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A SHORT HISTORY AND INTRODUCTION
TO THE VERBS OF GENESIS ONE
The Hebrew use of verbs can be quite foreign to English speakers making direct translations of the Bible difficult or even misleading regarding God’s original proclamations. The amazing ability of Hebrew to express past events using verbs in the imperfect state, and to express future events with verbs in the perfect state forced translators long ago to develop a compensating linguistic apparatus called the 'Waw Constructive.'
Use of this theoretical construct became standard procedure over many years until 1888 when Benjamin Willis Newton’s translation deliberately renounced the rule. Its use, he argued, does not convey the demonstrative power of the Hebrew verbs in their original language. In an example of how its abandonment changed things, he published a careful sample translation of Genesis 1:3-8.
Newton noted that here, "the future is used to denote progression. In our translation we rightly enough use the past, for we are unable by our future tense similarly to mark progression. There is an expressiveness in the Hebrew use of the future which our future has not; and consequently, grater accuracy of statement.
I may add there is certainly no room for the theory of the Vav (waw) conversive in this chapter [of Genesis], and no ground for saying (because our future cannot adapt itself to the elasticity of the Hebrew future) that therefore the Hebrew future is shorn of its prerogatives and commuted into a past.
It is marvellous that anyone should have ventured to propose anything so preposterous."
‘The Altered Translation of Genesis.’
(ii. 5, London, 1888, pp 49-51)
ANOTHER BIBLE TRANSLATOR like Benjamin Willis Newton who also abandoned the ‘waw-Consecutive’ was James Washington Watts. He produced ‘A Distinctive Translation Of Genesis’ in 1963.
The transformation in idiom compared to orthodox translations was again just as outstanding, starting here at verse three of Genesis One:
“Afterwards, God proceeded to say, ‘Let there be light’; and gradually light came into existence. Also God proceeded to observe the light, seeing that it was good; so he proceeded to divide the light and the darkness. Then God began to call the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. Thus there came to be an evening and a morning, even one day. Then God continued, saying, ‘Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, also let there be a separation between the waters.’ Accordingly, God proceeded to divide the waters from the waters that were above the expanse; and gradually it came to be so. Thereafter, God began to call the expanse Heavens. Thus there came to be an evening and a morning, a second day.”
The acknowledgement of the Hebrew verbs here in the imperfect state at, and after, verse 3 demonstrate the sheer difference in ongoing activity and its narration from the verbs in Genesis One verses 1 and 2 in the perfect state. THERE ONLY COMPLETED FACTS AND THE CURRENT STATUS WAS RECOUNTED: ‘God had created the heavens and the earth in the beginning and the earth was formless while the Holy Spirit presided over the waters.’
The demarcation and change starts at verse three, and Watts illustrates the imperfect verb arrival with the conjunctive adverb, ‘AFTERWARDS.’ Everything now proceeds with preparation and consecutive acts of making. Things happen in steps, sequence and often gradually.
How does Watts justify this expression of the imperfect Hebrew verbs in Genesis One that we do not normally read in modern Bible translations? Contrasting the ‘complete’ and ‘accomplished’ nature of Hebrew verbs in the perfect state, he notes regarding these imperfect verbs from verse 3,
“The fundamental characteristic of all imperfects is incompleteness…The incompleteness of these imperfects, when they are in the indicative mood, appears either as a progressive form or a frequentative form. The context is relied upon to indicate one or the other, for the structure of the verb is the same in both cases.
If the context indicates a single act or state, the force is progressive. The action is pictured in the process of development. In such a case the primary idea of the verb in English is not sufficient to convey its full meaning [from the Hebrew]. The addition of an auxiliary like ‘proceed’ or an adverb like ‘gradually’ is needed if the translator sees an occasion for bringing out the full force [of the verbs].
