Translation of Gen. 1:1...scholars know better.

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David Paul | Forum Activity | Posted: Sat, Jun 8 2019 10:19 AM

So maybe by now you've heard that pretty much every English Bible you've encountered (a few very recent ones perhaps excepted) has a mistranslation of the Bible's first sentence. In fact, it isn't even a sentence, actually...it's a dependent clause (or the Hebrew equivalent). The Hebrew, we're told, doesn't say "In the beginning created ':Elohhiym the heavens and the earth." Rather, it says, "WHEN in the beginning God was creating the h & e...", or "In the beginning OF God'S CREATING the h & e...".

Don't you feel small and uneducated? The question is...should you? I've encountered this assertion a number of times over the last decade or so, but until this point, something has always been missing from these "on high" pronouncements. EVIDENCE...or even something attempting to be evidence. Not once have I seen these knowing declarations of "heretofore non-scholarly assumption and ineptitude" per Gen. 1:1 be supported by anything other than a bald "That's the way it is."

In the book I'm reading, Ziony Zevit's What Really Happened in the Garden of Eden? (not available in Logos), Zevit makes this assertion again, but he slathers it with additional assertions, to wit, he insists that your well-known version of Gen. 1:1 is a non-Hebraic construction couched in a Hellenistic and Aristotelian worldview. This worldview is geared toward a Greekish creatio ex nihilo explanation that is deemed unbiblical because it is unsupported by the original Hebrew text. Scary, huh? As Zevit puts it, his translation (the one in bold print above) is "a stricter, non-interpretive translation".

...to which I say, "Bunk." Literally, put up or shut up. I don't consider myself a Hebrew expert, but I do have eyes. When I look at the Hebrew, I don't see anything, whether a word outright or a particle, that allows for these so-called "stricter, non-interpretive" creations, which could be termed "translations out of nothing".

So, my question to the forum is...do you know of anything, in Logos or not, that addresses this topic beyond the level of bare ivory tower pontification? I'm particularly interested in a word-for-word breakdown of the Hebrew that will somehow whittle out a legit explanation for how these extraneous words (like "when" or "of") sprout into existence in this sentence...'cause from where I'm at, it seems a lot like these assertions are ex nihilo.

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David Paul | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Jun 8 2019 12:56 PM

Quite a few issues come up in that video. If I had a dollar for every time the definite article is used in English when it isn't present in the Hebrew, or is not used in English when it is present in the Hebrew, I could probably buy Logos Ultimate. It's something to note, but hardly something that is decisive.

Heiser (and I'm taking him as a stand-in for this approach generally...i.e. Zevit, et al.) sets up verses 1-3 in such a way that (as it is put in NET's note) verse 1 is a sort of "title" or descriptor of what comes after rather than a specific act unto itself, with verse 2 establishing "setting conditions" [using "setting" as a noun] for when the first creative act occurs in verse 3. Yeah, okay...except what about all the things that EXIST before things "start" coming into existence in verse 3? What about "the waters"? What about "the darkness"? Are these things created? Or are they God (i.e. uncreated & eternal)? This last question may put these Anti-traditionalists (Heiser, Zevit, et al.) in a bind. Even if they balk at the idea of referring to water and darkness as God, they still are insisting these were somehow "pre-creation" phenomena. But THAT is a problem, because Isa. 45:7 plainly says YHWH created (baaraa' !) the darkness. So, somehow, a created phenomenon existed in verse 2 before creation began in verse 3. Ick!

Those who want to say that the earth ('erets) wasn't created until verse 9 (called "earth" in verse 10) are obliged to explain why 'erets (the earth) is the word used to describe what was "without form and void" in verse 2. While people can say it wasn't really'erets, but some non-earth proto-earth, they must account for the fact that the word meaning earth IS THE WORD THAT WAS USED. Perhaps the earth that existed in verse 2 came into being in verse 1, eh? If constant self-contradiction and special pleading are to be avoided, that is the best explanation available.

In other words, "In (the) beginning, created ':Elohhiym the heavens and the earth." [Removing "the" from the sentence does nothing to alter its long understood meaning.]

This isn't the only thing Heiser is wrong about. Yeah, I'm looking at you, Unseen Realm.

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Whyndell Gizzard | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Jun 8 2019 2:44 PM

Got your back David- Heiser is not one of my dependable got to's- I have also noticed this on going rejection of Creation, meaning hey want to push the phony evolution narrative- but is to be expected, it is always the sign of someone walking on the slippery slope covered in olive oil.

If you get a real answer I'll be surprised- the White Towers of Sauron, have a lot of visitors now a days.

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Jun 8 2019 4:50 PM

David Paul:
So, my question to the forum is...do you know of anything, in Logos or not, that addresses this topic beyond the level of bare ivory tower pontification?

