Remember my preference


Table of Contents

  Chapter  1
  Chapter  2
  Chapter  3
  Chapter  4
  Chapter  5
  Chapter  6
  Appendix I
  Appendix II
  Appendix III
  Appendix IV
  Appendix V
  Appendix VI
  Appendix VII
  Appendix VIII
  Appendix IX
  Appendix X
  Appendix XI
  Appendix XII
  Appendix XIII
  Appendix XIV
  Appendix XV
  Appendix XVI
  Appendix XVII
  Appendix XVIII
  Appendix XIX
  Appendix XX
  Appendix XXI
  Biblical References
General Bibliography

                             Chapter 2.




"But the earth had become a desolation...."


The rendering above departs from that to be observed in almost

all the better known English translations in three ways:* the use of a

disjunctive (but for and), the use of the pluperfect in the place of the

simple perfect, and the use of became in place of the simple was.

Of the disjunctive, little need be said.    The Hebrew  (waw)

stands for both the conjunctive and the disjunctive particles, and the

context alone can determine which is the more appropriate. There

is, as we have seen, some reason to prefer the disjunctive in view

of the indicated pause in the Hebrew text at the end of verse 1. In

Appendix XIV will be found a number of illustrations of this use, in-

cluding some instances in which the correctness of the disjunctive

form is borne out not merely by the obvious sense of the passage

quoted but by its reappearance as a quotation in the New Testament

where the Greek has "but", not "and" (ie.,  rather than  

The use of the pluperfect is dealt with in the following chapter, the

point being reserved for discussion only after the translation of the

verb itself has been carefully considered. The most critical issue

is whether  should here be rendered "was" or "became" since




* See Appendix III.


pg 1 of 19       

the true significance of the verb, and indeed of the second verse as

a whole, hinges upon the settlement of this point. Granted that this

point can be settled, the other two points will probably not be ser-

iously disputed.

Now this discussion does not make easy reading, not only because

of the subtleties involved (as will appear) but also because the verb we

must examine in its commoner forms happens also to be the very verb

we must use in its commoner forms in order to make the examination!

One runs into this kind of thing: "In such a case, the word was is

incorrect....". Or one might put this: "In such a case, the word

"was" is incorrect... ."; or " the word WAS is incorrect"; or "the

word was is incorrect....". At any rate, this points up the nature

of the problem!  Thus we are forced to employ various devices

(underlinings, capitals, italics, and 'quote' marks) in order to make

each point clearer.*   And this kind of constant typographical switch-

ing is most distressing to even a thoroughly dedicated reader. But

it seems unavoidable.

In view of the fact that one can scarcely construct an English

sentence of any complexity without using some form of the verb "to

be", it is difficult to realize that there are well-developed languages

which make little or no use of it at all in the simple copulative sense.

When, in English, we express the straightforward idea, "The man is

good", the verb "to be "is used merely to connect together the words

man and good.   Many languages, and indeed many children, simply

say, "man good", considering the connective verb quite unnecessary.

A child will say, "Me good boy": an Indian might say, "Me brave

man".   Hebrew does the same.

Benjamin Lee Whorf, the 'founder' of that branch of the study of

language known as Metalinguistics, observed that a Hopi Indian, for

example, has difficulty in understanding why we say, "It is raining".

because to his way of thinking the It is the rain.  One might just as

well say, "Rain is raining" - which of course is a redundancy.   So

he wonders why we don't simply say, as he does, "Raining"! Neither




* In the biblical quotations which follow, we have tried

to indicate to the reader where the verb "to be" has been

supplied in the English though absent in the original by put-

ting the verb in brackets.    Thus: Gen. 3.11, "Who told thee

that thou (wast) naked?" indicates that (wast) has been

supplied to complete the English sentence.


     pg.2 of 19      

the It nor the Is serves any useful purpose in this English sentence

and common sense, therefore, would argue the leaving out of both of

them.   But this would not sound correct to us.   Yet, as we have

observed, Hebrew shares the un-English view that a verb is not

needed here since it really contributes nothing.

Now, in translating, it is quite customary to equate the Hebrew

verbal form  with the English "to be", but it has been recognized

by Hebraists for many years that the equation is not strictly valid.

In English, being is a kind of static concept, things simply "are" this

or that. When we say, "The man is tall", we are not speaking of a

dynamic event but a more or less static situation.   "The field is

flat" is indeed a static situation.   In both these sentences English

requires some part of the verb "to be" in order to satisfy our sense

of linguistic propriety.   Yet in spite of the possession of the verb

  with its supposed sense of "being", Hebrew would not think it

necessary here and the verb is would therefore not be represented

in the Hebrew.

