Day 1: The Work Begins…

day 1 creation

The first 5 verses of Bereshit (Genesis) delineate a massive transformation from utter chaos to ordered matter.  The prevailing view of mainstream Christianity is the creation ex nihilo position, i.e. that all creation was spoken into existence out of nothing.  This is based on a rendering of בְּרֵאשִׁית as “in the beginning,” indicating the beginning of the process of the earth’s creation.

The Septuagint, a very early translation (ca. 200 BCE), began the tradition with its translation ἐν ἀρχῇ, which is repeated at John 1:1, linking the two passages to the same time signature.

A few translations, however, deviate from that standard translation.  The rationale for the variance is that there is no “the” in the construction of בְּרֵאשִׁית.  The shewa under the beyt prefix makes the phrase anarthrous, and thus indefinite if the grammar is to be respected in the strictest sense.  Those translations which render it other than the standard “in the beginning” include the following:

  • “When God began to create….” (NJPS/TNK)
  • “Created by the Elohim were the heavens and the earth.” (Concordant)
  • “At the beginning of….” (Rashi) [1]

There are good reasons for supplying the absent “the,” as well.  One is the presence in the passage of the mehuppak legarmeh trope. [2]  This trope is only found in poetic passages, and we encounter it on the name Elohim in 1:27.

אֱלֹהִ֤ים ׀ — note the leftmost symbol under the hey (ה), which looks like a yethiv, and the vertical line (paseq) following the word at far left.  This combination is the poetic marker mehuppak legarmeh

Poetry tends to deviate from some of the rule, including sometimes omitting the definite article.

Another good reason for the supplied “the” is the testimony of the psalter.  Psalm 33 declares that creation occurred solely “by the word of Elohim,” and Psalms 102:25 and 104:5 both credit Elohim with the creation of even the building blocks of creation, asserting that He “laid the foundations of the earth.”

Sha’ul (Paul) also testifies to this, under divine inspiration, making reference to “God, who created all things” (Ephesians 3:9).  This theme is echoed in Colossians 1:16, 20.  Yochanan the Revelator also adds his voice in his pronouncement, “You created all things and because of Your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4:11).

The crux of the discussion is that different genres of literature read differently, and our exegetical work needs to reflect those genre categories.

  1. Joel M. Hoffman, “On Genesis 1:1,” God Didn’t Say That (2010); online:
  2. William R. Scott, A Simplified Guide to BHS: Critical Apparatus, Masora, Accents, Unusual Letters, & Other Markings (3rd ed.; N. Richland Hills, Tex.: BIBAL Press, 1995), 34.




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