I don’t know if you can relate to this, but I am a Bible geek. I went to seminary so I could read Greek and Hebrew. There is nothing I love more than studying the Bible in-depth. One of the most important stories is the creation of the universe and humanity, along with their subsequent fall. Fittingly, it is the first story in the Bible and one that has become a battleground between religion and science. The discussion usually gets bogged down in arguments over whether it was six days, six thousand years, or billions of years, or whether there was a real garden of Eden. I’m not dealing with any of that. I am interested in the text we have, how we got it, and what it means to the overall story of the Bible. I’m looking at the story itself. The question of whether it’s true or not is a moot point, at least for my purposes. Because the kind of things I’m talking about are true whether it really happened or not.
So I invite you to share this journey with me. If it gets too technical for you, it won’t hurt my feelings if you skip ahead to the conclusion. But I can almost guarantee if you think you already know this story, by the end you will have learned something. Let’s just start right at the beginning, shall we?
Genesis: A Book of Beginnings
Do you know the first verse of the Bible? I thought I did.
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
(Gen 1:1 KJV)
That was how I had heard it all my life. But when I went to college, my Old Testament class used the Revised Standard Version (RSV). It read the same, but there was a note saying that the Hebrew manuscript reads, “When God began to create heaven and earth ….” What happened? Did the King James translators lie to us? Or is this fancy newfangled translation some trick of the Devil to confuse God’s people and make them question the word of God? Neither. This is exactly the kind of issue that can arise when anyone tries to translate a text that is over 2,000 years old, in a foreign language, and written without modern sensibilities.
The standard Hebrew Manuscript is called the Masoretic Text (MT). It was named for the Masoretes, a group of Hebrew scholars from around 700 to 1100 AD. Here is what the Masoretic Text of Genesis 1:1 reads: