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Language Studies

Hebrew Thoughts

Bârâ'' - בּרא (Strong's #1254)

The verb בּרא bâr⒠(Strong's #1254) means literally 'to create by cutting out or carving' (especially in a particular form of the Hebrew verb known as piel, cf. Joshua 17:15,18; Ezekiel 23:47) and the ideas of 'creating' and 'begetting' and 'filling' flow from this. Its close Arabic cousin can mean to carve or cut or whittle wood for an arrow.

It has a synonym עשה ‘âsâh (Strong's #6213, both words are used together in Genesis 2:3-4; 5:1) meaning 'to make, do or fashion' but בּרא bâr⒠specifically means 'to create something new' and this is how the majority of the early Jewish writers took it. Another word meaning more 'to fashion, mould, shape' is יחר yâtsar (Strong's #3335) and which is used with בּרא bâr⒠in Isaiah 43:1 and with עשה ‘âsâh as well in Isaiah 43:7.

בּרא bâr⒠is only used 3 times in the main creation narrative of Genesis 1 (verses 1, 21 & 27). Firstly, of the creation of the heavens and the earth. Secondly, of the first living creatures of day 5 and finally of man in a threefold repetition of the verb בּרא bâr⒠on day 6. This is perhaps significant in that by using בּרא bâr⒠again for the creation of man it marks his advent out as something new and distinct from the living creatures of day 5. This, theologically at least, goes against the allegedly scientific case for man having simply come from the other living creatures by evolution rather than as a special creation in himself. Man is therefore different from the animals of day 5, not in his possession of a soul, for in the Hebrew, at least, the living creatures (נפש nephesh, Strong's #5315) are soul beings too. Man is distinct in the manner and novelty of his creation, made from the dust and in-breathed by God himself.

בּרא bâr⒠is never followed by the material out of which something is made and thus implies creatio ex-nihilo, 'creation out of nothing', or at the very least 'innovation'. Additionally, בּרא bârâ’, in the simple qal form of the Hebrew verb, is only ever used in the Hebrew Scriptures of God's activity, man may 'make and fashion' but not 'create'. It is, therefore, a relatively rare word for 'create' (54 occasions) compared with its close synonym אשה ‘âsâh which occurs 2633 times at least 700 of which have the translation or meaning of 'make, fashion or create'.

A good example of the 'newness' with which is associated is in the phrase in Numbers 16:30, "But if the LORD creates a new thing..." or in the strange verse, Jeremiah 31:22, "For the LORD has created a new thing in the earth - A woman shall encompass a man".

Whilst Hebrew does not have any exclusively sacred vocabulary בּרא bâr⒠is the closest it has to a theological term that at least in its simple meaning, "he created", only takes God as its subject and means the creation of something new and unparalleled, rather than simply formed. It is the creation of the very clay rather than simply the forming of the clay into a pot. God is not just the potter but the creator of the clay and inventor of human pottery.

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