When a narrative is unfolding rapidly and the sequence of events is more important than the vivid portrayal of progress in some particular event, the translator may depend solely upon conjunctive adverbs like ‘afterward’ to indicate both sequence and progress. Progress in this case is not brought out fully. There is merely movement from one action or state to another without definite portrayal of progress within the second [action or state].
The use of this limited translation means that the translator sees no special reason for bringing out the idea of progress more fully at that point. The account in English would become tedious if he did. On the other hand, if the translator sees that the account is enriched by bringing out the full force of the verb, he is at liberty to do so.”
Watts used “afterwards” to bring out the sense of a shift from one state in the preceding verses of Genesis One 1 –2 to another state of things at verse 3. That change of state is encoded in the commencement of Hebrew verbs in the imperfect, and is translatable, as he demonstrated, into English when the artificial ‘waw-Consecutive’ is ignored.
But the change in state is indicated in another important way also…
‘A Distinctive Translation Of Genesis’
Grand Rapids, Michigan (1963), pp 129, 130.
(In his text italics and brackets are mine entirely)
A 'BOOKENDS' PATTERN EXISTS in Genesis One for each of the six creative Days.
Each one starts with the Hebrew expression ‘Then said God’ ( x 6)
Each one ends with the Hebrew expression ‘And was evening and was morning’ (x 6)
(Occasionally, God also addresses His Creation directly and consults, as in verses 22, 26, 28 and 29. But these are not direct ‘preparing/making’ commands).
Only the Creative Days are marked by back to back ‘Then said God…evening and morning’ junctures. And to bring out this clear repetitive pattern for each of the six Creative periods, Rodney Whitefield in his free web booklet, 'Genesis One and the Age of the Earth', provides an analysis of the Start-End junctures of the Creative Days.
He lists all six of these as such for Genesis chapter One, with their verses:
(Evening-morning) - (And God said..)
end of the 6th Day 31 start of the 6th Day 24
end of the 5th Day 23 start of the 5th Day 20
end of the 4th Day 19 start of the 4th Day 14
end of the 3rd Day 13 start of the 3rd Day 9
end of the 2nd Day 8 start of the 2nd Day 6
end of the 1st Day 5 - START OF THE FIRST DAY VERSE THREE!
Not only do the verbs of Genesis One shift from perfect to imperfect states at verse 3 but pattern-matching with the other Days shows the commencement of the FIRST of the six Creative Days start there also.
There can be no doubt about it, CREATION starts at the beginning in Genesis 1:1. But the first Genesis Day does not start there, but at verse three. The CREATIVE week starts with God’s first-ever recorded words, ‘Let light become to be…’ (Newton's translation).
Infact, this in iteslf is a third set of trends that differentiate Genesis 1:1-2 from the start of the six Creative Days at verse three...
THE FIRST TWO VERSES OF GENESIS ONE STAND IN CLEAR CONTRAST to the details that then follow from verse three onward representing the first six Days of the Creative Week.
Here are some of the differences:
Verses 1 and/or 2 Do not have numerical tags attached:
Each of the creative/making Days HAVE absolute numerical tabs,‘Day 1, 2…4’ etc
Verses 1-2 Do not contain direct Commands or Directives:
Each of the creative/making Days DO contain explicit Commands and Directives issued by God.
Verses 1-2 Do not contain Dialogue/Consultation vocalisations:
Creative Week verses DO so, at 22, 26, 28-30 where God talks.
Verses 1-2 Are not designated in interchanging creative/making terms:
Each of the six Day Creative periods ARE thus designated.
Verses 1-2 Are not specific to Biological habitat and organism design:
Each of the Creative Days anticipate and produce these.
Verses 1-2 Are temporally unspecified – open ended:
Each Creative Day is temporally specified, evening/morning = 1 Day
Verses 1-2 Do not have ‘bookends’ ‘And God said…evening/morning’:
Each Creative Day starts and ends with a bookend.
