A review of “In the Beginings” by Steven E. Dill

In_the_beginningsIn his book “In The Beginnings” Steven E. Dill presents his arguments for adopting the “Gap theory” interpretation of the Creation account given in Geneses 1. While I personally do not see the “Gap theory” as the best explanation for the account given in Genesis 1, my criticisms of Dill’s books are unrelated to my rejection of the Gap theory. There are good scholars that present reasonable arguments for the “Gap Theory” and while I would also disagree with their conclusions, I do respect their work. On the other hand, Dill’s book is one that I could not recommend. Dill rarely provides references for the claims he makes, some of which are quite absurd. He often tries to bolster his position by claiming that Hebrew scholars (frequently unidentified) do agree with him and yet he subsequently spends four pages (pages 128-131) trying to explain why all of the leading Hebrew scholars have misunderstood the text of Genesis 1 and why he (without any knowledge of the Hebrew language) was able to determine what they had failed to see. The suggestion is clear, if Hebrew scholars disagree with him, it is because they just didn’t understand the text, but if they do agree with his position then their status as Hebrew scholars adds credibility to his argument. It is a “heads I win, tails you lose” kind of argument. There are many factual errors in the text of this book (both scientific and linguistic). I have highlighted a few of the linguistic errors below.

Let’s take a look at some of the claims Dill makes:

Dill claims that some Hebrew scholars believe that “yom” when modified by a number ALWAYS refers to a literal day. The truth is that Hebrew scholars are divided on the question about whether the word “yom” in Genesis 1 refers to a literal 24 hour day or something else; however, no legitimate scholar would make the claim that every instance of “yom” when combined with a numerical modifier ALWAYS refers to a literal 24 hour day. They don’t make this claim because there are existent texts in both the OT and other Hebrew literature that demonstrate the fallacy of this claim.

Dill says:

“In my studies of the biblical account of creation, I have discovered that it doesn’t take much effort to find conflicting opinions among the scholars. There are Hebrew scholars who will agree with what I just said. They agree that when one of these numerical modifiers is added to YOWM, it always refers to a literal day.”  pg 67

And he then continues with:

“How do I explain the fact that I think they [Hebrew scholars] are absolutely wonderful but absolutely wrong? I can only assume that they base their opinion on extra-biblical Hebrew writings. Apparently YOWM plus a number doesn’t have to mean a twenty-four hour day when you look at the entire history of the Hebrew language. While this may be true in other writings, I still insist that in the bible, YOWM plus a number always refers to a literal day”, pg 67

On page page 68 lists a number of verses beginning  in which a number and the word ‘yom’ are used where he claims the meaning is a literal 24 hour day. A quick glance at his list revealed that he had included Zach. 14:7. However, Zach. 14:7 refers to an eschatological day that is unending i.e. this verse actually disproves the very thing he is trying to prove. I did not bother to check the rest of the list, so there may be other equally inaccurate citations included. Included below is the verse in question, in context, and a couple of other biblical references that refer to this same day. Additionally, I have included part of the description of this day given in the New American Commentary on Zachariah.

“On that day there will be no light, no cold or frost. It will be a unique day without daytime or nighttime–a day known to the LORD. When evening comes, there will be light. On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half to the eastern sea and half to the western sea, in summer and in winter. The LORD will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and his name the only name”. Zec 14:6-9 NIV (a “unique day” is Lit. “yom echad” exactly as it is in Genesis 1:5)

“The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end. Then will all your people be righteous and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendor.” Isa 60:19-21 NIV

“There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever” Rev 22:5 NIV

 

“The statement that this unique day will know neither “daytime nor nighttime” continues the thought from v.6 that there will no longer be any light. This absence of light, as stated above, does not necessarily suggest darkness. Rather, any light visible to the people would emanate from the Lord himself. More to the point, no longer would people mark time by the movement of the earth around d various heavenly bodies. The changes in physical phenomena that have delineated days since the very beginning of time could not possibly describe the scope of the changes the Lord will accomplish in his new creation.” New American Commentary, Zachariah.

