Table of Contents
Part VI: A Translation of Genesis
Setting the Stage:
And the Spirit of God moved
upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light that it was
good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.
And the evening and the morning
were the first day.
An interpretative rendering:
AND THE SPIRIT OF GOD
MOVED MIGHTILY UPON THE FACE OF THE WATERS. AND GOD SAID, "LET
IT BECOME LIGHT": AND IT BECAME LIGHT. AND GOD SAW THE LIGHT
THAT IT WAS GOOD.
AND GOD CALLED THE LIGHT
"DAY", AND THE DARKNESS HE CALLED "NIGHT".
AND THE EVENING AND THE MORNING TOGETHER CONSTITUTED ONE DAY.
THE SPIRIT OF GOD:
The Hebrew word for "spirit"
is also the word for "breath" and for "wind".
It is therefore possible that the phrase "the spirit of
God" could be equally well read as "the wind of God".
Such an alternative does not make very good sense, but it happens
that Hebrew writers, when they wish to convey the idea of something
very powerful or very large or very tall, employ a similar sentence
construction. Thus, in Psalm 36:6, David, in order to magnify
the righteousness of God, speaks of it as being like the great
mountains. In the original Hebrew the phrase "great mountains"
is written out as "the mountains of God". Similarly,
in Psalm 80:10 the "goodly cedars" are in the original
spoken of as "the cedars of God". It is therefore quite
possible in Genesis 1:2, where we are told that the spirit of
God moved upon the face of the waters, that a
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rendering would be "a mighty wind moved upon the face of
But there is one difference between
Genesis 1:2 and the two passages from the Psalms. The word God
in the Psalms is a translation of the Hebrew El, not the
more familiar Elohim. El may possibly mean "mighty".
In Genesis 1:2 the Hebrew has Elohim, not El. However,
the difference may not have any significance, because other writers
in the Old Testament who have used this mode of conveying the
idea of magnitude have employed the longer form Elohim
for El. Thus the city of Nineveh (in Jonah 3:3) is described
as an "exceedingly great city", which in the original
is written out as a "great city of God" (i.e., Elohim).
It is a little analogous to an expression which I have heard
farmers use when speaking of a severe storm as being a "God-awful
There is some justification therefore for rendering this sentence
"And a mighty wind swept over the surface of the waters"
as the New English Bible has done, or "a tempestuous wind
raging over the surface of the waters" as Smith and Goodspeed
have translated it.
But it seems more consonant with
the spiritual nature of revelation to follow the basic pattern
of the King James Version, the Revised Standard Version, and
the New American Standard Bible, all of which render this "the
spirit of God".
MOVED MIGHTILY: The Hebrew word which
is translated moved in the King James Version is (rachaph). We have only three occurrences
of this word in the Old Testament. These are Genesis 1:3, Deuteronomy
32:11, and Jeremiah 23:9. In Jeremiah the word is applied to the shaky
bones of a drunken man! Deuteronomy 32:11 is a reference to the eagle
fluttering over her nest. It is this reference that is usually taken by
commentators as the best clue to the basic meaning of the word. That the
Holy Spirit should appear in the form of a dove (John 1:32) seems to confirm
the appropriateness of such a word, as the Spirit of God hovered over
the destroyed world about to be restored. The idea of concern is indicated
in the Hebrew original by the use of a special form of the verb which
is the "Intensive" or Piel Form. If the ordinary form of a verb
means, let us say, "to kill", the intensive form of that same
verb would mean "to slaughter" or "to massacre". English
uses a different verb entirely: Hebrew would use the same root word but
change its form. The original Hebrew verb rachaph used in Genesis
1:3 is in the intensive form, hence the desirability of adding "mightily".
Septuagint rendered this by the Greek epipherein, which in the New Testament means "to bring to
bear upon" or simply "to bear upon". This word appears
in Acts 25:18 and in Jude 9, where in both instances it is associated
with the bringing of an accusation against someone. In Philippians 1:16
Paul uses it when he is speaking of circumstances which added to his afflictions.
