Thursday, January 04, 2007


Exegetical Note Gen 1:1-2
Almost two centuries ago, the otherwise great Thomas Chalmers seems to have invented the "Gap Theory" as a way of dealing with the apparent discrepancies between the "scientifically determined" age of the earth, and that indicated by the traditional reading of Genesis 1-11. At the foundation of the Gap Theory is the allegation that the verb hayetah at the start of verse 2 should be translated "became" rather than "was." The implication drawn from this is that time had passed between the end of verse 1 and the beginning of verse 2, and in that period the earth "had become" waste and empty. The Gap Theory became popular during the 19th century, though that popularity waned as the arrival of Darwinism later in the centruy necessitated an old human race as well as an old earth. The Gap Theory could provide the latter, but not the former, as it presumed that other than the Gap between vss. 1 and 2, the text of Genesis 1 was to be taken literally. Nonetheless, the view was adopted by C. I. Scofield in his study Bible, and the view retains some adherents among those whose "hope is built on nothing less than Scofield's notes and Moody Press" (no offense intended to Moody Press).

Over the last two decades or so, a fair amount of work has gone into the study of Hebrew syntax. One result is the realization that the Hebrew verb system is syntactically more complex and more subtle than many had thought. The sequence of verb "tenses" is important, and the relationship between successive verb forms is exegetically significant. The significance of this for Gen 1:1-2 is as follows: 1) Note that 1:2 begins with a noun, not a verb (unusual for Hebrew, which is normally verb-first); 2) the verb in 1:2 that follows the opening noun is in the perfect form without a connecting vav, which indicates a break in the sequence, and a shift of focus. What this means is that the first verse begins the story (it is not a summary statement of the whole chapter, as some hold). The second verse then shifts focus to one aspect of what is mentioned in the first verse. On this basis, I suggest the following translation for Gen 1:1-2. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now, as for the earth, it was formless and void, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the deep." In other words, when God first created the heavens and earth, the earth was formless and void. The ordering of the earth then becomes the main subject of the following verses.

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