When trying to describe the function of the conjunctive vav, Dill says that

“Genesis 1:2 begins with the Hebrew word WAW (Sometimes written as VAV)”, In The Beginnings, Steven E. Dill, pg 134.

Here, he did not even get the facts about the conjunction itself correct. The “vav” is a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, it is not a Hebrew word and the letter itself is used many different ways. In its use as a prefixed conjunction it most commonly carries a sense of “and”, but it can carry a sense of “or,” “but.” Additionally, it can mean “now” in a stylistic sense but not in a sense of immediacy i.e. in English we prefer not to begin sentences with the word “and” but this is quite common in Hebrew. English stylists will often exchange “and” for “now” in English translations to reflect better English style. Below I have included the Hebrew text of Ge. 1:2., beginning right to left, the first letter of the first word is the conjunctive vav, the second letter (also a prefix) is the definite article, and the last three letters form the word “eretz” (land, or earth). In other words, the first “word” of the text doesn’t read “and” it reads “and the earth”

והארץ היתה תהו ובהו וחשׁך על־פני תהום ורוח אלהים מרחפת על־פני המים

On page 133 Dills states that:

“”The earth” pretty much means “the earth” as far as I can tell from the scholars.”

However, most scholars translate this as “the earth” not because the word generally means “the earth” (it doesn’t) but because it is part of the complete phrase “את השׁמים ואת הארץ” (the heavens and the earth). In this context it refers to the whole earth i.e. the globe on which we live. When these Hebrew words appear alone they are typically translated as “sky” and “land” and take on the expanded meaning of “the whole earth” only when the context itself demands.

 

On page 75 Dill states that:

“The creation account in Genesis cannot be subjected to twisted interpretations. “Night” always means “night.” “Morning” always means “morning.” “Evening” always means “evening”. All of these words refer to portions of the normal twenty-four [hour?] day.”

Unfortunately Dill didn’t bother even looking at a Hebrew lexicon before making this absurd claim. Even my pocket lexicon includes several definitions for בקר (translated as morning in Genesis 1) i.e. morning, morning-time, dawn; the next morning, tomorrow, early, soon, etc…, and a reference like HALOT provide a great deal more. In Hebrew, context and grammar must drive meaning because most Hebrew roots have a much broader semantic range than do the words used in English translation.

On page 184, he states that:

“Often a special Hebrew construction using the imperfect form of the verb asserts that something came to pass (cf. Gen. 1:7, 9). Less often, the construction is used with the perfect form of the verb to refer to something coming to pass in the future. (Isa. 7:18, 21; Hos. 2:16).”

The “special Hebrew construction” to which Dill refers is called a “vav consecutive” or “vav conversive” and it is frequently used (i.e. thousands of times) in OT narratives with both perfect and imperfect verb forms. When a conjunctive vav is prefixed to a verb (any verb not just HYH) in ancient Hebrew narratives, it changes the sense of that verb from the perfect to the imperfect or from the imperfect to the perfect. The vav consecutive demonstrates a continuance in the flow of the narrative rather and not a change to the action of the verb aside from the shift between perfect/imperfect or imperfect/perfect. The perfect and imperfect sense of Biblical Hebrew verbs very loosely correlates to our past and future verb tenses but should be thought of as complete (perfect) or incomplete (imperfect) actions rather than simple “past” and “future” actions. With or without the prefixed conjunction, biblical Hebrew verbs may be used to communicate a variety of perfect/imperfect tenses and context alone is what determines which tense is best used in translation.

