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I'm a little confused as to why this verb, לַעֲשׂוֹת, is in the infinitive. It belongs to the clause אֲשֶׁר-בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים לַעֲשׂוֹת, which I translate as "which God had created and made".

וַיְבָרֶךְ אֱלֹהִים אֶת־יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וַיְקַדֵּשׁ אֹתוֹ
כִּי בוֹ שָׁבַת מִכָּל־מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר־בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים לַעֲשׂוֹת׃

And God blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it,
because on it he rested from all his work, which God had created and made.

(Gn 2:3)

This is only one translation. It might help to look at some others.

So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (ESV)

Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (NIV)

And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made. (KJV)

Et benedixit diei septimo, et sanctificavit illum, quia in ipso cessaverat ab omni opere suo quod creavit Deus ut faceret. (Vulgate)

καὶ ηὐλόγησεν ὁ θεὸς τὴν ἡμέραν τὴν ἑβδόμην καὶ ἡγίασεν αὐτήν ὅτι ἐν αὐτῇ κατέπαυσεν ἀπὸ πάντων τῶν ἔργων αὐτοῦ ὧν ἤρξατο ὁ θεὸς ποιῆσαι. (LXX)

Judging by the decisions made above, it seems the jury is out on how to translate the Hebrew grammar. The LXX translates the phrase אֲשֶׁר-בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים לַעֲשׂוֹת as ὧν ἤρξατο ὁ θεὸς ποιῆσαι ("which God had begun to make"). It uses an infinitive to translate לַעֲשׂוֹת. The Vulgate translates this as "quod creavit Deus ut faceret" ("which God created for the purpose of making"), using a purpose clause to translate לַעֲשׂוֹת. And the three English translations, ESV, NIV, and KJV, each translate the phrase a different way. All translate לַעֲשׂוֹת as a finite verb (as opposed to an infinitive), and the ESV even translates בָּרָא as a noun.

This leads me to ask whether any of you understand the grammar behind אֲשֶׁר-בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים לַעֲשׂוֹת. Why the infinitive לַעֲשׂוֹת? Does it act as a complementary infinitive? Or does it rather have some conjunctive property, smoothly translated in English as "created and made"?

  • The Douay-Rheims is essentially a translation of the Vulgate, and so may not be too useful in providing variety here. – Sola Gratia Sep 9 '17 at 12:33
  • @SolaGraita Noted. I removed the Douay Rheims translation and added NIV and KJV to create a better variety. – ktm5124 Sep 10 '17 at 18:00
  • Good luck with an answer :) If you feel it would help, you could put the Douay-Rheims in parenthesis following the Vulgate. – Sola Gratia Sep 10 '17 at 18:19
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This usage of ל followed by the infinitive doesn't have an exact parallel in English, and I'm afraid there might not be a very satisfying answer available as to what exactly it adds to the meaning of Gen 2:3. However, the grammars agree about what is going on in terms of syntax, which is OP's primary question.

In a general sense, ל + infinitive can express an adverbial idea that modifies a finite verb.

The infinitive with ל is very often used after a verb to express an action which gives more details about or explains the preceding action; it is then equivalent to the Latin gerund in -do, e.g. faciendo = Eng. by doing.1

Such constructions often seem pleonastic to the ears of English speakers (at least mine). The most common example, which is found hundreds of times throughout the Hebrew Bible, uses this same preposition followed by an infinitive: לֵאמֹר , generally introducing direct speech. If it's translated at all, it often becomes "saying". See, for example, Gen 2:16:

וַיְצַו֙ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהִ֔ים עַל־הָֽאָדָ֖ם לֵאמֹ֑ר
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "... " (ESV)

The word "saying" is largely redundant with the finite verb "commanded"; indeed, לֵאמֹר most often occurs alongside another verb of speaking. We could translate similarly in Gen 2:3:

שָׁבַת מכּל־מְלַאכְתּוֹ אשׁר בָּרָא אלהים לַעֲשׂוֹת
He ceased all his work which God had created by doing 2

What does "by doing" add to the meaning here? Given that it refers to an action more generic than the the verb ברא "he created", it's difficult to see how it adds "more details about or explains the preceding action".1 However, what is clear is that it modifies the verb ברא "he created", presumably emphasizing the "doing-ness" (activeness?) of the feat of creation.

To directly address the title question of why it's an infinitive [rather than a finite verb]: finite verbs don't occur after prepositions like this. In very broad, cross-linguistic, terms, infinitives are often used to modify or further specify finite verbs; the above examples comprise one category of such usages. Despite the KJV (and OP's) suggestion of "which God had created and made", this is not really what it says.


1. Paul Joüon and T. Muraoka, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (Roma: Pontificio istituto biblico, 2006), 407. See also GKC § 114o. Both give Gen 2:3 as an example.

2. ibid., note 27.

  • Oh, that makes a lot of sense, especially when taken with לֵאמֹר. What makes it even clearer is the parallel with the Latin gerund. I guess you're right that the one remaining mystery is how לַעֲשׂוֹת adds to the verb בָּרָא. – ktm5124 Sep 12 '17 at 5:56
  • 2
    I think this nails it. For further reference (esp. from older literature), one could compare Spurrel's comments, and the discussion of Ewald's fundamental work which adds a number of other examples of this construction in classical Hebrew, which is especially helpful for getting a feel for this aspect of the language. – Dɑvïd Sep 12 '17 at 12:52

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