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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 6.


Robert Young, the author of that most valuable research tool,

An Analytical Concordance of the Old and View Testament, also

produced a Literal Translation of the Bible. In his Introduction

he sets forth very carefully with support from various authorities

certain views regarding the use of tenses in Hebrew. He then applies

these rules rigidly. The resulting narrative, while perhaps more

precisely correct from the view of Hebrew syntax and grammar

(assuming his "rules" are valid), is difficult indeed to read cursively

with profit.    The English is stilted and does not "flow".    The

sentences are staccato and just occasionally hardly seem to make

sense at all.   The lesson one learns from this is that translation

demands a certain amount of freedom. In order to make literature

live, a translator is justified in taking some liberties not on linguistic

grounds but for dramatic reasons, though the dangers of doing this

are very considerable.

Now, my reason for using this example is simply to emphasize

the need for caution in insisting on obedience upon all occasions to

some rule that has, after all, only been established by reference to


pg 1 of 9       

general usage. In language, this is the only way that rules can be

established. But when a translation is made for reading (as well as

for study), then some departure from the rules sometimes has to be

allowed.   Thus I would not argue that   must always and on all

occasions be rendered "become" or "became" or even "come to be"

(ie. , "happen") whenever it is found in the present or past tense.

The fact is that there are sentences even in English where the word

"be" really means "become" and yet we commonly accept the word

"be". For example, "I refuse to be a party to it" really means "I

refuse to become a party to it". So one should not always translate

according to the letter of the law.

In the opening words of his Preface, Driver, after noting that

Hebrew is particularly careful in distinguishing between the sense of

"being" and "becoming" and after pointing out how little attention we

are apt to pay to this difference, remarks:

"So cumbrous is the mechanism which has to be set in

motion in order to express the difference, so palpable is the

strain to which our language is subjected in the process, that

we feel irresistibly tempted to discard and forget it."

And again:

"On the agreement of a verb with its subject in number, a

point to which in certain cases the ancient Hebrews attached

no importance whatever, we ourselves are sensitive and

precise: on the other hand, the difference between being and

becoming, seyn and werden,   and   has never

been fully appropriated or naturalized in English...."

The only time one ought to be particularly careful is when there

is a possibility of a real misunderstanding as to the sense, when there

is an ambiguity that it is important to avoid. It is an important issue

with respect to Gen. 1.2 whether one renders the Hebrew as "But the

earth became...." or merely "But the earth was...."   In such a

case, to my mind, the true sense must be clearly established by

reference to the rules of the language and rendered into English in

such a way as to make that sense unambiguous.

In a few cases it will not matter at all: mothers it may be critical.

In a large number of cases which fall between these extremes, there

may be considerable gain in rendering it correctly and unambiguous-

ly. Let me give a few illustrations, in none of which is  followed


     pg.2 of 9      

by    , yet all of which are by one translator or another rendered

"became" or "had become", etc.

In Gen. 3.1, the Hebrew should be rendered, "Now the serpent had

become more subtle than any beast of the field".*   I believe this

indicates that some circumstance had changed its character rather

than that God had created it so from the beginning.

In Gen. 3.20, it would be more proper to render the passage as

Driver does, "Eve became the mother of all living". It is virtually

certain that at that time Eve was not yet a mother. The development

which subsequently establishes her as the mother of the human race

is here recorded in retrospect and it seems likely that Adam's first

name for Eve was simply Ishah, or Woman. This kind of retrospect

observation surely applies to Gen. 2.23 also, for Adam could not

possibly have said that a man should leave his mother and father and

cleave to his wife, since such a thought would at that time be quite

foreign to his experience. I do not mean by this that the saying is

not divinely inspired. Adam may very well have renamed his wife

Eve after she began to beget sons and daughters and they in turn

begat children.

In Gen. 21.20, there is a nice instance of precision in the use of

the verb   .   Speaking of Ishmael, the original tells us "And it

came to pass (   ) that God (was) with the lad (   ) and he

grew and dwelt in the wilderness and became a drawer of the bow".

The Vulgate has factusque est, ie., "and he became...."   And

the Septuagint has   .   The passage is quite similar to that

of Gen. 4.2 (except for the inverted word order found there) which

according to Driver (perhaps guided in part by the LXX)is rendered

"And Abel became a shepherd of the flock, while Cain had become

a tiller of the ground".