Worded in this manner, no. However if you are genuinely interested in what the academicians say, these are the discussions I usually go back to:


1. When God begun to create This rendering of the Hebrew looks to verse 3 for the completion of the sentence. It takes verse 2 to be parenthetical, describing the state of things at the time when God first spoke. Support for understanding the text in this way comes from 2:4 and 5:1, both of which refer to Creation and begin with “When.” The Mesopotamian creation epic known as Enuma Elish also commences the same way. In fact, enuma means “when.” Apparently, this was a conventional opening style for cosmological narratives. As to the peculiar syntax of the Hebrew sentence—a noun in the construct state (be-reʾshit) with a finite verb (baraʾ)—analogies may be found in Leviticus 14:46, Isaiah 29:1, and Hosea 1:2. This seems to be the way Rashi understood the text.
The traditional English translation reads: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” This rendering construes the verse as an independent sentence complete in itself, a solemn declaration that serves as an epitomizing caption to the entire narrative. It takes the initial word be-reʾshit2 to mean “at the beginning of time” and thus makes a momentous assertion about the nature of God: that He is wholly outside of time, just as He is outside of space, both of which He proceeds to create. In other words, for the first time in the religious history of the Near East, God is conceived as being entirely free of temporal and spatial dimensions.
In favor of the traditional English translation are the arguments that be-reʾshit does not have to be in the construct state and that the analogies of 2:4 and 5:1, as well as of Enuma Elish, are inexact. In each instance, the word translated “when” is literally “in the day,” which is not the case in this verse.

God Unlike the pagan cosmologies, Genesis exhibits no interest in the question of God’s origins. His existence prior to the world is taken as axiomatic and does not even require assertion, let alone proof. There is no definition of God or any mystical speculation about His nature. God’s nature finds expression not in philosophical abstractions but through His acts and through the demands He makes on human beings.
The term for God used here and throughout the present account of Creation is ʾelohim. This is not a personal name but the general Hebrew word for deity. It can even refer to pagan gods. Although plural in form, only rarely is it not constructed with a singular verb or adjective.3 The plural form may signify majesty or serve to intensify the basic idea. The preference for the use of ʾelohim in this chapter, rather than the sacred divine name YHVH, may well be conditioned by theological considerations; the term ʾelohim, connoting universalism and abstraction, is most appropriate for the transcendent God of Creation.

create The Hebrew stem b-r-ʾ4 is used in the Bible exclusively of divine creativity. It signifies that the product is absolutely novel and unexampled, depends solely on God for its coming into existence, and is beyond the human capacity to reproduce. The verb always refers to the completed product, never to the material of which it is made. As Ibn Ezra observed, baraʾ does not of itself denote the creation of something out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo). This doctrine seems to have been first articulated in the late Second Temple work, 2 Maccabees: “Look up to heaven and earth and see all that is therein, and know that God made them out of things that did not exist” (7:28). However, the Genesis narrative does contain intimations of such a concept. Precisely because of the indispensable importance of preexisting matter in the pagan cosmologies, the very absence of such mention here is highly significant. This conclusion is reinforced by the idea of creation by divine fiat without reference to any inert matter being present. Also, the repeated biblical emphasis upon God as the exclusive Creator would seem to rule out the possibility of preexistent matter. Finally, if baraʾ is used only of God’s creation, it must be essentially distinct from human creation. The ultimate distinction would be creatio ex nihilo, which has no human parallel and is thus utterly beyond all human comprehension.

heaven and earth The definite article in the Hebrew specifies the observable universe. The use here of a merism, the combination of opposites, expresses the totality of cosmic phenomena,5 for which there is no single word in biblical Hebrew. The subsequent usage of each term separately refers to the sky and the dry land in the more restricted and concrete sense. We are not told how the cosmos came into being, but other texts point to a tradition of its creation by means of divine fiat. Thus, Psalm 33:6 and 9 declare: “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, / by the breath of His mouth, all their host … / For He spoke, and it was; / He commanded, and it endured.” The postbiblical 2 Esdras 6:38 has the same notion: “I said, O Lord, You have indeed spoken from the beginning of creation; on the first day You said: ‘Let heaven and earth be made,’ and Your word accomplished the work.”

2. Following the general comprehensive statement comes a detailed description of the primordial state of the world.

unformed and void Hebrew tohu va-vohu. This compound phrase appears again in the Bible in Jeremiah’s prophetic vision of the return of the primal chaos (Jer. 4:23–27), thus leaving no doubt that the phrase designates the initial chaotic state of the earth.6 That God should create disorganized matter, only to reduce it to order, presents no more of a problem than does His taking six days to complete creation instead of instantaneously producing a perfected universe. The quintessential point of the narrative is the idea of ordering that is the result of divine intent. It is a fundamental biblical teaching that the original, divinely ordained order in the physical world has its counterpart in the divinely ordained universal moral order to which the human race is subject.

