THE PLUPERFECT IN HEBREW.
To my knowledge, there is no work in the English language dealing
specifically with the Hebrew verb comparable to that published in
1892 by S. R. Driver entitled, A Treatise on the Hebrew Tenses.
The expanded title as it appears on the first page is, "A Treatise on
the Use of the Tenses in Hebrew and some Other Syntactical Quest-
ions". As might be expected from a man with Driver's scholarship,
the treatment of tenses is thorough and precise, and massively
illustrated with innumerable examples taken from Scripture.
In the present Chapter, our primary concern is with the use of
the pluperfect in Hebrew and we shall not here enter into detailed
consideration of the other tenses, of such questions as the "waw
consecutive", the mode of expressing continuing present action, or
action in the future. Nor will the philosophy of the Hebrew time-
sense be examined in any depth, remarkable as it is, in spite of the
fact that much of Driver's treatise deals with this aspect of the
subject. All these are of importance for the student of Hebrew, of
course, but they are explored here only to the extent that they con-
tribute to an understanding of the Hebrew use of the pluperfect.
presents us with a perfect tense for describing completed action, and
an imperfect tense for describing incomplete action: and these two
tenses are by various means made to serve all the other tenses,
pluperfect, present, and future. For example, the verb qatal
( ) "to kill" appear sin an appropriate form corresponding to "he
is killing": and it appears in an appropriate form "he is killed". The
verb also has the passive form, "he is being killed" and "he was
killed": and of course there are the usual participles, imperatives,
infinitives, etc., both active and passive. Unlike English, the
verb has a specific form for the reflexive (which would mean "to kill
oneself, ie. , to commit suicide), as well as an intensive form "to
kill with violence" (ie. , to slaughter), and a causative form, "to have
someone put to death". Thus in the matter of conjugations the
Hebrew verb is well enough supplied but in the matter of tense, that is
to say of time, Of it is limited to two forms only.
Clearly a single tense form has therefore to serve a much wider
range of meanings than in English. Shades of difference about the
timing in the past or the future do not seem to have been considered
sufficiently important to justify special forms for either a pluperfect
or a future tense. With respect to the latter, it has been suggested
that, like other non-Indo-Europeans, they held the view that to speak
of something which is to occur in the future is unrealistic since one
cannot really be sure about it. Thus no specific verbal form was
ever "invented" to cover it. It can be a promise or an intention, but
as far as man is concerned it hardly constitutes a fact! With God,
of course, it is quite different. When He says. He will do something
in the future, it IS a fact, and the certainty that it will be done led
the Hebrew writer to use a perfect tense as if it were already a
fait accomplis. Most divinely originated promises are treated
thus, and the verb is written in a form which is referred to by gram-
marians as the "prophetic perfect".
Brief mention must be made of one odd feature of Hebrew syntax
that has puzzled Indo-European readers since it seems an irrational
procedure. It is this. When a sentence or a clause begins with
the conjunction "and" (waw), the verb which immediately follows it
and to which it is joined as a prefix, has its tense converted! A
perfect is treated as an imperfect and an imperfect as a perfect.
Thus the form for the English, "he is killed", if it happens to have
the waw prefixed to it, is converted as though it were no longer a
perfect and completed action but an imperfect and uncompleted action.
"He killed" becomes "and he is killing" or "and he kills" or even "and
This is sometimes referred to by Hebrew scholars as the waw-
conversive" (ie. , waw which converts) and sometimes as the waw -
consecutive" (ie., verb following or consequent to what precedes).
We shall not have occasion to revert to this very much in the present
study except in quoting Driver to show what it can NOT be made to
Now evidently Hebrew writers did feel it desirable to have some
means of distinguishing between the implications of a perfect and a
pluperfect tense. If there is only one verbal form to cover both
ideas, one necessarily has to adopt some "device" other than changing
the verbal form. To convey the idea of a pluperfect as distinct
from a perfect, Hebrew writers adopted the practice of deliberately
changing the normal word order of the sentence. It is this with
which we are primarily concerned in the present chapter.