A particularly delightful passage is to be found in Gen. 29.17 which

I would render more exactly from the Hebrew (and yet quite literally

too!), "Now Rachael had become sparkling eyed and beautiful, but

Leah always was weepy eyed". I realize that this sounds far-fetched

at first sight, yet the fact is that the actual use of the verb  (and

the word order) in the first instance justifies the use of "had become"

in the pluperfect: and its absence in the second case implies a static

situation-which I have expressed somewhat paraphrasically but not

unreasonably by the words "always was". And whereas the original



* Pusey so renders this passage.


     pg.3 of 9      


does suggest "sparks" when speaking of Rachael's eyes, it also

suggests "wateriness" when referring to Leah!   The Authorized

Version is perhaps gentler with Leah than the Hebrew original. It is

quite true that the change in word order could merely be to contrast

with what precedes. But this contrast is not really specific in the

text, and I think it is quite reasonable to say that Rachael as she grew

to womanhood had become a strikingly beautiful woman, whereas

Leah may have been watery-eyed from childhood.

An excellent illustration of how some translators heeded and

other did not heed the sense of "becoming" in the verb   is in

connection with Joseph's dream and the fate that intervened before

it was fulfilled. In Gen. 37.20, I would render the Hebrew "Let us

see what will become of his dreams". Both Driver and the Revised

Standard Version have adopted this rendering.   But the Septuagint

have understood the meaning of Gen. 37.20 rather differently for they

rendered it   , ie. , "What his dreams will

be...  The Septuagint translators evidently took the text to mean

that the brothers wanted to cast Joseph into the pit and leave him

there - to dream dreams of a somewhat less promising kind! This

could be the meaning since the tense is future and therefore 

would be required in the appropriate form since the circumstances

are viewed as being changed - or at least the nature of his dreams!

Yet I think the real significance of their remarks is that they wished

to thwart the "promise" of the dream he had already told them about.

In Gen. 2.18 ff., we have another striking case where precision in

translation is revealing.    First, it is stated that it was not a

good thing that Adam should be alone.      He needed company of

some kind.   So, as I interpret the occasion, the Lord brought to

the man various animals whose nature and habits (and size, presum-

ably) might suggest to Adam that in these he would find the answer

to his loneliness.   It would not be so exceptional if he had done

so, for many both young and old people today find greater pleasure

in the company of some pet animal than they do in the society of their

fellow man.

Adam's response to each creature, thus presented for his consid-

eration as a companion, was at once reflected in the "name" he gave

to it. In this process of naming, I do not think there was anything

arbitrary at all. He was not merely providing a dictionary label for

each creature so that it could be referred to thereafter without am-

biguity. He was identifying its nature. The text says: "What-

soever he called (each animal) that (was) the name thereof".  Now

in the original the verb   is absent.   Had it been included, the


     pg.4 of 9      

sense of the text would then have been "that became its name" - and

superficially this is exactly what we might have expected the text to

say.   The usual interpretation of the passage is that he gave each

animal a label and that the label "stuck": ie. , that became its name

thereafter.    But from the way the Hebrew has actually stated the

matter, I think the meaning is much more profound.    This was a

case of precise "identification". Adam identified each creature as

to its nature - and that really was in fact its nature: in short, he

was absolutely right in his assessment. This, in fact, is why not

one of them appeared to him to be a sufficient companion.   In his

unfallen state, his judgment did not deceive him.   What he said of

each animal was true: he marked each one for what it was, a creature

far below himself whose nature was quite unlike his own. His own

name was Ish, a word in some way describing his very nature. The

woman he correctly identified as Ishah for he recognized her as his

own counterpart: but not so, any of the other creatures. Thus what

appears as a naive fairy tale turns out to be a record of a profound

exercise inhuman judgment, an exercise which may indeed have ex-

hausted him and prepared him for the very deep sleep which followed.

By thus observing the rule with greater care, one may discern in

this simple record an event of far greater significance than a mere

invitation to engage in a game of attaching labels to animals.  The

story as so understood tells us some very important things about

Adam's mental capacity at that time as well as about his relationship

to the animals that shared his paradise. As we are told in the New

Testament (I Tim. 2.14), Adam was not deceived in anything he under-

took - even in eating the forbidden fruit. Thereafter his judgment

undoubtedly began to suffer the noetic effects of sin and it seems

unlikely that after the Fall he could any longer have identified with

such perfect precision the kind of creature that each was by nature

nor recognize his own true nature except by revelation.   Our own

judgment easily misleads us now into imagining that man is not funda-

mentally different from certain forms of animal life which, assuming

that they existed, would almost certainly have been among those

brought for his assessment.

