Exegetical and Literal Interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2:1-6: Commentary on the Hebrew Text

Not even a week ago I was speaking to some of my professors about how I felt the Creation Account has been adequately thought on and discussed in both the body of Christ and the academic side of things.

All it took was ONE post in a predominately viewed Young Earth Creation Group to spark a debate that would get so chaotic no one could tell what they were saying nor was anyone in the mode of a Biblical “in love and truth” or “be quick to listen” “slow to speak”. It reminded me of my debates when I was a caged calvinist or when I was a free roaming arminian (i’m neither now) it was heated and everyone was a heretic. The irony is - probably no one is a heretic and this is a peripheral issue that doesn’t need to consume people’s doctrinal statements.

I was Young Earth (here by noted as YEC) up until I entered college and began learning the Hebrew Language. I started to read the Bible in the Hebrew and things started to stick out to me that in English didn’t register with me at all. Even further, when I was taught basic hermeneutics I saw that the original language, the original context, the original author intent, the original method and so forth all mattered a great deal.

In this article I want to do something very simple but important - walk the through first creation account in scripture with both exegesis and hermeneutic principles in place. The YEC might stop here and claim that we have an epistemological issue but when hermeneutics and exegetical practice are in place there is no room for epistemological error because it will stick out like a sore thumb. Further, they might object and say that Jews believe in YEC and therefore this is irrelevant to the case. I would vehemently object to that as I can name several Rabbi’s who are OUC (Old Universe Creationist) but we will look at that in a coming article.

I’d also like to note that this isn’t necessarily proving Old Earth Creationism. This paper is not fit for that but rather it shows that a literal reading of Genesis in the original languages shows a different story than that of the english. It allows for God’s creation to do what it was designed to do.

Again, this in no way shows that the earth is billions of years old. It needs to be further noted that this paper is not one that conclusively shows one view is absolute but rather that it is peripheral in nature. To further back this up I’d like to refer to the Attempts in the 1990s to force a young-earth view of creation into doctrinal statements and, thereby, make adherence to a young-earth interpretation a condition for church membership led both the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and WTS to convene panels of scholars to study the Bible’s teaching on creation. Both panels were charged with determining the limits of permissible interpretations of the Genesis 1 creation days under the assumptions of strict biblical inerrancy, biblical supernaturalism, a denial of naturalistic or Darwinian interpretation of life’s history, a belief in creation ex nihilo (out of nothing), and a belief in Adam and Eve as actual historical persons from whom all of humanity is descended. Both panels concluded that the Genesis creation days could be faithfully interpreted as long time periods.

The use of Analytical Theology here will come to our aid. The method by which I speak is using basic hermeneutic practice and exegetical principles coupled with inductive and deductive logic. This will be summarized in the paragraphs following the exegete.

We’ll take a closer look at Genesis 2 and how it logically is read in both Hebrew and English at the remaining parts of this article.

Let’s dive in using the Lexham Hebrew Bible, BDAG & Dictionary of Biblical Lanagues.

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Day 1

1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 1:2 Now the earth was without shape and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the watery deep, but the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the water.


The translation assumes that the form translated “beginning” is in the absolute state rather than the construct (“in the beginning of,” or “when God created”). In other words, the clause in v. 1 is a main clause, v. 2 has three clauses that are descriptive and supply background information, and v. 3 begins the narrative sequence proper. The referent of the word “beginning” has to be defined from the context since there is no beginning or ending with God.

The English verb “create” captures well the meaning of the Hebrew term in this context. The verb בָּרָא (bara’) always describes the divine activity of fashioning something new, fresh, and perfect. The verb does not necessarily (but most likely does) describe creation out of nothing (see, for example, v. 27, where it refers to the creation of man); it often stresses forming anew, reforming, renewing (see Ps 51:10; Isa 43:15, 65:17).

This next part of the verse is key “the heavens and the earth”. In the original Hebrew it means “the entire universe” (Joel 3:15-16). This phrase is often interpreted as a merism, referring to the entire ordered universe, including the heavens and the earth and everything in them. The “heavens and the earth” were completed in seven days (see Gen 2:1) and are characterized by fixed laws (see Jer 33:25). “Heavens” refers specifically to the sky, given purpose on the second day (see v. 8), while “earth” refers specifically to the dry land, created on the third day (see v. 10). Both are distinct from the sea/seas (see v. 10 and Exod 20:11).