darkness Throughout the Bible darkness is often a symbol of evil, misfortune, death, and oblivion.7 Here it seems to be not just the absence of light but a distinct entity, the origin of which is left unclear. Isaiah 45:7, however, explicitly ascribes its existence to divine creation.

the deep Hebrew tehom, the cosmic abyssal water that enveloped the earth. The text says nothing about how or when this watery mass came into existence. Proverbs 8:22–24 makes it one of God’s creations. In many unrelated mythologies water is the primal element, a notion that most likely arose from its amorphous nature. To the ancients, this characteristic seemed to represent appropriately the state of affairs before chaos was reduced to order and things achieved stable form.
It is instructive that tehom is treated as a Hebrew proper name; like all such names, it never appears with the definite article. Although not feminine in grammatical form, it is frequently employed with a feminine verb or adjective.8 At times it is personified. In Genesis 49:25 and Deuteronomy 33:13 it “couches below,” and in Habakkuk 3:10, “Loud roars the deep” in panic at the wrathful approach of God. Lastly, tehom appears in Isaiah 51:10 in a mythic context. All these facts suggest that tehom may once have been the name of a mythical being much like the Mesopotamian Tiamat, the female dragonesque personification of the primordial salt-water ocean, representing the aggressive forces of primitive chaos that contended against the god of creativity. Here in Genesis, tehom is thoroughly demythologized.

a wind from God Hebrew ruaḥ means “wind, breath, spirit.” “Wind” is the most popular rendering of the word in ancient and medieval Jewish sources.9 As a physical phenomenon, wind conforms to the general picture of primal chaos evoked by this verse, except that, unlike darkness and water, it is not mentioned again in the Creation story. One possible explanation may be that wind reappears as the agent by means of which the water is separated—that is, blown back—as in Genesis 8:1 at the conclusion of the Flood and in Exodus 14:21 at the crossing of the Sea of Reeds. Wind often functions as a divine agent in the Bible. Another interpretation takes ruaḥ in the sense of God’s creative, life-giving, sustaining energy. Still a third possibility lies in its use as a term heralding the arrival of God, expressing His immanence, or symbolizing His presence. The last two explanations connect the phrase with the following verse, thus alerting us to an imminent, dramatic development: God is about to transform the inert, disorganized matter, to affect it by His presence, to animate it with His spirit.

sweeping The Hebrew stem r-ḥ-f appears otherwise in Deuteronomy 32:11, where it describes an eagle hovering over its young, a meaning it also possesses in Ugaritic;10 but in Jeremiah 23:9 it refers to bones trembling or shaking. The basic idea of the stem is vibration, movement. Hitherto all is static, lifeless, immobile. Motion, which is the essential element in change, originates with God’s dynamic presence.

water This is either the cosmic ocean believed by the ancients to surround the earth or the same water referred to in verses 6, 7, 9, and 10, namely, the water covering the solid mass of earth. It is doubtful that the two were really differentiated in the Hebrew mind.


Nahum M. Sarna, Genesis, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 5–7.

It remains to discuss, in passing, the structure of the introductory verses of this section, since their syntax determines the meaning, and the precise meaning of this passage happens to be of far-reaching significance. The problem could not be fully elucidated in the NOTES, which is why it is being considered here.
The first word of Genesis, and hence the first word in the Hebrew Bible as a unit, is vocalized as berẹ̄ʾšīt. Grammatically, this is evidently in the construct state, that is, the first of two connected forms which jointly yield a possessive compound. Thus the sense of this particular initial term is, or should be, “At the beginning of …,” or “When,” and not “In/At the beginning”; the absolute form with adverbial connotation would be bārẹ̄ʾšīt. As the text is now vocalized, therefore, the Hebrew Bible starts out with a dependent clause.
The second word in Hebrew, and hence the end-form of the indicated possessive compound, appears as bārāʾ, literally “he created.” The normal way of saying “at the beginning of creation (by God)” would be berẹ̄šīt berōʾ (ʾelōhīm), with the infinitive in the second position; and this is indeed the precise construction (though not the wording) of the corresponding phrase in 2:4b. Nevertheless, Hebrew usage permits a finite verb in this position; cf. Hos 1:2. It is worth noting that the majority of medieval Hebrew commentators and grammarians, not to mention many moderns, could see no objection to viewing Gen 1:1 as a dependent clause.
Nevertheless, vocalization alone should not be the decisive factor in this instance. For it could be (and has been) argued that the vocalized text is relatively late and should not therefore be unduly binding. A more valid argument, however, is furnished by the syntax of the entire first paragraph. A closer examination reveals that vs. 2 is a parenthetic clause: “the earth being then a formless waste …,” with the main clause coming in vs. 3. The structure of the whole sentence is thus schematically as follows: “(1) When … (2)—at which time …—(3) then …” Significantly enough, the analogous account (by J) in 2:4b–7 shows the identical construction, with vss. 5–6 constituting a circumstantial description. Perhaps more important still, the related, and probably normative, arrangement at the beginning of Enūma eliš exhibits exactly the same kind of structure: dependent temporal clause (lines 1–2); parenthetic clauses (3–8); main clause (9). Thus grammar, context, and parallels point uniformly in one and the same direction.
There is more to this question, of course, than mere linguistic niceties. If the first sentence states that “In the beginning God created heaven and earth,” what ensued was chaos (vs. 2) which needed immediate attention. In other words, the Creator would be charged with an inadequate initial performance, unless one takes the whole of vs. 1 as a general title, contrary to established biblical practice. To be sure, the present interpretation precludes the view that the creation accounts in Genesis say nothing about coexistent matter. The question, however, is not the ultimate truth about cosmogony, but only the exact meaning of the Genesis passages which deal with the subject. On this score, at least, the biblical writers repeat the Babylonian formulation, perhaps without full awareness of the theological and philosophical implications. At all events, the text should be allowed to speak for itself.


