GENESIS ONE TO ELEVEN – CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?
Different texts -- which translation of the Bible is correct?
Different ways of looking at Genesis -- who wrote it? When was it written?
Genesis 1:1-2 -- the vocabulary in these first two verses and the meanings of the words.
Index for the following pages
The plasma model of creation -- the model that fits; is this how God did it?
Creation Week, part 1 (days 1-4)
Creation Week, part 2 (days 5-6)
Genesis 11: 1-9-- The Tower of Babel
Genesis 10:25 -- Peleg
The Genealogies of Genesis 5, 10 and 11
The different translations, or texts, of the Bible have probably caused as many arguments as anything IN the Bible. First of all, however, with rare exceptions (such as the New World Bible, translated by Watchtower in order to support the Jehovah Witness doctrines) none of the translations change God’s basic message of creation, sin, salvation through Christ, or any of the other basic doctrines. So why do we have different texts?
One reason is simple: we speak different languages. There were hundreds of years when the Roman Catholic church refused to allow the Scriptures to be translated from Latin into any spoken language. When this stranglehold was finally broken, a number of translations were established by various groups and people. Since then, the Bible has been translated into hundreds of languages for people all around the world.
There are ALWAYS difficulties translating from one language to another. There is an excellent short article on some of the problems of translating from Hebrew to Greek which we highly recommend.
In addition, all of the modern translations, from even before, and including, the King James, are from some version of something called the Masoretic text. There is an interesting story behind this.
The Jewish people who lived under Roman domination were aware of two very important things: their time was the time of the promised Messiah, and one of the promises about the Messiah was that He would rule as a conquering King. This is what they expected. This is why they turned with such anger on Jesus only a few days after declaring Him King and Messiah on Palm Sunday – He had made no move to throw off the shackles of Rome. So while many Jews did accept Jesus as the promised Messiah, the majority refused to believe that. They had, in essence, ignored the fact that the Messiah would first come as the suffering servant of Isaiah 53.
In 70 A.D. the Romans had finished trying to deal with Jewish rebellions and they destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. What was to be pivotal in a few years was that they also, in the process, destroyed the Scriptures that were in the Temple. They were the original Hebrew texts in the ancient paleo Hebrew language as well as the ancient Greek translations which had been done almost 300 years before Christ in Alexandria, Egypt.
By 100 A.D., Christianity had a strong foothold in the Mediterranean area. Those who were believers were using copies of the ancient Jewish Scriptures to show that Jesus had indeed fulfilled the prophecies and was truly the Son of God, the Messiah, the Christ. That year, Rabbi Akiba began a series of meetings and discussions which came to be known later as the Council of Jamnia. His first purpose was to establish a new master copy of the Scriptures. But there was also an ulterior motive -- actually two. First he wanted to establishg total rabbinical authority. Second, he wanted to stop the Christians from being able to use Jewish Scriptures to support their claim that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah and Redeemer. There was a Jewish man, bar Kokhba, who was leading a rebellion against Rome. This man, Rabbi Akiba was sure, was the true Messiah. Bar Kokhba received much financial and theological support from the Jewish community.
All of this came together in the new version of the Scriptures which was produced as a result of the Council of Jamnia. This new version was, first of all, written in the more modern square Hebrew characters instead of the older script-like Hebrew. What is interesting is that the council left out the vowel points. They would not be restored for 800 years. Then they were restored on the basis of oral tradition. This oral tradition came, of course, from the rabbis.
The new version also changed and in at least one case totally eliminated some of the passages the Christians were using from the Jewish Scriptures to verify Jesus as Messiah. And there was one more, rather strange thing this group did. Because it was considered discrediting to God to claim a man had his first child after he was 150 years old, the cipher for '100' was systematically eliminated from most of the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11.
When the Scriptures were changed enough to suit them without disturbing the majority of the Jewish population or the leaders, other copies of the Scriptures were collected and burned.
This new version became called the Masoretic text.
And this is why many of the quotes used by the New Testament authors, and Jesus Himself, which referenced Old Testament material simply do not match what we see in our Old Testaments. The changes were deliberately done by the Council of Jamnia. This very much includes the King James version.
So is there any way we can have access to the Scriptures which DO match the Old Testament quotes? Is there any reference around in our time which was not changed by this council?