You’ll notice that I didn’t just write out verse 1 but I also included verse 2 that is because we see that it begins with the conjunction "and." This fact immediately tells us that Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 are part of one continuous thought. Two things (1) This shows that it is not a summary but an actual action of creation and (2) If it were a summary, it would not show a creation out of nothing. The issue is shown in the next verse following “and” if God only created earth and not the entire universe as the Hebrew suggests we’d see that God didn’t create matter but rather it pre-existed. That’s what mormonism would teach, I don't think any Bible believer wants to be associated in that context.

“without shape, empty and dark”
What we now know as “the earth” was actually an unfilled mass covered by water and darkness. Later תֹהוּ (tohu) and בֹּהוּ (bohu), when used in proximity, describe a situation resulting from judgment (Isa 34:11; Jer 4:23). The Hebrew term תְּהוֹם (téhom, “deep”) refers to the watery deep, the salty ocean—especially the primeval ocean that surrounds and underlies the earth (see Gen 7:11). Now the question, where was God during this?  The Hebrew verb for “moving” has been translated “hovering” or “moving” as a bird over her young, (see Deut 32:11). The Syriac cognate term means “to brood over; to incubate.” The Holy Spirit is hovering over the earth like a mother bird who warms and prepares the soon to be creation.

1:3 God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light! 1:4 God saw that the light was good, so God separated the light from the darkness. 1:5 God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.” There was evening, and there was morning, marking the first day. 

Notice that every thought has begun with a conjunction, so we know that all of this is part of the continuing action. The text says that there was day and night on the earth on the first day. This tells us that the light that was shining on the earth was directional in its source. We know that God created the Sun, Stars and other planetary things on day one. Therefore, “let there be light” can be seen as the removal of clouds. If it were God creating light - it would say as the previously verses state “God created”.

[Interesting NOTE: Ten times in the chapter the decree of God in creation will be so expressed. It introduces the Law, the words and commandments from the Lord that must be obeyed. The ten decrees of God in this chapter anticipate the ten words in the Decalogue (Exod 20:2–17).]

The Hebrew word for “Let there be light,” is hāyâ.
Note the contrast from bara which means to “come into existence from nothing”
this light already exists because God already “bara” in the previous verses. Furthering the point that the entire universe was created day one. significant. God created physical light (electromagnetic radiation) “in the beginning” when he brought the cosmos into existence. (See Below).

The word LIGHT here is defined as “light” as diffused in nature, light of day Gn 1:3, 4, 5; Jb 3:9; 38:19 and light of the heavenly luminaries; א׳ הַלְּבָנָה, || א׳ הַחַמָּה moonlight & sunlight Is 30:26; כּוֹכְבֵי אוֹר stars of light; מְאוֹרֵי אוֹר luminaries of light Ez 32:8; עֲלֵי־אוֹר in sunshine Is 18:4; the sun itself Jb 31:26.

NOTE: This presents a possible issue for YEC; the fact that the universe in it’s entire form (stars, planets etc) exists prior to day four shows that the 24-hour interpretation requires that the surface of Earth and the entire universe be devoid of sunlight and starlight until after the fourth creation day.

We now have day & night.
That concludes a day.

Day 2

1:6 God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters and let it separate water from water. 1:7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. It was so. 1:8 God called the expanse “sky.” There was evening, and there was morning, a second day.

To start, the Hebrew word [רָקִיע ; expanse] refers to an expanse of air pressure between the surface of the sea and the clouds, separating water below from water above [regarded by Hebrews as solid sky, and supporting ‘waters’ above it - BDB ]. In v. 8 it is called “sky.” This sets up earths water cycle which is necessary for life.
[NOTE: God, logically, is setting up for abundant life. To meet the needs of an abundance and diversity of species, the rainfall must vary from one geographical region to another. The range must fall between the extremes of about 2 inches and 600 inches per year—not just for a few millennia, but for a few billion years. A water cycle that meets such exacting requirements demands intricate balancing of multiple factors: the physical characteristics of the Sun and Earth;  atmospheric composition, temperature, and pressure;  wind velocities; and the changing values of all these atmospheric characteristics at various distances out from Earth’s surface.  As precisely fine-tuned as these environmental factors must have been to transform Earth’s atmosphere from opaque to translucent, they required even more precise regulation to permit a stable, life-sustaining water cycle and God did this. Another issue for YEC - YEC must eliminate some fine-tuning factors]

God, now separating water from water, is incredibly interesting. Normal reading of this text pondered me as a child, I thought “God is separating water…from water?”. However, reading this in Hebrew you see that God’s expanse is a word that is used to describe “water above” which we noted is the atmosphere. The atmosphere at anytime contains 37.5 million billion gallons of water invisible in the vapor. That’s enough to cover the entire earth with 1-inch of rain (or as we see later, the world-wide flood that takes place).

