Re: John 1:1a - in *the* beginning

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Tue Oct 28 1997 - 06:20:41 EST

Carl W. Conrad wrote:

<I've always assumed that this was directly in imitation of the Hebrew of
<Genesis 1:1 -- B'RESHITH BARA' . . . If there's a better reason for the
<absence of an article there, I'd like to hear it.

Dear Carl,

It is quite possible that John had Genesis 1:1 in mind, but the parallel is
not as clearcut as it appears to be. The phrase B'RESHITH BARA' may be
understood in three ways. Lexically speaking BE is a preposition which
includes the meanings of EV but has a much wider range, including the
temporal meaning "at the time of" ("when"), RESHITH is an anarthrous noun
with the meaning "beginning", "first part of", "principal part of". BARAŤ
is a verb in the perfect conjugation, meaning "created".

Most translators take the verse as an independent sentence: "In the
beginning God created.." The reason for the lack of Hebrew article from
this point of view is that RESHITH never takes the article except in Neh
12:44 where it means "firstfruits". Some Hebrew words do not take the
article but we don`t know why. The reason for the English definite article
in this case is not syntactical but contextual. RESHITH must be the
beginning of something, namely of what follows, the existence of the heaven
and the earth. Because the reference is specific an "a" would not fit.

Gen 1:1 may also be viewed as a protasis, and v 2 as an apodosis. This
gives: "When God began to create (..),the earth was (..)." In this case BE
is translated "when" and RESHITH is taken as a genitive construct of the
following clause. Such a construct never takes the article, but as
mentioned, the very word itself does not take the article. A New
Translation of The Holy Scriptires, 1962, published by The Jewish
Publication Society of America takes v 1 as a protasis, v 2 as a
parenthesis, and v 3 as an apodosis: "When God began to create the heaven
and the earth - the earth being unformed and void (..) God said "Let there
be light". Both cases are grammatically possible and imply that BERESHITH
is indefinite rather than definite.

The Greek word ARCH takes the article in contrast with BERESHITH and there
is neither a grammatical nor an implied genitive relationship between ARCH
and the following words of John 1:1 as is the case with BERESHITH. Further
are there no contextual clues in John 1 making ARCH definite as is the case
with BERESHITH. So I concur with Paul S. Dixon who believes ARCH must be
viewed as definite because of the preceding preposition EN, a force which a
Hebrew preposition such as BE does not have. So the Hebrew BERESHITH is
definite because of the context, the Greek ARCH is definite because of the


Rolf Furuli
University Of Oslo

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