Genesis 1:2 New World Translation

"..and God's active force was moving to and fro..."-

New Revised Standard Version Gen 1:2 "the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters."

Good News Bible: " The raging ocean that covered everything was engulfed in total darkness, and the power of God was moving over the water."

New Jerusalem Bible: "there was darkness over the deep, with a divine wind sweeping over the waters."

Knox: "and darkness hung over the deep; but already, over its waters, stirred the breath of God."

Jewish Publication Society: "with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water"

We can glean from the above translations that to translate RUACH as "spirit" is by no means the consensus among Bible translators. In fact this is readily acknowledged for as The Anchor Bible, Genesis, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary by F.A.Speiser notes regarding RUACH here at Genesis 1:2 states: "an awesome wind. Heb[rew] ruah means primarily "wind, breeze," secondarily "breath," and thus ultimately "spirit." But the last connotation is more concrete than abstract ; in the present context, moreover, it appears to be out of place- see H.M.Orlinsky, JQR 47(1957), 174-82...) Is therefore, the translation offered by the New World Translation Committee, "active force" on sound translational and linguistical grounds? The following will answer in the positive:

"Perceptible and yet not perceptible, invisible and yet powerful, real like energy charged air, the wind, the storm, as important for life as the air we breath: this is how people in ancient times frequently imagined the "Spirit" and God's invisible working. According to the beginning of the creation account, "spirit" (Hebrew, ruah; Greek, pneuma) is the "roaring," the "tempest" of God over the waters. "Spirit" here does not mean in the idealistic sense a capacity for knowledge or a psychological power, still less an immaterial, intellectual or ethical principle, and certainly not spiritual or mental reality in the modern sense as opposed to sensible, corporeal reality or to nature. "Spirit" as understood in the Bible means the force or power proceeding from God, which is opposed to "flesh," to created, perishable reality: that invisible force of God and power of God which is effective creatively or destructively, for life or judgment, in creation and in history, in Israel and in the church. It comes upon man powerfully or gently, stirring up individuals or even groups to ecstasy, often effective in extraordinary phenomena, in great men and women, in Moses and the "judges" of Israel, in warriors and singers, kings prophets and prophetesses." Hans Kung, On Being a Christian (1997), pages 468/469.

Notice that Kung wrote: that "Spirit as understood in the Bible means the force or power proceeding from God,"  

Using Genesis 1:2; Job 33:4 and Psalm 33:6 as its basis, Swete writes about the "Spirit" in the Old Testament:

"The Spirit of God is the vital power which belongs to the Divine Being, and is seen to be operative in the world and in men. It is the Divine Energy which is the origin of all created life, especially of human existence and the faculties of human nature." Swete, The Holy Spirit in the New Testament (1909), page 2.

The commentator clearly sees the Spirit as a force, not a person in this verse.  

About the translation of Genesis 1:2:

"There is little to commend "a mighty wind" (NEB, Speiser, von Rad); in the relatively few passages where "God" is used as a superlative, the context usually makes it clear. The sense is excellently given by "the power of God" (GNB)." A Bible Commentary for Today, General Editor G. C. D. Howley (1973), page 135.

Note that this Commentary states "The sense is excellently given by "the power of God" (GNB)."  

"There is apparent a development in the direction of hypostatization of the Spirit, not in the sense that it is conceived as a person but as a substantial source of force and activity. It is the creative force of Yahweh (Gn. 1:2; Jb 33:5)" Dictionary of the Bible, McKenzie (1965), page 841.

This Bible Dictionary agrees with the NWT that in Genesis 1:2, the Spirit is the "creative force of Yahweh."  

"The Spirit brooding over the primeval waters (Gn. 1:2) and creating man (Gn. 2:7), the Spirit who garnishes the heavens (Jb 26:13), sustains animal life and renews the face of the earth (Ps. 54:30), is the ruah ('breath,' 'wind') of God, the outgoing divine energy and power." The New Bible Dictionary, J. D. Douglas (1962), page 531.