The reader who is limited to English will find that in some editions

of the Bible, especially in the Authorized Version, a means is prov-

ided, simply by the use of italics, to show where any part of the verb

"to be" has been inserted in the English translation to complete the

sense though not found in the original Hebrew. For example, if one

opens a first edition of the Scofield Bible at (say) page 21, some

eleven copulative or connective occurrences of the verb "to be" will

be found in italics, appearing in the text as is, art, be, and was: and

on page 395 some 39 examples will be found in the forms was and were

In every instance the word has been supplied by the translators where

the Hebrew original did not consider any verb necessary.*




*      Any page would, of course, have served to illustrate

the point, and any printing of the Authorized Version will

show it.    Thus, for example from Jud. 6.10 to 7.14 we have

in 6.10 am, 13 be, 15 am and is, 22 was 24 is, 25 is, 30 be;

and in 7.1 is, 2 are and are, 3 is, 12 were, 13 was, and

14 is.      All these are copulative and  is omitted in

the original.      On the other hand, in Judges 6.27 the

verb was is not in italics since it is found in the Hebrew,

and it is clear that the intent of the writer was something

beyond the mere copulative force of the verb: as for example


                                                        Continued page 44.


     pg.3 of 19      



Thus the fundamental idea behind the Hebrew verb  is not pre-

cisely what would be copulative in English but is a far more dynamic

concept. This is indicated to some extent by its possible etymology.

A number of authorities, including Gesenius and Tregelles, believed

that the primary meaning was that of "falling" - comparing the word

with the Arabic  meaning "to be headlong" or '"to fall down".

From this came the idea of "befalling" in the sense of "happening",

and so "to fall out", and thence "to come to be", ie., "to become".

From this idea of having become, we pass easily into the meaning

"to be" in the sense of having existence but the copulative sense

usually attributed to it seems without logical foundation.


Subsequently, Tregelles came to believe that the concept of "fall-

ing" was not really primary, and that the notion of "being" came

instead from that of "living". From the concept of "living" the idea

of "being" is readily derived so that it comes easily to mean "to be":

but this kind of being is dynamic being, living being, not the static

kind of being which is equative as when one says, "This is (ie., equals)

that", but the kind which is implied in such a sentence as "He is

alone", or "He is with thee".

Thus while Benjamin Davies gives the basic meaning as "to be" -

usually with the sense of "to exist", "to be alive", "to come into

being", and so "to become" - Brown, Driver and Briggs list the

meanings of  in the following order: "to fall"; "to come to pass";

"to become"; and "to be".   And under the last heading they add

subsequently in parenthesis, "often with the subordinate idea of


The concept of dynamic as opposed to static being is of great

importance to an understanding of the Hebrew usage of the word.

Boman, in a critical study of the verb, concludes that it is never

used copulatively at all and that all the usual illustrations of such a

use provided in lexicons are not really valid. He does not consider

that even Ratschow, who made a quite exhaustive study of Old Testa-

ment usage, was really able to give any clear unequivocal instances.

Thus, for example, in Gen. 2.25 the sentence, "and they were




"And it came to be that...."    In Gen. 23.17 the verb 'to be'

is set in italics 5 times!    We need this insertion of the

verb to fill out the sentence, but the Hebrew writer did not

see any need for it and so omitted it entirely.


     pg.4 of 19      

(  ) both naked and were not ashamed", means not so much that

at the moment of speaking the writer is observing the simple fact of

their nakedness but that this was how they lived, daily. They "went

about" without clothing and without shame.   Subsequently, they

suddenly became aware that they were naked and this awareness

brought with it a sense of shame not experienced before.  This was

nakedness in a new way and it occurred quite suddenly - suddenly

enough that Adam "discovered" it with a sense of shock. That this

was in the nature of a discovery is implied in the Lord's words (in

Gen, 3.11), "Who told thee that thou (wast) naked?". The question

would have been pointless otherwise. Thus the real emphasis here

is no longer upon the circumstance that Adam and Eve had been living

naked in the Garden of Eden but that they had both suddenly discovered

a fact which caused them to be ashamed.

Boman argues that the simple "is" or "was" in an English sentence

is never expressed in Hebrew and that where it IS expressed it does

not mean what the English translation implies. It is used in the sense

of eventuality: it is not used for a simple fact or circumstance or


One might wonder how Hebrew would then distinguish between the

phrase, "the man is good", and "the good man".   In a sense they

convey the same basic idea, but there is a subtle difference. In any

case Hebrew can make the distinction.    The first would appear

simply as "the man good" (ha-ish tobh:   ), and the second,

as "the man the good one"(ha-ish ha-tobh:   ).

One might then ask further, How would the distinction be made

between the sentences, "the man is good" and "the man was good"?