Yes, there is. About 300 B.C. Egypt controlled most of the Middle East. At that time classical Greek was the language of the common man throughout most of the area. At the request of the ruler of Egypt, Ptolemy, seventy (this is the traditional number) Hebrew scholars were assembled in Alexandria and they translated the ancient Hebrew Scriptures into classical Greek. This became what we know today as the Alexandrian Septuagint, or LXX. For more complete information regarding this, please see The Alexandrian Septuagint History.
Since that time, there have been many translations called “Septuagint,” in which Hebrew has been translated to Greek, but the ONLY one done before the time of Christ, or even before 100 A.D. and the Council of Jamnia, is the Alexandrian Septuagint. We no longer have the original Alexandrian, or Alexandrine as it is also called, Septuagint. We do have versions which show us where the ancient Alexandrian LXX differs from the more recent texts, however. It is in these references we find exact matches for all the quotes our Lord and the Apostles used when referring to the Hebrew Scriptures, which we call the Old Testament. The other Septuagints are all based on the Masoretic text.
There is one example in particular which illustrates the quote problem. In Hebrews 1:6 we find “And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’” That is from the NIV there, but all the versions contain this quote. What is being quoted? Deuteronomy 32:43. But if you go to that verse in the Old Testament the quote is simply not there. Not in any form at all. Unless you go to the Alexandrian LXX. And there it is. It is also in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
A word about the Dead Sea Scrolls. There are two groups of them: those written and hidden before 70 A.D. (when the Romans conquered Jerusalem) and those written and hidden after 100 A.D. Those written before 70 A.D. contain the exact wording we find in the Alexandrian LXX. Those written after 100 A.D. contain a different wording: that chosen by the Council of Jamnia and in accord with the Masoretic text, which was the result of their work.
And yet, God being God, the basic message has remained uncorrupted by man. A few verses here, numbers there, phrases another place got messed with a bit, but essentially we can still count on the Old Testament in most places to be telling us what happened.
There is one other point that needs to be made about ALL translations. It is very difficult translating from one language to another. Israelite culture and the Hebrew language itself are full of puns, double entendres, and idioms. What is a translator to do? Go with the words? Go with the meaning? Add to the text by explaining the idiom (if known)? So we are NOT about to criticize the various translations. We do know that many of the more modern translations have the benefit of some older texts than some of the earlier translations (including the King James), but, on the other hand, they seem to depend a lot more on modern scientific understandings in some areas and thus change the meaning of what the older text was saying in some places. The older translations tend to be more literal in their translations in that area. So there are positives and negatives with all translations. This is why, in our home Bible studies, we encourage our friends to bring any translation they choose. Then we can not only compare, but also compare with a Hebrew interlinear which we have as well as our copy of Alexandrian Septuagint, which contains not only the English translation, but the original Greek translation as well (which is not available on the net, by the way).
This is also why you will find us cross-referencing many word translations and passages with the Alexandrian LXX as we go through this study.
reference for Bar Kokhba's rebellion: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bar_Kokhba_revolt
reference regarding the Council of Jamnia and the LXX: Siegfried H. Horn (Professor emeritus of archeology at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan), "the Old Testament text in antiquity," Ministry, November 1987
more on this website, see Hebrew Chronology
NOTE: We are presenting four different translations for each verse (three in the Creation Week section), the original New International Version (NIV) , the New King James Version (NKJV), the Alexandrian Septuagint (LXX) and the transliteration from the Hebrew (Hebrew). It must be noted that all translations except the ancient Alexandrian Septuagint are taken from the Masoretic, which was produced about 100 A.D. For more information about this, please see the article regarding The Alexandrian Septuagint History.
The book of Genesis and modern science are at intense odds with each other. There are a number of folk who want to believe in the Bible and also want to believe what modern science says and so try to deal with Genesis in a number of ways. Here are the main ones:
The Gap theory.
Actually, there are two current gap theories. Each posits a significant ‘gap’ in time at some point during Genesis 1. The most common one is the postulated ‘gap’ between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. By putting a gap here of millions or billions of years, it seems to accommodate the ancient ages declared by radiometric dating and seems to give time for evolution. The Gap theory as it is usually known says there was a creation which was destroyed either by Satan or because of Satan and was then recreated at Genesis 1:2. There are several problems with this theory: 1) if all or most the strata came before the Deluge then there is no evidence for anything from Noah’s flood; 2) at the end of creation week, God declares the entire creation ‘very good,’ which means Lucifer/Satan had not yet rebelled/sinned; and 3) the Hebrew grammatical structure does not allow for a time gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2.
