said in support of this interpretation that oriental monarchs customarily referred to themselves in this manner.
     How this has passed undisputed for so long is difficult to understand. Neither in Scripture itself nor in the cuneiform literature of antiquity is it found to be the case.
     In Joseph's time the pharaoh of Egypt -- who could probably be considered a pretty good example of an absolute monarch -- consistently refers to himself in the singular, as in Genesis 41:15. This is rather significant in view of the fact that the Higher Critics (and others) have been fond of saying that Moses was influenced by contemporary usage to put God's title in a plural form after the manner of other Great Ones.
     Throughout their subsequent history the Israelites repeatedly suffered at the hands of the absolute monarchs of the Babylonians and the Assyrians. Not one of these, as far as I have been able to verify for myself, ever referred to his own person in the plural. In the Prism of Sennacherib (column 1, line 11, and many times thenceforth) he refers to himself in the singular. Sargon, properly referred to as "the Great" -- who interestingly enough had the experience of being set adrift on his native waterway in a reed basket very much as Moses had been -- consistently refers to himself in the first person singular. Shalmaneser III, to whom the Israelites paid tribute, likewise used only singular pronouns. So did Tiglath-Pileser III, to whom the Israelites paid tribute and under whose hand they suffered deportations. The same may be said of the king of Moab, the originator of the now-famous Moabite Stone. One may conclude, therefore, that the plural form Elohim, followed by a singular verb, is not a borrowed idea but a significant aspect of God's self-revelation.

BROUGHT INTO BEING AND SET IN PERFECT ORDER:     This elaborate phrase is an attempt to convey the rather complex meaning of the Hebrew verb bara (), here appearing in the third person singular and rendered in the Authorized Version, "created". Although the subject is plural in form, the verb is singular, a circumstance very reasonably taken to mean that the three persons in the one Godhead acted in perfect harmony. There seem to have arisen some rather widespread misconceptions as to the meaning

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of the word. It is often said that the word is used only of God's activities, and it is only slightly less frequently said to signify "creation out of nothing". Both of these are erroneous. In the first place, the word is used of human activity on a number of occasions in Scripture, as can be readily verified by any English reader who will refer in Young's Analytical Concordance to the Hebrew Index Lexicon, page 7.
      Essentially the word appears to mean "to cut" or "carve" (hence even "to cut down," i.e., "to kill"): then, "to put the finishing touches to" or "to polish". And so it came to carry the meaning of creation with a polish, i.e., creation in a finished state -- and more than this, with adornment. The Greek word kosmos, translated into English as "world" and meaning rather the created order of things than the more common idea of the inhabited earth (which is a quite different Greek word), really implies adornment with particular emphasis upon order. From this arose the idea of adornment, hence the English word cosmetics.
     In Hebrews 1:2 we are told that God framed the worlds by Jesus Christ, a statement which implies all that has been said above. One fact needs to be added: the Hebrew word bara, when it applies to the activity of God, is used only in what is called the "light" form. Where man's creative activity is concerned, it is used in the "intensive". It is as though creation was easy for God, but difficult for man. This thought is reflected by the juxtaposition of three passages in the Psalms: the first says that creation is the work of his Fingers (8:3); the second, punishment is the work of his Hand (39:10); and the third that salvation is the work of his whole Arm (77:15), thereby signifying that creation was simple, punishment a little more difficult, and salvation the most difficult of all to achieve.
     In the second place, the word does not, either by use or in its root meaning, imply creation out of nothing. Cosmologically, it should be pointed out in any case that the universe was not created out of nothing, but rather out of things which "do not appear" (Hebrews 11:3), i.e., immaterial forces. Moreover, man himself was not created out of nothing, but out of the dust of the ground.
     This may be a good place to mention also that the word 'asah () translated variously in Scripture (but in Genesis 1:1 as "made") should not be assumed, as it often is, to be a synonym. Whereas in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, in six days He re-appointed them. For the word made really means "appointed," as judges are appointed, refuge cities are appointed, and even some of the evils of city life (cf. Amos 3:6). Such categories of persons or things, already in existence, have sometimes received by God's


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appointment a new significance. We shall have more to say about this later, for "creating" is not at all the same as "making".

THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH:      By these two words we are undoubtedly to understand the universe as a whole and not just the earth with its immediate "heavenly" envelope, since this envelope is subsequently referred to more specifically as the "firmament". It should also be noted that it does not say that the creation of the heavens and the earth were the work of the first day. The first day is actually occupied with a much more restricted aspect of God's handiwork. The first verse evidently is a grand opening statement of revelation, standing in a sense by itself -- a circumstance borne out by the fact that not a few ancient manuscripts actually indicate a break in the text at this point. Fuller reference to this will be made in discussing verse 2.

BUT:      The Hebrew conjunction, waw (
), is not quite like the English conjunction "and". In the first place, it does not necessarily imply the continuation of a series of events: for example, it sometimes is used to open a book of the Bible with nothing previously connecting with it (cf. Leviticus 1:1; Judges 1:1; Ezekiel 1:1). It is also used disjunctively rather than conjunctively, so that it is quite properly translated "but". We have so translated it above because, like the authors of the Septuagint who used the Greek de instead of kai, we believe that this verse stands intentionally in contrast with verse 1. Many of the Church Fathers so interpreted it. Jerome in his Vulgate translation has terra autem, i.e., ". . .the earth, however, . . ."; in verse 1 he uses et for the simple "and".

HAD BECOME: This translation, which is perfectly proper, is a point of major contention between certain groups of scholars. To explain why this is so is extremely difficult without become involved in some very complicated matters of grammar and syntax in the Hebrew language. But some attempt must be made to inform the reader what the contention is all about.
     The King James Version has simply the verb "was". The implication is that the chaos described in verse 2 represents the state of the earth as it was first created. The alternative rendering implies otherwise. The creation was perfect, but some circumstance intervened between verses 1 and 2 to reduce a Cosmos to a Chaos. The earth was not created like this, but it had become so. Which picture
is the correct one? Since almost all English

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versions translate the original Hebrew verb hayah in this instance as "was", it would seem that by common consent this is its proper meaning. But is this the case?
     The normal rule in Hebrew, when the simple copulative form of the verb "to be" is required in a sentence, is to leave the verb unexpressed. Thus in the sentence "The man is good," the verb would be omitted and a literal rendering of the Hebrew would be "The man good", rather like an American Indian's "Me good man". If, however, the Hebrew author wishes to express something more than this, such as "The man is becoming good", thereby denoting a change in the situation, then he would introduce the Hebrew verb hayah in its appropriate form. The difference is real. The presence or absence of the verb was in the original Hebrew has a significance that must not be ignored.
     The translators of the King James Version, recognizing this difference and being fully aware that the English reader has difficulty with a sentence like "the man good", naturally supplied the missing verb and made it read "the man is good". However, to show what they had done, they adopted a policy of setting such supplied words in italics. The reader unacquainted with Hebrew is thus able to detect when the verb has been supplied in the original and when it has not; or to put the matter another way, when the Hebrew author intended to signify that a change had taken, or was taking, or would take place, and when he simply viewed the situation as unchanged or unchanging. If the verb is expressed in the original, thus denoting a change in the situation, the King James Version translators used standard type: if the verb is not expressed in the original, thus denoting no change in the situation, the King James Version has supplied it in italics.
     In Genesis 1:2 the first "was" is printed in ordinary type, the second "was" in italics. Similarly in verse 3, the first "was" is in ordinary type, but in verse 4 it is in italics. We are by this to understand that the Hebrew original supplies the appropriate form of the verb in the first instances, but omits the verb in the second. This signifies that a change had occurred with respect to the earth in verse 2 and a change occurred in respect to the coming of light. What was a perfect earth became a ruin; what was dark became light.
     This is not the place to enter into a complicated defense of this observation. In point of fact the evidence in its favour is to my mind almost overwhelming, and it has been recognized for centuries by the Jews themselves. Some of the evidence has been set forth by the author in this series (as noted in Part III in vol.6 of

