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Can the Hebrew word, ‘bara’ be translated as re-create?

Published: 5 October 2019 (GMT+10)
Bible-Genesis

Joe G. wrote to us with an interesting question.

Can the word ‘bara’ (create) in Genesis 1:1 be translated as ‘re-create’? And can we understand Genesis 1:2 as saying that this was a re-creation of a world that was already in existence prior to creation week?

God bless you for the work you do.

I had an interesting conversation in which I was told that the Hebrew verb bara can be translated "re-purpose", as opposed to "create". My friend, arguing for Theistic Evolution, mentioned Is 65:18 and Ps 51:10 as instances of this. My understanding of the argument was that humans existed before Adam, but Adam and Eve were "re-purposed" on the Sixth Day.

The argument strikes at creation ex nihilo and clearly opens the door for millions of years with its attendant problems. I don't have the exegetical background to deal with this, but would state that the two verses given seem poetic vs. documentary and that to "re-purpose" Adam from the dust of the ground is not consistent with re-purposing him from some sort of non-living homo sapiens. Any thoughts?

Again, thank you for your work in the Master's vineyard.

CMI’s Joel Tay replies,

Dear Joe G.,

Thank you for your email. It is not possible to translate the word בָּרָא (bārā’) to mean re-purpose in Genesis 1. The Hebrew word, bārā’ is always used in the Old Testament with several distinct characteristics:

1) It refers to the creation of something new that never had any existence before;

2) It refers to an act of creation by God.

3) The word does not exclude the use of pre-existing matter. That is, bārā’ does not require creation ex nihilo in every case (here, context dictates the meaning). For example, God made Adam out of dust, and Eve was formed out of Adam’s rib. But bārā’ cannot be translated as recreate in Genesis 1 because the emphasis is on the new existence of the created object, and not a reference to a remodeling of the old material. So Adam and Eve were clearly special creations by God in God’s image, and therefore fit the description of “something great, new and ‘epoch-making’.1 This also applies to God’s regenerative work in salvation (Exodus 34:10 and Psalm 51:10). Note that bārā’ is never joined with an accusative of the material. Leupold says:

“This verb is correctly defined as expressing the origination of something great, new and ‘epoch-making’, as only God can do it, whether it be in the realm of the physical or of the spiritual.” 2

Keil explains:

“In Kal [i.e the Qal stem], it always means to create, and is only applied to a divine creation, the production of that which had no existence before. It is never joined with an accusative of material, although it does not exclude a pre-existent material unconditionally, but is used of the creation of man (ver. 27, ch. V. 1, 2), and of everything new that God creates, whether in the kingdom of nature (Num xvi. 30) or of that of grace (Ex. xxxiv. 10; Ps. li. 10, etc). In this verse, however, the existence of any primeval material is precluded by the object created: “the heavens and the earth”.3

4) Creation ex nihilo is indicated by the Hebrew syntax. The Hebrew Syntax in Genesis 1:1–3 does not allow verse 2 to be read apart from verse 1. Since there is no pre-existing material mentioned in Genesis 1:1, the only correct interpretation is that Genesis 1:2 this must be understood as a reference to creation ex nihilo (cf. Hebrew 11:3).4

As explained:

“Genesis 1:2 begins with a waw followed by a non-verb. This requires the verse to be translated as a waw disjunctive (‘now’) rather than a waw consecutive (‘and’). In other words, it is not possible to interpret Genesis 1:2 as an event that occurs after verse 1. Rather the syntax requires us to understand Genesis 1:2 as an in-depth description of what Genesis 1:1 means when it says, ‘In the beginning’. The waw disjunctive in 1:2 functions like a bracket—a series of three circumstantial clauses that explains Genesis 1:1. Since Genesis 1:2 begins with a waw disjunctive, it is not possible to insert a time gap between verse 1 and 2. The gap theory is incompatible with the Hebrew Syntax.”5

Genesis 1:1’s use of the phrase “the heavens and the Earth” is a merism encompassing all that God had created. Genesis 1:2 then goes into more detail explaining how God created the whole universe at the very beginning. It is not possible to insert a time gap into this passage without doing injustice to the Hebrew syntax. But if there is no pre-existing material to work with for Genesis 1:2, one cannot escape the conclusion of creation ex nihilo.

Thus, it is wrong to translate the word bārā’ as ‘re-purpose’ for nothing yet exists, and it is wrong to deny creation ex nihilo in Genesis 1. The word חָדַשׁ (châdash) (c.f. 1 Samuel 11:14, and Psalm 103:5) would have been more appropriate if the reference is to a re-creation.

Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingdom.” (1 Samuel 11:14)

who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.(Psalm 103:5)

In Isaiah 65:18 and Psalm 51:10, the word bārā’ again does not refer to a re-creation, but the creation of a completely brand-new heart by God which has never existed before. The new heart that is created by God at conversion is entirely new, and not just renewed. Likewise, the New Heavens and a New Earth in Isaiah 65 will be something that has never been created before—the sound of weeping shall no longer be heard in Jerusalem (v. 19), there will no longer be an infant who lives for a few days (v. 20), the boy will die at a hundred years and anyone who lives less than a hundred years will be considered accursed (v. 21). So while the New Heavens and Earth uses pre-existing material of the current world, the passage here—and that is why bārā’ is appropriate here—focuses on the uniqueness of God’s new creation—something that has never been done before.