E. A. Speiser, Genesis: Introduction, Translation, and Notes, vol. 1, Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 11–13.


While the first sentence of the Bible is relatively straightforward in Hebrew, it possesses a subtle ambiguity that makes it difficult to translate. It can be rendered in the classical fashion, with an implicit relative clause, or, with the inclusion of v. 3, as one sentence. Witness the following examples.


The King James Version and Its Descendants


Classical
1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
2 And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God moved upon the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. (KJV, 1611)


Classical
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. (RSV, 1952)


Implicit relative clause
1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. (NRSV, 1991)


The Vulgate and Its Descendants


Classical
1 In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram.
2 Terra autem erat inanis et vacua, et tenebrae erant super faciem abyssi, et Spiritus Dei ferebatur super aquas. (VG, 1592)


Classical
1 Au commencement, Dieu créa le ciel et la terre. 2 Or la terre était vague et vide, les ténèbres couvraient l’abîme, l’esprit de Dieu plânait sur les eaux. (Bible de Jérusalem, 1956)


Classical
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, and God’s spirit hovered over the water. (Jerusalem Bible, 1966)


Implicit relative clause
1 In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. (New American Bible, 1970, 1990)


Genesis 1:1–3 as one sentence
1 Lorsque Dieu commença la création du ciel et de la terre, 2 la terre était déserte et vide, et la ténèbre à la surface de l’abîme; le souffle de Dieu plânait à la surface des eaux, 3 et Dieu dit: «Que la lumière soit!» Et la lumière fut. (Traduction Oecuménique de la Bible, 1979)


Translations in the Jewish Tradition


Classical
1 In the beginning God created / the heavens and the earth.
2 As for the earth, it was without form or life, / and darkness was upon the face of the Deep;
but the Spirit of God / was hovering over the face of the waters.18


Classical
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
2 —Now the earth had been wild and waste
darkness over the face of Ocean
breath of God over the face of the waters—19


Genesis 1:1–3 as one sentence
1 When God began to create heaven and earth—2 the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water—(New Jewish Publication Society Version, 1985)


Scholarly translations


Classical
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
2 The earth was still a desert waste, and darkness lay upon the primeval deep and God’s wind was moving to and fro over the surface of the waters.20


Implicit relative clause
1 When God set about to create the heaven and earth—2 the world being then a formless waste, with darkness over the seas and only an awesome wind sweeping over the water—21


Why such variety? The first two words of the Bible, bĕrēʾšît bārāʾ, present the translator with a conundrum. bĕrēʾšît (see, for example, Jer 26:1) means the beginning of something, e.g., the harvest, and not “first” in some absolute sense. Such an expression does exist in the Hebrew Bible, (bāriʾšōnâ; for example, Gen 13:4) but it is not used here. The implication seems to be that what is being described is the first of a series of creative acts rather than some absolute beginning of things and that God may have created other things before those described here. Some suggest that the creation of the Law or of the angels might be hinted at here. Many feel that the text says that God created the universe out of pre-existing chaotic matter, not out of nothing and that the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo is a theological assertion not necessarily founded in this biblical text.
What does God do? God creates. The word “create” here is bārāʾ.22 bārāʾ means to expend no energy, to make something without any effort, without any work involved. In the entire Bible only God is the subject of the verb, so it seems to capture some part of God’s own character. Therefore, when God makes he does it completely freely and effortlessly. God is an uncreated, genderless, powerful God creating without any energy at all.
The author does not use the personal name for Israel’s God, YHWH; he simply uses a generic term, “God” (ʾĕlōhîm). Seemingly, he wants to avoid any sort of narrow identification between this story and Israelites’ national concerns.
What exactly does he do? He creates the heavens and the earth. This is a merismus, a figure of speech that describes a totality by naming polar opposites. “Heavens and earth” means all of creation. God creates everything in the face of what sort of opposition—what does God confront? “Empty void” (tōhû wābōhû) conveys the sense of a sterile nothingness.23 “Darkness on the face of the abyss” (ḥōšek ʿal-pĕnê tĕhôm) conveys a similar idea of a world where God is not present.24
The author draws a picture of a world that features none of the distinctions that are important to us and necessary for being, just an empty pit of water and darkness and wind. There was no life, no up, no down, neither space nor time, a desert in which there are no paths. Lacking a vocabulary to express nothingness, he sets a scene where he gives us a picture that negates everything positive instead. Into the nothingness come a first positive hint of life, rûaḥ ʾĕlōhîm. Depending on context rûaḥ can mean wind, breath, soul, spirit; and ʾĕlōhîm can mean divine, of God, or simply indicate a superlative construction. Translations, then, can range from “the spirit of God” to “a mighty wind.” The translator’s choice has as much to do with theological preconceptions about what is going on as with the words involved. Having introduced the character of a single God who acts effortlessly to confront a cosmos of chaotic, meaningless nothing, I suggest that we have in these first two verses a picture of creation of everything out of nothing. And so the stage is set for the story’s development.