The second gap theory is not recognized as a gap theory, but inserts billions of years ‘out there’ in space anyway. Russ Humphreys is a creation physicist. His white hole cosmology says the entire creation was spewed forth from a ‘white hole’ but that the earth was held at the event horizon while billions of years passed in the processes of the stars and the galaxies which had already passed the event horizon. This effectively inserts an enormous type of gap in day 4 of creation week. The problems with this are several: 1) although there is no real evidence for a horizon event with a black hole and no evidence for a white hole at all (even a ‘black hole’ has no real evidence, just the interpretation of some things that are seen), and therefore there is no evidence of anything pausing, let alone halting for billions of years at any horizon event; 2) even in the mathematical models dealing with black and white holes, any pause at the horizon is simply that – a pause. It is not a halting for any length of time; 3) the white hole cosmology clearly contradicts the declarations in Exodus 20 and 31 that the entire creation was made in six literal days.
The Day-Age theory
The Day-Age theory states that each of the ‘days’ of Genesis 1 is really an era of indeterminate length. This idea accommodates the ancient ages indicated by radiometric dates as well as, again, allowing time for evolution. There are, however, significant problems with this idea, too: 1) the order of creation in Genesis 1 does not allow for eras between events. For instance, plants are formed on day three, but the sun is not lit until day 4. Day 5 sees the creation of the great animals in the sea and the animals that fly. This disagrees strongly with the evolutionary order of land animals before flying animals. 2) There is also a problem with the clear, straightforward reading of the text of Genesis 1, where each day is defined by an evening and a morning. Eras do not have evenings and mornings.
There are many who have relegated Genesis, especially the first eleven chapters, to the category of allegory. This means that there is a core truth presented, but the story around it is false. In other words, God is responsible for creation, but the ideas of creation week, antediluvian ages, Noah’s flood, Babel, and the splitting of the continents at the time of Peleg are simply fictitious and only meant to demonstrate the truth that God is responsible for creation. There is a significant problem for any Christians who try to take this approach, for they are then faced with the fact that the other writers in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, as well as Jesus Himself, all referred to the events in early Genesis as true historical events. There is also the difficulty that every major doctrine in the Bible has its origins in these chapters. If the material presented therein is not true, then there is no reason to accept the rest of the Bible as true either.
Those who consider Genesis myth consider it to have been simply copied from other creation myths of the Middle East. This approach discounts any validity it may have at all. A major problem with this approach is that Genesis does not present itself as a myth, but as history. Literary honesty demands it be accepted or rejected on its own terms.
Because there are some interesting anomalies in Genesis, scholars recognized about 150 years ago that it appears to be the work of more than one author. There was also evidence of some Egyptian borrowed words and phrasing in Genesis in some places, so these scholars felt sure that Genesis was written much later in time than originally supposed and by at least four authors, whom they titled “J, E, P, and D.” This approach answered the problem of Genesis referring to God in different ways. It appeared to answer the problem of the inserted borrowed Egyptian words as well. There were some problems with this approach immediately, however: 1) Genesis itself purports to be the original history and 2) it contained exact conversations and details which later writers would not have known or had to make up. In addition, in the years that followed, this hypothesis was discounted and then disproved both historically and theologically.
Genesis as True History
Thus, with all the other problems in the other approaches, this one must be considered. Within this area, though, there are two distinct possibilities
1. The most accepted by those who consider it true history is that Moses wrote it under divine inspiration. Genesis has historically been considered one of the five books of Moses, along with Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Because he (or his scribe under his direction) is considered the author of the other four, his authorship of the first book is often not questioned. This would certainly account for any borrowed Egyptian words, but it still leaves the different writing styles evident in the book as a question.
2. The Tablet Hypothesis. This puts forward the idea that Genesis is a series of eyewitness accounts with some editorial comments and names inserted later by Moses as points of explanation. This attributes the collation of the books to Moses and considers Moses as editor, thus also explaining why Genesis is considered the first book of Moses, even if he was not one of the original authors.
We hold to the Tablet Hypothesis and we would like to explain why.
In the 1930’s, P.J. Wiseman, a scholar, was examining some of the most ancient clay tablets in Ur, one of the most ancient cities in the country now known as Iraq. He noticed something interesting about the oldest ones there. Whereas most of the later tablets were like our ‘essays’ today, with the title and author at the top, the most ancient were different: the ‘title’ and author were at the bottom, somewhat like signing a letter. In other words, the written material preceded the author’s name.
