on Genesis 1 :1
God in the beginning created the heavens and the earth - בראשית ברא אלהים את השמים ואת הארץ Bereshith bara Elohim eth hashshamayim veeth haarets; God in the beginning created the heavens and the earth.
Many attempts have been made to define the term God: as to the word itself, it is pure Anglo-Saxon, and among our ancestors signified, not only the Divine Being, now commonly designated by the word, but also good; as in their apprehensions it appeared that God and good were correlative terms; and when they thought or spoke of him, they were doubtless led from the word itself to consider him as The Good Being, a fountain of infinite benevolence and beneficence towards his creatures.
A general definition of this great First Cause, as far as human words dare attempt one, may be thus given: The eternal, independent, and self-existent Being: the Being whose purposes and actions spring from himself, without foreign motive or influence: he who is absolute in dominion; the most pure, the most simple, and most spiritual of all essences; infinitely benevolent, beneficent, true, and holy: the cause of all being, the upholder of all things; infinitely happy, because infinitely perfect; and eternally self-sufficient, needing nothing that he has made: illimitable in his immensity, inconceivable in his mode of existence, and indescribable in his essence; known fully only to himself, because an infinite mind can be fully apprehended only by itself. In a word, a Being who, from his infinite wisdom, cannot err or be deceived; and who, from his infinite goodness, can do nothing but what is eternally just, right, and kind. Reader, such is the God of the Bible; but how widely different from the God of most human creeds and apprehensions!
The original word אלהים Elohim, God, is certainly the plural form of אל El, or אלה Eloah, and has long been supposed, by the most eminently learned and pious men, to imply a plurality of Persons in the Divine nature. As this plurality appears in so many parts of the sacred writings to be confined to three Persons, hence the doctrine of the Trinity, which has formed a part of the creed of all those who have been deemed sound in the faith, from the earliest ages of Christianity. Nor are the Christians singular in receiving this doctrine, and in deriving it from the first words of Divine revelation. An eminent Jewish rabbi, Simeon ben Joachi, in his comment on the sixth section of Leviticus, has these remarkable words: "Come and see the mystery of the word Elohim; there are three degrees, and each degree by itself alone, and yet notwithstanding they are all one, and joined together in one, and are not divided from each other." See Ainsworth. He must be strangely prejudiced indeed who cannot see that the doctrine of a Trinity, and of a Trinity in unity, is expressed in the above words. The verb ברא bara, he created, being joined in the singular number with this plural noun, has been considered as pointing out, and not obscurely, the unity of the Divine Persons in this work of creation. In the ever-blessed Trinity, from the infinite and indivisible unity of the persons, there can be but one will, one purpose, and one infinite and uncontrollable energy.
"Let those who have any doubt whether אלהים Elohim, when meaning the true God, Jehovah, be plural or not, consult the following passages, where they will find it joined with adjectives, verbs, and pronouns plural.
"Gen 1:26 Genesis 3:22 Genesis 11:7 Genesis 20:13 Genesis 31:7, Genesis 31:53 Genesis 35:7. "Deu 4:7 Deuteronomy 5:23; Joshua 24:19 1 Samuel 4:8; 2 Samuel 7:23; "Psa 58:6; Isaiah 6:8; Jeremiah 10:10, Jeremiah 23:36. "See also Proverbs 9:10, Proverbs 30:3; Psalm 149:2; Ecclesiastes 5:7, Ecclesiastes 12:1; Job 5:1; Isaiah 6:3, Isaiah 54:5, Isaiah 62:5; Hosea 11:12, or Hosea 12:1; Malachi 1:6; Daniel 5:18, Daniel 5:20, and Daniel 7:18, Daniel 7:22." - Parkhurst.
As the word Elohim is the term by which the Divine Being is most generally expressed in the Old Testament, it may be necessary to consider it here more at large. It is a maxim that admits of no controversy, that every noun in the Hebrew language is derived from a verb, which is usually termed the radix or root, from which, not only the noun, but all the different flections of the verb, spring. This radix is the third person singular of the preterite or past tense. The ideal meaning of this root expresses some essential property of the thing which it designates, or of which it is an appellative. The root in Hebrew, and in its sister language, the Arabic, generally consists of three letters, and every word must be traced to its root in order to ascertain its genuine meaning, for there alone is this meaning to be found. In Hebrew and Arabic this is essentially necessary, and no man can safely criticise on any word in either of these languages who does not carefully attend to this point.