These three occurrences would not seem to support the previous observations
to the effect that the word has a certain intensity of meaning, but in
another sense they do in that both accusations and afflictions involve
an element of violence. At any rate in classical Greek this aspect of
the word is very much more evident from a study of its usage. For example,
it is used in the sense of "laying heavy hands upon", of "attacking"
or "assailing", of "imposing upon," of "gratifying
passions," of "bringing something upon oneself," of "rushing
upon," of "being eager to do", and of "great waves
dashing against a ship."
If one attempts to compress into a single word all these ideas
of active concern, of hovering over with eager intent, of effecting
changes by deliberate intervention, or any other equally determined
activity, one has to surrender much of the content of the original
verb. A single word in English simply does not suffice. In short
we need to coin a phrase which as simply as possible conveys
all these ideas -- even though the translation may then seem
to have gone far beyond the original text. The word moved
nicely combines both activity and an undertone of an emotional
involvement. The word mightily reinforces the sense of
power and energy, of successful operation and effectiveness,
and reflects also something of the alternative meaning of the
phrase which we have rendered "the Spirit of God".
LET IT BECOME LIGHT: AND IT BECAME LIGHT: In the original Hebrew,
the verb "to be" is expressed in both instances, and
therefore the words "be" and "was" are in
the King James Version correctly printed in standard type and
not in italics. It is clear that the Creator intended it to be
understood that He was commanding a change, a fact which is surely
in Paul's mind when he penned 2 Corinthians 4:6. Both instances
have reference to a re-creation beginning with darkness that
becomes light. On the other hand, God saw that the light was
good, not that it became good. Moreover only the light is mentioned
as good; not the darkness.
THE EVENING AND THE MORNING CONSTITUTED ONE DAY: Again,
the verb "to be" is expressed in the original, signifying
that circumstances have changed somewhat. The term "one
significance as a concept
only for ourselves, and not for the animal or vegetable world.
In the vast untold ages which had preceded the scene of devastation
in verse 2, the sequence of days really did not have the same
significance. But now that man is about to be introduced upon
the scene as a creature with a unique time sense, it is appropriate
that God should begin to number the intervals by which man will
consciously regulate his life.
But the concept of days, i.e., periods of light alternating with
periods of darkness, was by no means a new thing upon the earth;
therefore, as the Revised Standard Version has correctly shown,
the divine Author does not refer to this as the first
day. He is in fact saying, not that days began at this point
in time, but rather that henceforth an evening and a morning
constituted a day, and all man's days are hereafter numbered.
The restrictive meaning of the phrase "evening and morning"
is borne out by its use in Daniel 8:14 and in the New Testament
by Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 11:25.
It is quite possible, however,
that even more than this is intended. The original Hebrew phrase
of Genesis 1:5 -- "one day" -- is also found in Zechariah
14:6, 7, where the meaning of uniqueness rather than merely unity
is involved. Perhaps this occasion in Genesis 1:5 was not one
day simply, but a unique day also -- the birthday of a re-creation.
The days which follow are properly
referred to as second, third, and so forth: but not this day.
Moreover, as will be noted by reference to the King James Version,
it is said that the evening and the morning "were"
the first day: italics are not used, because the verb "to
be" is represented in the original. It therefore really
has the significance of "becoming" a unique day. In
this instance it would seem that the original intends us to understand
that this was an occasion upon which God deliberately constituted
this particular evening and morning time period as a "day"
and thereby fixed the real meaning of the six days which follow
as periods of twenty-four hours. Evidently when he wrote his
Vulgate version, Jerome understood the original in this way,
for he renders it factum est dies unis, i.e., "was
made one day" -- or, as we have rendered it, "constituted
DAY: About the meaning of this word
(, yom) in the context of chapter
1, very much has been written and very little new can be said. A few observations
may be in order.
1. For several reasons there is
little justification for interpreting the world as an age.
Hebrew has a perfectly good word ( 'olam), for what we mean by a geological age
which would surely have
been used if this were the intention. 'Olam would have
been the logical choice, since it means a long period of time
with very ill-defined boundaries. It is virtually impossible
to think of any way in which God could have made it more obvious
that He did not mean ages than by the deliberate avoidance of
the word. The text could not have made it any clearer than it
is that ordinary days are intended.
b. Those for whom this record was intended could
not possibly have understood the meaning of a geological age
-- the record would not have been meaningful, but rather mystifying.