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.” (Isaiah 65:17–18).

Notice that even in this passage, the emphasis on the new creation requires the passage to be translated this divine act as create, and not recreated.

More importantly though, since Isaiah 65:10 does not share the same syntactical concerns of Genesis 1:1–2 (as stated earlier), it does not make sense to appeal to Isaiah 65:10 or Psalm 51:10 (which emphasizes the new heart that God will give his people) as a reason for rejecting creation ex nihilo in Genesis 1:1–2.

Most Hebrew scholars and lexicons agree with the four points in this article about bārā’. The word that has been used by some gap theorists in the past to try to assert a type of re-creation, is not bara, but ‘asah. But this claim is already refuted here, and even in Christian academia, there is a shift away from the gap theory in recent years which tries to insert a time gap between the first few verses in Genesis.

The problems faced by theistic evolution go beyond just saying that bārā’ refers to re-creation (and that would be a wrong translation of the text anyway). The whole order of creation contradicts the evolutionary story in at least two dozen places. The Bible is also clear that the chronogenealogies in the Bible limit the time from Adam to this present day, to around 6,000 years old, and since God made Adam and Eve at the beginning of creation, it is not possible to insert millions of years before Adam. Paul called Adam, the first man (not the first Adam as popularly misquoted) in 1 Corinthians 15:45–47. Adam was the very first human being, around 6,000 years ago—created with the land creatures on Day 6 of creation. This flies in the face of theistic evolution which teaches that humans evolved from a huge group of 10,000 ape-like creatures out of sub-Saharan Africa with Homo sapiens evolving ~300,000 years ago. Evolution denies that mankind came out of a single human pair, Adam and Eve, 6,000 years ago. It denies the Biblical teaching there was no death, disease, and before sin entered the world. Consequently, the denial of a recent historical Adam who was the ancestor of all human beings 6,000 years ago mean that theistic evolution logically requires a denial of the doctrine of Original Sin.

This was exactly the conclusion of a group of liberal theologians who wrote the book, Evolution and the Fall.6 The authors recognized that an embrace of theistic evolution posted a challenge to the doctrine of original sin. Subsequently every author who contributed to the book either modified or reject Original Sin altogether. But the doctrine of Original Sin is an essential doctrine of Christianity, and any denial of this doctrine constitutes the heresy of Pelagianism.

As Augustine wrote,

“It is not I who made up original sin! The catholic faith has believed it from its beginnings. But you who deny it are undoubtedly a new heretic.”7

And as Romans 5:12 says:

“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned”

Theistic evolution or any kind of old earth view which tries to insert billions of years of death, disease, and suffering into the Bible—if taken to its logical conclusion8— necessarily results in a denial of original sin, the Gospel, and the inerrancy of God’s word. It necessarily requires denying or modifying the doctrine of original sin because it inadvertently requires the existence of death in the universe before Adam’s fall into sin.

Lastly, you are correct that the creation account in Genesis is written in the historical narrative and therefore cannot be relegated to mere poetry. Contrary to evolution, the Bible teaches that God created the first man, Adam9, from the dust10 and in the image of God11. Adam was not one of many other pre-humans who walked the earth for millions of years. He was a special creation—a son of God.12

For further reading, I would recommend checking: The Genesis Account for a more in-depth discussion of this topic.

Joel Tay

References and notes

  1. Sarfati, J., The Genesis Account, Creation Book Publishers, pp.92–93, 2015. Return to text.
  2. Leupold, H.C. Exposition of Genesis 1:40, 1942. Return to text.
  3. Keil, C. F. and Delitzsch, F., Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, 1:47, 1857. Return to text.
  4. See Sarfati, J., The Genesis Account, Creation Book Publishers, pp. 103–104, 2015., Return to text.
  5. Tay, J., Kon, K., Does Ezekiel 28:11–19 affirm the fall of Satan in Genesis 1:1–2 as claimed in the gap theory?, J. Creation 32(3):114, 2018. Return to text.
  6. Cavanaugh, W., William (ed)., Smith, James (ed)., Evolution and the Fall, William Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017.

    For a review of this book, see: Tay, J., Theistic evolutionist’s views of the Fall fall short, J. Creation 32(3):20–25, 2018.

    Return to text.
  7. The Church Fathers. The Complete Ante-Nicene & Nicene and Post-Nicene Church Fathers Collection: 3 Series, 37 Volumes, 65 Authors, 1,000 Books, 18,000 Chapters, 16 Million Words, Augustine, Marriage and Concupiscence, Book 2 of 4, Chapter 25 [XIII], (Kindle Location 272160). Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle Edition. Return to text.
  8. Gish, D., Is it possible to be a Christian and an evolutionist? Creation 11(4):21–23, September 1989. https://creation.com/is-it-possible-to-be-a-christian-and-an-evolutionist Return to text.
  9. 1 Corinthians 15:45 Return to text.
  10. Genesis 2:7, 3:19 Return to text.
  11. Genesis 1:26–27 Return to text.
  12. Luke 3:38 Return to text.