David W. Cotter, Genesis, ed. Jerome T. Walsh, Chris Franke, and David W. Cotter, Berit Olam Studies in Hebrew Narrative and Poetry (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2003), 12–16.

But I suspect you are aware of these.

David Paul:
Don't you feel small and uneducated?

No, I find the support for the various potential translations to be an interesting debate - one that encourages one to read the text closely rather than assuming it means what you currently believe it to mean.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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David Paul | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Jun 8 2019 5:25 PM

MJ. Smith:

David Paul:
Don't you feel small and uneducated?

No, I find the support for the various potential translations to be an interesting debate - one that encourages one to read the text closely rather than assuming it means what you currently believe it to mean.

Oh, I'm all for debate and looking at things in novel and unanticipated ways. Pretty much everything I believe about the Bible is novel and unanticipated. But the "looking" isn't something that need have no termination; when something hits a wall, or a dead end, or runs out of steam, or becomes self-contradictory, that might well be a sign that it's time to "look" elsewhere.

I didn't even get into the not inconsequential prophetic elements of Gen. 1:1, which adhere in surprisingly coherent and amazing ways and which are based on the fact that this first sentence of the Bible is precisely seven words. Tossing away those aspects of the text in favor of speculative "maybes" and "mights" is quite like tossing away blueprints for a skyscraper in favor of "this bundle of sticks might make a hut".

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Ralph Mauch | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Jun 8 2019 7:13 PM

You said   "So, my question to the forum is...do you know of anything, in Logos or not, that addresses this topic beyond the level of bare ivory tower pontification?" 

Hi David, if recently added another Systematic Theology resource https://www.logos.com/product/4171/systematic-theology-biblical-and-historical

Under this heading it does a good job of explaining some of the recent questions that have risen.regarding this. 


III. Genesis 1:1–3 and the Doctrine of Creation Page 147
III. Genesis 1:1–3 and the Doctrine of Creation


Culver, R. D. (2005). Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical (p. 147). Ross-shire, UK: Mentor.

blessings,

Ralph

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David Paul | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Jun 8 2019 9:49 PM

Ralph Mauch:

Under this heading it does a good job of explaining some of the recent questions that have risen.regarding this. 


III. Genesis 1:1–3 and the Doctrine of Creation Page 147
III. Genesis 1:1–3 and the Doctrine of Creation


Culver, R. D. (2005). Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical (p. 147). Ross-shire, UK: Mentor.

I have that...thanks for the reference.

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David Paul | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Jun 8 2019 11:28 PM

From the Heiser video (@ 25:50):

"It sounds like everything in verses 1 & 2 are just prep--they're not really happening. They're the writer describing what conditions (now catch this!)...the writer is describing conditions that already exist before God actually creates anything...before God actually speaks anything into existence." Plain and simple, if Heiser's argument were a pinball machine, it would instantly go on TILT. Why?

Because (as I pointed out above), one of the "conditions that already exist" in verse 2 is darkness, and it is IMPOSSIBLE for darkness to "exist before ':Elohhiym creates anything" since (as Isa. 45:7 plainly says), YHWH created (baaraa' -- the same word used in Gen. 1:1) darkness. If darkness exists in verse 2, that means CREATION HAS ALREADY TAKEN PLACE. When? Just look at it...isn't the answer "verse 1"?

What Heiser is spreading is definitely NOT something you want to "catch". It's more like something you need to be innoculated against. You're welcome.

MJ. Smith:
I find the support for the various potential translations to be an interesting debate - one that encourages one to read the text closely rather than assuming it means what you currently believe it to mean.

Yeah, by all means (one must always "hear a matter" before answering; Prov. 18:13)...but...once the examination has commenced and the "potential" translation becomes an impossible interpretation, the debate becomes something less than interesting. It becomes a means of stringing along something which should properly be laid to rest. Giving credence where none is deserved isn't "open-mindedness"; it's a potential snare.