I mention the Arabic with the Hebrew for two reasons.
1. Because the two languages evidently spring from the same source, and have very nearly the same mode of construction.
2. Because the deficient roots in the Hebrew Bible are to be sought for in the Arabic language. The reason of this must be obvious, when it is considered that the whole of the Hebrew language is lost except what is in the Bible, and even a part of this book is written in Chaldee.
Now, as the English Bible does not contain the whole of the English language, so the Hebrew Bible does not contain the whole of the Hebrew. If a man meet with an English word which he cannot find in an ample concordance or dictionary to the Bible, he must of course seek for that word in a general English dictionary. In like manner, if a particular form of a Hebrew word occur that cannot be traced to a root in the Hebrew Bible, because the word does not occur in the third person singular of the past tense in the Bible, it is expedient, it is perfectly lawful, and often indispensably necessary, to seek the deficient root in the Arabic. For as the Arabic is still a living language, and perhaps the most copious in the universe, it may well be expected to furnish those terms which are deficient in the Hebrew Bible. And the reasonableness of this is founded on another maxim, viz., that either the Arabic was derived from the Hebrew, or the Hebrew from the Arabic. I shall not enter into this controversy; there are great names on both sides, and the decision of the question in either way will have the same effect on my argument. For if the Arabic were derived from the Hebrew, it must have been when the Hebrew was a living and complete language, because such is the Arabic now; and therefore all its essential roots we may reasonably expect to find there: but if, as Sir William Jones supposed, the Hebrew were derived from the Arabic, the same expectation is justified, the deficient roots in Hebrew may be sought for in the mother tongue. If, for example, we meet with a term in our ancient English language the meaning of which we find difficult to ascertain, common sense teaches us that we should seek for it in the Anglo-Saxon, from which our language springs; and, if necessary, go up to the Teutonic, from which the Anglo-Saxon was derived. No person disputes the legitimacy of this measure, and we find it in constant practice. I make these observations at the very threshold of my work, because the necessity of acting on this principle (seeking deficient Hebrew roots in the Arabic) may often occur, and I wish to speak once for all on the subject.
The first sentence in the Scripture shows the propriety of having recourse to this principle. We have seen that the word אלהים Elohim is plural; we have traced our term God to its source, and have seen its signification; and also a general definition of the thing or being included under this term, has been tremblingly attempted. We should now trace the original to its root, but this root does not appear in the Hebrew Bible. Were the Hebrew a complete language, a pious reason might be given for this omission, viz., "As God is without beginning and without cause, as his being is infinite and underived, the Hebrew language consults strict propriety in giving no root whence his name can be deduced." Mr. Parkhurst, to whose pious and learned labors in Hebrew literature most Biblical students are indebted, thinks he has found the root in אלה alah, he swore, bound himself by oath; and hence he calls the ever-blessed Trinity אלהים Elohim, as being bound by a conditional oath to redeem man, etc., etc. Most pious minds will revolt from such a definition, and will be glad with me to find both the noun and the root preserved in Arabic. Allah is the common name for God in the Arabic tongue, and often the emphatic is used. Now both these words are derived from the root alaha, he worshipped, adored, was struck with astonishment, fear, or terror; and hence, he adored with sacred horror and veneration, cum sacro horrore ac veneratione coluit, adoravit - Wilmet. Hence ilahon, fear, veneration, and also the object of religious fear, the Deity, the supreme God, the tremendous Being. This is not a new idea; God was considered in the same light among the ancient Hebrews; and hence Jacob swears by the fear of his father Isaac, Genesis 31:53. To complete the definition, Golius renders alaha, juvit, liberavit, et tutatus fuit, "he succoured, liberated, kept in safety, or defended." Thus from the ideal meaning of this most expressive root, we acquire the most correct notion of the Divine nature; for we learn that God is the sole object of adoration; that the perfections of his nature are such as must astonish all those who piously contemplate them, and fill with horror all who would dare to give his glory to another, or break his commandments; that consequently he should be worshipped with reverence and religious fear; and that every sincere worshipper may expect from him help in all his weaknesses, trials, difficulties, temptations, etc.,; freedom from the power, guilt, nature, and consequences of sin; and to be supported, defended, and saved to the uttermost, and to the end.