God uses existing material to do all these acts in verses 6-8. The word עָשָׂה literally means to “command” “make happen” “orchestrate”. This word tells us that God took existing material and orchestrated to do something else. Here we see God using the supernaturally made material (now natural) to command and orchestrate more natural happenings.

That concludes a day.

DAY 3

1:9 God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place and let dry ground appear.” It was so. 1:10 God called the dry ground “land” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” God saw that it was good.

Here God brings forth dry land. This dry land already exists but it was covered by the sea. In the beginning the water covered the whole earth; now the water was to be restricted to an area to form the ocean. We see this tied to the creation account found in Psalm 104 (NOTE: Genesis is but one of the creation accounts.) The words above in verse 9 “appear” in Hebrew mean to “reveal, from underneath”.

104:6 The watery deep covered it like a garment; the waters reached above the mountains. 104:7 Your shout made the waters retreat; at the sound of your thunderous voice they hurried off— 104:8 as the mountains rose up, and the valleys went down— to the place you appointed for them. 

God uses some form of tectonic shifting here and moves the waters to reveal the mountains, the valleys and the hills. (This is where we see conflict in time periods. Did God do this instantly? or did He move everything with supernatural force?). Either way, we know that all that is being used in verses 9-10 have already existed since prior days.

1:11 God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: plants yielding seeds according to their kinds, and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds.” It was so. 1:12 The land produced vegetation—plants yielding seeds according to their kinds, and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. God saw that it was good. 1:13 There was evening, and there was morning, a third day. 

Note here, that the Hebrew construction uses a cognate accusative, that is where the nominal object (“vegetation”) derives from the verbal root employed. It stresses the abundant productivity that God created. The Hebrew “תַּדְשֵׁא” means to “let her [earth] sprout forth” and in that we see that God is allowing the earth to do what it was designed to do - bring fourth vegetation. (This would imply a long period of time for grass to grow - hence the saying “watch the grass grow”). We also see the word “זֶ֫רַע” which is used repeatedly for “the dropping of seed” which means the plants were coming forth from seed, exactly how we see it today. This would be another indicator of how God is using the design of the earth during Creation.

Please note something very important in Day 3: The Bible does not say “God created vegetation” or “God brought forth the seed”. The Bible is clear in it’s choice of language and purpose. Hebrews were very articulate about their wording. God allowed His creation from prior days to bring forth more creation. Again, God created the natural by supernatural means to allow the natural to produce more natural things.

This concludes a day. NOTE: “a day” more about that later.

DAY 4

1:14 God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them be signs to indicate seasons and days and years, 1:15 and let them serve as lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.” It was so. 1:16 God made two great lights—the greater light to rule over the day and the lesser light to rule over the night. He made the stars also. 1:17 God placed the lights in the expanse of the sky to shine on the earth, 1:18 to preside over the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. God saw that it was good. 1:19 There was evening, and there was morning, a fourth day. 

Here we get into some really amazing and incredible features of Creation. In verse 14 we read that God (again using the same action of pre-existing material) uses existing light to fill a different material object. Scholars note: Light itself was created before the light-bearers. The order would not seem strange to the ancient Hebrew mind that did not automatically link daylight with the sun (note that dawn and dusk appear to have light without the sun). In fact, the word in Hebrew “מְאֹרֹת” relates to a lamp or furniture. This would indicate that God is turning the light switch on pre-existing luminaries within these celestial objects [luminary]. He gives them a primary cause of signs for season changes, day and years. This further implies the ability upon humans to look to the stars in the sky and be able to get rationale information from them. The second duty of the stars is to bring light to the earth in subset to the main source of light.