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The Doorway Papers Series) and in a rather more extended work which, though it requires some dedication to read because of the unfamiliarity of the subject, is by no means beyond the capability of any intelligent layman to understand. It is titled Without Form and Void.
     But we have rendered the verb in this instance not merely by the perfect ("became"), but by the pluperfect ("had become"). The normal order for the Hebrew sentence is conjunction, verb, subject object. In certain circumstances, however, the subject may precede the verb. There are two main occasions for this change of order. The first is when the writer wishes to underscore the fact that the subject of the verb which follows is in contrast to the subject of the previous verb. In thought this is found in the New Testament, where we frequently find after man has done one thing, the text continues "but God. . . ." The second occasion is to indicate the pluperfect of the verb. Translators into English do not always follow this rule, but the text is invariably more meaningful when the rule is observed. Thus in Genesis 10:9 it is said that Nimrod was a mighty hunter before the Lord. But in the original this should be, "Nimrod had become a mighty hunter before the Lord." Analogously, in Genesis 3:1 the original has, "Now the serpent had become more subtle. . . " This rule regarding the inversion of word order to express the pluperfect is not limited to the use of the verb "to be". Deuteronomy 10:16 should be "had journeyed"; Isaiah 1:9 should be "had left"; Jeremiah 12:21 should read "had planted"; Jeremiah 4:25, "had fled". In I Samuel 28:3 the tense is correctly observed, "Israel had lamented. . .  Saul had put away. . . "
     The word order in Genesis 1:2 and the inclusion of the verb "to be" in the original not merely allow for, but positively require, the rendering "had [pluperfect] become". It is quite often stated that the English "become" or "became" is only an appropriate rendering when the object of the verb is accompanied by a lamedh in Hebrew. This is simply not true, as any number of examples will show. For instance, in Genesis 19:26 Lot's wife "became a pillar of salt". The meaning here is absolutely clear, and the lamedh is not used. The following examples will perhaps suffice to demonstrate this.

Genesis 3:20:  And Eve became the mother of all living.
Genesis 4:20:  Abel became a keeper . . . and Cain became a tiller . . .
Genesis 4:21:  Jubal became the father of musicians.
Judges 11:39:  It became a custom in Israel. . . .
Jeremiah 7:11: Is this house . . . become a den of robbers?

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2 Kings 17:3:  And Hosea became his servant.
Isaiah 7:24:  All the land shall become briars and thorns.
Isaiah 17:1:  Damascus shall become a ruinous heap.
Jeremiah 26:18:  And Jerusalem shall become heaps. . . .
Jonah 3:3:  Now Nineveh had become an exceeding great city.

A RUIN AND A DESOLATION:      So much has been written about the Hebrew words tohu and bohu, and so generally is their meaning agreed upon, that little need be said except to sum up the conclusions of Hebrew scholars by pointing out that the words are used to describe, not an incoherent mass waiting to be brought to order, but rather something that has fallen under judgment.
     In Isaiah 45:18 we are told that God did not create the earth "in vain". Here we have the word tohu again. But it seems likely that it is used here, not as a noun, but as an adverb. A similar use of the same word tohu appears in Isaiah 45:19 in the phrase "seek ye Me in vain", where the usage is clearly adverbial and the meaning is obviously as rendered in the King James Version and not as the Revised Standard Version has it.
Some commentators argue that Isaiah 45:18 proves that Genesis 1:2 cannot mean that God created the earth a ruin (tohu ) and that it therefore must have become a tohu subsequently. I am sure the conclusion regarding the earth's history is correct, but I am not sure it can be proved unequivocally by an appeal to Isaiah 45:18 in view of the use of tohu as an adverb in the very next verse (45:19).
     It is reasonably certain, however, that the Jewish commentators themselves understood the words tohu and bohu in Genesis 1:2 to be an emphasized description of chaos resulting from judgment. Their own literature establishes that this view is a very ancient one.
     Whatever is the exact meaning of these words, this much seems fairly certain: they signify a condition of judgment. Such a condition is pictured for us in Jeremiah 4:23, but with this very significant difference in the original Hebrew, namely, that as Jeremiah looked at the land it was -- at that moment -- desolate. The Hebrew original does not employ any form of the verb "to be", since Jeremiah's vision was riveted upon the present moment and not intended to deal with past events leading up to it. The word tohu is also found used in connection with the desolation of a city ("a city of desolation" as in Isaiah 24:10). In Isaiah 34:11 both tohu and bohu are used together in the sentence, "and He shall stretch out upon it a line of confusion [tohu] and the plummet of desolation [bohu]". According to Genesius, the root is probably to be found in the Aramaic "to be confounded", or "desolate".

