Devastating News for Traditional Believers, a web site that presents Dutch news in brief, reports in its October 8, 2009 edition that Professor Ellen Van Wolde, an Old Testament scholar and member of the Royal Academy of Sciences, said that Genesis 1:1 has been translated incorrectly and that a correct translation of the first verse of Genesis negates the view that God is the creator of heavens and earth.

The following is an excerpt from the article:

Trouw reports the “Opening sentence of the bible is incorrect” and a “New interpretation of original Hebrew Genesis text negates God as the creator”.

According to Professor Ellen van Wolde, God did not create heaven and earth. Instead he separated them.

Professor Van Wolde, an Old Testament scholar and member of the Royal Academy of Sciences, said the standard interpretation of the opening sentence of the bible is no longer acceptable: “The traditional image of God the Creator is untenable. God did not create.”

The professor, who will present her thesis at the Radboud University in Nijmegen on Friday, re-analysed the original Hebrew text and placed it in the context of the Bible as a whole and of other creation stories from Mesapotamia. She eventually concluded the Hebrew verb bara does not mean to create but to spatially separate.

The Radboud University said the new interpretation is ‘No less than a disruption of the story of the creation as we know it’.

Professor Van Wolde said she understood her findings, which are soon to be published in a leading scientific magazine, will be devastating to traditional believers.

The statement that a new translation of Genesis 1:1 “will be devastating to traditional believers,” is nothing new. Secular people, especially those in academic circles, have said that there is no God and if there is one, he was not the creator of the world.

The biblical teaching about creation is that the created order finds its origin in a creator. What the Bible teaches is that God not only created the world, but that he remains sovereign over his creation.

The world is not self-existent, no matter what the proponents of the Big Bang theory say. God may have used the Big Bang and he even may have used evolution to accomplish his purpose. Whatever rationale people may use to explain the creation of the universe, creation is God’s work alone. It is the greatest demonstration of divine power and no retranslation of Genesis 1:1 can deny this reality.

What does God think of those who deny the truth that he is the creator? Maybe, the words of the psalmist express God’s amusement at these denials: “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision” (Psalm 2:4).

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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6 Responses to Devastating News for Traditional Believers

  1. Charles says:

    >The reported assertions of van Wolde above are filled with overstatements and logical non sequiturs. For example, even if Genesis 1:1 has been mistranslated, it does not follow that the “Opening sentence of the bible is incorrect.” All that can be said is that the opening sentence of the Bible has been mistranslated and therefore misunderstood. Similarly, even if bara means separate rather than create, it is a logical leap to state that, “The traditional image of God the Creator is untenable. God did not create.” A case for God as Creator can be made biblically, theologically, and philosophically without Genesis 1:1. And although I am not a prophet, nor a son of a prophet, I think it unlikely that the publication of van Wolde's work "will be devastating to traditional believers."If an Evangelical had made assertions like this he would be castigated (and rightly so). It will be interesting if any of the bibliobloggers out there who are so quick to jump on unfounded statements like this from Evangelicals will do the same in this case.


  2. >It's not a new heresy. The Mormons have been teaching the same for a long time.


  3. Anonymous says:

    >This theory puts the Biblical story of creation on the same level as the big bang theory – a redistribution of an already existing universe, not an explanation of how the universe came into existence.


  4. jps says:

    >Claude,Van Wolde expands on some of this in her forthcoming book from Eisenbrauns: should have page proofs at SBLJames


  5. >You can find the lecture from prof. dr van Wolde on my blog: (see "oratie", it's in Dutch)


  6. >I just found your blog, and was curious about your creation postings. This one really caught my attention!A few years ago, I noticed that every creation day was an act of separation. Every day was creation through separation. Day 1: Separation of light from dark. Day 2: Waters from waters. Day 3: Land from Seas. Day 4: Night from day. Day 5: No explicit separation… hence separating Days 1-4 from 6-7. Day 6: Mankind from all other living things. Day 7: The Sabbath from all other days.So, to read that verse 1 says God separated the heavens from the earth seems okay to me. After all, when the earth formed 4.5 billion years ago (by science's reckoning), God separated it for His purposes. Therefore, to find out that the word translated "created" really means "separated" is just a change in perspective, but not a change in the facts.


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