Note that this is still a work in progress.

Creation Verbs in Genesis

Five different Hebrew verbs are used to describe the processes involved during the seven days of creation. While they are translated into separate English verbs (to create, to be, to form, to make, and to bless), the deeper distinctions between the meanings of the original words is largely lost.

Aside:

The word nephesh is also included, but for the opposite reason. It is an important Hebrew word that is translated into many different English words, including "soul", "life", "person", "mind", "heart", "creature", "body", "dead", "will", "desire", and "man". While it's important to understand that the Genesis verbs lose some meaning in translation, it's also important to understand that this word often unnecessarily gains meaning in translation.

Conventions:

Words:

In Hebrew, there are three words which have similar meaning. They are Bara, meaning to create, Yatzar, meaning to form, and Asah, meaning to make. According to the Kabbalists, Bara indicates creation ex nihilo, something from nothing. Yatzar denotes formation of something from a substance that already exists, something from something. Asah has the connotation of the completion of an action. — Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation in Theory and Practice
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Strong's # Hebrew Transliteration Meaning Verses
H1254 בָּרָא bara' to create the essence from nothing 1, 21, 27, 2:3, 2:4
H1961 הָיְתָ֥ה hayah to transform or to have become 2, 3, 5, 6–9, 11, 13–15, 19, 23, 24, 29, 30, 31, 2:5
H335 יָצַר yatsar to form or shape 2:7
H6213 וַיַּעַשׂ `asah to complete 7, 11, 16, 25, 26, 31, 2:2, 2:3, 2:4
H1288 בָּרַךְ barak to bless 22, 28, 2:3
 
H5315 נֶפֶשׁ nephesh breathing creature = "soul" 20, 21, 24, 30, 2:7

Genesis (NKJV):

Use of verbs:

Creating the essence from nothing (bara'):

Transforming things (hayah):

Forming or shaping things (yatsar):

Completing things (`asah):

Blessing things (barak):

Observations:

Animals:

On the fith day, swimming and flying creatures were created from nothing and then blessed.

But on the sixth day, land animals were made complete, without creation.

Mankind:

In Isaiah 43:7, we can see the three words involved with human creation (blessing is omitted; at this point God is not pleased with his people):

Everyone who is called by My name, Whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him.

Notice that humans were created from nothing, formed into shape, completed in the image of God, and blessed by God, but they were never transformed from something else.

The Earth:

Isaiah 45:18 says:

… God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited ….

Isaiah says that God did not create the Earth as tohuw.

In 1:2, The earth was without form, and void;

One can can conclude that, since Earth's creation from nothing was not in vain (tohuw), Genesis 1:2 must mean that the Earth became a wasteland (tohuw), implying that a long period of time could have elapsed between the first two verses. Genesis 1:2 would be better translated as the Earth became (hayah). In fact, the NMV version does use this translation.

The idea of a potentially long time gap between the first two verses is not new:

Long before the modern study of geology, early church writers have examined the biblical text and considered the idea that between Gen. 1:1 and 1:2 was an indeterminate period when the created world fell into chaos. — Gap creationism — Wikipedia

The Targum of Onkelos is an early second century Aramaic translation of the Hebrew scriptures, whose English translation is: and the earth was devastated and empty (Wikipedia) or and the earth was laid waste (Arthur Custance).

Third century theologian Origen, in De Principiis, Book III, Chapter 5.3 recognized that there was an age before Adam:

By these testimonies it is established both that there were ages before our own, and that there will be others after it.

In De Sacramentis Christianae Fidei, Book 1, part 1, chapter 6, twelfth century scholar Hugo St. Victor wrote:

Perhaps enough has already been debated about these matters thus far, if we add only this, how long did the world remain in this disorder before the regular re-ordering?

Hayah, in general

Much of the Bible reads better if hayah is translated as a form of to become rather than to be:

The idea of something being changed, rather than created from nothing, is conveyed much more clearly.

Copyright:

© 2021, Ray Butterworth.