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Genesis 1:1
In Beginning

Hebrew Text

בראשת - In beginning

The first phrase in Hebrew, בראשת, is in a very peculiar construct state with no noun to modify because it is unarticulated which means it does not have the article "the" modifying it. As a construct it would be translated as a temporal phrase "when God began to create" making Genesis 1:1 an incomplete sentence dependent on the next clause (Andersen, 1987, 140; Speiser, 1982, 12). It still can be taken as absolute in meaning even if there is no article (see Isa. 46:10; Eichrodt, 1984, 66), but I think the reasons that there is no article is so that it will be normally taken as a temporal phrase as in Hosea 1:2 which is an almost exact parallel, and for literary assonance, or alliteration (Bullinger, 1968, 171). The first three letters are arb which are exactly the same in the next word arb "he created" (Wenham, 1987, 14). arb בראשת sounds pleasant to the hearers, and is easier to remember. This would also indicate the poetical nature of this chapter. The Samaritan Pentateuch is even closer in rhythm, Barashith Bara (BHS, Kahle, 1959, 318). Another important parallel is with Genesis 2:4b-6 which also starts with a temporal phrase followed by negative statements as is the case with ANE creation stories like Enuma Elish. The opening paragraph of Genesis depicts the situation before creation begins in verse 3. It does not tell us the ultimate origin of the darkness or the abyss. I think Delitzsch is correct in the meaning of the first verse when he says, "His point is not that heaven and earth had a beginning, but that the creation of the heaven and the earth was the beginning of all history" (Westermann, 1994, 98).

The root word for tyvar is var (rosh) which literally means "head." Some have tried to identify Rosh in Ezekiel 38:2 (chief prince) with Russia, but the word "Russia" comes from Old Russian Rus meaning "Norsemen" from the Old Norse Rothsmenn meaning "sea-farers" not from the Hebrew var (American Heritage Dictionary 1979, 1137).

Psalm 33:6 says, "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth" (NIV). This is creating by spoken word which similar to the Egyptian creation story of Ptah. The targums seem to personalize the "word" as an emanation of God which is further developed by Philo under the influence of Plato and becomes the Logos of John 1:1. Could not the wind of God be seen as the breath of God speaking the words of God causing creation?

In the book of Proverbs tyvarb is interpreted as "wisdom" (1:7, 3:19, 8:22, also Jer. 10:12). Proverbs 3:19 says, "The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth" (KJV). This seems to reflect the Frag. Targum translation. The earliest Jewish commentary on the book of Genesis is Genesis Rabbah (400 AD) which begins with the interjection of Proverbs 8:30 which probably meant that the Torah was at the beginning to show the process of creation. Using Proverbs 8:22 as a proof text, tyvarb is equated with the Torah (Neusner, 1985, 2).

Dead Sea Scrolls

Among the Dead Sea Scrolls their are two fragments, 4Qgenb and 4Qgeng that record the opening verses of Genesis. There is not a single textual variant from the MT (Ulrich et al, 1994, 31). There is however, a difference in the way the divisions of the text are noted. In the MT the major divisions are marked by (P) after verse 5,8,19,23, but in 4Qgenb the rest of the line is left blank.


The LXX translates בראשת as a prepositional phrase modifying the verb arb (created), which I literally translate "In beginning the God made the heaven and the earth" (Wevers, 1993, 1). The Hebrew בראשת (beginning) is unarticulated which means it does not have the article "the" modifying it; therefore, the LXX translates it with no article as En arch, which literally means "in a beginning." This same phrase is found in the NT unarticulated in John 1:1 and I John 1:1 which follow the LXX rendering of בראשת. Both the LXX and the NT take the first verse as a main clause. Wevers states that the LXX translation of verse one is to be taken as "a superscription to the creation account" (1993, 4). Aqulla’s translation is very literal en kefalaiw meaning "in head" (Wevers, 1974, 75; 1993, 1). This may be a reaction to the early Christian’s translation of "In the Son."

New Testament

John 1:1 follows the LXX in translating בראשת as unarticulated. Peter Borgen argues, "John’s prologue is essentially a targumic exposition of Gen.1:1-5" (Hamilton, 1990, 144). Burney believes that Colossians 1:16-18 is a midrashic exposition of the first word of Genesis 1:1, בראשת (Hamilton, 1990, 145). Paul connects the tyvar of Genesis 1:1 and the "wisdom" in Proverbs 8:22 with Christ which Genesis Rabbah interprets as the "torah" (I.I,2.H; Neusner, 1985, 2).

Aramaic Texts

tyvar was thought to be the name for "Wisdom" in Proverbs 8:22, therefore the Fragment-Targums say, "With wisdom the Lord created and perfected the heavens and the earth" (Klein, 19890, 3). This must be a summary statement since creation is not perfected until the 7th day (Genesis 2:1).

