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Genesis 1:1
He Created

Hebrew Text

arb - he created

The Hebrew word arb may come from the root which originally meant "to cut, or separate." Most of creating involved a separation of things. arb does not imply ex nihilo creation since it is used in parallel to "make" (NIDOTTE, 1997, Vol. 1, 731). The verb arb is Qal active, and occurs 49 times in the OT. In the Piel stem arb means "to cut." In Numbers 16:30 arb even in the Qal stem clearly means "cut" or "separate" with Yahwah as subject. Van Leeuwen states, "This root begins in the OT with a theologically rich wordplay. But it also, in a punning way, accents the manner in which God gives order to his creation: he divides its various cosmic components from one another through a series of 'cuts or separation'" (NIDOTTE, 1997, Vol.1, 732).

Note that arb does not occur in the book of Job or other wisdom literature, therefore, Westerman argues that arb is a late word from exilic to post-exilic times (99; TDOT, II, 245). Let's look at some of the verses in which arb occurs.

All these above examples show that people, individuals, animals, and Israel are said to be created, yet it was not ex nihilo. From studying these contexts arb can not be proven to mean ex nihilo.

arb seems to have more the sense of "separate" than "create" especially out of nothing in Genesis 1:1. Nothing is said about where the darkness and watery deep came from. It was probably considered eternal. Isaiah 45:7 says, "I create the light, and form the darkness: I make peace, and create evil" (KJV). This is more a separation than ex nihilo creation. God is like a builder who makes the world by separating the abyss. Once unformed elements are separated and named, they are considered ordered or "created." This is much different than our normal way of using "create" in our English language. Genesis as well as Isaiah sees the created world as sets of binary opposites, like heaven/earth, earth/sea, light/darkness, day/night, man/woman, peace/evil (Deroche, 1992, 20).

Dead Sea Scrolls

In the DSS the word for "create" is used a number of times. In the War Scroll (1QM10:12) it says, "creator of the earth." One of the Hymns 1QH uses arb for the creation of man, and the just man (Col.VII:18). In Col.IX:13-14 arb is in parallel to "founded" and in verse 28 "breath" is created. In 1QS the Rule of the Community says, "He created man to rule the world and placed within him two spirits--spirits of truth and deceit" (Martinez, 1996, 6). All these contexts seem to mitigate against the idea of ex nihilo creation. Man was formed from the dust of the earth not "out of nothing" (TDOT, 1974, Vol.2, 249).

Many ancient Near Eastern creation stories also start with a watery beginning of formless matter from which the universe is made by separating them. Let's look at some of these.

Ancient Near Eastern Literature

Creation in the OT and in the ancient Near East is not what we think of creation implying "out of nothing." As stated earlier, there are at least four major types of creation stories in the ancient Near East; creation by begetting, or spilling semen; creation by battle; creation by action (of separation); and creation by word. Creation in Genesis is mainly separating, and naming formless matter as in the ancient world.

The Sumerian poem entitled Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Nether World begins with a cosmological statement like most other Sumerian poems which says:

"After heaven had been moved away from earth,
After earth had been separated from heaven,
After the name of man had been fixed,
After (the heaven-god) An carried off the heaven,
After (the air-god) Enlil carried off earth." (Kramer, 1959, 82).

Separating and naming orders (or creates) the world as also seen in Enuma Elish's opening lines. Naming creation brings it under God's control. If one in the ancient world knew the name of God or an enemy, one could control him. Magical incantation bowls are based on this. Egyptians would write the name of their enemy on a bowl or figurine, then smash it to destroy the enemies power (COS, 50; ANET, 328; ANEP, #593).


It is interesting that the LXX used the Greek word epoihsen, "make" for arb . This is not ex nihilo creation. God is using invisible matter to make the universe. Aquila on the other hand uses the Greek word ektisen, "created" which may indicate ex nihilo creation. It is only after the LXX that ektisen, "created" took on the specialized meaning, "created" in Hellenistic times. Its basic meaning is "to cultivate the land, make habitable" (Westermann, 1994, 100).

Aramaic Texts

The Fragment-Targums and the Targum Neofiti I as seen earlier, added "perfected" along with "created." The verb "perfected" is probably from Genesis 2:2 from the word "Finished." This may indicate that Genesis 1:1 was a heading.

Jewish Literature

In Jewish writings Josephus used ektisen, "created" while Philo used the word "made" following the LXX. In Genesis Rabbah R. Huna in the name of Bar Qappara asks, "God created heaven and earth (Gen.1:1) from what? From the following: And the earth was chaos (Gen.1:2)" (Neusner, 1985, 3-4).

The Vulgate

The Latin Vulgate used the word "Created." Jerome translates, In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram. According to Jerome, in the original beginning there was nothing. Creation is distinguished by creatio activa, ex nihilo, and creatio passiva, the ordering of the world. There are two stages of creation, creatio prima, the creating of unformed matter out of nothing called materia prima, and creatio secunda, where God gives form and life to the materia prima (Muller, 1985, 85).

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