In Hebrew, the context is allowed to decide the matter.   While it

might seem that this would be difficult (as upon occasion it is), the

number of such occasions must be remarkably small for there seems

to be not the slightest hesitation in omitting the verb, whether the

sense of "is" or "was" is intended. Such will be apparent from the

footnote with examples on page 43 of this Chapter and from the more

elaborate study which will be found in Appendix IV.

Some have felt this to be a real difficulty.   Barr, for example,

argues that the verb must be inserted when the tense is past and the

situation no longer exists. For example, if a writer meant to say,

"The man was good.... but is no longer so", ie., "The man was

once good", then he would insert the appropriate form of the verb "to

be" to indicate the altered circumstance.

But this rule does not hold.    For example, according to this

principle, the record of Job's complaint in Chapter 29 should have


     pg.5 of 19      

the verb was in the original since the situation has clearly been

altered by his diseased condition. Yet, in point of fact, the Hebrew

omits it. It is not merely that the situation is no longer true today:

the situation was no longer true when the statement was made. Thus

Job, inverses 14 and 15 and 20, tells his self-appointed comforters

that he was formerly - ie., was once - a father to the blind and feet

to the lame: he once enjoyed fame and recognition and his roots once

spread beside the waters like a flourishing tree.   The meaning of

his complaint is unmistakable. He WAS all those things but is no

longer so: yet the Hebrew writer saw no need to express the connect-

ive verb "was" in such a situation.

We have another example in the case of Pharaoh's servants in

Gen. 41.   Here the butler recalls (verse 12) how he and a fellow

tradesman were in prison and how at that time a Hebrew named

Joseph was also with them. Clearly the situation had now changed

for the speaker, since he is a free man - and his fellow tradesman

is dead. He refers back, therefore, to a situation which from his

point of view no longer exists and the English translation in verse 12

properly inserts the verb "was" - but the Hebrew omits it.   Some

might argue that the situation for Joseph had not changed, since he

was still in prison! But one must surely consider the circumstances

from the point of view of the speaker. The omission of the verb in

reporting his speech shows, therefore, that it is not required merely

because there is the implication of altered circumstance. He was,

as he says, once in the same prison: but he is no longer so, yet the

Hebrew writer evidently saw no need for the verb   in this context.

There are numerous illustrations of this kind of situation in the

Old Testament, but many of these require a somewhat elaborate

excursus in order to show how we know there has been a change.

Some are straightforward enough: as, for example, where Gen. 12.6

records that "the Canaanite (was) then (ie. , at that time) in the

land".   But there are probably far more examples which are in

reverse.  There are innumerable examples where the situation is

quite UN-changed and yet the verb "to be" is inserted in the original

in the appropriate form.   This is a most common occurrence.

Thus, for example, throughout the first chapter of Genesis there is

the recurrent phrase, "And it was so".   Here the Hebrew inserts

the verb.   According to Barr, this insertion should imply that the

situation or circumstance is no longer true. But this is surely not

the case. Genesis 1, verses 3, 5, 7, 8, 9. and so forth, would all

be properly translated if one were to render the phrase which in

English reads, "And it was so", as "it became so", but it would


     pg.6 of 19      

surely be quite improper to suppose that the author means, "And it

was once but is no longer so....".

Thus, the insertion of the verbal form "was" in a Hebrew sentence

is not intended to signify that the circumstance is no longer true, for

these evenings and these mornings retain their pre-eminence of

position in the processes of time.   Thus when Barr proposes that

the verb is inserted in Gen. 1.2 in order to show that the desolation

was a temporary one and no longer exists, he is implying the existence

of a rule which certainly cannot be unequivocally demonstrated from

biblical usage. And to say at the same time, as Barr does, that on

this account "it would be quite perverse to insist on the meaning

'became' here", is clearly going beyond the evidence. Indeed, he

would perhaps be forced to admit that to follow out his own proposed

rule and render Gen. 1.5, "and the evening and the morning were

once a second day but are no longer so", would indeed be absurdly

perverse! But, by contrast to this absurd rendering, it would make

very good sense to render the Hebrew, "and the evening and the

morning became the second day", for this is precisely the truth of                  

the matter, and the Hebrew has seen fit to insert the verb in order

(as I believe) to make this quite clear.   In this eventful period, it

did become the second day of the week.

From all of this it would appear that the decisive factor which

determines whether the verb will be inserted or omitted is not related

to tense.   Nor is it related to circumstance, if by this is meant

merely that what is reported is no longer the case. Boman seems

to come much closer to the truth when he underscores the fact that

only where the sense is dynamic does a Hebrew writer introduce the

verb  .   He points out that there are three circumstances sur-

rounding its employment which bear out the contention that it is

basically a verb of action rather than condition.

