In the first clause of Genesis 1:2 there is a verb הׇיְחׇה. Some versions translate it as "was" when it also bears the meaning "to become" and many more. My question is what should הׇיְחׇה be translated as, "was" or "became", and why?

The question is of concern as the translation can lead to either a Gap Theory if rendered as "became" or a static condition of the earth when it was created if rendered as "was".

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    The word you have in your title and the word you have in the body of your question are not the same word. – Jack Sep 19 at 20:38

The word (תהו) that comes right after the word you asked about (היתה) is also used in Isaiah 45:18, which according to YLT says:


For thus says Yahweh who created the heavens, the God who formed the earth and made it, who established it and didn't create it a waste (תהו), who formed it to be inhabited: "I am Yahweh; and there is no other.


Since Isaiah 45:18 says God did not create it as a waste (תהו), it makes a lot more sense that it became a waste (תהו), and not that it was that way right after He made it.

  • Are you aware of the theories regarding v. 1, that it may mean 'in the beginning of God's creating ...' and hence does not have to indicate that God created heaven and earth and that they may have pre-existed? This is consistent with arguments in present scholarship that ברא should rather be translated "separating", i.e., heaven and earth pre-existed but were not separated (by the 'firmament') yet. Then, v. 2 describes the situation before any act of God, and hence, it is not odd that this situation is described with words with negative connotations. – Keelan Sep 27 at 17:53
  • There is an את ("et") before the Hebrew words for heaven and earth. That word denotes the direct object of the verb. So in this case, the heavens and the earth were what God created. I lived in Israel for a few months, and every time I asked the locals what that word meant in English they told me "it didn't mean anything", which I thought was bewildering. It took me months to find out what that word was for. In English, we designate the direct object just by putting it after the verb - so את really does translate into... well, nothing. – Jack Sep 29 at 22:49
  • I know what את means, that is not the issue here. The issue is that all other occurrences of ראשׁית are construct forms. By translating 'in the beginning' you assume an otherwise unattested absolute form. By translating 'in the beginning of God's creating/-ion / separating/-ion' you do not, and את can still be the direct object marker in such a clause. I'm not saying your reading is wrong, but it is certainly not the only possibility and your answer could do more right to that. See Rashi for 'in the beginning of God's creating'; on ברא as separating see Van Wolde, JSOT 34.1 (2009), 3–23. – Keelan Sep 30 at 11:29
  • I am on my phone at the moment bit I will look that up when I get back to my computer. I dont think I follow. Even if we translate it like you said (which makes sense), aren't the heavens and the earth still the target of the creating/beginning of creating since they are the direct object? – Jack Sep 30 at 14:04
  • If you translate ברא with separating, and combine this with Rashi's suggestion, you get, "In the beginning of God's separating of heaven and earth, the earth was without form, and void; ...". Thus heaven and earth would pre-exist and the creative act consisted of their separation, after which more features are added (sun, moon, stars, vegetation, animal life, etc.). This is indeed unlike the creatio ex nihilo dogma in Christian thought (which is primarily based on the Septuagint here), but much more like comparable creation stories from the Ancient Near East. – Keelan Sep 30 at 18:40

The correct word is הָיְתָ֥ה - Hayetah. I usually translate this word as "was".

According this website, it has three meanings:

  1. The even begin to be.

  2. There’s a change of state. That is, ‘became’. The properties or relations change.

  3. It’s a state. The most common meaning used.

  • Your answer has some bones, but it needs a little meat. Don – rhetorician Aug 16 at 12:19
  • For hayah (feminine form used in Genesis 1:2) to clearly mean become (without question) a preposition such as lamedh should precede the objects (תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ). – Perry Webb Aug 16 at 21:00
  • but we also find other instances where hayeth has the idea of "to become" without even needing the preposition "le". To my best reading I have noticed that hayeth in Genesis is only used to describe a dynamic condition. In the case of Genesis 1:2 if we think that the author is using hayath in the same way as other passages i.e. speaking to a dynamic and not a static condition we can come very close to say that the condition of the earth was not static. Thus, raising another question, why (the way you think) is the word hayath rendered as "was" indicating a static condition only in Genesis 1:2. – Theo Aug 17 at 5:52
  • Do not get me wrong, I am not debating to defend a position, I am asking to understand the usage of this word and why is the kind of meaning used to translate this word. – Theo Aug 17 at 5:55
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    Hello and welcome to the site. This question is asking for what it means in context, which you haven't really answered. You've given three options of what the word can mean, but words don't mean every sense in every context. So what does it mean here? – curiousdannii Aug 22 at 11:56

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