Verse 16.
God “asah” “וַיַּעַשׂ” i.e., to fashion or create an object, usually implying the use of existing materials (Ge 1:26) (DBL Hebrew). I double reference this because I know this might raise objections but the word is what the word is. Early in the first day we see God create from nothing and there is a specific word for that. Here we see God create using existing material (an empty, unlit star that is close to earth) and the moon; the Hebrew literally says “the big, the big ones”. He fashions them with two incredible purposes and would fill many pages but the primary is the source for the sun to rule over the day and moon to rule over the night. Afterward, He continues to make stars in the sky that serve no other purpose than to glorify His creation. NOTE: If, as some mistakingly believe, God created the Sun, moon and stars on the fourth day, then He didn't really create the heavens {luminary objects, universe (as we showed in Hebrew Day 1) in verse one. So, the 24-hour day interpretation suffers a contradiction between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:16.

Verse 17-18
Here God “וַיִּתֵּן” put them in their purpose, the text reiterates their purpose and in Verse 19 we see that God saw that it was good.

This was a fourth day.

Day 5

1:20 God said, “Let the water swarm with swarms of living creatures and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.” 1:21 God created the great sea creatures and every living and moving thing with which the water swarmed, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. God saw that it was good. 1:22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth.” 1:23 There was evening, and there was morning, a fifth day. 

v20
The author records a specific language here once again “swarm with swarms” the Hebrew again uses a cognate construction to emphasize the abundant fertility. The idea of the verb is one of swift movement back and forth, literally swarming. This verb is used in Exod 1:7 to describe the rapid growth of the Israelite population in bondage.
v21
For the first time in the narrative proper the verb “create” (בָּרָא, bara’) appears. Here we gather “bara” again meaning that God, most likely from nothing, created the sea creatures of the world that we see. Note the logic here: The earth is not capable of bringing forth sea creatures by natural means post-creation. God uses His supernatural creativity to “bara” these creatures. The word בָּרָא directly signifies divine activity in the Hebrew language and is used specifically and on purpose here.

Something interesting arises here when we read “וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הַתַּנִּינִם הַגְּדֹלִים” the use of the word “big ones” is here again but it is couples with “substance like water” and “dragons”. For those wondering if God created large creatures, I think that this rather solidifies that. Whether these are dragons as we know them to be in say, “How to Train Your Dragon” is speculative but we know these are large sea creatures. The verse concludes as God “surveyed and concluded” that it was good.

v22
Here we see God “blesses” the birds and creatures to fulfill their purpose which is to reproduce in all of the world. He sets the course of the creatures He created to take on their God-given purpose. The word “בָּרַךְ” is used here for bless can actually mean “kneel” and it gives the picture that God is (for a more visual display for readers) “knighting” the creation with an endowed purpose and calling.
And there was a fifth day.


Day 6

1:24 God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: cattle, creeping things, and wild animals, each according to its kind.” It was so. 1:25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the cattle according to their kinds, and all the creatures that creep along the ground according to their kinds. God saw that it was good. 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.” 1:27 God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them. 1:28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground.” 1:29 Then God said, “I now give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the entire earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 1:30 And to all the animals of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” It was so. 1:31 God saw all that he had made—and it was very good! There was evening, and there was morning, the sixth day. 

v24-25
Here we have the word “יָצָא” which means “to relocate, to go out into a new location”. This indicates that either God used existing “creation material” to form the living creatures of the land which would make sense in terms of how they’d survive - sharing the DNA of the produce they’d eat [which allows them to survive]. This is further backed up by the use of “יָצָא” in the next verse where we’ve shown that this is creating something out of an existing matter. The reason presented a few sentences ago could be the reason as to why God chose to do it this way (which is further reasoned out in the next verse where animals are given green food to eat) or it could be for another reason God did not share with us.

v26
God reveals His intent to create Humans now. This is an incredible moment and one that sets us up for the rest of the Biblical Narrative. However, staying within the realm of this text the question arises: “Why does God use asah in the verse here but bara when He actually makes humans?” That’s explained in the Hebrew grammar here where “asah” “נַעֲשֶׂה” is used in a different form that we’ve seen before and it denotes the cohortative form which means that God desires and will bring them into being. It is not the same active bringing into existence from material as we saw before.

Humankind is referenced here with the Hebrew word is אָדָם (’adam), which can sometimes refer to man, as opposed to woman. The term refers here to humankind, comprised of male and female. This is deduced further by seeing the reference in the next verse and later consistent verses in the Narrative.

v27
God “bara”” mankind; Hebrew text has the article prefixed to the noun (הָאָדָם, ha’adam). The article does not distinguish man from woman here (“the man” as opposed to “the woman”), but rather indicates previous reference (see v. 26, where the noun appears without the article). It has the same function as English “the before mentioned.”