He looked at Genesis. There, eleven times, was the same phrase he was seeing as the ‘sign off’ of the most ancient tablets, the phrase often translated as “these are the generations of…..” or “this is the history of”, depending on the translation you are reading. If these phrases were the CLOSING lines of tablets, how would Genesis read?
Here are the first six times this happens, as a point of reference:
Genesis 1:1 – In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth
Genesis 2:4a – This is the history of the origin of the heavens and the earth when they were created.
Genesis 2:4b – When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens….
Genesis 5:1a – this is the written account [sepher] of the history of the origin of Adam.
Genesis 5:1b – When God created man, He made him in the likeness of God
Genesis 6:9a – This is the history of Noah
Genesis 6:9b – Noah was a righteous man….
Genesis 10:1 – This is the history of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, Noah’s sons, who themselves had sons after the flood.
Genesis 10:2 – The sons of Japheth….
Genesis 11:10a – This is the history of Shem
Genesis 11:10b – Two years after the flood, when Shem was 100 years old…
Genesis 11:27a – This is the history of Terah.
What needs to be noticed first is that men later combined verses so that the ‘this is the history of’ was used at the beginning of a passage when, actually, it may have been the ending of a tablet instead. This is why so many verses are divided as indicated by the “a” and “b” following the verse number.
Another thing that should be noted is the interesting opening of each tablet: it refers directly to the tablet immediately preceding it. Because of this, there was no doubt about the order the tablets were to be read in.
So, could Adam write? If these are the tablets they seem to be, then yes. He, himself mentioned that when he used the Hebrew word ‘sepher’ in his closing line, as noted above. The word indicates something written, not something passed down as a story or oral tradition. Was the original language Hebrew, then? Very possibly yes, or at least a form of Hebrew which was still understood up to the time of Moses.
So , if these are eyewitness accounts, what about Genesis 1:1-2:4a? Who wrote that? The only eyewitness to that entire process would have been God Himself. There is recorded in Exodus that God wrote the Ten Commandments Himself on tablets of stone. He was certainly capable of recording the first week of creation for us the same way.
If Genesis is truly a series of eyewitness accounts, written by those who signed off on each of the tablets, we have the answer for the different styles of writing noticed in the book. We have an answer for the different name of God from Genesis 2:4b on (it is actually not a different name, but an added name). We have an answer for the recording of exact conversations and details.
But we do not have the answer, immediately, for the borrowed Egyptian words and phrasing in a few areas. The answer lies in what happened to the tablets. Only one existed before Noah: Adam’s. Because Noah is recorded by his son’s as being a righteous man, and by the Apostle Peter as a ‘preacher of righteousness’ (2 Peter 2:5), it would have been logical for Noah to have been given the tablet for safekeeping. He also wrote his own tablet and his sons added theirs. As the tablets of eyewitness history accumulated over time, they remained in the hands of the leader(s), finally ending up in the royal library in Egypt, as Joseph, whose family would have been in possession of them, was very highly regarded by the Pharoah. Over four hundred years those tablets then would have been kept safely there until there was another Jewish prince in Egypt: Moses. Moses had access to them, but he had been raised in an Egyptian household. Thus Egyptian words and phrasing came naturally to him. When he collated the tablets and had them copied onto a scroll, possibly even before the Exodus, he inserted a few modern names and some quick explanations in a few areas, which have given us some valuable information.
The Tablet Hypothesis makes sense; it fits the known data; it fits the acceptance of Genesis by other Scripture writers; it explains the differences in writing styles; it explains the borrowed Egyptian terms; and it matches what we see in the most ancient of tablets in Sumeria. It also explains why Genesis is considered one of the books of Moses: he was not only responsible for converting the tablets to scrolls (we do not know where the tablets are now, if they still exist), but he did the collating and editing. Thus, like any editor of a book which includes the words of different authors, the book is associated with the name of the editor.
references for more material on the Tablet Hypothesis
An outstanding article by Val Emilio on the Tablet Hypothesis is now on the web.