The foundation of Dill’s argument is based on his interpretation of the Hebrew language of Genesis 1. However, Dill clearly does not read Hebrew and, throughout his book, he repeatedly demonstrates very significant misunderstandings of the Hebrew language. Unfortunately his misunderstandings of the Hebrew language frequently lead to grossly inaccurate conclusions. For those who do read Hebrew, this book will often leave you cringing. For example, the section headings for the days of Genesis (in great big bold letters) read “ECHAD YOM,” “SHENI YOM,” etc… (OUCH!). For those who don’t read Hebrew, these should have been “YOM ECHAD,” “YOM SHENI,” etc…  This is the equivalent of writing Daymon, Daytues, etc… instead of Monday, Tuesday. If we saw this in a text, we would be pretty sure that the author didn’t speak English. There is very little that is said about the language that can be trusted. This is a book that provides very little value to anyone trying to understand the text of Genesis 1.

What is a “day” in Genesis one?

earth In Hebrew, like in English, the meaning of the word ‘day’ is dependent on the context in which it is used. It can refer to a 24 hour period of time, it can refer to a period of daylight, or it can refer to a long undefined period of time. In English here are some examples: “There are 30 days (24 hour periods) in June,” “The park is open only during the day (period of daylight),” “They didn’t use computers in his day (an undefined period of time).” The word ‘yom/day’ in Hebrew is used with the same broad range of meaning and in Genesis 1:1-2:4 we have all three different meanings for the word ‘day’ being used. Genesis 1:5 “God called the light, ‘day’ and Genesis 1:14 “let there be lights in the firmament of heaven to divide between the day and the night” are both clearly references to daylight; also in vs. 14 we also have a reference to 24 hour periods of time “they will be signs for the seasons, and for the days, and for the years.” In Genesis 2:4 “in the day the Lord God made the earth and the heavens” is clearly a reference to a period of time longer than 24 hours. The question that remains is what was the intended in remaining eight occurrences? There are significant textual issues that make the interpretation of these remaining ‘days’ in Genesis 1 difficult. While some of these issues are glossed over in our English translations, they shouldn’t be ignored by those trying to understand the meaning of the ‘days’ in Genesis 1. These issues have always been a factor in interpreting this text and are some of the reasons that questions about the proper understanding of the ‘days’ of creation have always been a point of contention. Let’s take a look at a few of the textual issues found in this text that have puzzled people for thousands of years.

יום אחד – one day

While most translations translate ‘yom echad’ as “the first day,” there are several significant issues with this translation. First, “first day” in Hebrew is “יום ראשון” (yom rishon) and not “יום אחד” (yom echad). In every other place, except one, we find that “יום אחד” has been translated into English with phrases like “one day,” “a single day,” etc…, the other exception is a reference to “the first day of the first month” in Ezra.  Second, while the definite article (the) is included in most English translations, it is not included in the Hebrew text of the first five days.

Note: For those who would like to see how “יום אחד” is translated in other places in the bible, here is a list of the other places where this phrase appears: Gen. 1:5, Gen. 27:45, Gen. 33:13, Num. 11:19, 1 Sam. 9:15, 1 Sam. 27:1, Ezr. 10:17, Isa. 9:13, Jon. 3:4, Zech. 14:7.

יום שׁני – a second day

The definite article (the) is absent in the Hebrew text but included in many English translations.

יום שׁלישׁי – a third day

The definite article (the) is absent in the Hebrew text but included in many English translations.

יום רביעי – a forth day

The definite article (the) is absent in the Hebrew text but included in many English translations.

יום חמישׁי – a fifth day

The definite article (the) is absent in the Hebrew text but included in many English translations.

יום השׁשׁי – day of the sixth

This is the first time that the definite article (the) was included in the Hebrew text. This difference shows that the author understood how to use the definite article and raises many questions about its absence in the first five days. One must wonder why the author chose to use a construct form only in this verse i.e. “day of the sixth” rather than “the sixth day.”

ויכל אלהים ביום השׁביעי מלאכתו – In the seventh day, God finish his work.

וישׁבת ביום השׁביעי מכל־מלאכתו – And he rested in the seventh day from all his work.

Twice we have the phrase “in the seventh day,” a phrase that includes both the definite article (the) and the preposition “in”; glaringly absent is any reference to the phrase “there was an evening and there was a morning” that closed each of the prior days. Both the author of the book of Hebrews and leaders of the early church recognized that these grammatical features implied that the seventh day has not yet ended.