The normal English sentence, in its simplest form, places the
subject first, the verb next, and the object after the verb. In Latin
the verb is placed at or near the end of the sentence, after both subject
and object. In Hebrew the normal order is verb first, subject
next, and object after that. Thus the order is:
In English: "The king appointed his ministers...."
In Latin: "The king his ministers did appoint...."
In Hebrew: "He appointed, did the king, his ministers..."
English, of course, allows changes or departures from the normal
in the interests of emphasis, contrast, euphemy, and by poetic
licence. Hebrew is remarkably consistent and departs from the
norm with rather less frequency than does the English, though it
makes similar allowances in poetry and adopts rather similar rules
for emphasis or contrast. In the latter case, it is customary to
place the subject ahead of the verb in order to emphasize a change.
"The king planned this but God determined otherwise" would be a
situation in which the Hebrew writer would place the second subject,
"God", ahead of its verb, the conjunction being read more approp-
riately as a disjunction than a conjunction in such a case. However
even in this kind of situation the Hebrew would not always change the
word order. It really depends upon how great the contrast is felt to
be and whether it is desired to draw special attention to it or not.
The reason for emphasizing this point is that the change of word order
in the sentence, ie., the placing of the subject ahead of the verb in-
stead of the reverse, is a device which happens also to serve the
purpose of converting a perfect into a pluperfect. Thus when
the word order IS changed one has to determine for which cause this
has been done, although in some cases it may have been done for
The use of a pluperfect in a narrative has a special importance
because it frequently indicates a hiatus. When the second sentence
is not immediately connected with the one which precedes it, when
the narrator is reverting to an event or a circumstance that in point
of time is to be placed ahead of and distinct from the events recorded
in the subsequent narrative, then it is customary to place the subject
ahead of the verb and it is proper to render the verb as a pluperfect.
It is not the verb form which is changed but the word order; and since
there is disconnection or discontinuity intended by this device, it is
usual to preface the sentence with waw-disjunctive rather than waw-
conjunctive, which in an English translation would mean replacing
the "and" with "but" or "however" or "meanwhile". For example,
in such a sentence as, "The king came to the valley but the enemy
had fled", the Hebrew would place the subject "enemy" ahead of the
verb "fled", thus converting it to a pluperfect "had fled".
In a sentence of this kind, we have a situation in which both contrast
and discontinuity appear in a single context. There is contrast
because, while the king planned one course of action confidently
looking for an engagement, the enemy had planned otherwise and had
already left in order to avoid one! The situation is such that the
departure of the enemy was already completed before the king arrived
on the scene – and therefore the context calls for a pluperfect in the
translation. The conjunction (waw) would properly be rendered a
disjunctive "but" or "however" or some such word, and whether we
look upon the inverted order as signifying contrast or discontinuity
matters little, for both views are equally correct. The context will
usually settle the matter in any case. In such a sentence as "The
king planned this but the people planned otherwise", the inverted
order would be used to signify contrast primarily, but even here a
pluperfect might not be inappropriate: "but the people had planned
otherwise". Thus, in the present issue, the word order of Gen. 1.2
virtually demands a pluperfect if it is once allowed that the verb
cannot be taken as a simple copula. "But the earth had become...."
is almost certainly the more appropriate rendering.
Now Driver writes at some length on this point. In discussing
the usual idiom chosen by Hebrew writers for the purpose of express-
ing a pluperfect, he says: "Their custom, when they wish to do this
is to interpose the subject between the conjunction and the verb ".
He then draws attention to Pusey's comments on the same subject and
advises the reader to refer to the well-known Lectures on Daniel
he says, "expresses a past time, anterior to what follows but
in no way connected in time with what precedes".
Driver then gives the following series of illustrations from the
Old Testament and comments upon each as indicated. I have not
quoted his comments directly because his style is such as to demand
that one has read the text which preceded. I have merely summar-
ized his words. But I have done so without in any way changing
his intended meaning.
Gen. 24.62: "Now, Isaac had come from the way of the well La-
hairoi; for he dwelt in the south country. And Isaac went out to
meditate in the field at the eventide: and he lifted up his eyes and
saw, and, behold, the camels were coming. And Rebekah lifted up
her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she lighted off the camel.....".