Verse 2 Depicts God (the Holy Spirit) as passive, brooding, poised:
The Creative Days show God highly pro-active, dynamic, specific.
Verses 1-2 Are not Developmental in relation to earth and man:
The whole of the six Day Creating sequence is Developmental, culminating in man and the Design of his habitat.
Verses 1-2 Contain pluperfect (Perfect tense) verbs and a Merism:
The six Days Creative Week verses have no Hebrew grounds for such.
These, and other subtle indicators during the Creative Week, strongly differentiate the circumstances found upon Creation’s initiation at verses 1 and 2 from the rest of the account in chapter One.
The whole Genesis One sequence reads like a ‘procedure’ that involves an initial preparation phase assembling raw components followed by the sequential execution of steps manipulating them creatively to achieve given aims. We are all familiar with such progressions; obtaining and assembly of materials, setting of foundations, acquisition of ingredients, pigments, canvas and utensils, and so on, that pre-empt building a house, baking a cake, or even painting the ultimate artistic Masterpiece such as Creation itself.
Three reasons exist, then, for reading a transition in history, tempo and procedure at verse three of Genesis One from the act of cosmological Creation to acts of habitat and biological Creativity.
THE TRAIN OF THOUGHT here presented, according to Whitefield, et al, is sufficient to establish the inference that the Hebrew of Genesis 1:1-2 is temporally indeterminate in Scripture and could easily accommodate any modern astronomical estimate of the age of the universe and earth, also incorporating models based on observation that describe the longterm developmental history of the cosmos.
It becomes contingent on those who hold to a Young Universe and planetary Earth view, Created in six literal 24 hour Days with the rest of earth’s biosphere collectively, to refute the above line of Scriptural argumentation and to supply conclusive Biblical evidence to the contrary.
The accusation that a Young Universe and Earth position brings the entire Inspired Biblical (and by extension Gospel) credibility into unnecessary question, or ridicule, is central to resolving this issue. If the six Creative periods of Genesis One, specific to Earth’s habitat and biological development, and demarcated as Days, commence at verse three of Genesis One, there is simply no reason whatsoever for evading a Universe, Solar System and planet Earth that are, consistent in Old Testament Hebrew, potentially billions of years old.
Genesis 1:1-2 would be, temporally, consistent with observational science.
And Young Earth Creationists must demonstrate, Biblically, why it couldn't be.
SEVERAL EXTRA-GENESIS-ONE SCRIPTURES are often quoted to promote the interpretation of a Young Universe and Earth Creation.
In view of the above three counter indications, how do these other texts fair in regard to the Hebrew language challenge that indicates the potential for a very ancient Universe and an ancient planetary Earth?
Probably the most appealed to text, and the most acclaimed by the YEC position, is Exodus 20:11 (and its analogue at Exodus 31:17). So, it is worth considering the text and how it compares in several of the better, or most commonly used, and studied, English Translations:
‘For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day.’ – NKJV
(- NIV, ESV, NJB, AMP, The MESSAGE, NEB, LXX [L.C. Lee Brenton trans.] and others are almost identical and do not change the meaning, though MOFFATT has ‘sky’ instead of heavens).
Jay P. Green’s Interlinear Bible reads the word for word Hebrew,
‘for [in] six days made Jehovah the heavens and the earth. the sea. and all which [is] in them. and He rested on the day seventh.’
So isn’t the YECs inference conclusive and consistent in the versions? That, ‘the heavens and earth and all else in them were Created within six Days.’
How fatal is this to the Old Universe and planetary Earth /Young biosphere view, possible in reading the Hebrew perfect-imperfect verbs, Creative Day ‘bookends’ and Creation-Creativity comparisons noted above in Genesis One?
A way foreward, that will be adopted here, would be to note the main points in Whitefield in regard to the Biblical Hebrew. A review of how YECs might answer these points can then be presented, followed thirdly by an independent examination of the Biblical Hebrew in the light of these considerations.