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Most of us are probably familiar with the formulaic "and there was evening and there was morning, the Nth day" in Genesis 1. Recently, however, I came across a source quoting the KJV, which gives the rather peculiar rendering "the evening and the morning were the Nth day". This inspired me to look at the original Hebrew, which uses the word "וַֽיְהִי־" ("way·hî-"). Other uses of this word seem to indicate that it means something like "became".

It seems to me that a more accurate rendering of Genesis 1 might be "and it became evening, and it became morning, the Nth day".

Is this a plausible reading? Which of the three proposed translations (KJV, modern, proposed) is best, and why?


To try to clarify, what I'm really trying to understand is whether "way·hî-" allows for a reading "God did X on the Nth day, during which evening and morning existed", or whether it is properly understood "God did X, then the sun set (evening was), then the sun rose (morning was), the Nth day". Many of the other uses (including Genesis 1:3!) seem to imply a demarcation; that is, "there was (way·hî-) Y" seems to imply "there was not Y, then, there was (way·hî-) Y".

Alternatively, the KJV reads like "the Nth day consisted of the evening and the morning". This also has interesting (and similar) implications, though I'm not convinced such a reading is plausible. However, Answers exploring that aspect also are welcome!

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  • Can you please cite the source, and explain the implications of each competing rendering under consideration? Why is this question relevant?
    – Mark
    Commented Apr 25 at 19:37
  • BTW, this is closely related: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/q/54729/56622
    – Mark
    Commented Apr 25 at 19:44
  • @Mark, I don't believe Questions on BH need a "why". Since you are likely asking because I pointed this out in chat as related to six-day Creation, it seems appropriate to reply there also. I added a link to the concordance.
    – Matthew
    Commented Apr 25 at 20:02
  • See the reference section in hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/84864/…
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Apr 27 at 0:29
  • @ I Matthew: I added a clearer answer to the front of my previous answer.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Apr 28 at 0:36

2 Answers 2

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It is more common to have the form הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּֽה when חַיָּֽה means became, that is the לְ in front of what it becomes.

Genesis 2:7 הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּֽה׃ "the man/Adam became a living being."

Genesis 2:10 וְהָיָ֖ה לְאַרְבָּעָ֥ה רָאשִֽׁים "and became four rivers."

Genesis 20: וַתְּהִי־לִ֖י לְאִשָּֽׁה "and she became my wife."

Ruth 4:13 וַתְּהִי־לֹ֣ו לְאִשָּׁ֔ה "and she became his wife."

Without the prefixed preposition:

Genesis 19:26 וַתְּהִ֖י נְצִ֥יב מֶֽלַח "and she became a pillar of salt."

However, this is disputed in

וַתֹּ֣סֶף לָלֶ֔דֶת אֶת־אָחִ֖יו אֶת־הָ֑בֶל וַֽיְהִי־הֶ֨בֶל֙ רֹ֣עֵה צֹ֔אן וְקַ֕יִן הָיָ֖ה עֹבֵ֥ד אֲדָמָֽה׃ (Gen. 4:2, MT BHS2003)

And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. (Gen. 4:2, ESV)

She then bore his brother Abel. Abel became a keeper of sheep, and Cain became a tiller of the soil. (Gen. 4:2, JPS1985)

In the case of וַֽיְהִי־עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹ֖קֶר, what was evening and what was morning before it became. Evening and morning weren't something other than evening and morning before they became. So, there was and it became has no difference in meaning; only what is smoother in English. The Septuagint (LXX) does support became καὶ ἐγένετο ἑσπέρα καὶ ἐγένετο πρωί, ἡμέρα μία, but note:

Ἐγένετο ἄνθρωπος, ἀπεσταλμένος παρὰ* ⸀θεοῦ, ὄνομα αὐτῷ Ἰωάννης· (Jonn 1:6, LXX)

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. (John 1:6, ESV)

This is not translated "there became a man."

Where became is has been more heavily disputed is in Genesis 1:2 וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֨הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ "and the Earth was without from and void." In this people are debating between a description of an existing state or a change in state. See What is the exact meaning of הׇיְתָה in Genesis 1:2?

This should help

היה ... qal: ... —1. to come to pass, occur: הָיָה עֶרֶב evening came Gn 1:5 ... —2. esp. to happen, occur ... —3. to be, become: ... —4. from 3c and d the use of היה as copula [typical meaning of English be] has developed: ... —5. to follow someone ה׳ with אַחֲרֵי 2S 2:10, with לְ to be on someone’s side Ps 124 1; —6. הָיָה בְ to be in Ex 1:5, to stay in 24:18, to come at 1S 5:9, to fall upon ... —7. הָיָה לְ a) to serve as Gn 1:29, to be as Is 4:2, b) to have: יִהִיֶה לְךָ you shall have Ex 20:3, with אֵת preceding the sbj. (→ I אֵת 4c, Blau VT 4:14f) Nu 5:10 Ezk 35:10; הָיָה לְאִישׁ to belong to a man as his wife Jr 3:1; c) to become: לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה Gn 2:7, ... —8. הָיָה עִם to be with someone: ... —9. הָיָה עַל to be upon, to be found with ... —10. misc. הָ׳ מִן to be more than -- Koehler, L., Baumgartner, W., Richardson, M. E. J., & Stamm, J. J. (1994–2000). In The Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 243-244). E.J. Brill.

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The word "way·hî-" is translated both "and there was" and "and it was" in Genesis 1. According to the DSS translation by Abegg, Flint, and Ulrich, the formula in the undamaged verse, Genesis 1:19, is "And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day." They also used "and it was" in other places.

According to the LXX, the same verse is translated in the Apostolic Polyglot Bible (using English word order) as "And there became evening and there became morning, the fourth day."

Thus, translations based on the LXX likely explains the source of the word choice of "became."

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  • I think what I'm trying to understand is whether "way·hî-" should be interpreted as the verb "to be", or more like "it came to pass". That is, are the various uses in Genesis 1 saying "God did X, evening and morning had presence, the Nth day", or are they saying "God did X, and then it became evening (i.e. the sun set), and then it became morning (i.e. the sun rose), the Nth day"?
    – Matthew
    Commented Apr 25 at 20:12
  • @Matthew, from both the Hebrew and the Greek, I'm definitely getting the sense of an instantaneous "there was" or "it was" rather than something "becoming." Better scholars of Greek and Hebrew should feel free to correct me if I'm mistaken.
    – Dieter
    Commented Apr 25 at 23:30
  • I'm not sure I was clear. I'm not talking about the verb representing a process but a change. "God said 'let there be light', and there was (way·hî-) light". Many of the uses seem to imply that the thing to which "way·hî-" applies was not, then was.
    – Matthew
    Commented Apr 26 at 16:32
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    An extended discussion of the syntax can be found here: Understanding Continuous or Progressive Action in Biblical Hebrew uasvbible.org/2024/04/23/… Commented Apr 26 at 18:44
  • Actually after reading the entire text of Edward D. Andrews discussion I am somewhat less enthusiastic about his treatment of the syntax. He cites good sources but doesn't have much critical depth to his discussion of their contributions. Sounds like marketing literature, never the less it is probably worth reading. Commented Apr 26 at 19:35

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