One of the better known passages often appealed to by those who

share the view presented here is Jer. 4.23-2 6 which reads, "I beheld

the earth and lo, it (was) without form and void; and the heavens, they

had no light.... and, lo, there (was) no man.... and the fruitful place

was a wilderness.... etc." The passage is an important one in the

present context for several reasons, both for what it does say and what

it does not say.


     pg.5 of 9      

The overall picture reveals some striking similarities with the

situation in Gen. 1.2, the ruin and devastation, the darkness, and the

absence of man. That Jeremiah is referring not to the first stages

of God's creative activity but to a historical situation which faced

him at the time of his vision is clear. But this does not lessen the

force of his words nor the significance of the fact that his terms are

precisely those employed in Gen. 1.2.   Skinner freely admits that

we must see here a picure of a scene "from which life and order

have fled.... a darkened and devastated earth".   Yet, like many

others, he maintains that the very same terms when used in Gen. 1.2

must mean something quite different!   There is a difference, an

interesting one, between Gen. 1.2 and Jer.4.23, and that is in the

omission of the verb    in Jeremiah. Evidently Jeremiah's vision

is not a vision of the occurrence of the event in which he sees first

a beautiful, inhabited, and fruitful land suddenly becoming a devast-

ation.   What his vision encompasses is the after effect, the fait

accomplis; in short, simply a scene of total destruction.   Hence

the verb    is unnecessary.

But since the term   and   (tohu wa bohu) which describe

the earth in Gen. 1.2 are here applied to a scene of devastation, it is

difficult to avoid the conclusion that this is the correct meaning of

those two terms when juxtaposed in this alliterative way. Possibly,

when used independently, the meanings may be slightly less dramatic,

having merely the sense of "vanity" (at least in the case of Tohu): but

when employed together, the meaning of each seems to be strongly

reinforced in the destructive sense, not merely negatively "in vain"

but positively destroyed.

For a better assessment of the meaning of Tohu, the reader will

find a full list of references in Appendix XVI. While Tohu will not

always be found to signify "destruction" but rather that which is not

approved or is to no good purpose, it does not appear to equate very

well with the classical Greek concept of Chaos which has the sense of

something not so much mal-formed, as un-formed.   Thus, while

Jer.4.23 is not (by reason of its omission of the verb    ) an exact

parallel to Gen. 1.2, the terms it uses are certainly stamped with a

meaning that conveys the sense of devastation and ruin in JUDGMENT

rather than mere incompleteness.

This naturally leads to another critical passage in the Old Test-

ament in which the word Tohu occurs twice, namely, in Isa.45.18

and 19.   Verse 18 is often quoted by those who support the view I

hold because it seems so clearly to determine the correct sense of

the same word in Gen. 1.2. Now Isa.45.17-18 reads as follows:


     pg.6 of 9      

"But Israel shall be saved in the Lord with an everlasting

salvation: ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded world

without end.  For thus saith the Lord that created the heav-

ens; God Himself that formed the earth and made it; He hath

established it, He created it not in vain (Tohu), He formed it

to be inhabited: I am the Lord; and there is none else."

It is customary to point out that in this passage it is expressly

stated that the Lord did not create the earth a Tohu.   It is therefore

argued, reasonably enough, that Gen. 1.2 cannot be a direct contin-

uation of Gen.1.1, since this would imply that God did create the earth

a Tohu. I believe the argument is a strong one and ought to be given

due weight.   But it is not compulsive, much as one might wish it

were, because the word Tohu may legitimately be rendered "in vain"

by treating it as an adverbial accusative. The propriety of adopting

the Authorized Version rendering must be admitted in the light of

verse 19 which reads "I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of

the earth: I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye Me in vain (Tohu)".

Certainly in verse 19 the translation is much more reasonable

than it would have been had Tohu been rendered "a ruin", for then

the sentence would have read, "Seek ye Me, a ruin" - which is non-

sense.*  If one must render Tohu "in vain" in this passage, it cannot

be altogether unreasonable to so render it in verse 18 where such a

rendering does, after all, make very good sense.

