כל־האדם

“In the beginning, God” is Not a Complete Sentence

Posted in Uncategorized by Joseph Kelly on December 19, 2010

Bob (Campbell-approves-the-instrument) Cargill has recently discovered Mark Driscoll, and he isn’t impressed! His most recent post, “how not to read the targums,” critiques Driscoll’s misinformation, particularly his misreading of Targum Neofiti “In the beginning, with wisdom, God created. . .” as “In the beginning, by the Firstborn, God created. . .” One thing Cargill could have mentioned, but didn’t, is that Driscoll is also misreading Genesis 1:1 as well.

So the opening line of the Bible, “In the beginning, God,” first thing’s first, you have to know who God is. You say, “What about life and love and nations and cultures and justice and relationship and family and friendship and economics?” First thing’s first, God. (Once we?) know who God is, then we can work on everything else. “In the beginning, God [pause]. . .”

As I explained to the Bible class I was teaching this morning, the Bible does not begin with the words “In the beginning, God . . .” but with the words “In the beginning, he created . . .” It is only after the verb, ברא (he created), that “God” appears in the text. “In the beginning, he created, God, [accusative marker] the heavens and [accusative marker] the earth.” Verb, subject, object is the typical word order in Hebrew sentences.  Even if the word order were reversed and “God” preceded the verb, it is dishonest to suggest that we would have reason to pause at the first two Hebrew words,  “In the beginning, God,” and think, “first thing’s first, I need to know who God is before I can continue.” As I frequently say, “Words don’t have meanings, they have usages.” It is precisely by continuing that one comes to know this God. Problems arise when we read “In the beginning, God” and we don’t continue reading before defining this term. As Larry Hurtado says:

Contrary to a widespread popular assumption, “God” doesn’t carry automatic meaning.  So, for example, to ask “Do you believe in God” doesn’t mean much, unless the inquiry includes a specification of which or what kind of deity it is about which the question is posed.

“In the beginning, God” is a (seemingly innocent) rhetorical flare often used by preachers, but the uses to which it is put are often unfounded. Remember, “In the beginning, God” is not a complete sentence, and as such it is an incomplete thought—hardly the basis for theological assertions.

7 Responses

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  1. […] See also the reflections by Tyler Williams, John Meade, and Joseph Kelly. […]

  2. Bob Demers said, on December 20, 2010 at 9:06 am

    I read this a few times wondering what’s the point and concluded the time would have been better spent mulling over something Jesus said.

    • Joseph Kelly said, on December 20, 2010 at 9:12 am

      Because getting Jesus’ words right is more important than getting the rest of the Bible right? Paul wasn’t so discriminating (see 2 Tim 3:15-17).

  3. Nate said, on December 21, 2010 at 11:39 am

    I found the entry interesting. Joe you do a good job of taking difficult concepts and allowing the average person to understand. I wish more people in academia tried to bridge the gap between scholar and lay person.

  4. Mike said, on December 22, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    And what was Driscoll’s response to being informed that he misread the Targum Neofiti and Genesis 1:1?

    • Joseph Kelly said, on December 23, 2010 at 8:08 am

      I don’t know that any who critiqued Driscoll attempted to contact him about his misreading. Often times, these critiques are made public because the thing they are critiquing is freely available to the public through venues like YouTube. They exist out there for those who might be searching Google, but not so much to contact/change a figure like Driscoll. I imagine that if Driscoll were to see that he (or his source) misread “wisdom” for “firstborn,” he would acknowledge the mistake. I don’t know if he would feel compelled to do much else.

  5. […] reflections from other bloggers, Tyler Williams (Codex), John Meade (LXX Studies), Joseph Kelly (כל־האדם), and Charles Halton (Awilum). See also a 2008 post on this same subject by Chris Brady […]


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