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A Short Note on God’s First Greek Words

March 23, 2014

The Greek of Genesis 1:3 reads,

καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεός Γενηθήτω φῶς. καὶ ἐγένετο φῶς.

In English it reads, “And God said, ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light.”

The Septuagint straightforwardly translates the Hebrew, which is:

ויאמר אלהים יהי אור ויהי־אור

The Greek καὶ is versatile. The first καὶ in Genesis 1:3 is connected to what precedes it in 1:2 (darkness over the deep), but not necessarily inextricably so. In other words, one could leave it untranslated when going into English, with 1:3 beginning just, “God said….” The second  καὶ in 1:3, however, seems to be more closely related to what precedes it. “And there was light” follows immediately upon God’s calling for light. God said it, and it happened.

Susan Brayford, in her LXX Genesis commentary (Septuagint Commentary Series, Brill) writes:

God’s first words bring light into being in order to counter the darkness that was over the earth. In the first words attributed to God, LXX-G establishes a formulaic speech pattern that continues throughout the chapter, namely, a verb in the third person imperative (let x be), followed by ‘and,’ and concludes with a verb in the aorist (and x was). The pattern, similar to that in the MT noticed by Westermann and others, not only represents God as an orderly creator, but more importantly, as a powerful creator whose very words accomplish actions.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer has much to say about this in his Creation and Fall lectures on Genesis 1-3. On Tuesday I’ll post about his take on the link between God’s speech and the resulting creation.

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