Remember my preference


Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part III: Between the Lines: An Analysis of Genesis 1:1-2


1.  The Meaning of the Word "Day"

     In an effort to obtain a reasonably unbiased opinion from prominent contemporary Hebrew scholars on the probable meaning of this word, a letter was sent personally to the appropriate department heads of nine major universities (three in Canada, three in the United States, and three in England). Among other things they were asked: Do you consider that the Hebrew yom as used in Genesis 1 accompanied by a numeral should properly be translated

(a) a day as commonly understood,
(b) an age,
(c) an age or a day without preference for either.

Seven out of nine replied, and all of these stated that it means a day as commonly understood, in their opinion.
     They were also asked whether it could be taken as a rule that whenever the word day is accompanied by a numeral, it must normally be interpreted as a period of twenty-four hours. Five said "yes," one said "no," and one said "hardly."


2. The Meaning of the Verb "Make" by contrast with the Verb "Create"

     It is sometimes pointed out that the use of the word day in Genesis must be metaphorical since Genesis 2:4 makes this statement: "These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens." The implication here is that a single day is stated

29. See "A Brief Note on the Translation of the Word 'Day' in Genesis 1," by John R. Howitt Journal American Scientific Affiliation, vol.5, no.1, March, 1953, p.14f.

     pg 1 of 4      

to have occupied the creative process which had previously occupied six days. Manifestly in this instance, the word day stands for six days, in which case the six days could equally well be said to stand for six ages.
     However, there are two matters for consideration here. In the first place, the word day is not accompanied by a numeral; it does not say in one day, but in the day, a metaphorical use of the word which is found frequently in Scripture where it is not defined by a numeral. In the second place, the word used to qualify the phrase "in the day," is 'asah and not bara. This word is used on numerous occasions to convey the idea of "appointment." For example, the Ten Commandments and the Cities of Refuge were both appointed; they were not created, since they were already in existence in one form or another. The significance of the appointment is that they received divine sanction as part of God's plan. In a similar way, the evils which may exist in a city can only be by God's appointment (Amos 3:6). In 1 Kings 12:31, priests are "made" of the lowest of the people by Jeroboam. One of the best ways to find the original meaning of such a word is to examine names of which it forms a part. Here are some examples of names which incorporate the word 'asah:

Asahel (2 Samuel 2:18)        "God has appointed"
Asiel (1 Chronicles 4:35)     "Appointed of God"
Asahiah (2 Kings 22:12,14) "Jah has appointed"

     Many others are found in which variant forms of the root word occur with this basic meaning. We may reasonably conclude, therefore, that in Genesis 2:4 the word day without a numeral simply means "time," so that the verse refers to the time when the Lord appointed the earth and the heavens as a setting for the introduction of man. It is in this sense that the sun and the moon and the stars, which already existed, were given their special appointment in Genesis 1:16.
     Not a few commentators believe that the word 'asah and the word bara both mean the same thing, "to create." Their "proof text" is Exodus 20:11, which speaks of the process of making the heavens and the earth as having occupied six days. It is argued that this six days' work is intended to cover the whole of Genesis 1:1-31. But actually Genesis 1:1,2 are set apart by themselves as though they were preliminary. The six days' work begins with the phrase "And God said. . ." -- a phrase which introduces each day's work very distinctively, as will be seen in verse 3 (day 1), verse 6 (day 2), verse 9 (day 3), 14 (day 4), 20 (day 5), and 26 (day 6). This introductory

     pg.2 of 4     

phrase is not limited to the events of each day, for sometimes it occurs twice on a single day. But it always precedes the activity of any particular day, and it does not appear in connection with Genesis 1:1,2 at all, clearly setting these statements in a class by themselves.
     Moreover, the word 'asah is used quite clearly in the sense of appointment only, as is the case for example in Job 14:5 (appointed) and Psalm 104:9 (set). In the latter instance, we clearly have a reference to Genesis 1:16 and to the appointment of the sun and the moon as markers of time. It does not seem likely that those who hold as an apparently essential part of their faith that the earth is only a few thousand years old, and that the one great catastrophe to have ever overtaken it was the Flood of Noah's time, will now be persuaded that Genesis 1:2 has reference to a far greater catastrophe in terms of the earth's past history, nor that the six days' work were re-constitutional, not initiative. But I believe that these two words, to make and to create, are clearly distinguishable and cannot really be equated. It is not creation that God completed in six days in this case, but rather a process of re-constitution. Had it been otherwise, Scripture would surely have used the Hebrew word bara in Exodus 20:11 in order to make it clear that creation really was the subject of those six days.


3. The Meaning of the Phrase "The Foundation of the World"

     The Greek word katabole, translated foundation in the Authorized Version, is evidently derived from the verbal form kataballein. This word was used quite frequently by the Alexandrine Jews who produced the Septuagint version of the Old Testament in Greek. They used the word kataballein to translate some nine Hebrew forms which are given below. The meanings of these words are taken from Gesenius and Furst Hebrew Lexicon, edited by B. Davies. Four other Hebrew lexicons were also consulted and are in essential agreement.

     pg.3 of 4     

1.  haras, to tear down, break down, devastate, overthrow, destroy, extirpate.
2.  laqah, to take, lay hold of, seize, snatch away, captivate.
3.  natash, to stretch or spread out, scatter abroad, reject, let loose, disperse, give up.
4. naphal, to fall, fall away, fall out, fail, hurl down, cast down, fall upon (attack).
5. nathatz, to break down, destroy, smash down.
6. paratz, to break, demolish, scatter, break up, spread abroad.
7. satam, to lurk for, way-lay, entrap.
8. shahath, to break to pieces, destroy, ruin, lay waste, devastate, violate, injure, corrupt.
9. shaphel, to fall or sink down, to be laid low, humiliate, humble.

     This list represents the total range of meanings covered by the Greek verb kataballein as found in the Septuagint, and they provide, therefore, a basis for determining the meaning of the noun katabole as used in the New Testament.
     Since we know that the New Testament writers were deeply influenced by the Septuagint version, we may reasonably assume that the word katabole conveyed to them what the verbal form conveyed to the authors of the Septuagint. Its meaning is clearly one of destruction. The noun katabole does not occur in the Septuagint translation of the canonical books of the Old Testament, but it does occur in one single instance (2 Maccabees 2:29) where it has the meaning of a building foundation (see Revised Version, marginal note). Perhaps this extended meaning originated with the rubble which formed the building platform in earlier times.
    An examination of those passages in Scripture (some ninety in all) in which a Hebrew word is used that clearly conveys the idea of, or explicitly uses the word, foundation, reveals that in no single instance did the Septuagint employ any form of the verb kataballein. The word used is always themelios or some modified form of it, exactly as the New Testament writers used it.

     pg.4 of 4     

Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

Previous Chapter                     * End of Part III *              Next Chapter (Part IV)

Home | Biography | The Books | Search | Order Books | Contact Us