Readers’ comments

Joseph M.
I have just a question to add, maybe it's redundant but I feel it might give me further light. I feel if anything the problem for me has always been deciding where the first day begins. I think this might be the problem also when it comes to the interpretation of the first 4 verses as well. From verses 1-4 a lot of information is given, God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless and void, the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters, God said Let there be light, and God divided the light from the darkness, and God calls the light Day and the darkness he calls Night. Many different Bible teachers place the start of the first day in different places, most seem to place it at, "And God said Let there be Light." From what I'm getting by reading the article is that the first day begins at Verse 1., "In the beginning", which makes sense since the first day is the beginning. So I'm not sure if by now I've answered my own question, but from my understanding, the first 4 verses should be read as a continuum of how the first day of creation began, in the creation of the heaven and the earth. Personally, I always placed a lot of emphasis on, "And the earth was formless and void", with the question that followed when did that happen, as if there were a period of time before that. But that problem is removed if the first day starts in verse 1. Probably the English translated from the original text creates these problems but I don't have much understanding of that and it would be an assumption on my part if that where not the reason somethings are hard to understand or interpret accurately.
Hope my comment isn't confusing, but if you feel to reply I'd appreciate the feedback.
Joseph
Joel Tay
Hello Joseph,
Thanks for your question. Verse 4 states: "And there was evening and there was morning, the first day." So that means, according to Jewish interpretation, a day started with the night and ended with a period of light. This is because the first instance of the day defines what a day actually is. If you remember when they crucified Jesus, they wanted to get Him off the cross before nightfall, because that would have been the start of the second day, and we know from the Bible that Jesus rose the third day. So this means that on day one, first there was a period of darkness, and then God creates the light and separates it from the darkness. Maybe in the middle of day one. That's why the earth could have been there, formless and void. The earth was formless, it did not become formless.
David S.
I would consider “the heaven and the earth” in verse 1 as a merism only if it is not seen as the summation of the chapter, but rather the first creative act on day one. If we look at it as some kind of title, then what we have is the earth exiting in verse 2 before the first creative act is mentioned, which leaves open the possibility of God working with some kind of pre existing, eternal matter. When teaching Genesis, I’m always quick to point out that it isn’t saying, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth, (and this is how he did it)”, but rather verse 1 is His first creative work, the creation of the heaven and the earth. From thence it describes what He does with and in that first created “heaven and earth”. Maybe it’s too fine a distinction for some, but to me it seems critical to getting the “ex nihilo” correct.
Joel Tay
We have already addressed this in the article. There is no reason why it has to be either a merism or a summation of the chapter. It is likely to be both. Genesis 1:1 tells us that God created everything—the merism, "The heavens and the Earth", and verse 2 onwards goes into the detail to explain what Genesis 1:1 mean. I have also pointed out that the syntax doesn't allow you to interpret Genesis 1:2 as an act that occurs after Genesis 1:1.

As explained:

“Genesis 1:2 begins with a waw followed by a non-verb. This requires the verse to be translated as a waw disjunctive (‘now’) rather than a waw consecutive (‘and’). In other words, it is not possible to interpret Genesis 1:2 as an event that occurs after verse 1. Rather the syntax requires us to understand Genesis 1:2 as an in-depth description of what Genesis 1:1 means when it says, ‘In the beginning’. The waw disjunctive in 1:2 functions like a bracket—a series of three circumstantial clauses that explains Genesis 1:1. Since Genesis 1:2 begins with a waw disjunctive, it is not possible to insert a time gap between verse 1 and 2. The gap theory is incompatible with the Hebrew Syntax”.

Henry G.
We know what Jesus understood the word 'bara' to mean right? Jesus understood Genesis creation account as literal and Luke's genealogy of Jesus' family goes back to the first Human Being Adam. It's not Luke's family genealogy, it is Jesus' genealogy given to him by either Jesus or his Family. There isn't anything else to understand is there? Understand it then, the same way Jesus did!! Any other understanding is ultimately demonic right?
Lassi P.
Good reading. The concept of Bara meaning "to re-purpose" is slightly different from the Gap theory's re-modelling-hypothesis in that the former is, as far as I know, part of the idea, that Genesis was written as a piece of temple-mythology. In this thought pattern the Genesis is purported to be describing how God supposedly entered His (needless to say evolutionary) world and gave it a new purpose as His temple. So this "re-purposing" stuff doesn't allow the word bara to even mean re-modelling, but just giving something a new purpose. Obviously the passages quoted by the theistic evolutionist actually prove him (and Tinnish TE Eero Junkkaala, who's sadly entertained similar speculation) wrong, so this is just one more case of TE's grasping straws and giving clear biblical terms whole new meanings. While the article Joel Tay spent a lot of time discussing gap-theory and the concept of re-modelling, this article also definitely shot down the "re-purposing" rubbish.

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