In the first clause of Genesis 1:2 there is a verb הׇיְתָה. 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

To answer the question (in my opinion), the word should be translated as “became” and not “was”.

Genesis 1:1-2 KJV (1) In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

The earth became without form and void.

(2) And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

I’m looking at Genesis 1:2 as a metaphor for man’s broken relationship with God and it is man who has turned away from God’s righteousness and His knowledge and is currently in “darkness”….the darkness is within man’s heart.

We can see the meaning of the verse in Jeremiah 4. The earth became without form…without righteousness…..as His people are wise to do evil but to do good they have no knowledge.

The earth is void of the knowledge of God as His people have not known Him and have no understanding…as they cannot do the good.

Jeremiah 4:21-23 KJV (21) How long shall I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet? (22) For my people is foolish, they have not known me; they are sottish children, and they have none understanding: they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge. (23) I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light.

The earth became without form (became without righteousness as there is none that does good) and void ( became without knowledge of God) as all men have turned away from truly seeking after Him and doing His righteousness. “They are altogether become filthy…”

Psalms 53:3-4 KJV (3) Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. (4) Have the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread: they have not called upon God.

This is also echoed in the New Testament book of Romans:

Romans 3:10-12 KJV (10) As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: (11) There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. (12) They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth ….and man is without excuse (for becoming without righteousness and without knowledge of Him) as God manifests His invisible, eternal qualities in the visible creation that can be readily seen by all mankind.

Romans 1:18-22 KJV (18) For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; (19) Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. (20) For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

Mankind became without form…without righteousness…. and void of knowledge (became vain in their imaginations). Darkness is upon the face of the deep….their foolish heart was darkened.

(21) Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (22) Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

Mankind’s heart is all together darkened and needs to hear the knowledge of God (the Light shines in the darkness of man’s own heart).

Thanks for reading and considering.

In spoken Hebrew Hayitah is the feminine singular form or "Haya" which means "was", which is past tense. A past tense singular personal form of it would be Hayiti shama (I was there) It is zman avar, or past tense. Future tense would be "eheyeh shama"(I will be there).

If it was something that transformed or morphed then we would use to change, Lehaphoch לַהֲפוֹךְ

The translation of "was" would not take away any credibility from the Gap Theory, it is just that it would not add more credibility to the theory like "became" would.

King David spoke of it in *Psalms 102:25 On the face of the land you have founded, and the works of your hands the heavens.

*26 They will perish and You will stand, and every one like clothes will become worn like what you put on, you will transform them and they will be changed. (My translation from the Hebrew text)

David seems to see a transformation and change, as the New Heaven and New Earth will be. Like a change of garments... as well as us!

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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