One cannot use a term -- the meaning of which is familiar to
a people in the context of their daily experience -- to reveal
to them something which is entirely outside this daily experience
unless at the same time the new meaning of the term is made clear:
and 'olam simply meant the indefinite past or the indefinite
future. The concept of a geological age was wholly foreign to
the people to whom the creation account was committed for preservation.
By contrast, these earliest readers were assured that the term
day signified exactly what common experience would lead
them to believe it did.
2. Unlike the word 'olam which means an age
of unspecified length regardless of whether it is accompanied
by a numeral or not, the word day has definite restrictions
placed upon its meaning by qualifying words. In ordinary non-prophetic
language it consistently has the meaning of a twenty-four-hour
period whenever it is accompanied by a numeral; this appears
to be true in both biblical and extra-biblical Hebrew. In prophetic
utterances the situation is different; whether accompanied by
a numeral or not, it may then stand for an extended period of
time. There is seldom any real difficulty in establishing whether
a passage is prophetical or merely historical. In Genesis there
is no evidence that the intention of the account is prophetic;
it is a simple straightforward record of past events. Being not
only accompanied by a numeral but also qualified by the use of
the phrase "evening and morning", its meaning is undoubtedly
intended to be understood literally.
3. If in Genesis 1 the days are geological ages,
what are we to do with the seventh day during which we must assume
that Adam remained unfallen, since God also rested on that day?
impossible to believe
that God would have continued at rest if Adam had fallen during
that day. Did Adam then endure in an unfallen state and in perfect
fellowship with God within the confines of Eden for thousands
and thousands of years, a seventh geological age?
And when, because of his disobedience
Adam finally died having lived some 930 years (Genesis 5:5),
are we to understand that these were literal years, or were they
years composed of days which were really geological ages? At
what point in the narrative did geological ages end and normal
years replace them in the account of events which happened in
the first five chapters of Genesis? By the time we reach the
sixth chapter we know that the days are real days and the years
real years. Where is the changeover point? It is impossible to
find room for its insertion without making nonsense of a narrative
which runs unbroken from Adam to Noah in a way that is clearly
intended to be plain sober human history.
4. The weight of authority is in favour of
literal days. One can scarcely find a single reputable Hebrew
scholar who supports the view that the word yom in Genesis
can properly be understood to mean anything other than a literal
day. Personal correspondence with the heads of the Semitic Departments
of a number of universities including Columbia, Harvard, McGill,
Yale, Toronto, and Manitoba and the head of the Near and Middle
East Department of the University of London (England) confirmed
in writing that they all believe the word as employed in Genesis
1 can only be taken to mean a period of twenty-four hours. These
authorities were asked to express an opinion on purely linguistic
grounds without regard to problems this may create in reconciling
Genesis with modern geological views.
In the International Critical Commentary
edited by Driver, Plummer, and Briggs, of Higher Critical fame, Skinner
is the author of volume I on Genesis. He says, "The interpretation
of yom ( i.e.,
day) as an age, a favourite recourse of harmonists of Science and Revelation,
is opposed to the plain sense of the passage, and has no warrant in
Hebrew usage -- not even in Psalm 90:4. To introduce that idea here
destroys the analogy on which the sanctity of the Sabbath rests. . .
All in all, it seems that any attempt
to effect a reconciliation with geology by interpreting the days
as geological periods raises far more problems than it solves.
It is, in fact, a rather camouflaged confession of doubt as to
whether God is able to work miracles -- in this case, a miracle
of accelerated creation.
5. It is commonly
asserted that the best argument for interpreting these days as ages
is to be found in Genesis 2:4, where it is written, "These are
the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created,
in the day when the Lord made the heavens and the earth." Two things
may be said in answer to this: (a) the word day here is not accompanied
by a numeral, and one need not insist upon it therefore as being a period
of twenty-four hours. It has the meaning simply "when the Lord
made, etc.. . " (b) The word "made" ('asah, ) is never to be confused with the word "created".
In the Old Testament many words through the centuries enlarged their
meanings also. One of the best ways to discover the more ancient meaning
is to consider those personal names of which the word forms a part.
For example, the name Asah-el in 2 Samuel 2 means "God has appointed".