Here then is one proof, among multitudes which shall be adduced in the course of this work, of the importance, utility, and necessity of tracing up these sacred words to their sources; and a proof also, that subjects which are supposed to be out of the reach of the common people may, with a little difficulty, be brought on a level with the most ordinary capacity.
In the beginning - Before the creative acts mentioned in this chapter all was Eternity. Time signifies duration measured by the revolutions of the heavenly bodies: but prior to the creation of these bodies there could be no measurement of duration, and consequently no time; therefore in the beginning must necessarily mean the commencement of time which followed, or rather was produced by, God's creative acts, as an effect follows or is produced by a cause.
on Genesis 1 :1
- Section I-- The Creation
- The Absolute Creation
ראשׁית rḕshı̂̂yt, the "head-part, beginning" of a thing, in point of time Genesis 10:10, or value Proverbs 1:7. Its opposite is אחרית 'achărı̂̂yth Isaiah 46:10. בראשׁית rê'shı̂̂yth, "in the beginning," is always used in reference to time. Here only is it taken absolutely.
ברא bārā', "create, give being to something new." It always has God for its subject. Its object may be anything: matter Genesis 1:1; animal life Genesis 1:21; spiritual life Genesis 1:27. Hence, creation is not confined to a single point of time. Whenever anything absolutely new - that is, not involved in anything previously extant - is called into existence, there is creation Numbers 16:30. Any thing or event may also be said to be created by Him, who created the whole system of nature to which it belongs Malachi 2:10. The verb in its simple form occurs forty-eight times (of which eleven are in Genesis, fourteen in the whole Pentateuch, and twenty-one in Isaiah), and always in one sense.
אלהים 'ĕlohı̂̂ym, "God." The noun אלוה 'elôah or אלה 'eloah is found in the Hebrew scriptures fifty-seven times in the singular (of which two are in Deuteronomy, and forty-one in the book of Job), and about three thousand times in the plural, of which seventeen are in Job. The Chaldee form אלה 'elâh occurs about seventy-four times in the singular, and ten in the plural. The Hebrew letter ה (h) is proved to be radical, not only by bearing mappiq, but also by keeping its ground before a formative ending. The Arabic verb, with the same radicals, seems rather to borrow from it than to lend the meaning coluit, "worshipped," which it sometimes has. The root probably means to be "lasting, binding, firm, strong." Hence, the noun means the Everlasting, and in the plural, the Eternal Powers. It is correctly rendered God, the name of the Eternal and Supreme Being in our language, which perhaps originally meant lord or ruler. And, like this, it is a common or appellative noun. This is evinced by its direct use and indirect applications.
Its direct use is either proper or improper, according to the object to which it is applied. Every instance of its proper use manifestly determines its meaning to be the Eternal, the Almighty, who is Himself without beginning, and has within Himself the power of causing other things, personal and impersonal, to be, and on this event is the sole object of reverence and primary obedience to His intelligent creation.
Its improper use arose from the lapse of man into false notions of the object of worship. Many real or imaginary beings came to be regarded as possessed of the attributes, and therefore entitled to the reverence belonging to Deity, and were in consequence called gods by their mistaken votaries, and by others who had occasion to speak of them. This usage at once proves it to be a common noun, and corroborates its proper meaning. When thus employed, however, it immediately loses most of its inherent grandeur, and sometimes dwindles down to the bare notion of the supernatural or the extramundane. In this manner it seems to be applied by the witch of Endor to the unexpected apparition that presented itself to her 1 Samuel 28:13.
