In 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.
“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.