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PetahChristian | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Jun 9 2019 12:53 PM

We might never know or understand what conditions were like before/at creation.

I think we know that before anything else, God (always) existed. So there was possibly a time before the angels were created when there was nothing else but God.

What was that like? Nothingness (apart from God)? Did darkness exist or was it uncreated yet? What is darkness? The absence of light? What kind of light (or darkness)? Are we talking about a natural thing, a spiritual thing, both, neither?

We know that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. But can we understand what that light represents, or how it dispels darkness? In eternity, the glory of God gives the New Jerusalem light, and the will be no shadows. Paul saw a light brighter than the sun.

We wouldn't think of God as a natural light, but His glory can be visible, perhaps even tangible.

We can't really understand how God could be tangible or present, even though He is spirit and everywhere.

So, if there are hundreds or thousands of things we can't comprehend, because we are limited and finite, it seems a bit arrogant to say that we can be knowledgeable or convincing about a point or period in time when we weren't even present.

Perhaps Isaiah 45:7 is not necessarily speaking of a singular occurrence, but an ongoing thing? God creates, God sustains, God is sovereign over everything. God is saying, "I do these things," not "I did these things." While I believe that God created darkness, I don't think that verse says with certainty that there was only a one-time creation of darkness (or that darkness didn't exist before any successive creation of darkness). After all, if God creates something now, it doesn't necessarily mean that it never existed before.

Even the concept of separating the light from the darkness isn't something we can fathom. God said, "Let there be light," but was it something apart from a natural light? The sun and the moon don't appear until later. So what form (if anything) did this light (or darkness) take? Did or does it even have a form?

I think anytime we start saying, "This person is right, that person is wrong," then we've gone astray in a manner of speaking. I suspect it's presumptuous of us to think we can understand or know or grasp these concepts. What we don't know is practically infinite, regardless of any advances that we feel we have made in any field, theological, scientific, or otherwise.

We were created for a purpose which has to do with God, not with arguing with each other. I think anytime we're arguing, our eyes are possibly off God, and we're possibly exalting something or someone other than God.

Sin is a snare. I think there's a billion more potential snares apart from some "impossible interpretation," and we don't tend to reflect God's qualities when we find fault with people or their views. Love is supposed to cover a multitude of sins, even misguided beliefs.

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mab | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Jun 9 2019 1:48 PM

I am completely aware of the idea that the beginning is supposed to be soft. That is perfectly understood from the grammar and there are so many passages in Hebrew narratives that have the same indefinite sense. But all of the obtuse nature of beginning in 1:1 isn't so much grammar as it is simply before the explicit setting of the elements of day and night which close the gap.

Reading more into grammar in a context we have nothing else to hang on to is kind of presumptuous. Creation was supernatural. God knows and I am perfectly happy to leave it in His hands. That the Creator knew me and chose me is even more amazing.

The mind of man is the mill of God, not to grind chaff, but wheat. Thomas Manton | Study hard, for the well is deep, and our brains are shallow. Richard Baxter

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David Paul | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Jun 9 2019 6:08 PM

Mystery...okay. I suppose. But He Authored the Bible for the purpose of revelation...for the purpose of making Himself, His will, and His ways KNOWN. He doesn't do that completely...one could even say He doesn't do it perfectly, since doing it completely clearly isn't His objective...YET. But, as He revealed, there is nothing hidden that won't be revealed. I'm personally convinced that there is much that is able to be known that is either misapprehended (i.e. misunderstood) or relegated to the "mystery" file, mainly for the purpose of avoiding dispute. That is a mistake.

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m wilson | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Jun 10 2019 8:47 PM

I think you  are missing one possibility that fits with the grammar, the ANE culture, the contextual flow of the story, and the interest of the author.

".the writer is describing conditions that already exist before God actually creates anything...before God actually speaks anything into existence." 

Notice that Heiser's difficulty is that he understands the grammar and structure but misses the point of the narrative and as you point out, it creates serious conflict. But what if Gen 1 is not telling you how everything in the universe was made or that God is outside of time. 

Why can't it be describing what creation looks like from the point of view of the earth? Follow the focus of the narrative - it is the earth and what was created in relation to it from the earthly perspective. In other words, read it as if you were sitting in the dark desert 3500 years ago and trying to tell someone where all that they know and can see came from. 

'When God began to create the heavens and the earth..." - This could simply be refering to the earth and the heavens as seen from the earth. Why would we think otherwise? No one had a concept of 14 billion light years of space.

"and the earth was 'tovu bvohu and darkness was over the surface of the deep" ...Notice that the earth is the center of the discussion. 

"Let there be light and there was light' - where? On the earth that had been covered in darkness. Thus the sun and stars need not be made visible to the earth before the earth exists.

"God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day." - Where is there day and night? Of course the only makes sense from an earthly perspective. 

