What Does Genesis 1:1 Mean?

 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

-Genesis 1:1

Seems pretty straight forward right?

Well, having recently learned how to read Hebrew I’d say it’s anything but straight forward. The syntax is incredibly elusive and doesn’t really translate into English very well.

In fact, Genesis 1:1 was quite the point of contention as the scholars responsible for the Septuagint came together to translate the 72 books we call the canon of scriptures today.

Here’s why…

B’reishit Bara Elohim (בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים). ‘In the beginning when God’ being the traditional English translation. However, the grammatical structure of the Hebrew in Genesis 1 is a play on words that gets lost in translation. As a result, there seems to be two running concepts of creation we can choose from: creation ex-nihilo “out of nothing” or the Godhead begins with preexisting water and earth that was just unformed.

The first word—bere’shit—is made up of two elements: the preposition be- ‘in, with, by, through, when’ and the noun re’shit- ‘first, former, or best thing.’ This can’t be seen as “in the beginning,” because the noun re’shit is hardly ever used as a free-standing noun; it’s normally used with another noun to refer to ‘the beginning of’ something. There was this perpetual beginning suggested in the language. We’re sort of hopping in a narrative as it’s being written. “In a beginning of (something).”

Next, we have the verb bara(ברא), or ‘created,’ as in ‘He created.’ Utilizing the verb as is gives us the opening statement “in a beginning of ____ He-created.” We could also try using the finite verb bara’ he created as an infinitive ‘to create’ or ‘creating’. Sadly finite verbs don’t substitute for infinitives in Biblical Hebrew. We would need to change the vowels in the form bara’ to bero- ‘creating of’. The noun governing it would be EloHim- typically a plural name for God but it is used as a singular here because it behaves like one. Moshe is stating that God is a Unity plurality exists within. If that doesn’t make your head spin fathoming things beyond our comprehension then nothing will. Either way, this would give us a sort of corrected understanding similar to the Greek translation. ‘In the beginning of God’s creating the heavens and the earth.’

Finally we could try using the one way that seems to make sense of the syntax without altering the vocalization of the verb bara’ ‘He created.’ One can understand the opening word “in the beginning of” to be governed by the rest of the sentence, making it the dependent clause of “a beginning when God.” In other words “God created the heavens and the earth” is treated not as a verb and its object but rather as a single complex noun: “In the beginning of God-created-the-heavens-and-the earth….”

Personally, I love seeing the first three words of the Torah being treated as a singular complex noun because it places creation in line with the Born Rule- paired physical properties of a system cannot both be observed to arbitrary precision. Put simply, the more precisely one property is known, the less accurately the other can be measured. That’s how we end up making estimates based on probability. Once we measure it the wave function collapses to a new state in which the wave function is localized. Then those particles instantly go back to being a wave open to the next observed superposition with a bunch of different probabilities. In English, the Universe forms into being when it needs but it’s usually a field of infinite possibilities. What is vitally important here is that this imprecision doesn’t depend on the skills of the observer or the accuracy of the measuring instrument; it is an inherent attribute of Nature itself. (most of this section relies on research done by Jewish physicists)

’In a beginning when what?’ “(He) created, God (did)?” Probability waves and quazars? We could say this first sentence in Genesis shouldn’t be read as a complete sentence where a beginning of God creating (something) is an independent clause and say it’s s a dependent clause but dependent on what? I mean, we don’t see a truly independent clause until verse 2 or 3 depending on which scholar you ask. So what are we supposed to make of the opening three words?

Of course, taking a metaphysical stance and tying the creation epoch into quantum entanglement produces its own set of problems. Many physicists will tell you that attempting to connect quantum theory with spirituality is like trying to eat soup with a fork. They’ll write off Deepak Chopra, Dr. Amit Goswami and every other person who’s copied The Tao of Physics over the years. Just know this entire field of study hasn’t been quantified well enough to provide a working mathematical model as of today.

Moving on…

What doesn’t make any sense in the corporeal world makes perfect sense spiritually. Our world may have a beginning, but its a beginning that’s never stopped unfolding. What appears to be a grammatical error is actually implying that creation doesn’t exist in a way we can grasp. Creation exists outside of our concept of time while existing in all the potential ‘timelines’ that might be as well.

That being said, we are quite a ways off from scientifically understanding how existence unfolded. We can interpret the first three words mystically and say “the Macrocosm is a reflection of Divine Emanation,” but the truth is we don’t actually know. Oddly enough, that is exactly what Genesis 1:1 seems to imply. The Infinite Source of All is beyond comprehension and attempting to describe the Infinite would have been unspeakable to Moshe.

I know we want Faith to be Fact but the OG of all the Prophets is flat out telling us otherwise. He essentially implied our finite minds may never know.

Simple answer: G-D does not fit inside a box. Even if the box has pretty words that sound scientific.


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