The ruach is not a person, the basic meaning in Gen 1:2 (and the other scriptures quoted) is shown to be " the outgoing divine energy and power."

"Common connotations include "energy" and "invisibility"…. Broadly speaking, God's ruah is represented 1: as God's power in the creation of the cosmos (Gn. 1:2; Ps. 33:6 etc.)." The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Edited by T. D. Alexander (2000), page 551.

This Bible Dictionary defines ruah in Geb 1:2 as "God's power in the creation of the cosmos."

"The 'breath', 'wind,' or 'Spirit' of God is the creative power which brings life to the formless chaos in the beginning of all things (Gen 1:2)" The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (1962), Vol. 2, page 629.

The Spirit of God is a "creative power", not a person.

"The most basic meaning of ruah is variously defined as 'blowing' (Kamalah, NIDNTT, 690), 'air in motion' (TDOT 2:836; Reiling. DDD, 792), and 'wind' (Koch, 872)…

….As Kamalah observes, "The idea behind ruah is the extraordinary fact that something as intangible as air should move; at the same time it is not the movement per se which excites attention, but rather the energy manifested by such movement" (NIDNTT 3:690). In other words, the invisible essence of ruah is known primarily by its effect on the visible world, by which we can then attempt to perceive its essence. Thus, ruah is a term representing something unseen in order that the visible effect of the invisible force might be adequately apprehended." -The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis - Lexical Dictionary, Van Gameren, Vol 3. page 1073.

This source shows that the basic meaning of the word ruah does not connote a personality, but rather " something unseen in order that the visible effect of the invisible force might be adequately apprehended." This is provides clear philological basis for the NWT's translation "God's active force".

Talking about "the spirit of God" in Gen 1:2:

"The phrase describes not chaos but the creative power of God in action. Wind, a symbol of power, is used theologically in the Old Testament to refer to the dynamic activity and presence of God in the world - his Spirit." -Genesis 1-11 Cambridge Bible Commentary, Robert Davidson (1973), page 16.

This commentator does not think that a "person" is presented here, but rather the "power of God in action".

In comment on "the spirit of God moved":

"Ruach is wind, breath or spirit; it denotes the vital element in man (cp. 'gave up the spirit', Mark 15:39), and when used of God it might refer to his life-giving power (cf. 2:7 and note below). But here the expression is hardly more than a Hebrew idiom meaning 'a very strong wind', and it can scarcely be used to support a doctrine of the Creator Spirit" -Genesis 1-11 - Torch Bible Paperbacks, Alan Richardson (SCM Press Ltd, 9yh impression, 1974), page 48.

This quote, although only saying that the phrase "might" refer to God's "life-giving power", also states firmly that the phrase "can scarcely be used to support a doctrine of the Creator Spirit."

"In sharp contrast with the orderly heavens and earth, the cosmos of verse 1, created by the will of a free and sovereign God, is the formless void of verse 2, over which the divine Spirit broods like a mighty bird to effect the miracle of creation (see also Deu 32:11). Here the underlying conception of creation is a struggle between the Deity and certain forces of nature in which the mysterious, invisible divine power brings order out of chaos, conquers the realm of the darkness, and subdues the wild and boundless sea." -Genesis, C. T. Fritsch (1959), page 22.

Note: "invisible divine power"

"The wind of divine proportions might also be "the spirit [i.e., the life-giving breath] of God" moving upon the waters preparatory to the beginning of creation. "For the Spirit of God has made me, the breath of the Almighty keeps me alive" (Job 33:4): in Hebrew the words for spirit, breath, wind, all symbols of power, are one and the same." On Genesis, Bruce Vawter (1977), page 41.

Notice "life-giving breath", clearly not personal. Also the fact that the Hebrew word connotes "power".

We conclude therefore that the New World Translation's "active force" for the Hebrew RUACH is both accurate and appropriate for Genesis 1:2.

(Contributed 3/10/2002).

Minor Criticisms

Main Index.