In 2 Kings 22:12, 14 we have the name Asa-jah, which means "Jah
has appointed". In 1 Chronicles 4:35 we have Asiel, which means
"appointed of God". In 1 Samuel 12:6 it is said that the Lord
advanced Moses and Aaron. It is probable that this means that the Lord
"appointed" them, for the Hebrew verb is 'asah. In
1 Kings 12:31 Jeroboam appointed priests of the lowest of the people
who were not Levites. Here again the verb is 'asah. In Jeremiah
37:1 5 Jeremiah is put into a private house which had been constituted
('asah) a prison. Again and again the word "made" in
the King James Version really has the sense of appointment, something
which was not created, but arranged. Thus the cities of refuge were
appointed ('asah) for the safety of those who desired to escape
the hand of the avenger and sought fair trial. Amos 3:6 asks the question,
"Is there evil in any city and God hath not appointed it ('asah)?"
In Exodus 20:11, "In six days the Lord appointed heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day."
These are literal days and refer back to Genesis 1. Thus in Genesis
2:4 the meaning is surely, "When the Lord appointed the earth and
the heavens." It will be noted in this verse that when speaking
of creation, the heavens precede the earth, but because this is a re-constitution
primarily of the earth, in the second part of the verse the earth precedes
the heavens instead.
It may be objected that the most
casual reference to a concordance gives dozens of passages in
which the word "made" ('asah) means quite obviously
"constructed" -- as in constructing an altar of an
idol or a metal vessel. But while this is clearly the case, there
is no question of "creation" -- but only of taking
some existing material in one form and converting it into something
else. This is exactly what is involved in the reconstitution
or "re-making" of the earth immediately prior to the
introduction of man.
brings us finally to a consideration of Isaiah 45:18, in which
the words "created" (bara), "fashioned"
or "formed" (yatsar), "appointed"
or "made" ('asah), and "established"
(kun) are all carefully used with clear distinctions being
made between them, and the significant observation that the ruin
of Genesis 1:2 (the tohu) did not form a part of the original
The verse in the Authorized Version
reads as follows:
For thus saith the Lord
that created the heavens; God Himself that formed the earth and
made it; He hath established it, He created it not in vain, He
formed it to be inhabited: I am the Lord, and there is
difficult to avoid the impression that this verse was specifically
penned to underscore the translation of Genesis 1:2 as we have
rendered it. The Lord says here, speaking of the heavens, simply
that He created them. Of the earth He says much more. First,
He formed it (yatzar), a word which means to fashion in
the sense that Jeremiah watched a potter fashioning a vessel.
The implication is one of deliberate molding and shaping with
an end in view. Then He appointed it ('asah), i.e., provided
its accouterments or furnishings -- trees, plants, rivers, animals,
and so forth -- again with a conscious purpose in view. Next
He established it (kun), that is to say, set its processes
to run in appropriate cycles. Moreover He did not create it tohu
("in vain" in the Authorized Version). Genesis 1:2
is not a picture of God's handiwork the way He originally created
it. He formed it to be inhabited -- by man. This was His original
intention, and although Satan in some way disrupted the processes
of the fulfillment of God's program, he could not do this altogether,
for God undertook a work of re-ordering the earth's surface,
as He undertakes the work of re-ordering a man's ruined life
(2 Corinthians 4:6).
will be noted that the forming of the earth precedes the making
of it (using the terminology of the King James Version). That
is to say, God fashioned it first as a stage and then provided
its appointments, its "properties".
An analogous use of the word made
meaning "appointed", is found not infrequently in the
New Testament, more especially -- as is most appropriate indeed
-- in Hebrews 7:20-22, 28, in which the meaning is absolutely
Since these five verses constitute
an epilogue to the whole of the redemption story which occupies
the rest of Scripture, it may be well to set forth as a single
text this passage as we have proposed it.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White.
All rights reserved
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God brought into being and set in perfect order the heavens and
But the earth had become
a ruin and a desolation and a pall of darkness hung over
this scene of disaster.
And the Spirit of God moved
mightily upon the face of the waters. And God said, "Let
it become light". And it became light; and God saw the light
that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night.
And the evening and
morning together constituted a single day.