Oswald T. Allis (of Princeton and later of Westminster Theological Seminary), The Five Books of Moses, Presbyterian & Reformed, 1964
R.K. Harrison (Professor of Old Testament, Wycliffe college, University of Toronto), Introduction to the Old Testament, Eerdsmans, 1969
a good link regarding dating the Old Testament can be found on Craig Davis' site.
an excellent comment from Rick Lanser is also relevant here: "The Tablet Hypothesis is also a powerful argument against scholarly efforts to understand the Flood narratives in Genesis as referring to a localized Mesopotamian flood. Such efforts, like those of Paul Seely, depend greatly on the claim that Genesis reflects an Ancient Near East (ANE) perspective. The problem is, the records that deal with the Flood long predate the rise of a distinctive ANE culture. The most that can be said is that Moses, in the role of an editor, brought his material together using a structuring method seen also in ANE clay tablets. The actual content of those tablets, though, was much older, so the claim that we must look to ANE literature as a guide to interpreting Genesis is an empty one."
When we look at the actual Hebrew words, and the Greek words the Hebrew scholars themselves used to translated the Scriptures several hundred years before Christ, the one thing that becomes apparent is that sometimes what the Bible is saying is not what we traditionally think of it as saying. Here is the list of the main words in these two opening verses:
Resiyt – beginning. Used 51 times in the Old Testament. Other meanings: “first, firstfruits, beginning, best, early, beginnings, choice, choice parts, early, finest…” Indication is that what was first was best.
This ties in with Romans 8:20 – “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in the hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay.”
We were emailed a question about the word 'resiyt' as compared to the other word for 'beginning' -- bereshith. Here is Barry's response:
Resiyt is also spelled reshiyth
Bereshith is also spelled bereshiyth
They are the same word, but one has the ‘be’ in front of it. The ‘be’ is the preposition translated ‘in’ – so bereshiyth (bereshith) is “In the beginning” – the whole phrase. It is the word reshiyth (resiyt) which is the actual word ‘beginning.’
Bereshith, however you want to spell it, is also the word used to define the entire book we call Genesis.
Elohim – authority, god, God – a plural word meaning more than two
“el” is the basic designation for God or a god in the singular. We find it is such names as Daniel ( “God is my judge”), Samuel (“name of God”), Jehezkel (“may God strengthen”), Jathniel (“God-given”), Haziel (“vision of God”), etc.
“eloh” is the simple plural, meaning two
But when the ‘im’ ending is added, it means three or more. We see the meaning in words we can recognize such as ‘cherubim’ and ‘seraphim.’
Did the ancient Israelites recognize this meaning? The strong evidence is that yes, they did. Look at Deut. 6:4 – Hear O Israel, the Lord our God (elohim), the Lord is One.
“One” – echad – meaning united as one. The same word is used to describe the union between husband and wife in Gen. 2.
There is a grammatical problem as well that does not translate into the English. For those who have taken a foreign language, you may know that in many languages, and Hebrew is one of them, the subject and verb are often combined into one word. For instance, in Latin, the verb ‘to hide’ is conjugated in the present tense as follows:
celo: I hide
celamus: we hide
celas: you (singular) hide
celatis: you (plural) hide
celat: he/she/it hides
celant: they hide
“In Hebrew, verbs are conjugated to reflect their tense and mood, as well as to agree with their subjects in gender, number, and person.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_verb_conjugation
This leads to the problem we don’t see in the English which is very clear in the Hebrew: there is a subject/verb disagreement many times when God is being referred to. For instance Genesis 1:1 it is the same problem we see in Genesis 1:26-27. Here God is saying in the English, “Let us make man in our image.” That seems fine until you understand that “God” is the plural “elohim,” while the verb (which includes the understood subject) is in the singular. In effect, the reading is “elohim, he-said…” or “Gods, he said…”
This combination is used repeatedly throughout the Old Testament. This is not the ‘majestic plural’ which it has sometimes been referred to as. The majestic plural is what you might hear a king or queen say in referring to him or herself as a plural: “We are in discussion about that now…” When this is used, the verb is always in agreement with the plural subject. However the rough approximation of what is happening in the Hebrew when the references to God are used would be something like “We is in discussion….” It is grammatically terrible, but indicated the Trinity throughout the Bible.
Other examples can be seen in Genesis 11:7, Ecclesiastes 12:1,14, Malachi 1:6, etc.
Are there any other indications in the Old Testament that a Trinity, or some kind of ‘plurality’ was present in what we refer to as God? Yes, there are. Some are clear and some require going back to the Hebrew.