I think if you can get the Gen 1 creation of the universe out of your mind and see it from this perspective you will find it not only makes a lot more sense, but it probably doesn't contradict any of the things you believe either, other than Gen. 1 being about the creation ex-nihilo:).  

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Ben | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Jun 11 2019 12:34 AM

Look up Holmstedt, "The Restrictive Syntax of Genesis 1 1" Vetus Testamentum 58 (2008) 56-67

"The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected."- G.K. Chesterton

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David Paul | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Jun 12 2019 12:48 AM

m wilson:

Notice that Heiser's difficulty is that he understands the grammar and structure but misses the point of the narrative and as you point out, it creates serious conflict. But what if Gen 1 is not telling you how everything in the universe was made or that God is outside of time. 

Why can't it be describing what creation looks like from the point of view of the earth? Follow the focus of the narrative - it is the earth and what was created in relation to it from the earthly perspective. In other words, read it as if you were sitting in the dark desert 3500 years ago and trying to tell someone where all that they know and can see came from. 

'When God began to create the heavens and the earth..." - This could simply be refering to the earth and the heavens as seen from the earth. Why would we think otherwise? No one had a concept of 14 billion light years of space.

I've heard of this concept before, and it isn't entirely without merit...BUT...

WHY would a "viewpoint from earth" make sense? Two things need to be considered: 1) there would have been no one that actually had such a viewpoint, since humans didn't exist yet, and 2) ':Elohhiym's viewpoint would not be "from earth" (unless He decided to "take on" such a perspective for no discernible reason). It would sorta be like viewing the making of a cake from the perspective of the mixing bowl. Not impossible, but rather odd.

m wilson:
"and the earth was 'tovu bvohu and darkness was over the surface of the deep" ...Notice that the earth is the center of the discussion.

[I think you mean "tohu vbohu" or the like.]

As the cake also would be the center of the discussion, but taking the mixing bowl perspective is still odd.

Perhaps the perspective is that of "the Spirit" that is hovering over/moving across (I prefer the word "stirring" here) the waters?

This perspective has been suggested in relation to a particular view of "the Gap Theory". In verse two, rather than "the earth WAS", the translation would be "the earth BECAME" without form and void (this is entirely possible and legit). The reason this option is preferred is that it allows for a time between "proto-creation" in verse 1 and the "recreative" efforts that begin in verse 3. The "gap" that is introduced in verse 2 allows (potentially) for the creation of the angels, and more significantly, the casting of hassaattaan down from heaven, which would include the imposition of an ultra-massive "extinction event" type of meteoric impact, along with an accompanying dust storm that completely enshrouds the planet. At this point, the (Spirit's?) "from earth perspective" kicks in, where the "creating" of the light on day one is actually the dust cloud finally thinning out enough for light to begin penetrating the haze. In this view, the light is being created by the sun, which is "there" but doesn't come into "earth perspective" view until day 4, when the haze has fully subsided.

This explanation has some advantages, but it assumes quite a lot. I don't utterly discount it, but I'm not fully on board with it. There's tons more to be said about all this, but I'm not inclined to get into it here.

Let me be clear about this point...my concern with this whole issue is the attempt to "steal" the discrete sentence character of Gen. 1:1. As I mentioned above, the fact that "B'rei'shiytth baaraa' ':Elohhiym 'eitth hashshaamayim w''eitth haa'aarets" is precisely seven words has massive prophetic significance. A full discussion of all the considerations would be a substantial book unto itself. Losing all that mind-blowing detail for supposed grammatical "stuff" is utterly preposterous, in my view. It's all the more so ridiculous when one of the primary non-grammatical "reasons" the dependent clause explanation is preferred by scholars is because it is perceived to concur with the introduction of the Enuma Elish.

YHWH has ZERO motivation to correspond His Book with a paganized down-river phone-tag explanation of "how it all started". The lesson here is...never underestimate the scholarly appetite for asserting Scripture's derivative nature.

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David Paul | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Jun 12 2019 1:29 AM

MJ. Smith:
Worded in this manner, no. However if you are genuinely interested in what the academicians say, these are the discussions I usually go back to:

I appreciate the references. I have Sarna and Speiser. I don't have Berit Olam yet...expecting to pick it up if/when I ever get Ultimate. This paragraph from Berit Olam:

MJ. Smith:
The author draws a picture of a world that features none of the distinctions that are important to us and necessary for being, just an empty pit of water and darkness and wind. There was no life, no up, no down, neither space nor time, a desert in which there are no paths. Lacking a vocabulary to express nothingness, he sets a scene where he gives us a picture that negates everything positive instead. Into the nothingness come a first positive hint of life, rûaḥ ʾĕlōhîm. Depending on context rûaḥ can mean wind, breath, soul, spirit; and ʾĕlōhîm can mean divine, of God, or simply indicate a superlative construction. Translations, then, can range from “the spirit of God” to “a mighty wind.” The translator’s choice has as much to do with theological preconceptions about what is going on as with the words involved. Having introduced the character of a single God who acts effortlessly to confront a cosmos of chaotic, meaningless nothing, I suggest that we have in these first two verses a picture of creation of everything out of nothing. And so the stage is set for the story’s development.

