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Originally published in Creation 4, no 2 (June 1981): 24-25.
The first verse of Genesis is of great significance to anyone concerned with the origin of the world, particularly the scientist.
Its primary importance lies in its application i.e.
To illustrate why things like this can be said, let us examine the two words Heaven & Earth.
In Genesis 1:1 we read that God created “the heavens.” In the original Hebrew, the word, which is translated “heavens” in the King James Bible, is shamayim. This word has at least three meanings:
Contrary to much popular opinion, a good translator does not slavishly translate the same original word the same way every time.It is a relatively easy matter to decide which heavens is referred to in Genesis 1:1. A quick look at the context (i.e. the words which precede and follow heavens) gives us the clues we need. Genesis 1 cannot be using shamayim to refer to the heavens where God is, simply because the God who created “the heavens” of Genesis 1 pre-existed it and brought it into existence. The details which follow in the remainder of chapter 1 further eliminate this possibility. The word for heaven recurs in Genesis 1:8, however most translations have “heavens” as a plural in verse 1, and “heaven” singular for verse 8. The Hebrew word is exactly the same for both, so why the difference in English? Contrary to much popular opinion, a good translator does not slavishly translate the same original word the same way every time. Such a translation only succeeds in making a living word into a dead one. Words are best translated, not by looking at the word in isolation, but by looking at the company each word keeps—the words around it.
Some modern translators use the English word “universe” for shamayim. In verse 8, many modern translators write “sky,” meaning the atmosphere or local heaven around the earth. Here again, it is clear from the surrounding words in verse 8 that the Bible is describing some kind of space or expanse which God placed between two bodies of water, one of which was on earth and the other above and around the earth. The KJV with “heaven” (singular) would have conveyed just that to its early readers. French and German and many other languages use words for sky which are interchangeable with those which mean heaven. In fact, English is one of the few languages that has, in recent times, increased in precision concerning the different meanings of heaven.
The Earth. Many modern scientists in their writings about the total planet on which we live, refer to it as “Earths” with a capital letter and without using “the.” A few modern translations of the Bible follow this convention of a capital letter, but so far I haven’t found a major translation that omits “the” in verse 1, though the Revised Standard Version puts a capitalized “Earth”1 in verse 10.
The objects created in Genesis 1:1 in twentieth century terms are “universe” and “earth,” although from the descriptions which follow in Genesis 1, neither of these was in a complete state. The emphasis of the statements in Genesis also becomes obvious even in the first sentence concerning creation. Since the earth is a part of the universe or of the heavens, the statement that God created the universe, would have covered everything, including the earth. The fact that it is mentioned separately focuses the reader’s attention on the interest that God takes in His creation in general—the universe, and His creation in particular—Earth.