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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 1:1-2:4

Setting the Stage:
Verses 2-5

Authorized Version:

     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:



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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legitimate alternative rendering would be "a mighty wind moved upon the face of the waters".
     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 storm".
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".

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     The 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 day" has

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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 one day".

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.
                 a. Hebrew has a perfectly good word (
'olam), for what we mean by a geological age


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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? It is

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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.

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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.

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     This 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 creation.
     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 none else.

      It 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).

     Finally, it 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 clear.
     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.

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      Originally, God brought into being and set in perfect order the heavens and the earth.
      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.

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  Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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