Isaiah 48:12-13, 16-17. In the New King James, we read: “Listen to me, O Jacob, and Israel my called. I am he. I am the first. I am also the last. Indeed, my hand has laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand has stretched out the heavens. When I call to them they stand up together…Come near to me, hear this. I have not spoken in secret from the beginning. From the time that it was, I was there. And now the Lord God and his Spirit have sent me. Thus says the LORD your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you by the way you should go.
The speaker here is the First and the Last, who laid the foundations of the earth and stretched out the heavens. The speaker says the LORD God and his Spirit have sent him. Thus three are being spoken of: the LORD God, the speaker (who says he is the Holy One and Redeemer of Israel), and the Spirit. In other passages we know that the Redeemer is God.
For instance, in Isaiah 44:6, we read:
This is what the LORD says – Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.
Thus, letting Bible explain Bible, and especially with reference to the grammar in the original language, it cannot be avoided that the Trinity was known and implicitly understood, at least to some degree, throughout Israel’s history.
A friend of Barry’s was once confronted by a rabbi who challenged him as to the reality of Jesus being the Messiah. Understand, first, that the name Jesus is the Greek form of the name Joshua which is spelled grammatically in the Hebrew as either Y’shua or Yeshua. The rabbi said that surely if Jesus was the Messiah, it would have been mentioned somewhere in the Tenach, or our Old Testament.
With that, Barry’s friend directed the rabbi to open his scriptures to Habakkuk 3:13. In the New King James it reads: “You went forth for the salvation of your people, for salvation with your anointed."
In the NIV we read, “You came out to deliver your people, to save your anointed one.”
In the Alexandrian LXX this is how it reads: “You went forth for the salvation of your people, to save your anointed.”
The word ‘anointed’ is, in Hebrew, the word “Mashiach” which means “Messiah.” And the word which has been translation as ‘salvation,’ or ‘delivered,’ is “Y’shua!” So the passage literally reads, in Hebrew, “You went forth with the Y’shua of your people, with Y’shua ha (your) Mashiach.”
Another passage declaring Y’shua as the Messiah is in Isaiah 62:11.
In the New King James it reads, “Indeed the LORD has proclaimed to the end of the world: “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Surely your salvation is coming; behold his reward is with him and his work before him.’”
NIV: The LORD has made a proclamation to the ends of the earth: “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your Savior comes! See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.’”
Alexandrian LXX: For behold, the LORD has proclaimed to the end of the earth, Say you to the daughter of Zion, Behold, your Savior has come to you, having his reward and his work before his face.
The word ‘salvation’ or ‘Savior’ here is a proper name, not simply a noun. This can be seen from the fact that it says “behold HIS reward is with HIM” etc. The word translated “salvation” is, in the Hebrew, “Y’shua.”
Thus, from Genesis 1:1, we are presented with the indication of the Trinity in the use of the word 'elohim.'
Bara – there are two verbs used in Genesis 1 which refer to making something. The first is ‘bara.’ This verb is used on only three occasions in Genesis 1. The other, more commonly used verb, is ‘asah.’ Both can mean to make something out of a pre-existing substance, as when a potter makes a vase out of clay. ‘Asah’ has that meaning exclusively. But ‘bara’ has another meaning – its primary meaning: ‘to make something from nothing.’ When juxtaposed to ‘asah,’ as it is in Genesis 1, its primary meaning is emphasized: to create, or make something out of nothing.
Shamayim – translated in English, and most other languages, as “heaven or heavens.” However, the meaning is actually ‘to be lofty’ or ‘that which is lofty/lifted up.’ It is a plural word from an unused singular root (sort of like the words ‘sheep’ and ‘trout.’) Again, the 'im' ending indicates three or more.
The ancient people used the term 'heaven' in the same three ways we do: 1) the heaven in which the birds fly and from which the rain comes (the atmosphere); 2) the heaven where there are stars, the sun, and the moon (outer space); and 3) the heaven which is, in the ancient Hebrew culture, referred to as "God's throne." (So when Paul says he was taken to the third heaven, he was referring, as his readers then knew, to the presence of God.)
Eres – earth. This always means a ‘substance,’ or ‘stuff.’ It is from a primary root meaning ‘firm’ or ‘to be firm.’ In other words, not necessarily confined to ‘earth’ as a meaning. After creation week, however, we see it used almost exclusively as referring to either land masses or a people associated with a particular land mass or area. It NEVER means ‘people’ in general. It ALWAYS means, or refers to, some kind of physical stuff.