Its indirect applications point with equal steadiness to this primary and fundamental meaning. Thus, it is employed in a relative and well-defined sense to denote one appointed of God to stand in a certain divine relation to another. This relation is that of authoritative revealer or administrator of the will of God. Thus, we are told John 10:34 that "he called them gods, to whom the word of God came." Thus, Moses became related to Aaron as God to His prophet Exodus 4:16, and to Pharaoh as God to His creature Exodus 7:1. Accordingly, in Psalm 82:6, we find this principle generalized: "I had said, gods are ye, and sons of the Highest all of you." Here the divine authority vested in Moses is expressly recognized in those who sit in Moses' seat as judges for God. They exercised a function of God among the people, and so were in God's stead to them. Man, indeed, was originally adapted for ruling, being made in the image of God, and commanded to have dominion over the inferior creatures. The parent also is instead of God in some respect to his children, and the sovereign holds the relation of patriarch to his subjects. Still, however, we are not fully warranted in translating אלהים 'ĕlohı̂ym, "judges" in Exodus 21:6; Exodus 22:7-8, Exodus 22:27 (Hebrew versification: 8, 9, 28), because a more easy, exact, and impressive sense is obtained from the proper rendering.
The word מלאך mel'āk, "angel," as a relative or official term, is sometimes applied to a person of the Godhead; but the process is not reversed. The Septuagint indeed translates אלהים 'ĕlohı̂ym in several instances by ἄγγελοι angeloi Psalm 8:6; Psalm 97:7; Psalm 138:1. The correctness of this is seemingly supported by the quotations in Hebrews 1:6. and Hebrews 2:7. These, however, do not imply that the renderings are absolutely correct, but only suffiently so for the purpose of the writer. And it is evident they are so, because the original is a highly imaginative figure, by which a class is conceived to exist, of which in reality only one of the kind is or can be. Now the Septuagint, either imagining, from the occasional application of the official term "angel" to God, that the angelic office somehow or sometimes involved the divine nature, or viewing some of the false gods of the pagan as really angels, and therefore seemingly wishing to give a literal turn to the figure, substituted the word ἄγγελοι angeloi as an interpretation for אלהים 'ĕlohı̂ym. This free translation was sufficient for the purpose of the inspired author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, inasmuch as the worship of all angels Hebrews 1:6 in the Septuagintal sense of the term was that of the highest rank of dignitaries under God; and the argument in the latter passage Hebrews 2:7 turns not on the words, "thou madest him a little lower than the angels," but upon the sentence, "thou hast put all things under his feet." Moreover, the Septuagint is by no means consistent in this rendering of the word in Similar passages (see Psalm 82:1; Psalm 97:1; 1 Samuel 28:13).
With regard to the use of the word, it is to be observed that the plural of the Chaldee form is uniformly plural in sense. The English version of בר־אלהין bar-'elâhı̂yn, "the Son of God" Daniel 3:25 is the only exception to this. But since it is the phrase of a pagan, the real meaning may be, "a son of the gods." On the contrary, the plural of the Hebrew form is generally employed to denote the one God. The singular form, when applied to the true God, is naturally suggested by the prominent thought of his being the only one. The plural, when so applied, is generally accompanied with singular conjuncts, and conveys the predominant conception of a plurality in the one God - a plurality which must be perfectly consistent with his being the only possible one of his kind. The explanations of this use of the plural - namely, that it is a relic of polytheism, that it indicates the association of the angels with the one God in a common or collective appellation, and that it expresses the multiplicity of attributes subsisting in him - are not satisfactory. All we can say is, that it indicates such a plurality in the only one God as makes his nature complete and creation possible. Such a plurality in unity must have dawned upon the mind of Adam. It is afterward, we conceive, definitely revealed in the doctrine of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
שׁמים shāmayı̂m, "skies, heavens," being the "high" (shamay, "be high," Arabic) or the "airy" region; the overarching dome of space, with all its revolving orbs.
ארץ 'erets, "land, earth, the low or the hard." The underlying surface of land.
The verb is in the perfect form, denoting a completed act. The adverbial note of time, "in the beginning," determines it to belong to the past. To suit our idiom it may, therefore, be strictly rendered "had created." The skies and the land are the universe divided into its two natural parts by an earthly spectator. The absolute beginning of time, and the creation of all things, mutually determine each other.
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" Genesis 1:1. This great introductory sentence of the book of God is equal in weight to the whole of its subsequent communications concerning the kingdom of nature.
on Genesis 1 :1