Gen 1:1 "When God began to create"?

Peter Kirk Peter_Kirk at
Tue Aug 29 18:55:46 EDT 2000

No, your first alternative is correct, in my opinion as well as that of most
translators ancient and modern. We discussed the Hebrew of this verse at
length and in technical detail a few months ago. The second alternative is
based on reading a unique combination of grammatical constructions here
rather than the more or less plain meaning of the text. I don't see any way
that your third alternative could be correct.

Here is an attempt to recreate the Hebrew ambiguity in English, in an
over-simplified way. A ridiculously over-literal translation of 1:1-2 could
go something like:

In the beginning of God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth
was/became formless and void...

Now that is ungrammatical English, which reflects the idiosyncratic Hebrew.
There are two ways that this could be corrected. We could make a double
correction, changing "created" to "creating" and deleting an "and".

In the beginning of God creating the heavens and the earth, the earth
was/became formless and void...

There are a few cases in Hebrew of a verb form like "created" being used
instead of one like "creating" after something like "In the beginning of";
and there are a few cases of extra "and"s being included after subordinate
clauses as here; but there are no cases (except possibly here) of these two
grammatical oddities occurring in the same sentence.

But the easier correction to the Hebrew is to delete the "of" - especially
because this is not a separate word in the Hebrew but is indicated by a
small change to just one vowel point (and in a case where there is a general
phonological rule which would in most words, though not regularly in this
word, cause the grammatically regular (absolute with article) form
B.FR")$IYT (baaree'shiyt) to be shortened into the form actually found
B.:R")$IYT (beree'shiyt)). We then get:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth
was/became formless and void...

Hebrew grammar is not very regular and such grammatical oddities do occur.
But the chance of two oddities so close together is very small, especially
when they would have created an ambiguity. It is much more likely that there
was a single oddity here, especially given the smallness of the change.

Peter Kirk

----- Original Message -----
From: "Bill Ross" <wross at>
To: "Biblical Hebrew" <b-hebrew at>
Sent: Tuesday, August 29, 2000 7:03 PM
Subject: Gen 1:1 "When God began to create"?

> <Bill>
> Is the reading "In the beginning God created" really supposed to be "When
> God began to create"? Or "In the beginning, when God was creating"?
> Bill Ross
> ---
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