First of all it can be, and frequently is, used in conjunction with

the infinitive or a participle of another verb of action. For example,

Nehemiah (2.13) tells how he was in the habit of inspecting the walls

of his beloved city Jerusalem while they were still under repair.

Thus he says, "And I was (   ) examining ("  , participle) the

walls of Jerusalem".    This could easily have been expressed by

the appropriate form of the verb   without the associated verb

  . But the object seems to be to underscore the idea of continuous

engagement.... A list of examples will be found in Appendix VIII and

a study of such usages indicates that the idea is best expressed by

rendering the verb   not as "to be" but by some such English word

or phrase as "kept ---" (Ezek.44.2), "succeeded in ---" (II Chron.


     pg.7 of 19      

18.34), "remained ---" (I Ki. 22.35), "continually---" (Gen. 1.6),

"habitually ---" (I Sam.2.11, Gen.39.22), "was ever ---" (I Ki. 5.

1), "always ---" (II Ki.4.1, Ezek.44.2), "was daily ---" (Neh.

5.18), etc. All these imply something beyond a static situation, even

in Ezek. 44.2, for the idea is positive closure of the gate, that is,

keeping the gate closed and not merely "leaving it shut".   It is a

case of maintenance rather than abandonment.   In II Chron. 18.34

the mortally wounded king obviously did everything in his power to

hold himself upright in his chariot so that his supporters would not

lose heart.. In Gen. 1.6 the atmosphere actively divides, ie. , main-

tains, the division between the waters above it and those below: there

is nothing static about this process at all.   And so it will be found

in every instance of usage in connection with either a participle or an

infinitive.  It is analogous to the English usage in such a sentence

as "the water is boiling" or "the man is still angry".

Secondly, it appears in the niphal or passive form, as though the

sense was "to be be-ed", just as in English an active form (e.g.

"fold") is converted to a passive form* ("fold-ed") by the addition

of "-ed". It is much more difficult to think of the English verb "to be"

in a passive form because to us it tends to be essentially a static

concept. In Hebrew, since it is an active verb, the formation of a

passive did not seem strange and the verbal form of the active is

routinely changed to a passive form without hesitation.    Thus in

I Ki.l. 2 7 a literal translation would be, "Is it from my lord the King

that this thing has been be-ed" (!), which would obviously have to

appear in English as "has been done" or "has come about" (in Hebrew

  ). The whole idea here is one

of action. Similarly, that often quoted passage from I Ki. 12.24 (lit-

erally, "For from me this has been done" (   )

is in the Authorized Version, "For this thing is from me".   Most

lexicographers simply say that in the niphal or passive form the verb

is best rendered "come to be", ie., "become" or "happen".  This

is the sense of Deut. 27. 9 for examples "This day ye have become a

people for the Lord your God".

Boman's third point is that the verb   is often used in parallel

with other verbs, in sentences which have a clearly active context.

For example, in Gen. 2.5 it is written, "Every plant before it was

in the earth and every herb of the field before it grew....".   And,


*   See Appendix VII for illustrations.


     pg.8 of 19      

significantly, this is followed by the words, "And there (was) not a

man to till the ground". In the first instance the verb is used as a

parallel to the verb "grew"; and in the final phrase the verb is omitted

because it is a statement of a static situation rather than an activity.

Another illustration of this kind of parallelism is to be observed in

Gen. 7.17,"And the Flood was forty days on the earth", followed by

verse 19 which says, "and the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the

earth".   Clearly the picture is one of the turbulence of an over-

whelming flood and not merely of a deep but placid sea of water.

Boman suggests quite properly I believe, that throughout the Creation

record, the verb   used in the sense of "actively coming into

being" rather than merely factual existence. God created, or spoke,

or made, and "it came to be so", ie., "sprang into being", certainly

indicating an active process of realization rather than a static cir-

cumstance.   Indeed, it is found in parallel with the Hebrew  

which has the meaning of "realization" in such passages as Isa. 7. 7

("It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass") and Isa. 14.24

("Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass").

Now the verb   occurs about 3570 times in the Old Testament.

It is a very versatile word obviously: and only by associating it with

various prepositions (  ) and various verbal

forms (infinitives and participles) can its full range of meanings be

set forth adequately.*    As Boman observed:

  has thus been considered to some extent a general

word which can me an everything possible and therefore des-

ignates nothing characteristic.   Closer examination, how-

ever, reveals that this is not the case."

Ratschow examined the occurrences of   in the Old Testament

with a thoroughness hardly to be excelled and concluded that the verb

had three essential meanings which are given in the following order:

"to become", "to be" in the sense of existing or living, and "to effect".