The word “צֶ֫לֶם “ means to mold, to cut out of. This signifies the massive implications that man is a unique creation separate from others, “shaping a piece from, in the image of” (rDB-Hebrew). This clearly flies in the face of present evolutionary theory. For more on this see the article: Imago Dei and Evolution.

v28
God endows or “knights” mankind with their purpose to rule over the living creatures and reproduce to fill the earth. This calling is one that God also gave to non-human creatures but the replication process that God endows humanity with is far more significant for they contain “soul” by which is produced through humans and not animals.

God concludes this in dramatic language, the Hebrew text uses הִנֵּה (hinneh) for the sake of vividness. It is a particle that goes with the gesture of pointing, calling attention to something. That it was “good!”. We now read “there was evening, and there was morning, THE sixth day."

This brings us into Chapter 2 which at the beginning of this article I did not intend on indulging but I feel it necessary for logical and exegetical consistency. Lucky for us, Genesis 2 reveals even more amazing truth.

Day 7

2:1 The heavens and the earth were completed with everything that was in them. 2:2 By the seventh day God finished the work that he had been doing, and he ceased on the seventh day all the work that he had been doing. 2:3 God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it he ceased all the work that he had been doing in creation. 

v1 we read that God completed creating everything in the heavens and the earth.  Heb “and all the host of them.” Here the “host” refers to all the entities and creatures that God created to populate the world.

v2 reads literally: “On or In” the seventh day.
In the Hebrew term שָׁבַּת (shabbat) it can be translated “to rest” (“and he rested”). This is not a rest from exhaustion; it is the cessation of the work of creation. The final verse (v3) is where we see something significant, in terms of our Theology. The Piel verb קִדֵּשׁ (qiddesh) means “to make something holy; to set something apart; to distinguish it.” Literally the phrase means that God made this day different. But within the context of the Law, it means that the day belonged to God; it was for rest from ordinary labor, worship, and spiritual service. The day belonged to God. Here we have a representation of God’s future command to rest on the seventh day of the week. He’s continuing the analogy for the Hebrew readers here.

Here we get into the thick of it. This is the exciting part of Chapter 2 for those wondering the mysteries of Genesis. Up until this point we’ve shown conclusively, in my opinion of course, that a literal reading of Genesis 1 allows for non-consecutive 24-hour day periods. We’ve also flipped the common christian mistake of creation of the sun, stars and earth. This is why reading the Bible in the original language is so vital but more about that later.

2:4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created—when the Lord God made the earth and heavens. 2:5 Now no shrub of the field had yet grown on the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. 2:6 Springs would well up from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground. 2:7 The Lord God formed the man from the soil of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. 

v4 The Hebrew phrase אֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדֹת (’elle tolédot) is traditionally translated as “these are the generations of” because the noun was derived from the verb “beget.” Genesis 2 is seen as the summary of “what came to happen” in terms of God’s creation.

v5 The first term, שִׂיחַ (siakh), most likely refers to the wild, uncultivated plants (see Gen 21:15; Job 30:4, 7); whereas the second, עֵשֶׂב (’esev), refers to cultivated grains. It is a way of saying: “back before anything was growing.” “for the LORD GOD had not caused it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground.” This is highly significant to the purpose of understanding the order of creation. 24-Hour proponents insist that creation was fully formed within the 24 hours all ready and sprung and fully functional. We’ve established this wasn’t the case from the first day. We see the sun being formed and GIVEN light. Here we see that God didn’t just form plants and trees and shrubs but rather allowed nature to cultivate it’s own course (how it was designed) and grow when rain and water came. We see springs would eventually form in v6 causing the earth to produce water in order to help the plants grow. This text is critical - it proves that God allowed His specifically designed nature to work fully and properly from the start of all creation. God once again uses ordinary providence, that is the natural producing the natural.

The story continues from here that man was created and God gave man the ability to cultivate and rule over what God had created. There are many more significant verses that we could embark on that would provide further proof that a literal reading of Genesis does not require consecutive 24-hour periods.

We’ve seen that God supernaturally creates the natural and allows the natural to form other natural things. This means that a literal reading of Genesis does not necessarily fit a 24-hour consecutive period theology. There will be an edit to this article in the coming days that will provide a summary of each day of the important linguistic understandings we’ve gone over.




RC