Any new translation that deviates too much from this traditional rendering might well not meet the expectations of many Christians, and be rejected. So we can expect to see future translations to follow this wording, even though it may be not particularly accurate.
Genesis 1:1: the word "heaven" or "heavens:"
The Masoretic text (MT) is the accepted version of the Tanakh -- the Jewish Scriptures. It is used as the source text for translations of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) in both Protestant and Catholic Bibles. Genesis 1:1 is the first verse of the first chapter of the first book of the Pentateuch, and thus of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Bible. One attempt at a literal translation is: "beginning filled God the heavens and the earth." 1
As noted above, almost all translations refer to the "heaven" or "heavens." However, the late noted expert Jewish interpreter of the Bible, Harry M. Orlinsky (1908 - 1992) commented that neither word is valid. He wrote:
Most biblical experts, who are not conservative Protestants, believe that the ancient Hebrews adopted the cosmology of nearby Pagan cultures. Biblical references to the Earth, firmament, Heaven, Sheol, etc. in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) described a flat Earth with a metal dome called the firmament above the land. Sheol -- the location of the dead -- was underground. Heaven was on top of the firmament. Thus, if God created the Earth and sky, ancient Hebrews might have interpreted that as creating the entire universe.
Unfortunately, if Genesis 1:1 were translated into English correctly, many people would interpret it literally in terms of today's cosmology. God would be seen as having merely creating or forming the Earth and sky -- not the entire universe. This is incompatible with Christian and Jewish theology. Thus we are probably stuck with a mistranslation now and for the foreseeable future. This is not an auspicious beginning to a Bible translation!
Genesis 1:1: the word "created:"
According to Wikipedia:
The former is often referred to as "creation ex nihilo" -- the concept that God created the Earth and the rest of the universe out of nothing. This is the historical Christian interpretation of the first Genesis creation story and is grounded on St. Thomas Aquinas' "Summa Theologiae," 7 and on other early Christian writings.
The latter interpretation is called "creatio ex materia." God is seen as having formed the universe out of pre-existing material, perhaps by bringing order out of chaos. Augustine appears to have adopted this position. St. Thomas Aquinas commented that "Augustine uses the word creation in an equivocal sense, according as to be created signifies improvement in things; as when we say that a bishop is created." 7
One understanding of "created:" God created the universe out of nothing:
The above Bible translations imply "creation ex nihilo." This is the historical Christian position.
Supportive of this option is 2 Maccabees 7:27-29. This is a book in the Apocrypha, a group of books that is included in Roman Catholic translations of the Bible, and was in the version of the Bible that the early Christians used -- the Septuagint. They are rejected by most Protestant denominations as not being a valid part of the biblical canon. The Jerusalem Bible translates this passage as:
Unfortunately, the passage is ambiguous. It specifically says that God created the universe out of nothing. However, it also says that humans came into existence in the same way. Since Genesis states that God created Adam by molding him out of dirt, 2 Maccabees might imply that, God also formed the universe out of preexistent material.
The Qur'an -- the holy book of Islam -- appears to support "creation ex nihilo" according to some English interpretations of the original Arabic text:
A second understanding of "created:" God created the universe out pre-existing material:
There are many verses in the Bible that refer to God "making" the heavens or the Earth. Example are Psalms 33:6, Proverbs 8:23, John 1:3, Romans 4:17, and 1 Corinthians 1:28. These passages could be interpreted as either ""creation ex nihilo" or "creatio ex materia."
Two other Bible translations of Genesis 1:1 -- ones which emphasize the literal meaning of the Hebrew text -- might imply that the latter is possible:
This concept is supported by one passage in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament). It states that God formed the universe out of invisible material that already existed:
This verse is less obscure in the Living Bible paraphrased translation: "... we know that the world and the stars -- in fact all things - were made at God's command and that they were all made from things that can't be seen."
The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary supports this concept. Commenting on the first verses of Genesis 1, they wrote:
Joseph Smith was the founder of the original Mormon church which has since evolved into the LDS Restorationist movement of about a hundred Mormon faith groups including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He supported "creatio ex materia." He wrote about Genesis 1:1:
The Masoretic Hebrew text of Genesis 1:1 refers to "Elohim" -- a word representing multiple Gods. The single form in Hebrew is: "Eloah." Some would suggest that an accurate literal translation would be: "beginning filled the Gods the heavens and the earth."
The apparent reference to plural deities is reinforced by the use of "us" and "we" in Genesis 1:26 and in other verses of Genesis. 6
Many attempts have been used to harmonize these references to multiple Gods with the concept of monotheism:
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