The opening verb is to be read as a pluperfect, for here the writer
wishes to combine two streams in his narrative; ie., he has (i) brought
Rebekah to the termination of her journey, but (ii) he also desires to
account for Isaac's presence at the same spot. In order to prepare
the way for their meeting, he is obliged to go back and to detail what
had taken place prior to the stage at which his narrative has arrived:
he therefore starts afresh with the words (Now + the sub-
ject (Isaac) + the verb, in this order). The whole of verse 62 f.
bears reference to Isaac and the two streams which are terminated
respectively by (verse 61)and (verse 62) thus converge
in verse 64 which says, "And she lifted up, did Rebekah, her eyes"
So also in Gen. 31.19: ( ) "Now Laban had gone away to
shear his sheep, when Rachel stole the images that were her father's".
That is to say, the possibility of Rachel stealing the images was a
direct consequence of the fact that Laban had gone away.
To a reader who is unfamiliar with Hebrew, these illustrations
may be difficult to follow precisely, but Driver chose these examples,
among others, simply because they do exactly illustrate the point he
is making: namely, that the first clause is so constructed in the
Hebrew as to convey a pluperfect sense whereas the second clause is
not, and this construction is dependent entirely upon the interposition
of the subject between the conjunction and the verb.
Driver then clarifies the issue somewhat by providing the reader
with a number of biblical illustrations for which he gives the reference
and a key word or two. I have set forth these references much more
fully because probably not too many readers will take the time actually
to look them up - and the force of his observations will thus largely
Revised Standard Version renderings. Here is his list.
Gen.20.4: But Abimelech had not (actually) come near her.. ..."
The situation here is that Abraham, for fear of being put to death by
Abimelech whom he suspected would want to take his beautiful wife
Sarah, had posed as her brother instead of her husband. According-
ly, Abimelech had treated the supposed brother with extreme favour,
and then taken Sarah off to his palace.... But, as it happens, he had a
dream that came to warn him against his intended action and this
dream occurred providentially before the King "had come near her".
Hence the writer wishes the reader to know, since the narrative is
written in retrospect, that Abimelech meanwhile had not yet actually
abused Sarah - and so, as things turned out, had done her no harm.
It will be noted that both the Authorized Version and the Revised
Standard Version have translated the Hebrew as a pluperfect.
I Sam. 14.27: "Jonathan had not heard" that his father had given
the order forbidding the eating of a certain honeycomb. So Jonathan
disobeyed an order of whose existence he was ignorant. It will be
noted in this instance that the Authorized Version does not observe
the tense indicated by the Hebrew word order, whereas the Revised
Standard Version has done so. It should be underscored that in all
these, as well as in the following cases, the noun precedes the verb.
Num. 13.22: "Now Hebron had been built seven years before Zoan
in Egypt". The very sense of the narrative here would, one might
suppose, guide the translators - even if the Hebrew text did not
provide the clue. Nevertheless, for some reason neither the
Authorized Version nor the Revised Standard Version translated this
passage correctly. This fact should be sufficient indication, as we
shall have reason to underscore later, that it is not enough in such
matters to appeal to two such standard translations and merely depend
upon how they dealt with the matter. Driver is right: this is quite
clear from the very nature of the context. The Revised Standard
Version scholars were not sufficiently careful - and the Authorized
Version scholars may not even have been aware of the rule. Both
mistranslated the text.
Josh. 6.22: "But Joshua had said unto the two men...."
Josh. 18.1: ".... and the land had (already) been subdued before
them". In Josh. 6.22 the Authorized Version observed the rule, the
Revised Standard Version did not. In Josh. 18.1 neither the Auth-
orized Version nor the Revised Standard Version observed it.
I Sam. 9.15: "Now, the evening before Samuel came, the Lord
had told Samuel...." The Authorized Version and the Revised
I Sam. 25.21: "Now David had said..." So the Authorized
Version and the Revised Standard Version.
