“In the beginning, God created ….” This is the opening phrase of most English-language Bibles. But our first Old Testament Interpretation I class revealed that a better translation is probably “In a beginning, God created ….” And that an even better translation is probably “In beginning ….”
The difference between “the” beginning and “a” beginning could be significant–if the Genesis 1:1 beginning is “a” beginning (instead of “the” beginning), is that a suggestion of some other beginning beforehand? Or afterwards? Of another universe beforehand?
Does it suggest that the results of some other beginning were already present when the beginning of Genesis 1:1 started?
The current Jewish Study Bible (Tanakh translation), containing an English translation of what some refer to as the Hebrew Bible, expresses the phrase closer to “a” beginning: “When God began to create ….”
The first class revealed that “In the beginning, …” is a plausible translation, but these other translations of the Hebrew are probably more accurate in light of what scholars now know about the text, the ancient Near East, and ancient Hebrew.
None of this makes much of a difference to the main point of Genesis 1, which is that God created.
The “a” and “the” issue is interesting, though, when sorting through questions of how current scientific views compare to Genesis. Are they compatible? I think so, and thought so before hearing about this translation issue, but I am going to enjoy thinking more about it.
And it is interesting when evaluating assertions that there is one–and only one!–way to read Genesis, usually that the Earth, moon, sun, animals, plants, humans, etc., must have all been created in six, back-to-back, 24-hour days about 6,000-10,000 years ago. Many reasonable Christians do not read Genesis that way. I am one of them and have been for a long time.
I am also encouraged by the idea that the Bible might open with the possibility of more than one beginning.
Christ offers everyone the opportunity for more than one beginning, to have a new start, and to begin a new spiritual life with him, as the Bible later describes in John 3:1-18 (NLT).
I like the theme.
(Picture at the top: A picture I took this week of my Jewish Study Bible, one of our assigned books for Old Testament Interpretation I.)
The Jewish Study Bible 2d ed. Oxford: University Press 2014 (Tanakh Translation)