There are, however, two points worthy of note here. First, that

the sentence structure in verse 19 forces one to render the noun

adverbially and thus to read it as "in vain".    To do anything else

makes nonsense of the sentence.   By contrast, this is not true in

verse 18. Either rendering is equally sensible. Thus some other

consideration must settle the issue or at least tip the scales in favour

of one rendering as against the other.   And here I think there IS

something to be said in favour of rendering the noun as a noun. The

burden of the passage is that Israel has suffered a serious setback

as a nation.   Yet, says the prophet, all is not lost.   Israel shall

yet be saved, and next time it will be for ever. For the Lord once

created a world which He beautifully appointed as a habitation for



* However, the RSV has "a chaos" in both verses, verse

19 reading, "seek me in chaos", which is allowable enough,

but an odd sentence.


     pg.7 of 9      

man, which He established with that end in view.   And it is true,

Isaiah seems to be saying, that the earth fell into ruin and was

utterly devastated in judgment, but that is not the way in which it was

created: nor was it the end for which God had formed it. He intended

it as a habitation for man; and God intended Israel as a people for

Himself.   Both goals will yet be achieved, even as the first goal

has already been.

Seen in this light, the passage might well justify the two different

renderings of Tohu, the first as "a ruin", the second as "in vain",

each sentence being structured differently to convey the difference

in meaning.   There is nothing forced or strange about this kind of

literary device. Yet - for all this - there is no absolute certainty, and

each reader must decide the issue for himself, pending further light.

As we have said previously, a good case is not made stronger by

an appeal to a passage, the sense of which is not unequivocably clear,

and to my mind, Isa.45.18 is a strong witness only to those who

already accept the alternative rendering of Gen. 1.2.   Some have

argued that the command to Adam to "re-plenish" the earth tells in

our favour also, but unfortunately the Hebrew word   (translated

both here and in Gen. 9. l as "re-fill") does not necessarily bear this

meaning: it is the normal verb for the simple idea of "filling", though

it was also used on occasion to mean "refill".

Many passages in the Bible have been interpreted as having ref-

erence to the circumstances surrounding the devastation of Gen. 1.2,

but the case for an alternative rendering cannot be rested upon them.

Granted that there was such an event, then such passages may well

shed light on the matter, but the basic point at issue must be settled

on other grounds first.

In conclusion, then, it is my conviction that the issue is still an

open one, that all the objections raised against it thus far are not

really valid, that the rules of Hebrew syntax and grammar not only

allow this alternative rendering but positively favour it. The sense

of "becoming" is not foreign to the verb   , nor is it merely a less

common meaning that is to be allowed under certain rather limited

circumstances: it is the basic meaning of the verb, the simple

copulative sense being exceedingly rare, and the existential sense

(though not rare) a special sense which really arises from the more

basic meaning of living. Added to this is the word order inversion

which can only be accounted for in one of two ways, while one of these

(a change of subject) certainly cannot be argued very forcibly in view

of the fact that the last word of verse 1 is the first word of verse 2.

There is no requirement for the following lamedh where the "con-


     pg.8 of 9      

version" of one thing to another is a real conversion and not merely

an analogous one; and therefore there is no need for it here.  And

the descriptive terms in the sentence are none of them such as one

would expect to find applied to something that has just come from the

creative Hand of God.   Nor is it easy, in the light of its use else-

where in Scripture, to equate Tohu with the un-formed Chaos of

Greek mythology.

By and large, therefore, I suggest that the rendering, "But the

earth had become a ruin and a desolation", is a rendering which does

more justice to the original and deserves more serious consideration

as an alternative than it has been customary to afford it in recent


It is, after all, quite conceivable that some catastrophe did occur

prior to the appearance of Man for which we do not yet have the kind

of geological evidence we would like. Only twenty years ago uniform -

itarianism reigned supreme - but recently the Theory of Continental

Drift has shaken this long established doctrine to its foundations.

There could be other surprises yet in store for us.   For myself, in

the meantime, the most important thing of all is to know as precisely

a sit can be known, exactly what the Word of God really says.... even

if for the time being it does conflict with current geological theory.

All we can hope to do is to contribute light; to minds of greater

precision who may thus be enabled to hit upon the exact truth.


     pg.9 of 9      


Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved  


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