Waw consecutive in Gen 1

Paul Zellmer zellmer at digitelone.com
Sat Dec 4 05:18:52 EST 1999

Brian Sullivan wrote:

> Greetings fellow Students of Hebrew,
> Am only a recent member of b-hebrew and hope I am not rehashing a
> regularly discussed.

Greetings and welcome to the list.

> I have recently read from J W Watts 'A Distinctive Translation of
> Genesis'and was interested to observe that in the Genesis 1 account
> translator  does not follow the principle of waw consecutive
> the phrase in the perfect)but uses the imperfect state eg "'Let their
> light' and gradually light came into existance."(V. 3)
> Does waw-consecutive hold true in all cases?

I have not read this particular work by Watts, so I am not entirely sure
about whether you are accurately reproducing his translation, or just
giving an interpretation of it.  But it does appear as if you are
confusing the term "imperfect" as used in the Hebrew lexicons and
grammars with the term "imperfect" as used in Greek grammars.

First of all, you need to realize that most students of Hebrew have
moved away from the old perfect-imperfect concepts, although lexicons
still use the terms to describe the suffixed-prefixed forms.  But, even
when those concepts were current, perfect referred to completed action
and imperfect referred to incomplete action.  In your example, the light
has already come into existence, so the action is indeed completed (or
perfect, if you will).  So, in this verse, the phrase is "translated in
the perfect".

However, as far as your questions about the waw-consecutive, this term
carried so much baggage that raised so many questions that almost no one
uses it anymore.  It can be used as a rule-of-thumb that the prefix form
of the verb with the waw-pathah-dagesh is generally past when found in
prose passages, but even this is questioned by some.  [N.B.  I said,
"past," not "perfect."  The form referred to as "perfect" seems to carry
much more meaning than simple event time.]  If you go into the archives,
pull up some old postings by Rolf Furuli or Dave Washburn and you will
see many questions about the form.  (One term to look for in the
discussions is WAYYIQTOL, although some use other terms to describe this

> If not, what are the parameter
> influencing translation? It was pointed out to me that O. L. Barnes
> (1965)stated that translation of the imperfect "has been needelessly
> complicated by slavish adherance" to the waw consecutive principle.
> I would like to more clearly understand the parameters in correct
> translation of the waw consecutive in Gen 1 and ask if any one has any
> views on whether translating the this chapter in the imperfect impacts
> the traditional understanding of this passage>

The "parameters" generally revolve around the analysis of the "times"
involved in the text, very roughly, is the general context handled as
past events, present events, or future events.  There are even times
relative to the contexts.  You would do well to look in the archives for
discussions on "times" to gain an appreciation for this analysis.

As far as translating events as having occurred over a duration in the
past, if that indeed is what Watts is proposing, yes, it would impact to
some degree the traditional understanding of the passage.  But, in the
example that you gave, I wonder if he is not instead trying to bring out
the fact that WAYYIHI many times carries the concept of "became" more
than the concept of "was."

> Thank you for your very kind consideration,
> Brian Sullivan
> BA Student
> navillusbpi at primus.com.au

I just hope that I didn't confuse you too much.


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