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THE EARTH:     It will be noticed that the heavens are not included in this statement, and the idea that this passage refers to a nebular condition of the solar system seems completely without foundation.

A PALL OF DARKNESS:      The darkness spoken of here is not exactly the absence of light which is later termed night, for we do not have in the Hebrew original in this instance the word for "night" but a word frequently chosen when the darkness has something unnatural about it -- such as that darkness which fell upon the land of Egypt in judgment (Exodus 10:21following).
     It might be argued that the word for "night" had not yet been introduced and therefore obviously could not have been used in verse 2. But the word heaven and the word earth are both used in the first three verses, and yet they are not defined till later. Evidently it is not to avoid a hitherto undefined term that the word for night was not employed. It was because the darkness was something more than merely the absence of daylight.
     Quite frequently, this word is given a spiritual meaning, as for example, in Psalm 18:28 or Isaiah 9:2. It is quite true that the word is later identified with night-time (Genesis 1:5); but thereafter the night-time "darkness" is not referred to by the Hebrew word hoshech (), but rather by the word layilah () which strictly means "night-time" as opposed to "daytime". The original word hoshech continues to mean something quite different. For this reason, we have tried to convey the idea of something other than merely night-time by introducing the word pall, which I think very nearly recovers the original meaning.

HUNG OVER:      We have supplied these words. Nothing exists in the Hebrew corresponding to them. In the Authorized Version the word was is correctly printed in italics since there is no form of the verb "to be" representing it in the Hebrew text. The meaning is, in fact, simply that this pall of darkness existed, but it seemed appropriate, since this was a scene of desolation, to use the term "hung over" rather than merely "existed" or "was".

THIS SCENE OF DISASTER:      The Hebrew word tehom translated as "the deep" in the Authorized Version is difficult to render exactly: it does not mean "the deep" as synonymous with "the sea", but like many

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of the terms in this second verse, it is associated implicitly or explicitly elsewhere in Scripture with the idea of judgment. Thus although it is rendered sometimes as "waters" (cf. Deuteronomy 8:7), in Genesis 7:11 it is translated "the great waters," i.e., of Noah's Flood which, of course, came in judgment. In Psalm 36:6 it is rendered "a great deep" and is clearly associated with the judgment of God. In Job 28:14 (and on a number of other occasions) it is evidently distinguished from the sea, being rendered, in contradistinction, "the depth". In Syriac the cognate word means "a flood", a phenomenon which is normally considered as undesirable.
     Thus, although the idea of water is involved and therefore the rendering "the deep" is in one sense quite justified, it does not convey the exact idea intended by the original, unless one associates with this water an element of judgment. The Septuagint substitutes the Greek word abussos (our word "abyss") for some thirty occurrences of the word tehom in the Old Testament, a term we meet again in Revelation (9:11; 11:7; 17:8; and 20:1,3) in circumstances which clearly indicate an undesirable condition. Associated with the Abyss is Satan, the Great Serpent or Dragon. This association is a very ancient one.
     It was common in Babylonian times to personify the forces of nature. This may have been because they held these forces to be personal, but it may also have been for teaching purposes because the account was thereby rendered much more vivid and animated, easier to understand and recall. In the Babylonian account of the constitution of order out of chaos, the God of Order battles with an enormous foe, the Goddess of Chaos. Armed with his weapons, the orderly Marduk advances against his enemy, seizes the Goddess of Chaos in a huge net and transfixes her with his scimitar. The carcass of this monster he splits into two halves, one of which becomes Heaven and the other the Abyss of water upon which the earth was supposed to rest. Thus the Goddess is subdued and order is restored; and her name was Tiamat -- probably related originally to the Hebrew word tehom, translated "the deep" in the Authorized Version. Although this tradition is mythological, it lends support to the idea that the Deep was not merely the unrestrained waters of the ocean (later to have their bounds set for them), but something more terrible.
    Wallis Budge has pointed out that in one Babylonian tablet Tiamat is called "the Great Serpent," a fact which strengthens the contention that the Hebrew word tehom implies something far worse than merely water on the rampage. It is apparently related in some way to the activities of Satan, a place or a condition which even the  

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 demons themselves (although they are part of Satan's kingdom) would like to avoid (Luke 8:31).
We have rendered this a "scene of disaster" because such is what it really appears to have been.

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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