Boman, in discussing Ratschow's findings, states his opinion that

these meanings really form a single basic unity with an internal


In his discussion he first of all points out something which was

elaborated by Benjamin Lee Whorf, namely, that the meanings people




* See Appendix VIII for illustrations.


     pg.9 of 19      

attach to the words they use reflect their own views of reality, and

that these views are not at all the same as those generally shared by

people of another language group. Many non-Indo-European peoples

tend to equate things which we would consider quite separate and

distinct.   For example, to say in English that something IS wood

is not to identify the thing itself with the wood that it is made of, but

rather to say that it is made "out of " wood.   By contrast in many

other languages, including Hebrew, the thing and the wood are ident-

ified, equated, considered as inseparable. Such a sentence as "the

altar and its walls (were) wood" (Ezek.41.22) means to the Hebrew

mind that altar, walls, and wood are a single entity, an equation, one

and the same in the particular instance. A verb is not necessary.

Similarly, "All the Lord's ways (are) grace and truth" would mean

to us that there is grace and truth IN all the Lord's ways. But not

so to the Hebrew mind. This is not an aspect of the Lord's ways, it

is a factual commonality. As Boman expresses it, "The predicate

inheres in the subject".

Thus he further observes:


"The most important meanings and uses of our verb "to

be" (and its equivalents in other Indo-European languages)

are (i) to express being or existence, and (ii) to serve as a



But having said this, Boman comments:


"Hebrew and other Semitic languages do not need (my

emphasis) a copula because of the noun clause (such a clause

as 'the altar is wood'). As a general rule, therefore, it may

be said that   is not used as a copula....   The character-

istic mark of   in distinction from our verb 'to be' is that

it is a true verb with full verbal force."


In short, he concludes that whether   stands alone without any

accompanying preposition or is qualified by one, "it signifies real

becoming (his emphasis), what is an occurrence or a passage from

one condition to another.... , a becoming in inner reality...., a

becoming something new by vocation....". Such is Boman's view,

a view supported by many illustrations, some of which will be found

later in this text.   It is a view arrived at by a most careful study

of the whole question in which cognizance has been taken of the

previous labours of a large number of recognized European scholars.


     pg.10 of 19      

It is a view which completely contradicts the rather bombastic state-

ments of some recent writer s whom we have already quoted as saying

in effect that every Hebrew scholar knows precisely the opposite to

be the case! It is a view which strongly supports the argument that

chaos was not the initial condition of the created earth.

Other linguists agree with Boman. Non-Indo-European languages

do not employ the verb "to be" as English does. In an interesting

paper entitled, Language and Philosophy, Basson and O’Connor ex-

amine the relationship between structure of language and form of

philosophy. This examination includes as an important part of their

thesis a study of the verb "to be" used in the following ways:

(1) As a logical copula, involving:

(a) Predication: "the leaf is green".

(b) Class inclusion: "all men are mortal".

(c) Class membership: "the tree is an oak".

(d) Identity: "George VI was king of England".

(e) Formal implication: "wisdom is valuable".

(2) In an existential sense: "God is".

(3) In any other sense peculiar to the language in question.


"Some interesting and possibly important information was

supplied to us (from a questionnaire sent to a number of phil-

ologists and linguists) on this topic.   Most interesting was

the large number of languages which made a sharp distinction

between the existential 'is' and the copula.*  Semitic lang-

uages have in general no copula, but Hebrew and Assyrian

both have a special word for 'exists'.   Malay (an Austro-

nesian language) is similar to Hebrew in this respect. Tib-

etan uses 'yin' for the copula and 'yod' for existence, but a

sentence like 'That hill is high' might use either word accord-

ing to the sense of the context."


All the lexicons deal with the verb    at some length. I do not

have in my possession, nor is there available to me at the present, a

copy of the original work completed by that most famous of Hebrew

lexicographers, Friedrich Heinrich Wilhelm Gesenius, in 1812. I do

have, however, translations of his original work edited and amended

in various ways by some of the scholars who followed him.




* See further Appendix IX


     pg.11 of 19      

Christopher Leo's edition of Gesenius, published in 1825, gives a

list of the meanings of the verb with illustrative examples from the

Old Testament which may be summed up under the following basic

headings: "to be" illustrated by reference to Exod. 20.3 ( a curious

circumstance since it is not copulative!), "to serve as" or "to tend

towards", "to become" or "turn into" (with the preposition   ), "to

be with" (ie. , associated with, or on the side of), "to happen", "to

prosper" or "succeed", and "to have happened".

Tregelles' edition of Gesenius, published in 1889, gives the follow-

ing meanings: "to be" or "to exist", "to become", "to be done", "to

be made" (all without any associated preposition   ). When followed

by modifying prepositions, the verb is given an extended list of

meanings which are summarized in Appendix X.   Since the main

point at issue in this instance is the meaning of the verb   in Gen .1.2

where it is accompanied by no preposition of any kind, the other

passages will not be examined at this point.   In the passive voice,

Tregelles gives the meanings as "to become", "to be made", and

"to be done".