...seems to me to be conceptually scattered, even (pardon the pun) chaotic. It begins with "The author...", when "The Author..." would be the necessary wording for accuracy. This one error results in an unavoidable avalanche of the aforementioned "misapprehensions" of the material. For instance, the notion that there is "no vocabulary to express nothingness" is nonsense. Perhaps the biggest faux pas is that the author's conclusion, in which he perceives the text to describe "creation out of nothing", is belied by his very own admission that the "pot"/"pit" that this recipe is made in isn't empty, but rather contains water, darkness, and wind. Admittedly, this stuff isn't all that easy to grapple with linguistically, so perhaps the bumbling can be attributed to that.

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m wilson | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Jun 12 2019 9:08 AM

David Paul:
WHY would a "viewpoint from earth" make sense?

It is the only viewpoint that matters to humans living on it:) 

David Paul:
1) there would have been no one that actually had such a viewpoint, since humans didn't exist yet,

There's no one there to witness any of it no matter how you read it. The story clearly is not from God's perspective as it is being told in 3rd person narrative, exactly how we tell lots of stories for which no person was present

David Paul:
:Elohhiym's viewpoint would not be "from earth" (unless He decided to "take on" such a perspective for no discernible reason). It would sorta be like viewing the making of a cake from the perspective of the mixing bowl. Not impossible, but rather odd.

The point is not that the narrator telling the story was standing on the earth at the time, it is that the earth is the focus of the narrative and the narrative is answering the basic question of a human observer, "where do all this come from?" The thing is, the "all this" from an ANE perspective does not include cosmological elements and perspectives that you know of today. Their universe was the visible heavens and earth

Think of someone telling the story of how a cake (visible heavens and earth) came into being.

When Mary began to create the cake, she had flour, water, eggs, sugar, butter etc. 

She separated the egg whites from the yokes, stage 1.

She mixed the flour and water in a bowl and got dough, stage two...

etc..

You can thus tell someone all they need to know with regard to how the cake was made without describing where the flour came from or how water came into existence. The Bible takes for granted that God created all of it, but the narrative is about the cake, not when or how the ingredients were created. 

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David Paul | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Jun 12 2019 10:13 AM

m wilson:
The point is not that the narrator telling the story was standing on the earth at the time, it is that the earth is the focus of the narrative and the narrative is answering the basic question of a human observer, "where do all this come from?" The thing is, the "all this" from an ANE perspective does not include cosmological elements and perspectives that you know of today. Their universe was the visible heavens and earth.

The problem with what you are describing is that you are speaking as if the Bible is/was written by humans. It most emphatically was not. This can be known with 100% certainty, because humans can't accurately prophesy in the way the Bible does, particularly with regard to prophecies that have existed "under the radar" and have remained unrecognized since the Book was written. The biggest failure of human attempts to comprehend the Bible is that humans have consistently pursued their hermeneutic approach from the perspective of HUMANS. It is impossible to understand the Bible from a human perspective. ':Elohhiym is the Author, and the Book is HIS effort to convey HIS intentions to have humans comply with HIS will. It is pretty hard to find any examples of "exegesis" that aren't in fact eisegesis where the assumption of the ones offering up their explanations are grounded in a view that "humans wrote the Bible". This Bible is NOT about "the human experience". The Bible is about YHWH's continuing frustration (but ultimate satisfaction) regarding His "experience with humans".

m wilson:
the narrative is answering the basic question of a human observer

This is NOT the motivation, because YHWH doesn't give a flying flip about human questions. If you doubt that, read Job again.

To put it another way, the Bible is NOT about "contemplating God"; it's about "contemplating LIKE God". Phil. 2:5 NKJV

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Jun 12 2019 10:35 PM

David Paul, I'm out of this thread so I'm not tempted to violate guidelines.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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Thomas Pape | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Jun 13 2019 12:12 AM
from the Jewish point of view:
Ariel’s Bible commentary: the book of Genesis....
"This verse records the original creation, which is preliminary to the work of the six days. It is an independent clause that provides an introduction to this section. Here, the number seven is prominent. In the Hebrew text, there are seven words. Furthermore, the seven words comprise a total of twenty-eight letters (four times seven). Genesis 1:1 is one of the many verses where there was a disagreement between the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel. The School of Shammai claimed that Heaven was created first, while the School of Hillel said that the earth was created first.
The first word in the Hebrew text is bereishit, which in English is three words: In the beginning. The word itself says nothing as to when the beginning was, just that this was the beginning of the heavens and the earth. It refers to the first phase of a step, the beginning of the universe as it now exists." …..
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