CREATE (bārāʾ)

One important word in the Old Testament is bārāʾ (create). Bārāʾ has the basic meaning of creating, separating (as by cutting), creating, cutting, forming, fashion by cutting, pare a reed for writing, and initiating something new.[1] Although one of the most respected Hebrew lexicons states, “ברא is a specifically theological term,”[2] this claim is not supported by the evidence.[3] When bārāʾ is used in the Qal and Naphil verbal forms, the subject is always God and refers to God’s activity (a theological term in these two verbal forms).[4]

Bārāʾ occurs six times in the first creation account (Genesis 1:1-2:4) to claim that the God of the Hebrews (the God of the Bible) is the mighty Creator. This verb occurs only four more times in Genesis (Genesis 5:1, 22; 6:7) and does not often appear in the biblical text until the book of Isaiah.

Isaiah uses bārāʾ nineteen times and almost exclusively in chapters 40-55 (Isaiah 4:5; 40:26; 41:20; 42:5; 43:1, 7; 45:72, 8, 12, 182; 48:7; 54:162; 57:19; 65:17, 182). One of the primary objectives for Isaiah’s use of bārāʾ is to create and sustain trust in God. Isaiah seeks to accomplish this goal by contrasting God to the idols (Isaiah 40:21-26; 45:5-7). As the Creator, God declares the things that have come to pass (“former things”) and the “things to come” (Isaiah 41:20-23; 42:9; 43:7-11; 48:3-7). A third way Isaiah uses bārāʾ is to call God’s people to consider creation so that we will appreciate His power (Isaiah 40:26; 41:20; 45:7-8, 18). Isaiah uses bārāʾ culminates in God’s declaration to create “new heavens and a new earth” (Isaiah 65: 17-18).

Some also claim that the term bārāʾ never appears with explicit mention of preexisting material[5] (in other words, the claim is that bārāʾ means “to make something out of nothing”). This claim may be valid for some of the occurrences of bārāʾ, but several texts demonstrate that this assertion is not always true. For example, the psalmist calls on God to “create (bārāʾ) in me a clean heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10). The psalmist is calling for a “change of heart,” which is further explained by “renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). Psalm 51:10 is a call for God to rework the psalmist’s preexistent heart/spirit.

Mark Johnson

[1] Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (BDB), Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977, 135; David J. A. Clines, The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew (DCH), Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993–2011, 258; Thomas E. McComiskey, “בָּרָא,” in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT), ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Chicago: Moody, 1999, 127; Willem VanGemeren, New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis (NIDOTTE), Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1997, 728.

[2] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT), Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000, 153.

[3] Bārāʾ occurs in the Piel verbal form in Joshua 17:15, 18; Ezekiel 21:19; 23:47 with the meaning of cut and the subject who is doing the “cutting” is not God. When bārāʾ occurs in the Piel verbal form, the typical subject is humans (NIDOTTE, 731–732).

[4] TWOT, 127.

[5] McComiskey states, “the word never occurs with the object of the material,” TWOT, 127.

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