Q. I am currently leading a study of the Torah with an effort to draw from Jewish Rabbinic teaching. I am finding the impact on translations into our language challenging. Genesis 1:2 (a) is a prime example. The first word of verse 2 is interpreted “And the earth” with the possibility of being “But the earth.” The second word is translated “was” while the Hebrew reads “she became.” Verse 2 when translated seems to read more like this given the Hebrew meanings: “But (or Now) the earth became chaos and vacant; and (now or but) darkness (was) over the abyss.” As you can see the meaning is much different than the English translations.
While I want to be careful to remain faithful to the Word, it is a struggle, as I know there are those who translate in ways to justify their preconceptions. Can you give me any recommendations for a faithful translation of the Hebrew into English that is true to the Hebrew?
A. For more years than I can remember, I’ve believed that the second verse of the Bible should begin, “But the earth became an empty wasteland …” Like you, I based this on my study of the Hebrew language. I’ve also noticed that some study Bibles offer this as an alternate translation, at least in part.
The Strong’s Exhaustive concordance will tell you the literal meanings of every word in the Bible, and how often each possible meaning is used. It’s based on the King James Translation. You may be surprised to learn there are a number of verses like Genesis 1:2 where no English translation is truly faithful to the literal meaning of the original language. This is why I’ve said that I don’t fully trust any English translation, and where it’s critical to know the literal meaning of a passage, I’ve found it’s a good idea to find out what the original language really says.
This is not a recommended approach for the novice, but for an experienced teacher with a comprehensive understanding of God’s word it can be useful in determining the true intent of a passage.