Genesis 1:2 and the Verb HAYAH

Posted By on May 10, 2012

Here is a link to a short (13:00 or so) video I made searching for the structure of Genesis 1:2 and its verb, hayah (“to be”) The video was prompted by a comment to an earlier post I made about the “gap theory.” That theory of interpreting Genesis 1:1-3 in part depends on translating the verb hayah as “became” (instead of “was”). The video shows there is only one other passage that pretty closely approximates the structure of Gen 1:2 where the verb hayah is present. The point I make is that there is nothing in that second verse to merit the idea that the verse (or anything surrounding it) describes a “becoming” (as opposed to a mere state of existence).

Again, the gap theory has nothing exegetically to commend it. But it’s real death knell is the clause structure of Genesis 1:1-3 anyway.

The file is large (HD), but runs on Quicktime. Give it time to load.

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13 Responses to “Genesis 1:2 and the Verb HAYAH”

  1. Nick Norelli says:

    What program do you use for screencasting?

  2. Jason says:

    Michael, very nice thanks for the work and the time you put into this – much apprecciated. I will give this link to the person I am conversing with about this subject. I am sure it will be helpful to those interested.

    By the way ever thought about doing these types of videos more often?


  3. Dean Fry says:

    Even if the “Gap Theory” is true, what is gained? The next thing it says in English Bibles is “formless and empty,” or generally synonymous terms, so I trust it is accurate to translate it that way. If it is formless, it has no outline; and if it is empty, there is nothing inside. That sounds like a poetic way of saying the earth had no existence. If there was a reconstruction, then it was such as would leave no fossil record. The “Gap Theory” also requires an explanation of how some things that were recorded as created during the six days were actually created much sooner, making a lot of hoops to jump through.

    • MSH says:

      yeah, I don’t see much being gained, either.

    • Jason says:

      Yes true enough but the guy I am talking with takes tohu wabohu as a cataclysmic destruction by God’s judgement. Each ‘age’ ends with this judgement and there were at least two before the present period following the flood. One being Gen.1:2 and the second being the flood itself. It is hard just to keep him focused on the text at hand before running off into arguing about ‘ages’ and their deliniations and such. For him the earth is present in this tohu wabohu state in Gen1:2. Just to show you how much of an uphill battle I have with this guy he uses the Concordant Literal Bible – he actually works for the publishing company. I obviously love to torture myself. :)

  4. Patrick says:


    That’s good stuff. Did new evidence emerge in the last 50 years that would change our way of understanding Hebrew?

    I ask because I had an old pastor years ago who taught the gap theory and he was summa cum laude in Hebrew, but, he graduated U around 1950 and probably never re-visited the language scholastically again regardless of new findings.

    Oddly enough, the wrong interpretation helped me because it prevented me being a “young earth” fundy, which I still count as a positive. Until I read John Walton’s book, I thought gap was accurate.

    • MSH says:

      Not really; most Hebrew students never get past the basic grammar and morphology. Grad school requires more attention to syntax and that sort of thing.

  5. Jim Tweed says:


    Way off topic, but I’ve been tussling with Thom Stark over the interpretation of Deut 32:8-9 in the comments section of my Amazon review of his book. Like yourself, I think Yahweh should be identified with Elyon in vv. 8-9 and have recently come up with what I think is a good argument to that effect but I’d like to get your reaction to it seeing as how you’ve spent a lot of time on this issue.

    (1) There’s an old tradition in the Hebrew Bible that identifies Yahweh as the most high god (cf. Gen 14:22; 1 Kings 19:22; Ps 7:17; 9:1-2; 18:13; 21:7; Job 1:6).

    (2) There’s another old tradition in the Hebrew Bible that sees Israel as being separate from the nations so as not to be counted among them (cf. Gen 10; Num 23:9; Deut 26:19; 28:1, 10, 64; 29:24).

    (3) The author/redactor that put Deuteronomy in its final form clearly thought of Yahweh as the most high god on the basis of Deut 10:17 and therefore identified Elyon with Yahweh in 32:8-9. Hence, the reading of vv. 8-9 that identifies Yahweh with Elyon is the synchronic reading of these verses.

    (4) The old traditions mentioned in (1) and (2) mutually reinforce each other in the synchronic reading of vv. 8-9 that was identified in (3). To wit, if we suppose that Yahweh is Elyon in vv. 8-9 then Israel cannot be one of the nations in v. 8 for then it would be given to a son of Elyon and not Yahweh, hence Israel must be separate from the nations and not counted among them. On the other hand, if we suppose that Israel is separate from the nations and not counted among them in v. 8 then it follows that Yahweh cannot be one of the sons of Elyon in v. 8 for the latter are not given Israel as an inheritance, hence Yahweh must be identified with Elyon in vv. 8-9 by process of elimination.

    (5) What we observe in (4) is highly unlikely if the synchronic reading of vv. 8-9 is not also the original diachronic reading of vv. 8-9. Therefore, the synchronic reading of vv. 8-9 that identifies Yahweh with Elyon is almost certainly the diachronic reading of these verses.

    What do you think of this argument?

    • MSH says:

      It makes sense to me, but in part only because Thom has to assume a very precise chronology of sources and redaction to argue his view — but, as I have pointed out several times, that chronology does not derive from any feature of the Hebrew grammar and syntax, or development in the language; it has to be assumed and imposed as a hermeneutical filter. In the absence of any such grid, what you propose is workable, though I’d avoid categorical language (“must”). Arguments need to be text-driven and demonstrate likelihood on an exegetical basis. That is where Thom’s view ultimately fails.

    • Jason says:

      It seems obvious that the author equates Elyon with YHWH in Deut.32:8-9 but I have a problem with number 1 – according to Ex.6:3 Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not know Elyon or El Shaddai as YHWH. There seems to be alot of old ANE motifs recast with YHWH as Elyon. When you read Genesis it sounds as if the fathers are relating to God as YHWH. What gives?

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