So let’s look at verse 1 of Genesis 1 in its widest possible meaning:
IN THE BEGINNING, WHICH WAS THE BEST, THE TRINITY GOD CREATED FROM NOTHING THAT WHICH IS LOFTY AND LIFTED UP AND THAT WHICH IS FIRM.
The other, and very important, thing to notice about this first sentence in the Bible, is that it ties time, space and mass together. This trio describes the creation in which we live. Time itself is measured by the movement of mass through space, whether it be the hands of a clock moving or galaxies themselves traveling. Without time or space, mass could not exist. Without mass or time, 'space,' or 'that which is lofty,' has no meaning. So with its very first sentence the Bible presents a major scientific truth: We live in a time/space/mass continuum, and we are told God created it out of nothing. What was it like before that? We have no frame of reference to even attempt a guess. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, for us to try to imagine a life apart from this creation is something like trying to tell a fish what it is like to breathe air.
On to verse 2
Tehom – This word is translated ‘deep.’ However, this translation is much too limited when considering its actual meaning. The word itself means ‘a surging mass, as of water.’ In other words, it is not necessarily water, but the concept of something like a tsunami is as close as it could come in years past. It is our guess that because surging ocean waves were as close as they knew to ‘tehom,’ the translation of ‘deep’ meaning, at least, a lot of water, became traditional.
Choshek – darkness -- from ‘chashak’ meaning ‘dark, to hide, to be dim; figuratively meaning misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, wickedness.’ There is an interesting note to add here. In every culture, the concept of seeing the light is synonymous with understanding. “Do you see?” This question, in any language, means, “Do you understand?” If we consider that this double meaning has been there since the beginning, it helps us understand the meaning of Christ being the light of the world, and of men loving darkness.
It is important to understand, however, that Genesis 1 is talking about the physical creation, so te light and darkness being referred to are physical things, not spiritual.
Rahap – the traditional interpretations of this word are ‘hovering,’ or ‘brooding.’ This, however, is not the way this word is used in other places in the Bible. When the Alexandrian Septuagint was translated three hundred years before Christ, the word chosen by the Hebrew scholars in the Greek for this word is the exact same word we find in the Greek in Acts 27:
Verse 17: “When they had taken it on board, they used cables to undergird the ship; and fearing lest they should run aground on Syrtis Sands, they struck sail and so were driven."
Verse 27: “But when the fourteenth night had come, as we were driven up and down in the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors sense that they were drawing near some land.”
In other words, the indication is of the Holy Spirit acting as a driving force.
Paneh – surface, face of the waters. But this may be putting a constriction on the use of the word not originally intended. It is used 2127 times in the Old Testament and only ten times is translated as ‘surface’. Some of the other common translations are ‘before’ (542 times when used with another word), ‘face’ (211 times), ‘presence’ (108 times), etc.
Mayim is ‘waters.’ The ‘im’ ending indicates multiple, or a plural of more than two. The root word is ‘ma’ and we can see this in a variety of places today. The ‘seas’ on the moon are called ‘mares.’ The “mo” in Moses” is simply a variation of the “ma” root. The name Moses means “out from the water.”
There is something else that is an interesting possibility: near the end of Genesis 4, mention is made of a sister of Tubal-Cain named Naamah. Nothing more is ever said about her, so why is she mentioned? Hebrew legends say she was the wife of Noah. Look at her name and that may well be true. Her name may not be a name at all, but a title: one of the old spellings of Noah is Naa (pronounced Na’a). The ‘mah’ or ‘ma’ ending on the end would indicate she is connected to Noah of the water.
This word mayim used here is also a reason ‘tehom’ was translated ‘deep.’ However water itself has form, and is not empty or void, so what is being talked about here? That is something we will be exploring in Part 2.
Another interesting point is that the word for heavens is shamayim – the word for ‘water’ is incorporated into it. The heavens themselves evidently had something to do with water in some form at the beginning. What the Bible may be telling us here is something that has to do with a recent field of research.
But so far, let’s look at the widest meanings possible of the first two verses of Genesis.
IN THE BEGINNING, WHICH WAS THE BEST, THE TRINITY GOD CREATED FROM NOTHING THAT WHICH IS LOFTY AND LIFTED UP AND THAT WHICH IS FIRM.
THAT WHICH WAS FIRM HAD NO FORM, AND WAS EMPTY (OR VOID); AND DARKNESS WAS OVER THE SURGING MASS. THE SPIRIT OF GOD WAS DRIVING THE WATERS.