In 1890 a Student's Lexicon was published by Benjamin Davies,

also based on Gesenius (and Furst).   He gives the basic meanings

as follows: "to be" - whether with the meaning of "to exist" or "to

live", or "to be somewhere" - or as the logical copula between subject

and predicate. As an illustration of this last, he refers to Gen. 1.2.

He then gives a second group of meanings as follows: "to come into

being", "to come to pass", "to occur" or "happen"; and in the passive

"to be done", "to be made to be".

In each of these Lexicons I have examined every reference in the

original Hebrew.    In many instances the appropriateness of the

headings under which they are listed can be very much a matter of

opinion as is revealed by the fact that the same reference will be

reproduced under different headings be different lexicographers.

A list of these references will be found in Appendix XI.

I believe it would not be incorrect to say that as these Lexicons

appeared successively through the years, the verb   was in the

course of time viewed somewhat differently. With Gesenius and Leo

the principle or basic view seems to have been that the verb meant

essentially "to be" in the ordinary English sense, with the concept of

"existing" or "living" next, and "becoming" only as a last alternative.

By the time we come to Brown, Driver, and Briggs, the modern

standard of reference, the position has altered. The basic mean-

ings are now set forth under four headings in this order; "to fall

out", "to come to pass", "to become", and finally, "to be".   And


     pg.12 of 19    

even with respect to this last alternative, at the appropriate place

the authors add in parenthesis: "often with the subordinate idea of

becoming".   Thus the emphasis has shifted: where the copulative

sense was originally listed as the primary one, it is now listed as

of least importance.   Brown, Driver, and Briggs' Lexicon of the

Hebrew language is by far the most exhaustive available in English

and here we find that far from being a rare or exceptional meaning

of   (as we are so frequently assured these days) the general sense

of "coming to be" or "becoming" is one of the most important and

most fundamental meanings.

I have examined every reference given in all these Lexicons as

well as those provided in some of the more elementary student's

dictionaries of Hebrew and I have no hesitation in saying that the

evidence tells unmistakably against the present commonly accepted

view among "conservative" biblical scholars who have expressed an

opinion on the meaning of Gen. 1.2.   Some of these writers will

argue that    may be allowed to mean "became" when, and only

when, it is followed by the preposition lamedh  ). This is quite

untrue as is easily shown by a study of cases where "became" is

manifestly the correct rendering of   , though the lamedh is omitted

in the Hebrew. A list of examples where   is used – and the reasons

why – will be found in Appendix XII.

I would not say that the verb is never used copulatively (though

Ratschow and Boman hold this to be virtually so), but I think it can be

shown conclusively that the simple copulative use is the exception and

not the rule, and that such exceptions are very rare indeed.   In a

few cases there appear to be exceptions only because we have failed

to observe the real meaning that the Hebrew writer had in mind and

our renderings are misleading. As we have seen, the verb can be

used to signify an "active existence" in a situation where we would

not expect to find "activity". Such a case as Adam's nakedness is

an example, for this is how he "went about". In this instance, the

English simply says that Adam was naked.   But in the Hebrew

processes of thinking, this is not a static condition but a living circum-

stance. The Hebrew mind animated situations far more frequently

than we do and it is this animation which gives the Psalms, for

example, such tremendous dramatic force.   Like many non-Indo-

European people, they thought of things as having character, not

merely characteristics.

Even in Brown, Driver, and Briggs the list of supposedly cop-

ulative uses includes numerous instances where the case is very

doubtful. For example, they list Deut.23.15, "The servant which


     pg.13 of 19      




is escaped unto thee....".   But surely this is an instance where

modern English would require the verb has rather than is.   It is not

a copulative use of the verb: the verb   is associated with another

verb of dramatic action.   One could never properly substitute the

word "has" in such a sentence as "The field is flat", and the very fact

that one can make the substitution in the former but not in the latter

case is sufficient to demonstrate that the difference is a real one.

In such a sentence as Gen. 17.1 (also included in the list in Brown,

Driver, and Briggs) where the text reads, "And when Abraham was

ninety years old....", we are not really saying that Abraham WAS

ninety years. Obviously Abraham is not the same "thing" as ninety

years. We are actually saying, "When he reached the age of....",

ie., "When he became ninety years old....".

Brown, Driver, and Briggs list altogether 45 references to show

that   can mean simply "to be". However, of these 45 references

8 should be excluded, being clearly not examples of a purely copulat-

ive use.   Furthermore, I believe another 7 at least are equivocal

since in every case the translation "became" or "had become" would

be equally, if not more, appropriate.     These are: Gen. 1.2;

17.1; Jud.11.1; II Ki.18.2; I Chron.11.20; II Chron.21.20 and 27.8.

