I attended the Capturing Christianity CCV2 conference the other week and had the pleasure of watching the debate between Michael Jones of Inspiring Philosophy debate Marcus Ross. Ross is a young earth creationist while Jones identifies as a theistic evolutionist.
I do not intend to give a debate review here but rather want to focus on one small point that came up during the course of the debate: how the Greek Septuagint (LXX) factors into a reading of Genesis 1:1 as an independent or dependent clause. I aim to show two things: first, that Jones’s appeal to an anarthrous ἀρχή was not correct and second, that the LXX counts against his view of rendering Genesis 1:1 as a dependent clause.
Michael Jones argues in his opening statement (roughly minute 6:11 in the video and following) that the translation of Genesis 1:1 should not be the standard “In the beginning” because in the LXX ἐν ἀρχῇ (Gk. lit. “in beginning”) lacks the definite article τῇ which would be needed to render the verse “in the beginning”. Michael further argues from the Hebrew that the clause in question is dependent rather than independent and thus should be translated as “When in the beginning…”. He cited a number of Biblical scholars in support of his view.
The uses of Ἀρχή with the preposition ἐν in the NT
A quick search through a Bible software such as Accordance shows that the preposition ἐν directly followed by ἀρχή occurs only a few times in the NT: John 1:1, John 1:2, Acts 11:15, and Phil 4:15. In all of these cases, ἀρχή is anarthrous and yet in all cases ἐν ἀρχῇ is translated as “in the beginning” in any standard English translation.
Putting aside John 1:1 and 1:2 for the moment, look at how both modern and older translations render Acts 11:15:
And when I had begun to speak, the Holy Ghost fell upon them, as upon us also in the beginningDouay-Rheims
As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginningESV
As I began to speak, the holy Spirit fell upon them as it had upon us at the beginningNAB
Such examples could be multiplied. The same is true of Phil 4:15 as those translations of the relevant phrase from above are:
“in the beginning of the gospel” (Douay-Rheims)
“in the beginning of the gospel” (ESV)
“at the beginning of the gospel” (NAB)
Here we can see clear examples of ἐν ἀρχῇ being translated with the English definite article despite it lacking in the Greek text.
John 1:1. In the beginning
Aside from the above counterexamples, the most obvious and most glaring counterexample to Jones’ case is from the opening of the Gospel of John where we read the famous line:
“In the beginning was the Word…”
ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος
John 1:1 is of particular importance since John very clearly uses the same language found in Genesis 1:1. The Greek translation of Genesis 1:1 is the following:
In the beginning God created
ἐν ἀρχῇ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεός…
If Genesis 1:1 instead should translate to “When in the beginning…” then the same logic should apply to John 1:1-2. Marcus Ross highlighted this point well in his response to my question at the debate (1:51:46 in the video). John clearly refers to the beginning of time before which there was nothing. According to Jones, ἐν ἀρχῇ in Genesis 1:1 refers to a point late in the history of the universe since the Earth already existed. Would he say the same thing about John 1:1? Did John teach that the Logos was with God merely at a beginning of some point in time in history? Clearly not. I think even Jones would admit that John 1:1 refers to the absolute beginning of time not merely some point in the remote past.
Since John 1:1 is directly paralleling Genesis 1:1, it is hard to see how a radically different meaning can be given to ἐν ἀρχῇ in each of the verses. Finally, with John 1:1 and 1:2, we have seen every example of ἐν ἀρχῇ in the New Testament. None of them contains the definite article and yet all are translated with such an article in English. If Jones wants to argue that an anarthrous ἀρχή supports his view, he will need to look provide more support since the New Testament offers none.
Independent Clause or Dependent Clause?
Recall that Jones argued that Genesis 1:1 should be rendered as a dependent clause rather than an independent one. On this question, the LXX even more clearly contradicts his position since it renders Genesis 1:1 as an independent clause. Jones might respond that the LXX is Greek but that Genesis 1:1 was originally composed in Hebrew. That is certainly true, but one reason the LXX is an important textual witness is that it is the earliest translation of the Pentateuch that exists. The Pentateuch was translated from Hebrew by a group of Jewish scholars in Alexandria around the middle of the 3rd century BC and was widely regarded by Jews as a miraculous translation for a few centuries. These Jewish translators were fluent in Hebrew and much closer to the date of composition of these texts than we are. Thus, the burden of proof is on Jones to show why these Jewish scholars were wrong and why more modern scholarship should be preferred.
The fact that the LXX’s rendering of Genesis 1:1 does not prove that Jones is wrong, but it does count noticeable against his view.
While nothing in the above article proves that Jones’ reading of Genesis 1:1 is incorrect, what was shown was that his appeal to the LXX is ultimately counterproductive for his case. An anarthrous ἀρχή in no way counts towards his reading. Literally every other case of ἐν ἀρχῇ in the New Testament is also anarthrous and yet no one translates them the way Jones would like them to. Second, more significantly, the LXX, the first Jewish translation of Genesis 1:1 dating back hundreds of years before Christ renders Genesis 1:1 as an independent clause. It seems then that, his other arguments regarding Genesis 1:1 notwithstanding, Jones should not appeal to the Greek in order to argue his case. At best, the Greek offers no support, at worst it stands directly against his case.