ביום עשׂות יהוה אלהים ארץ ושׁמים – in the day the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

Here the text implies that God made the heavens and earth in a single day (note the exact same word ‘yom’ is used). If ‘yom’ should only be understood as a only a literal 24 hour period of time, then we have a significant conflict with the account of creation given in the prior 6 days.


Questions: 

  1. Why is the first day called “one day” and not “the first day?” Is this a clue that another day may have proceeded this day? Could there have been a “gap” between the real first day and the first day described in the account given in Genesis 1?
  2. Why is the definite article missing in the account of the first five days? Is this a clue that these days were not consecutive?
  3. If the missing definite article is insignificant then why is it included in the account of the last two days?
  4. What was the author trying to communicate by using the construct form in day 6?
  5. Does the lack of the closing phrase “there was an evening and there was a morning” in the account of the “seventh day” imply that day has not yet ended?
  6. If the all days in Genesis 1:1-2:3 are literal 24 hour days, why would the ‘day’ in Genesis 2:4 be figurative?

Interpreting the length and sequence of the days in Genesis 1 is not nearly as easy as some believe. There are many more issues involved than the few I have mentioned here. There is room for a number of different interpretations but no single interpretation is entirely without difficulties. It is important to remember that questions about the length of days in Genesis 1 have been raised long before questions about geology, evolution, or modern science ever entered this debate.Those who insist that the text of Genesis 1 clearly supports their view to the exclusion of all others, whether literal or figurative, have simply not done their homework.

 

A biblical and scientific Adam

adam0518As the battle between Darwinism and the Bible rages, some evangelicals have backed away from maintaining that Adam and Eve were real, historical individuals created in the way Genesis 2 relates. In a just-published article from the Westminster Theological Journal, Westminster Theological Seminary professor Vern Poythress brilliantly explains why such a surrender is wrong biblically and scientifically. Poythress, with both a Th.D. and a Harvard Ph.D. in mathematics, is well-positioned to write about both theology and evolutionary theory.

Adam versus claims from genetics

Did Adam and Eve exist? Does science say otherwise? The human genome project has produced voluminous data about the information contained in human DNA. Various news media and scientists tell us that this information demonstrates our ape ancestry. How do we evaluate these claims? Evaluation is important for theological reasons. As the claims based on genetics have mounted, the theological discussion about Adam has heated up. From people with biblical and theological training we hear the argument that we must revise our understanding of the Bible and theology because we have to accept that evolution is an established fact.[1] In response, we hear the opposing argument that the Bible and theology call on us to retain the conviction that Adam was a historical individual whose fall into sin resulted in guilt and sin for all his descendants.[2] On both sides, people with training in biblical studies have understandably avoided discussing in detail the character of the scientific claims, and yet these have obviously greatly influenced the side that has abandoned the traditional understanding of Adam.[3] It is important to undertake a theologically informed evaluation of claims coming from genetics.

We cannot within a short compass examine all the claims and all the evidence in detail. But we can summarize some of the main points, and direct readers to more extensive information.

I. Ninety-nine percent common DNA

We may begin with a commonly cited statistic, the 99 percent identity between human DNA and chimp DNA. In 2005 the Cornell University News Service reported: “Chimpanzees and humans share a common ancestor, and even today 99 percent of the two species’ DNA is identical.”[4] In 2010 the University of California at San Francisco News mentioned the same figure: “The genetic codes of chimps and humans are 99 percent identical.”[5] In 2005 the National Institutes of Health News reported, “Our closest living relatives share perfect identity with 96 percent of our DNA sequence.”[6]

But assessing these claims is more challenging than it may appear. Note that the NIH report mentions 96 percent instead of 99 percent. Why? The same NIH report also includes the figure of 99 percent further on in its description, so none of the figures is an error. It turns out that the 99 percent figure arises by using a number of restrictions: (1) ignore repetitive portions, (2) compare only sequences that can be aligned naturally with one another, and (3) consider only base-pair substitutions, not “indels” (see below).