The Targum of Onkelos from Babylon which is authoritative for Judaism says, "In Antiquity the Lord created the heavens and the earth" (Grossfeld, 1988, 42). This translation of tyvarb may indicate that no precise order of creation was intended.

The Targum Neofiti I from Palestine translates, "From the beginning with wisdom the Memra (Word) of the Lord created and perfected the heavens and the earth" (McNamara, 1992, 52). In this text both meanings of בראשת are separated to form a doublet.

The Targum Pseudo-Jonathan also from Palestine literally says, "From the beginning the Lord created the heavens and the earth" (Maher, 1992, 16). Bowker concludes that all three major targums change the Hebrew word in different ways (1969, 100).

Jewish Literature

Josephus in his book Jewish Antiquities translates בראשת with no article. He sees creation of heaven and earth in verse one, but the earth is hidden by thick darkness.

Philo in his treatise On the Creation states, "In the beginning he created, is equivalent to 'first of all he created the heaven'" (Book I:27). He does not see this as a time indicator, but as a number in sequential order of importance (Wolfson, 1947, 320) .In Genesis Rabbah (I.X) there is a big discussion on why the first letter in the OT is b and not a. Genesis Rabbah also states, "the word for 'beginning' refers only to the Torah, as Scripture says, 'The Lord made me as the beginning of his way'" (Proverbs 8:22; Book I.I.2.H; Neusner 1985, 2). Proverbs 8:22 refers to "wisdom" which the Rabbis interpreted as the "Torah." According to Morris Jastrow Proverbs 8 is "a poetical paraphrase of the account of Creation in Genesis" (Landes 1974, 279), but Landes concludes that Proverbs 8 and Genesis 1 are not directly related in language, style, and purpose (1974, 289-90). It is interesting to note that the Rabbis were forbidden to discuss the Ma'aseh Bere'sit (Account of Creation) in public. The Mishnah states, "the Account of Creation may not be expounded before two or more persons, nor the Chariot before even one, unless he is a scholar who understands of his own knowledge" (m.hag. 2:1; Charlesworth, 1983, 230; Danby, 1933, 213). The Account of the Chariot (Ma’aseh Merkabah) which are descriptions about the heavens like the ascension of Enoch into heaven, was banned (see 2 Cor. 12:1-7 where Paul is caught up into the third heaven).The most extensive passage about creation in the Babylonian Talmud is Hagigah 11b-16a (Epstein, 1935, 59). It also warns of discussions "concerning the pre-creation period" (Ibid, 62).

In the Middle Ages Rashi (a medieval rabbi) takes בראשת as a temporal phrase meaning "At the beginning of his creating" (Bowker, 1969, 101).

The Vulgate

Jerome in his Latin Vulgate translation says, "In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram" which the Douay Version translates, "In the beginning God created heaven, and the earth." Jerome in his book Hebrew Questions on Genesis states, "most people think that in the Hebrew is contained In the Son, God made heaven and earth, which the facts of the matter itself prove to be mistaken. For both the Septuagint, and Symmachus and Theodotion, translated it as In the beginning" (Hayward, 1995, 30).

Church Fathers

Van Winden states, "The first chapter of Genesis is one of the most discussed texts in early Christian literature" (1963, 106). Many Church fathers try to explain the Bible in terms of Greek philosophy. There are two points of contact made in Genesis 1:1; that the term "earth" means "matter" which will be discussed later, and the term arch (beginning) is identified with the Greek doctrine of arcai (origin) which looks at the causes of origin.

Basil see arch as temporal in sense. There are four deeper senses to the word arch; "the first movement", "the basic reality", "the craftsmanship", and "the aim or end" (Van Winden 1963, 108). These seem to correspond to the four arcai of Aristotle (Metaphysics 1013a16s; Aristotle 1952, 533: Van Winden 1963, 108).

Ambrose follows Basil, but divides arch into seven deeper senses of which four also correspond to Aristotle’s. Ambrose adds a hidden mystical sense or allegorical meaning that "beginning" refers to "Wisdom" (Proverbs 8:27) which equals the Logos, Christ. Ancient Near East Heidel states, "most Mesopotamian creation stories begin with a subordinate clause, starting with enuma in Babylonian and ud-da in Sumerian, both of which expressions mean 'on the day'or simply 'when' and corresponds to Hebrew beyom" (1942, 95). This phrase in found in Genesis 2:4b. Then there follows negative statements of creation. Enuma Elish starts off by stating, "When on high no name was given to heaven, Nor below was the netherworld called by name" (COS, 391).

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