Hebrew Expressions in Genesis

The word "God," is used thirty-one times in the first chapter of Genesis. How are we to understand it?

By F. C. GILBERT, Washington, D.C.

The word "God," is used thirty-one times in the first chapter of Genesis. Without ex­ception the Hebrew term for God in this chap­ter is in the plural form. The singular form for God, is El. (See Gen. 33:20, margin.) The plural form is E-lo-him. (See Ps. 82:6, compared with John 10:34.) E-lo-him is used for God in every verse in the first chapter of Genesis.

Hebrew writers and scholars have been greatly perplexed about the word Elo-him. For when a teacher begins instructing his pupils in the Hebrew schools, known among the Jewish people as the Charder, he invariably introduces the pupils to the singular and plural forms of proper names. In reading Genesis, chapter 1, verse 1, the teacher makes clear to the student that the word, E-lo-him is in the plural. The Hebrew letter Mem, the last letter of E-lo-him, makes the plural. (See Ps. 119, subhead pre­ceding verse 97.)

The Jewish child has already been taught at his mother's knee that there is only one true God to be worshiped, and this fact is stressed and emphasized by the multiple repetitions of Deuteronomy 6:4. When the pupil reaches Genesis 1:26 where it is written: "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness," he is likely to ply the rabbi with questions in regard to the word E-lo-him and the doctrine of the one God. The instructor immediately refers to the commentaries of out­standing rabbinical scholars on Genesis 1:26. The student discovers that these commentators are not in accord among themselves nor do they agree with what the text says. The pupil is perplexed, but there is a question border line over which he may not pass if he wishes to save himself trouble and sorrow.

In recent years, rabbinical Hebrew scholars have invented a way out of this perplexity. They term this plural form of God, Ego-him, the plurality of majesty. This innovation is introduced to offset the idea that there is more than one person in the Godhead. By reading John 1:1-3, this fourth Gospel confirms the di­vinity of Christ and the true rendering of the word Ego-him in Genesis, chapter 1. Christ was with the Father at creation. See "Lesser's Translation of the Old Testament," Introduc­tion; "Practical Lessons," third edition, pages 327-330, 343-345.

Living Soul

It is unfortunate that human theology has injected into the Scriptures perverted teaching. In "Early Writings," pages 220, 221, we read:

"Then I saw that God knew that Satan would try every art to destroy man; therefore He had caused His word to be written out, and had made His purposes in regard to the human race so plain that the weakest need not err. After having given His word to man, He had care­fully preserved it from destruction by Satan or his angels. . . . While other books might be destroyed, this was to be immortal. And near the close of time, when the delusions of Satan should increase, it was to be so multiplied that all . . . might arm themselves against the de­ceptions and lying wonders of Satan.

"I saw that God had especially guarded the Bible, yet when copies of it were few, learned men had in some instances changed the words, thinking that they were making it more plain, when in reality they were mystifying that which was plain, by causing it to lean to their established views, which were governed by tradition."

The Scriptures declare that God made man a "living soul." Gen. 2:7. The Hebrew for living soul is Ne-fesh Cha-ya. Ne-fesh means a person, a being; Cha-ya means life, living, existence. God made man, and He then endowed him with life. (See Gen. 1:27, 28.) The same is true of the animal creation. In Genesis 1:20, the same Hebrew words, Ne-fesh Cha-ya, are expressed in the creation of animal life in sea and on land. Verse 24. The words Ne-fesh Cha-ya mean lit­erally a living being. God gave life to His crea­tures. He gave life to man and He gave life to animals. However, He made man upright. He endowed man with reasoning faculties, with moral qualities, with ennobling spiritual abil­ity. He never put in man something which was deathless, immortal, imperishable. It is true God did not design death in His program for man; yet man was made from the dust of the ground. Had he remained true and loyal to His Creator's demands, man would have been en­dowed with the gift of immortality. There is no basis for the belief of inherent immortality in the text describing man's existence. God made man a Ne-fesh Cha-ya, a living being. It is sad that there has been interjected into this term and into other allied Biblical statements concerning man, theological leanings which have created endless discussions in regard to the love and kindness of a merciful Creator. A brood of errors and false assumptions has resulted during the centuries from a perversion of the original meaning of the term, Ne-fesh Cha-ya, a living soul.

"It" Shall Bruise Thy Head

In the first gospel promise made to man after he sinned, God's purpose to deliver and restore man would stand out more prominently if the word "it" in Genesis 3:15 had always been translated "He," which in reality is the specific meaning of the Hebrew word Hoo. This He­brew word is rendered "He" in many places in the Old Testament. (See Psalms 100:3, where it is twice translated thus.) Hoo is used to denote a specific person, one who has already been noted. This word is designed to be outstanding in its intention. The "He" indicated in Genesis 3:15 is a special personage in contrast to the serpent spoken of in the same text.

In the first chapter of Genesis, the word E-lo-him is used to designate God; in the second chapter, we have the additional word "Lord," associated with E-lo-him. Beginning with the fourth verse of the second chapter (for the first three verses are really part of the first chapter of Genesis, and they have been so regarded by the Hebrew people from time immemorial), the words "Lord God" are inseparable in this second chapter. Where you find the one word, you also have the other.

In the third chapter of Genesis, the words "Lord" and "God" are used connectedly and separately. Hence in chapters two and three of Genesis we are familiar with both terms, "Lord" and "God." The word "it" in Genesis 3:15 is derived from the same word, "Lord," found in several verses of chapter 2, and also in chapter 3. When God declared to the ser­pent in the presence of Adam and Eve that "He" should crush the serpent's head, the Lord had a definite person in mind who should ac­complish the destruction of the serpent. Our first parents also understood that this "He" would bring to them deliverance.

When, the first child, Cain, was born, Eve said: "I have gotten a man from the Lord." Gen. 4:1. The word "from" in the latter part of this first verse is not in the Hebrew text. A more literal translation of this half of the fourth verse is: "I have gotten a man, the Lord." Doubtless Eve thought that this De­liverer, the Seed of the woman, was already come. "Lord" in this verse originates from the same word as "He." From the earliest times, man looked and hoped for a Restorer from the bondage of sin. Paul refers to Genesis 3:15 in Romans 16:20. The day will soon come when the Deliverer from sin, Jesus, the prom­ised Seed, will crush the serpent's head, and will again restore man to the Father's home and the Father's heart. Eden will again be in the possession of the human family.

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By F. C. GILBERT, Washington, D.C.

March 1937

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