Comparisons of this kind get technical, because there can be several kinds of correspondence and noncorrespondence between DNA strands. Let us lay out briefly some of the issues. At the level of molecular structure, DNA contains a “code” composed of four “letters,” namely, ACGT (the letters stand for four distinct bases, adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine). The DNA code uses a particular sequence of letters, such as ATTGTTCTCGGC, to specify the exact sequence of amino acids that are to be used to construct a protein.[7] Human DNA and chimp DNA align when one finds the same sequence of letters in both kinds of DNA:

001adam.jpg

A variation is called a “substitution” when there is a different letter at some one point in the sequence:

002adam.jpg

(The T does not match the G in the middle of the sequence.) A variation is called an “indel” (short for insertion/deletion) when one of the sequences has extra letters:

03adam.jpg

If the comparison focuses only on substitutions within aligned protein-coding regions, the match is 99 percent. Indels constitute roughly a 3 percent difference in addition to the one percent for substitutions, leading to the figure of 96 percent offered by the NIH.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Does the use of ברא (bara) in Genesis 1 prove ex-nihilo creation?

While I firmly believe that Scripture and science both support the idea of “ex nihilo” creation, I must reject the suggestion that the use of the Hebrew verb “bara” alone proves “ex nihilo” creation because the arguments advanced to support this proposal can be easily shown to be inaccurate. The arguments are:

1) “bara” is used only when God is creating something out of nothing.

2) “bara” is only used when God himself is the subject of the verb.

One of the strongest arguments against the idea that the Hebrew verb “bara” only conveys the idea of creating something “ex nihilo” can be found in the creation account of Genesis 1 and 2. In Genesis 1:27 the verb “bara” is used both to describe God’s creation of man in his image and to describe God’s creation of man as both male and female and this use of “bara” is repeated identically in Ge. 5:1-2 and Duet. 4:32. However, in Ge. 2:7 we are told that God created man, not “ex nihilo”, but from the dust of the earth, and in Ge. 2:21-22 we are told that God created woman, not “ex nihilo”, but from the rib of the man. Van Leeuwen notes that “The root br’, Genesis 1, or creation by the word cannot explicitly communicate a doctrine of creation ex nihilo” (Ref. NIDOTTE vol 1, page 732).

The strongest argument against the idea that “bara” is only used when God is the subject of the verb is seen in the verses in Scripture where a subject other than God is used with this verb. One could possibly make the argument that the verb is always used with God as the subject in the Old Testament Scriptures with a sense of “to create” as English speakers would understand that concept, but even this argument breaks down when we examine the relationship between usages where the verb is used with God as the subject and usages where men are the subject from a Semitic perspective. Westermann and F. Delitzsch note that “the semantic development from “cut” to “create” is a natural one. By “cutting,” a particular shape is given to an object, as it were, comes into being.” This kind of semantic development of Semitic roots is quite common and similar patterns of development can be seen a great number of Hebrew verbs. The following is one example where this verb is used in the OT and God is not the subject of the verb.

 

And Joshua said to them, “If you are a numerous people, go up by yourselves to the forest, and there clear ground for yourselves in the land of the Perizzites and the Rephaim, since the hill country of Ephraim is too narrow for you.” (Jos 17:15 ESV)

  (Joshua 17:15) וַיֹּ֙אמֶר אֲלֵיהֶ֜ם יְהוֹשֻׁ֗עַ אִם־עַם־רַ֤ב אַתָּה֙ עֲלֵ֣ה לְךָ֣ הַיַּ֔עְרָה  וּבֵרֵאתָ֤ לְךָ֙ שָׁ֔ם בְּאֶ֥רֶץ הַפְּרִזִּ֖י וְהָֽרְפָאִ֑ים כִּֽי־אָ֥ץ לְךָ֖ הַר־אֶפְרָֽיִם׃