I Sam. 28.3: "Saul had put away all that had familiar spirits".
Both the Revised Standard Version and the Authorized Version obser-
ved the pluperfect here.
II Sam. 18.18: "Now Absalom, in his lifetime, had taken and
reared up a pillar unto himself...." Both versions agree.
I Ki. 14.5: "Now the Lord had said unto Abijah...." Here
neither the Authorized Version nor the Revised Standard Version (nor
the Berkeley translation, I notice) have observed the correct sense.
I Ki.22.31: "But the king of Syria had commanded his thirty cap-
tains....". The Revised Standard Version agrees, but not the
II Ki. 7.17; "Meanwhile the king had appointed the lord, on whose
hand he leaned, to have charge of the gate...." This circumstance
was fatal to the king, hence it is a piece of information cast in retro-
spect by way of preparing the reader for what followed. The Revised
Standard Version noted the word order, but the Authorized Version
II Ki. 9.16: "Meanwhile, Ahaziah, King of Judah, had come down
to see Joram...." Again, the Revised Standard Version agrees
with, but the Authorized Version has not observed, the rule.
It will be noted that in all these instances the sentence is best
introduced by the disjunctive particle in order to underscore the fact
that there is no immediate connection with what precedes. Driver
sometimes has "and" where I have substituted "but" or "now" or
"meanwhile". The point needs no defending for the Hebrew waw ( )
which stands at the beginning of each of these references has an almost
unlimited number of meanings,* so that one may adopt the meaning
most suitable to the sense without doing any injustice to the Hebrew
After concluding this list of illustrations, Driver adds that in each
of these passages, by separating the verb from the conjunction and in-
terposing the subject between the two, "the writer cuts the connex-
ion with the immediately preceding narrative, and so suggests a plu-
perfect" (his emphasis). This is a most significant comment
when applied to Gen. 1.1 and 1.2.
* See Appendix XIV.
the variant meanings of the "perfect" tense form in Hebrew, "a past
perfect (ie., pluperfect)" denoting something more than merely a
completed situation and "occurring normally only in multiple sent-
ences". As an example, he refers to Gen. 31.33-34. It will
be noted that the pluperfect element of the sentence, "but Rachel
had taken....", describes a past act which is pictured as having
occurred before Laban came to Rachel's tent. By analogy, we
should assume, therefore, that the pluperfect is used to describe
something which occurred prior to the events which thereafter form
the main thread of the story. It describes a circumstance ancillary
to the rest of the narrative. Accordingly, it seems likely that
Gen. 1.2 is ancillary in the same sense to what follows in Gen. 1.3ff.
We come now to an example, given by Driver, of a special kind.
He points out that in the normal course of events, when Ezekiel has
some message from the Lord to declare to his people, he introduces
his remarks with a kind of standard formula. This formula does not
always involve the same words but it does involve the same sentence
structure and word order. Thus in Ezek.3.22 he says: "And the
hand of the Lord (was) upon me...." ( ). So
also in 8.1 he says, "The hand of the Lord fell upon me....", and in
14.2, "And it came to pass that the word of the Lord (was) unto me
saying...." So 20.2 - exactly as in 14.2; and so on.
But there is a clear difference when we come to Ezek. 33.22 where
the text has : ie., "Now the hand of the
Lord had been upon me in the evening". Strictly speaking,
should perhaps be rendered "unto me" rather than "upon me" but
there are textual variations and either would be acceptable. The
point is not important in any case, except that one must be as accurate
as possible - which the Revised Standard Version has not been, as
we shall see. Now Ezekiel's full sentence is: "Now the hand of the
Lord had been upon me in the evening.... before he that had escaped
came to me: and He had opened my mouth until he came to me in the
morning; and my mouth was opened and I was no more dumb".
Thus the sentence opens with a word order which is similar to
that of Gen. 1.2, and the context shows clearly that the pluperfect is
required in order to make the order of events quite obvious to the
reader. And the Revised Standard Version is correct in so far as
it renders the verb in the pluperfect, though for some curious reason
(I can find no MS variant to justify it) the sentence has been rendered,
"Now the WORD ( , not ) had come upon me the evening
before....". The use of the substitute word is not serious, of
correctly translated this passage both as to the verbal form and the
So Driver underscores the fact that in all these cases the word
order is the only way in which Hebrew can indicate a pluperfect tense.
