Re: Gen. 1:1-2, and the Hebrew of it

From: David Moore (
Date: Thu Feb 22 1996 - 10:12:48 EST

On Wed, 21 Feb 1996, Edward Hobbs wrote:

> Friends:
> Since this discussion of Gen. 1:1-2 and Creatio ex nihilo was, for me,
> "deja vu all over again," I decided to stay out of it. Almost everything so
> far posted (with the exception of Carl Conrad's masterful one of today--Feb. 21
> --beginning "Okay") reads like many sets of seminary-papers (no offense
> intended; it's just that there's little new under the sun) I have had to read
> and comment on. But David Moore's statement about Hebrew, in response to Will
> Wagers, cannot be left unchallenged.
> > (Will:) . . . . there are sufficient
> > grounds for understanding the text of Genesis 1:1 in terms of a
> > pre-existent chaos or "matter" (TOHU W'BOHU) shaped by the creator into a
> > cosmos. The question Will raises is really (I think?) WHEN the doctrine of
> > CREATIO EX NIHILO really emerges and whether it is in fact implicit in NT
> > texts.
> (David:) It looks as though one would practically have to torture the
> Hebrew to get it to say anything very far from, "In the beginning God
> created the heavens and the earth." I suspect that the interpretation,
> "In the beginning of God's creating the heavens and the earth..." would
> depend more on the interpreter's presuppositions than on the Hebrew. The
> waw at the beginning of v. 2 pretty much rules out v. 1's being a general
> title of the section, and it (the waw) falls very unnaturally between the
> temporal prepositional phrase and the rest of the sentence if we are to
> understand, "In the beginning of God's creating...."
> > Another reason is that it may not be a matter of how the Hebrew text was
> > understood but rather of how the LXX of Genesis 1 was understood. For that
> > we have ready to hand Philo's treatise De Opificio Mundi, to which I've
> > made reference before. Even any antecedents of the Logos doctrine are
> > likely to be found in those very Wisdom texts most (even if not all) of
> > which come from Alexandria and Hellenistic Judaism.
> The LXX supports taking the first verse of Genesis as a sentence
> unto itself. And most of the other textual and exegetical evidence seems
> to point in that direction, so why look for any other *emergence* of the
> idea of CREATIO EX NIHILO? If Gen. 1:1 is taken in the most
> straightforward manner, what we should be asking is why other ways of
> interpreting this passage emerged that drew on the Greek philosophical
> idea of preexisting material.
> --------------------------------------------------------------
> (This is Edward now:)
> "Torturing the Hebrew," then, is what much of the Jewish
> tradition has done, and what most Hebrew scholars of this century have
> done! While I am not among the great Hebrew scholars of our time, the
> University of Chicago Press thought well enough of my competence in 1950 to
> publish my translation of part of the Ben Asher text (at the University's
> request, it having never been done before). And I can assure you that a clear
> majority of the first-rank Hebraists consider the opening sentence of the
> narrative to begin with a temporal clause, "When God began to create the
> heavens and the earth, ...." The vowel points are of course not ancient at
> all, so no argument based on them holds much water. The implication of
> creatio ex nihilo, according to Encyclopaedia Judaica (5:1059), "first
> appears in II Maccabees 7:28."
> While it is possible to paint-and-read the text as did the Alexandrian
> Jews who produced the Old Greek, there is no necessity to do so, from any
> standpoint of Hebrew grammar. Barney Anderson, cited by Carl Conrad, is no
> slouch, either. And especially NOTE: The main translations of the past
> half-century--RSV, NRSV, NEB, REB, NAB, Tanakh, covering Protestant, Catholic,
> Jewish scholars and sponsors, none of them self-appointed translators--have
> every one included "When God began to create..." either in the text or in the
> margin. To say that ALL these scholars conspired to "torture the Hebrew" seems
> a bit much.
> A Greek trifle: KTIZW (Josephus, Aquila) can even less than POIEW be
> forced to mean "create from nothing"; its main meaning is to build something,
> like a house or a city, or to found something, like a city, or to populate (a
> country, for example).
> But even this is deja-vu all over again!

        Undoubtedly Edward Hobbs's credentials are impeccable, and it is
not only for that reason that I speak respectfully to him even when he
disagrees with my position. And I am aware that much of the scholarly
community of today takes Gen. 1:1 as an introductory prepositional phrase.

        These reasons notwithstanding, it is the text and the context
that should dictate our interpretation of any passage of Scripture. I
wish Dr. Hobbs had addressed the matter of the waw at the beginning of
Gen. 1:2. It seems to me that, in v. 2 and in other places throughout the
first chapter of Genesis, we may have dialogue from the Hebrew point of
view with certain aspects of Babylonian and Caananite cosmology. That
these are present in the creation narrative does not mean that the Hebrew
narrative should be interpreted wholesale according to that cosmology.

        I would suggest that creatio ex nihilo is not so much explicit as
it is implicit within the Old Testament (although Gen. 1:1 is pretty
definite). A possible reason that the explicit doctrine does not appear
until II Mac. may be that it was only when the Hebrew culture came in
contact with Helenism as a philosophical system with its cosmology that
postulated a pre-existing mass of matter that it was necessary to make
explicit what is implicit throughout all of the OT.

        Something analogous to a certain extent happened in Christianity
with the emergence of the doctrine of the Trinity which was not explicitly,
but rather implicitly present in the New Testament doctrines about God.

David L. Moore Southeastern Spanish District
Miami, Florida of the Assemblies of God Department of Education

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