IN THE BEGINNING (Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a)

first_creation_imageOver the next set of pages, I will present a new translation of, and commentary on, the first creation story, Genesis 1:1-2:4a. The intent of this particular translation and commentary is to bring the best and most current biblical scholarship to the reader. Why is this important?

There are a number of reasons:

First, most atheists and other secular-oriented men and women (and not a few Christian believers) incorrectly understand the two creation stories as literal, historical works written for a primitive people to explain their world as they might have understood it. The fact, however, is that the Hebrew authors of the two creation stories were anything but literal, and history was not their intention. The commentary within these pages argues that a literal, historical understanding of the Genesis 1 creation story belies the depth and majesty of its message. Literalism creates a profound, almost insurmountable intellectual objection to the Judeo-Christian faith traditions because its story runs counter to observable reality.

Second, many of the existing English Bibles are copies of earlier Bibles originally translated into English hundreds of years ago. These Bibles remain largely
unchanged today. At the same time, our understanding of the cultures of the ANE – their literature, their customs, and even the daily lives of their people – has advanced dramatically in the last century and especially since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls[1]The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls occurred over a period of 10 years beginning in 1946..

The Great Isaiah Scroll from the DSS

The Great Isaiah Scroll from the DSS

This discovery resulted in new translations of some of the words and language constructs that heretofore had puzzled the original translators. Because of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we are blessed with a richer and deeper understanding of both the biblical text and the historical-cultural context in which they were written.  Unfortunately, many of these new findings have yet to make their way into most of the common, commercially available English Bibles today.

Third, biblical Hebrew is a language (like many others) in which a single word can have multiple, disparate meanings. Where biblical Hebrew differs (and markedly so) from English in that biblical Hebrew is a concrete language, largely lacking the ability to express abstract thoughts. As a consequence, in order to convey abstract ideas the ancient authors employed an extensive array of idioms, metaphors, and other figurative constructs.

An amusing and well-known example of this is God’s description of Himself as “slow to anger” (Exodus 34:6). The literal rendering of the Hebrew is “long of nose” (“אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם, erekh apayeem)”.  Bible scholars have long puzzled over the relationship between nose length and patience, but no matter what scholars might hypothesize, the ancient Hebrews used this idiom to mean a person with a long nose is a patient person.

The chart below[2]taken from Hebrew Idioms and other figures of speech compiled by Wayne Leman illustrates a few idioms found in the Hebrew Bible:

Citation Hebrew Idiom Meaning
Gen 4:1 “to know someone” to engage in sexual intercourse
Gen 15:15 “to go to your fathers” to die
Gen 27:41 “to say in one’s heart” to think
Exodus 3:8 “milk and honey” fertile, productive
Ruth 3:7 feet genitals
Widely used throughout the Bible “son of [something]” the epitome of that something

Given, the concrete nature of biblical Hebrew, choosing the best translation for a given word or phrase is seldom straightforward. Grammar, literary and cultural context, the translator’s hermeneutics[3]Hermeneutics is the study of methods of textual interpretation. A historian translating the Bible will likely make different translation choices than, say, a Christian theologian. More simply put, … Continue reading along with the translation model serve to color and shape the consequent rendering.

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One Response to IN THE BEGINNING (Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a)

  1. Pingback: Biblical Creation Class Begins - Class Resources - Thus Said The LORDThus Said The LORD

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