He denies that they could have expressed it in any other way, for he
points out that the normal word order (conjunctive - verb - subject)
"which is recognized by all grammarians, cannot easily be reconciled
with the idea of a pluperfect: for the construction inherent in the one
seems to be just what is excluded by the other. Under these cir-
cumstances we shall scarcely be wrong in hesitating to admit it
without strong and clear exegetical necessity". By which, in the
context of his words, he means that the Hebrew has no way of ex-
pressing the pluperfect EXCEPT by an inversion of the word order;
for the construction normally used implies a connection with what
precedes, whereas the inverted word order is to show precisely the
opposite - a disconnection. In all the illustrations provided, the
intention of the writer is clearly to express what is properly conveyed
only by a pluperfect in English.
If there can be shown to be some other way whereby a Hebrew
writer can express the pluperfect, then the case for a pluperfect is
weakened somewhat in Gen. 1.2. For one could always argue that
since the mere transposition of word order can, upon occasion, serve
rather for emphasis upon a new subject than to express a pluperfect,
the writer of Gen.1.2, had he really wished to express the pluperfect
without any ambiguity whatever, would have chosen the alternative
unambiguous method. Is there, therefore, any other way in Hebrew
of doing so? The answer according to Driver is, No. With his
usual moderation, Driver writes:
"It is a moot and delicate question how far the imperfect
with waw-conversive denotes a pluperfect. There is, of
course, no doubt that it may express a continuation of a
pluperfect: for example, Gen. 31.34 'had taken and had plac-
ed them....'. But can the imperfect with waw-consecutive
introduce it? Can it instead of conducting us as usual to a
succeeding act, lead us back to one which is chronologically
anterior? The imperfect with waw-consecutive is.... cert-
ainly not the usual idiom chosen by Hebrew writers for the
purpose of expressing a pluperfect: their usual habit, when
they wish to do so, is to interpose the subject between the
conjunction and the verb, which then lapses into the perfect, a
Driver uses the word allows rather than demands (his emphasis
throughout) because, as he has already pointed out, it may be simply
a means of giving contrasting emphasis against what preceded.
Now Driver was well aware that quite a few Hebraists were in the
habit of translating the simple waw-consecutive as though it were a
pluperfect, a practice which is to be observed also in a number of
cases in the Authorized Version. This he feels is unwarranted.
He therefore proceeds to examine with care the supposed examples
as set forth by Kalisch (Gen.2.2; 26.18; Exod. 11.1), by Ibn Ezra
(Gen.4.23), by Keil (Gen.3.19, 22), by Hitzig (Isa.8.3; 39.1; Jer.
39.11; Jonah 2.4). He also lists from Keil Gen. 2.19; I Ki.7.13
and 9.14, and from Delitzsch Isa.37.5. Following this, certain
other passages from Ibn Ezra are cited.
After giving due attention to all the references listed, ie., those
above and some others cited by Jewish grammarians, Driver con-
cludes: "Such are the passages from which our conclusion has to
be drawn". He sums up the situation by saying:
"All that a careful scholar like Mr.Wright (Lectures on
the Comparative Grammar of the Semitic Languages,1890)
can bring himself to admit with reference to the pluperfect
sense of any other construction than that of word order in-
version, is that while 'no clear instances can be cited in which
it is distinctly so used', there are cases in which 'something
like an approximation to that signification can be detected'.
