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Language Studies

Hebrew Thoughts


rê’yshîyth - רֵאשִׁית (Strong's #7225)

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"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1:1, NKJV)

The phrase בְּרֵאשִׁית opens the Hebrew Bible. It is not one word but composed of the preposition בְּ be "in" and the word רֵאשִׁית rê’yshîyth "beginning" (Strong's #7225) from ר·אשׁ rô’sh "head, chief, foremost" (Strong's #7218). The word רִאשׁוּן ri’shôwn "first, primary, former" (Strong's #7223, x185) is similarly derived from the same common semitic root. There is no word for "the" used as in our translations of this verse. The Greek Septuagint translation of Genesis 1:1 and indeed the Greek New Testament at John 1:1 also have εν αρχη en archê "In beginning" without any definite article. Some would argue that the lack of "the" is significant, others point to verses 2 and 14 in the same chapter where the Spirit of God and the firmament, respectively, lack definite articles but the context seems to imply them and hence the English translations insert "the".

"Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, "My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure." (Isaiah 46:10)

"I have been established from everlasting, from the beginning, before there was ever an earth." (Proverbs 8:22-23)

"Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?" (Isaiah 40:21)

In Isaiah 46:10 רֵאשִׁית rê’shîyth is paralleled with קֶדֶם qedem "ancient times" (Strong's #6924). Similarly, in Proverbs 8:22, the same two words are paired "The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way, before His works of old.". It is clear therefore that רֵאשִׁית rê’shîyth can be used in the sense of earlier/earliest time.

רֵאשִׁית rê’shîyth occurs some 50 times in the Hebrew Bible and is usually rendered "first" or "beginining" of a sequence or series, or oldest in time. It can be used as the first step, lesson or initiation into something, e.g., "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of" wisdom/knowledge (Psa 111:10; Prov 1:7).

Whether its use in Genesis 1:1 can be regarded as "The Beginning", i.e., almost as a proper noun and metaphysical concept is another matter. It is, however, contrasted and paired with the "End" אַחשׂשרִית ’achariyth (Strong's #319, x61) on 6 occasions (Num. 24:20; Deut. 11:12; Job 8:7, 42:12; Eccl. 7:8; Isa. 46:10). In one of these, it is very clearly used as the first in time, "the beginning of the year" (Deut. 11:12) but not necessarily the beginning of Time, particularly without the definite article..

It is paralleled with "firstborn" בְּכוּר bekhôr (Strong's #1060, x117) in Gen. 49:3 and "firstfruits" בִּכּוּר bikkûr (Strong's #1061, x18) in Exodus 23:19, 34:26, reiterating its overriding concept of first in time, order or sequence, but also sometimes with the connotation of best or chief. as in Numbers 18:12 where it sits contextually with "best, fattest" חֶלֶב chelebh (Strong's #2459, x92). It is used on its own to mean "firstfruits" in Leviticus 2:12 and Nehemiah 12:44. Sometimes, translators are torn between rendering "best", as in quality, or "first", as in temporal preeminence, e.g., compare the various versions of Deut. 33:21 and Daniel 11:41.

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Thursday, July 16th, 2020
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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