This leaves us with only 30 examples out of a total (included under all

headings listed in their lexicon) of 1320 occurrences of   which

have been proposed as illustrations of the possible meanings of the

verb. Moreover, of these 30, at least 8 others are ill-chosen be-

cause their use is either anomalous (Gen. 8.5) or signifies "came to

be" as in Gen.5.4,5,8,11; 11.32; 23.1; and Exod.38.24.

As we have already said, it seems possible that some cases of a

genuine copulative use of the verb  which parallels that claimed by

most writers for the passage in Gen. 1.2 will be discovered if the

Old Testament is searched with sufficient care.   But the fact that

Ratschow was not willing, after making such an exhaustive study, to

admit of a single instance, suggests that such cases will certainly be

the exception rather than the rule.   By contrast, the number of

cases where the copulative sense is indicated by the very omission

of the verb in the Hebrew is very great indeed. I have not made an

actual count for the whole Old Testament but I am sure that it would

run into the thousands. There are 600 cases in Genesis alone, for

example.   A single page in any English printing of the Bible will

usually show anywhere from 10 to 20 cases and most Bibles run into

a thousand pages or thereabouts for the Old Testament.   Simple

arithmetic suggests, therefore, that such omissions may run as

high as five or ten thousand; five or ten thousand instances, that is


     pg.14 of 19      

to say, in which the Hebrew has omitted the verb entirely because

the meaning is simply copulative.   On the other hand, the number

of cases where the verb can appropriately be rendered by some

expression which denotes becoming is very, very large indeed.

Whatever else may or may not be said, one certainly would not

draw from this the conclusion that the simple copulative use is the

normal use.    While it is highly likely that Brown, Driver, and

Briggs could have supplied more examples had they considered it

worthwhile, it still remains true that the simple copulative sense is

placed last in the list and is then illustrated by a very small sample

only, a substantial proportion of even these being a little ambiguous.

By contrast with the actual evidence, one recent writer stated

categorically that the sense of "became" is so rare as to be found

only six times in the whole of the Pentateuch. As it stands, assuming

the writer meant precisely what his words imply, the statement is

demonstrably false. For example, the English reader will find the

following seventeen instances in Genesis alone, viz., Gen. 2.7,

10; 3.22; 9.15; 18.18; 19.26; 20.12; 21.20; 24.67; 32.10 (verse

11 in the Hebrew text); 34.16; 37.20; 47.20 and 26; 48.19 (twice);

and 49.15.   Other occurrences elsewhere are listed in Appendix

XIII: the total exceeds 133.

Furthermore, it must be remembered that these are not by any

means all the instances in which  is translated "became" (or

"become", "had become", etc.) but only those observable in the

Authorized Version.   There are many other English translations

which supply us with further instances.* And it must be remembered     

that English translations represent only one group of versions among

many.   There are Latin, French, German, Greek, and dozens of

other versions besides the English ones. In these one may observe

many more instances.

For example, the Latin Vulgate has rendered   as "became" in

thirteen instances in Genesis chapter 1 alone! Even more strikingly,

the Greek Septuagint translation renders   as "became" in 22 cases

in Genesis 1. Throughout the whole of Genesis this version trans-

lated the verb as "became" 146 times: in Genesis and Exodus together

the total becomes 201 times: in the Pentateuch as a whole 298 times:

and some 1500 times throughout the whole Old Testament including




*    See on this, Chapter IV, The Witness of Various



     pg.15 of 19      

the Apocrypha. These totals are, of course, according to my own

counting. The count may be slightly out one way or the other, but

certainly it is essentially correct and probably errs only by being an

understatement if anything. I may have missed a few but I certainly

did not invent any!   Moreover, the figures do not include cases

where   is rendered by some entirely different word that better

expresses by circumlocution its dynamic sense of "becoming".

The sad truth is that the issue can no longer be explored except

within the framework of a controversy which has crystallized itself

around the "Gap Theory".   When the challenge of Geology brought

into sharper focus the importance of this particular exegesis, the

argument was not unnaturally shifted from the linguistic evidence of

the text of Genesis itself to an examination of other passages of the

Bible which it was believed contributed light on the matter. So the

is sue be came one of the "interpretation" rather than the precise and

careful analysis of Gen. 1.2 which is really the critical issue.

It may be argued with some force that if the case is rested primar-

ily on the linguistic evidence of Gen .1.2, it can never have compelling

weight because by far the great majority of authorities are so strongly

against it.    But authorities are not always right. For exam pie,

from the very earliest times in English translations that I have been

able to examine thus far, the fifth verse of the first chapter of the

"Song of Solomon" has been rendered, "I am black but comely....".