And it is rejected unreservedly by Bottcher, Quarry, Pusey,
Moreover, he notes that in the Revised Version the wrongly used
pluperfect renderings of the Authorized Version have normally been
It is reasonably certain, therefore, that word order inversion is
intended to direct the reader's attention to this chronological dis-
connection. It will be observed only otherwise in the case of poetry
and for contrast. Since Genesis is not written as poetry in our
Massoretic text (whatever may be argued out of a desire to label it as
some kind of poetic allegory), one is left with no alternative but that
either the writer deliberately meant to separate the two verses and
to give the sense of a pluperfect or that he meant to effect a clear
contrast. And since the latter virtually always is indicated by the
introduction of a new subject to the verb, a circumstance not applic-
able in this instance, we really have no alternative but to render the
Some of those whom Driver quotes to the contrary drew their
support from Jewish grammarians. But on this point Driver writes:
"The authority of the Jewish grammarians, strange as it
may seem to say so, must not be pressed; for although they
have left works which mark an era in the development of
Hebrew grammar, and are of inestimable value for purposes
of exegesis, still their syntactical no less than their phonetic
principles have always to be adopted with caution, or even
to be rejected altogether. Their grammar is not the system-
atization of a living tradition, it is a reconstruction as much
as that of Gesenius or Ewald or Philippi, but often unfortun-
ately without a sound basis in logic or philology. And a
question such as that now before us is just one upon which
their judgment would be particularly liable to be at fault."
In summary, therefore. Driver's position is that if the usual word
order ".... expressive of the smooth and unbroken succession of
events one after another is naturally abandoned as being alien to the
relation that has now to be represented.... the subject of the cir-
cumstantial clause is placed first" (emphasis his). Thus, we really
have a pretty firm rule, an almost open and shut case.*
Contrary to my own view in this instance, Edward J. Young, in
his excellent little book on Genesis One, has expressed the opinion
that this is an inverted word order because the author really did
intend to lay emphasis on the subject "the earth". He believes, in
fact, that this is a description of the earth as it came from the hand
of the Creator, and that the writer wished to convey to the reader
the idea that it was merely a condition pending further creative
* I have been able to find only one possible exception:
Gen. 12.1 and 4: "Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee
out.... So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto
him". In neither instance is the word order inverted.
The Revised Standard Version seems, therefore, to have been
guided correctly in their rendering of verse 1 as "Now the
Lord said to Abram....", but not in verse 4 which they ren-
der as the Authorized Version does. Neither Version has
observed the rule in verse 4.
particular attention to what was to follow. As he puts it, "Verse
2 states the condition of the earth as it was when created and until
God began to form from it the present world". Young proposes
that the idea of emphasis has been picked up by the Septuagint which
has , ie., "But the earth...." However, of this word
, Thayer remarks that it is a "participle adversative, distinctive,
disjunctive". In a later paragraph he says, "It serves to make a
transition to something new, .... the new addition is distinguished
from and, as it were, opposed to what goes before". This is how
the Septuagint seems to have understood the waw of verse 2 which
is, unfortunately, in virtually all English Versions rendered im-
properly as a con-junctive.
If the heavens and the earth were created a Cosmos, and if the
earth subsequently became a Chaos, we have just such a situation
as demands the construction that appears in the Hebrew of verse 2.
But Professor Young feels that God did not begin creation with a
Cosmos but with a Chaos ("Chaos", that is, in the classical Greek
sense of an "unformed" thing), a view which to my mind contradicts
the basic meaning of the Hebrew word (create) in verse 1.
It is possible, of course, to read the pluperfect of the verb "to be"
as had been. Thus Gen. 1.2 might have been rendered "But the
earth had been a desolation.... etc.". However, I think the im-
plications of such a rendering would be of questionable validity. In
his book The Semantics of Biblical Language, Professor Barr of
the University of Edinburgh has stated that the verb used in
Gen. 1.2 because the intention of the writer is that "the earth was
waste and is no longer so". Certainly this could be a truth; but
one wonders whether it is the truth the author had in mind when he
penned Gen. 1.2. And I think, personally, that it is equally doubtful
whether he meant that "the earth had been waste - but was no longer
so". Altogether, the least strain is placed upon the original by
rendering the verb simply as "had become", a rendering which
accords well with the position it occupies in the sentence and with
general usage of the verb elsewhere.
