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Genesis 1:3
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεός γενηθήτω φῶς καὶ ἐγένετο φῶς

Modern Koine readers will have the advantage of accent marks to tell the difference between φῶς (light) and φώς (man, mortal). Yet on the pages of a manuscript, thousands of years ago, presumably they would appear the same. Indeed, it seems that Saturninus constructed his hexaemeral account based on just such a reading.

All said, however, I haven't encountered much scholarly discussion on this matter. I'm curious whether "Let there be man" is plausible when held up to scrutiny.

Question

Clearly, theological context/clues support the reading in favor of "light" but if we were only to take a textual criticism approach, can we conclude with 100% certainty that the original entity created in Genesis 1:3 was in fact light? How do we know?

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  • This question appears, to myself, to be hypothetical and therefore to be opinion-based.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 14, 2023 at 9:50
  • I am not sure how you could understand φώς to mean "man, mortal". It always means light according to my lexicons.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jul 14, 2023 at 10:20
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    It is a valid question on how to differentiate between φῶς and φώς when diacritical marks didnt exist. It will be also helpful if someone explains or lists all the diacritical marks and to describe which declension is φώς. There is no requirement to give a bible verse, but it has still given just as an illustration. He is not asking about translating light to man. The title of the question is misleading
    – Michael16
    Commented Jul 14, 2023 at 11:27
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    @Dottard says "I am not sure how you could understand φώς to mean "man, mortal"". — φώς - Wiktionary says "man, mortal". Commented Jul 14, 2023 at 12:09
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    We know φῶς in the LXX of Gen. 1:3 means “light” because the Hebrew אוֹר, which is the original language in which the Torah was written, means “light”. And the Septuagint is a Greek translation of the original Hebrew. Like, it's as simple as that. Commented Jul 15, 2023 at 2:24

2 Answers 2

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First, it is difficult to confuse φῶς (light in Gen 1:3) with ἄνθρωπον (man/mankind in Gen 1:26). [Of course with the hyper-imaginative hermeneutic techniques of Gnostics like Saturninus, anything can be made to mean anything; which is Gnosticism's great weakness - it completely lacks objectivity.]

Second, the LXX Greek arose in the 3rd century BC. The Hebrew predates this by, at least 1000 years. In the Hebrew text (from which the LXX was translated) we have, again, two quite different words involved:

  • Gen 1:3 - א֑וֹר = light
  • Gen 1:26 - אָדָ֛ם = man/mankind

To the untrained eye these might look a little similar, but in the pre-exilic Hebrew script, they were far more dissimilar. Further, there are several other contextual features of the narrative in Gen 1 that would prevent any confusion between the two

Day 1:

The activity in Day 1 was to separate light from darkness. The next two days also separated waters above from waters below (day 2) and dry land from seas (day 3).

Day 6:

The last three days of creation week populated the environments created on the first three days in corresponding order - lights were placed in the heavens (day 4); birds were placed in the atmosphere and fish in the sea (day 5) and finally, man and animals were placed on the land.

Thus, mankind could not have been created on day #1 because there was not anywhere for man to live and breath - no land, no atmosphere, no lights in the sky and no plant-life. It was only after all these necessary pre-requisites existed, could mankind be created.

Thus, for lexical, semantic and narrative reasons, there is no possibility of Gen 1:3 referring to man rather than light.

APPENDIX - Declensions of φῶς

For completeness only, I list all the declensions of φῶς in the NT:

  • φῶς = nominative neuter singular
  • φῶς = accusative neuter singular
  • φωτί = dative neuter singular
  • φωτὸς = genitive neuter singular
  • φῶτα = accusative neuter plural
  • φώτων = genitive neuter plural

The form φώς was used by classical Greek poets as a metaphor for man and his "higher" intelligence compared to animals (see https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0058:entry=fw/s ). It is unknown in the Bible writings.

In direct contrast to this, John 1:4 categorically states

In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.

Thus, Jesus was the source of spiritual light, not man's intelligence as supposed by classical Greek poets.

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  • Quoting Socrates: anastrophe.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/perseus/… "The name “man” (ἄνθρωπος) indicates that the other animals do not examine, or consider, or look up at (ἀναθρεῖ) any of the things that they see, but man has no sooner seen—that is, ὄπωπε—than he looks up at and considers that which he has seen. Therefore of all the animals man alone is rightly called man (ἄνθρωπος), because he looks up at (ἀναθρεῖ) what he has seen (ὄπωπε)." There is the connection between man as seeing and light.
    – grammaplow
    Commented Jul 14, 2023 at 11:19
  • @grammaplow - very interesting but the Bible record was written as a direct contrast to Greek philosophy.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jul 14, 2023 at 19:49
  • I know exactly what you're saying, For God has chosen the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and he has chosen the weak of the world to shame the mighty. ἀλλὰ τὰ μωρὰ τοῦ κόσμου ἐξελέξατο ὁ θεὸς ἵνα κατα­ισχύνῃ τοὺς σοφούς καὶ τὰ ἀσθενῆ τοῦ κόσμου ἐξελέξατο ὁ θεὸς ἵνα κατα­ισχύνῃ τὰ ἰσχυρά biblehub.com/1_corinthians/1-27.htm But we are talking about the etymology and why shouldn't we hold Plato for an authoritative source here?
    – grammaplow
    Commented Jul 14, 2023 at 22:06
  • @grammaplow - there are several reasons for this: (1) classical Greek is not Koine Greek (2) Plato and his collogues used it poetically and metaphorically, Just as Jesus said that He was the Good Shepherd and the the light of the world. He did not mean this literally.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jul 15, 2023 at 5:42
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    @grammaplow Finding a poetic use is one thing. It is another to say 1. A translator would employ that device 2. A translator would expect a reader to make the same connection. Both of these would demand more than an isolated poetic use to replace light with man. There is the additional aspect of chronological actions. How does let there be man and there was man and God saw the man and it was good and God separated the man from the darkness on day 1 make sense when you get to day 6? Commented Jul 15, 2023 at 15:49
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I am building a collection of arguments pro and contra interpreting φως as man:

Pro arguments

  • φώς can mean just that - a man
  • Jesus is the new Adam and a son of man ὁ υἱὸς τοὺ ἀνθρώπου and he said "I am light (of the world)" "εγω ειμι φως" John 8:12
  • Plato gives etymology of the word man ἀνθρώπος as someone who looks up at (ἀναθρεῖ) what he has seen (ὄπωπε) Cratylus Pl. Cra. 399c
  • As the word man originating from the mano - hand, the ones who watch and see are referred to as eyes (modern "under four eyes", "five eyes" etc).

Contra arguments

  • φώς in the meaning of "man" is poetic use only.
  • Adam was created only later in the process of creation in Genesis.
  • The world was uninhabitable for the man to leave before the day 6 of creation.
  • Even if two meanings were appropriate in Gen 1:3 further narrative forbids using "man" instead of "light" as "light" is a dominant meaning. (@Revelation Lad)
  • How does "let there be man and there was man and God saw the man and it was good and God separated the man from the darkness" on day 1 make sense when you get to day 6? (@Revelation Lad)

To be continued...

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