I have so far found only one honourable exception. Yet the truth of

the matter is that the Hebrew word translated "but" is more frequently

rendered "and" in the English of the Old Testament.   There is no

question that "but" is perfectly allowable here. Nevertheless, "and"

is its more usual meaning, and though there are a number of other

alternatives that could have been chosen, such as "yet", "neverthe-

less", etc. , common usage easily confirms the fact that the Hebrew

waw is much more frequently employed as a con-junctive than a dis-

junctive.   Normally the context readily determines which it is.

Then why has it been rendered "but" in this passage where, by this

simple expedient, the speaker is in effect being made to apologize

for the colour of her skin?   The answer, of course, is that the

choice was made on prejudicial, not linguistic, grounds, though each




*     An approximate count shows that the particle is trans-

lated in the Old Testament as 'and' some 25,000 times, and

as 'but' some 3000 times.


     pg.16 of 19      

translator was probably quite unaware of the way in which his bias

was expressing itself.    The use of "but" has nothing to do with

scholarship at all.   It has simply been accepted without challenge

because the implications of it were not observed.

I am persuaded that we have wrongly reached the same kind of

general agreement as to the rendering of Gen.1.2, not on scholarly

grounds but either because the alternative simply did not occur to the

translator or because he desired to dissociate himself from a certain

view of the earth's early history which currently, at least, is said to

find no support from Geology. The emotional factor is often quite

evident from the vehemence with which the alternative rendering is

disallowed. Climate of opinion is simply against it but not , I believe,

the linguistic evidence itself. Some of this evidence is reviewed for

several books of the Bible in Appendix IV.



In Appendix IV will be found a rather involved examination of the

evidence as found in five representative books of the Old Testament;

Genesis, Joshua, Job, two Psalms, and Zechariah. This study has

been put in an appendix in order to remove it from the cursive text

and to allow the reader to read on through without getting tiresomely

bogged down in detail.

The evidence shows that some part of the English verb "to be"

occurs in the Authorized Version 832 times in the book of Genesis

alone.*  Any other English version would, of course, have served

the purpose of analysis just as well. However, in the usual printing

of the Authorized Version text, italics are used for "supplied" words

which simplifies the counting, and of these 832 occurrences, 626 are

not represented by any form of the verb   in the original.   In

summary, where the copulative use of the English verb "to be" occurs

in the Authorized Version, the Hebrew original does not employ the

verb  . On page 58 a breakdown of the tenses involved in these

626 occurrences of the supplied English verb indicates that a sub-

stantial number of them (169 in all) are in the past tense.

In this Appendix, a similar breakdown was undertaken of the use

of the verb "to be" for the other books of the Bible listed above and

a breakdown of the results is tabulated on page 146.   From this

sample study I think certain things emerge with respect to the use




*     See accompanying tabulation, page 58.


     pg.17 of 19      


     pg.18 of 19      

 in Hebrew of the verb  .

First of all, it is apparent that the verb   is not normally em-

ployed to express the simple copula, whether the tense is past or

present. It is more frequently employed, however, when the tense

is future.

The second thing emerging from this study is that the Hebrew

writers did not find it necessary to employ the verb   in order to

make clear to the reader whether the tense was past or present. In

other words, the introduction of the verb (as in Gen .1.2, for instance)

is not simply a literary device to inform the reader that this is how

the situation was in the past rather than how it is in the present. In

the Book of Genesis, the tabulation shows that in 169 cases the context

is allowed to decide for the reader that the events are past and the

reader is left to surmise for himself that in 442 cases the tense is

present. The context itself, in the absence of any expression of the

verb   in the original, is considered to be sufficiently clear.

The third thing is that the verb  is employed only when change

of a specific kind is involved.   This does not mean change in the

sense that a past situation is no longer true in the present, but rather

that a pre sent situation is changing, has changed from what it was, or

will change in the future. The argument that a past situation which

has not continued into the present automatically requires the employ-

ment of the verb   does not seem to be valid. The idea of change

is very nicely represented in English in a substantial number of cases

by some form of the verb "to become" or "to come to be".   In a

surprisingly large number of cases where   appears in the original

the use of such a form as "become" or "became" as a substitute

rendering will be found to clarify the meaning of the text or, at the

least, to make very good sense.

In the light of these findings, it can hardly be maintained that to

translate Gen. 1.2 as, "but the earth had become a ruin, etc.",

contravenes Hebrew usage. If the meaning intended had been simply

"the earth was a chaos", even if we understand the word chaos in

the Greek sense of "waiting to be given form", the verb  would not

normally have been employed in the original.


     pg.19 of 19     


Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved  


Previous Chapter                                                                      Next Chapter