We have mentioned that Driver makes reference to Dr. Pusey in
connection with this question. Pusey, in his Lectures on Daniel,
wrote in several places on the subject. In his Introduction, for
example, he says, "The insertion of the verb has no force at all
unless it be used to express what was the condition of the earth in the
past, previous to the rest of the narrative, but in no conn-
ection at all with what preceded", I have already quoted a pass-
involved serves here as an introduction to his much fuller treatment
of the circumstances surrounding the use of the pluperfect in Hebrew
which occurs somewhat later in his work on Daniel. Thus he says
"There are cases in which words arranged as they are
here* (the subject being placed before the verb and joined
with the preceding 'and') form a parenthesis. But then the
context makes this quite clear."
He then says: "The idiom chiefly adopted in narrative to detach
what follows from what precedes, is that which is here employed,
viz: the placing of the subject first and then the past verb".
Then he lists the following references as illustrations: Gen. 3.1
which introduces what follows but is unconnected with the preceding;
Gen.36.12; Jud.11.1; I Sam.3.1; II Ki.3.4; II Ki.5.1; II Ki.7, 3;
Num.32.1; Jud.20.38; Gen.41.56; Ezek.33.21; and I Ki.14.30.
Since these references (with one exception) do not duplicate the series
given in illustration of the same point by Driver, it will be worth
looking at each one briefly.
Gen. 3.1: "Now the serpent had become more subtle...."
Gen. 36.12: "Meanwhile Timna had become concubine to Eliphaz"
Jud. 11.1: "Meanwhile Jepthah had become a mighty man...."
I Sam. 3.1: "Now the word of the Lord had become precious in
II Ki.3.4: "Now Mesha, King of Moab, had become a sheep mas-
II Ki.5.1; "Now Naaman had become a great man".
II Ki. 7.3: "Now four lepers had come to be there".
Num. 32.1: "Now great wealth had come to the children of Reuben".
Jud.20.38: "And an appointed sign had been (arranged) by the
men of Israel" (a construction very similar to that of
Gen. 41.56: "Now the famine had come to be over the face of the
whole earth" (repeating a fact, antecedent to the com-
mand of Pharaoh).
* He is referring to Gen.1.2.
Ezek.33.21: "And it came to pass in the twelfth year of our capt-
ivity, in the tenth month, in the fifth day of the month,
that one who had escaped out of Jerusalem came to me
saying, The City is smitten! Now the hand of the
Lord had been upon me in the evening before that he
that escaped had come, and had opened my mouth...."
I Ki.14.30: "Now there had been a war between Rehoboam and
Jeroboam...." (a construction very similar to that
of Gen. 1.2).
In all these instances, as with those in Driver's list, the word
order bears out the essential point being made - namely, that the
verb should be translated as a pluperfect, lending strong support to
the view that the best sense of the original Hebrew of Gen. 1.2 is that
which results from rendering as "had become" rather than "was".
Thus, in summary, we have three situations involving the verb
"to be" in English which are handled by Hebrew in different ways.
The verb may be omitted: the verb may be included and placed at
the head of the sentence - which is usual: and the verb may be in-
cluded and placed after its subject.
In the first instance, the sense is purely copulative. In the
second, the meaning is "to come to pass", "to happen", "to become"
and "to be" in the sense of existing or living. In the third, the tense
is pluperfect; "had been" or "had happened" or "had become".
The instances illustrating the first or simple copulative use are
legion, every page of the English Bible revealing many straightfor-
ward examples, such as "Darkness (was) upon the face of the deep" or
"And God saw that it (was) good" - in each of which the verb is omitted.
By way of illustrating the second, we may cite: "Cain became a
tiller of the soil", "Eve became the mother of all living", "Lot's wife
became a pillar of salt", "And it became light", "And it became a
custom in Israel", etc., etc.
Of the third usage, we may cite such passages as: "Now the
serpent had become more subtle"; "Now Nineveh had become a great
city"; "Now Nimrod had become a mighty hunter"; and, in my view
of course, "Now the earth had become a ruin and a desolation".*
* In Appendix XV will be found further illustrations
from the Old Testament which show that the use of an in-
verted word order to express the pluperfect is by no means
a rare circumstance but occurs quite frequently.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved