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Word Meanings in Genesis 1:1

Word meanings can have a great effect on our understanding of what we read and hear. We need to be aware of the fact a single word can often have multiple meanings and if it does we need to be thinking about the correct meaning. Let's consider some key words in the very first verse of scripture and to see if this is so - that words can have multiple meanings. Here is that verse:

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." (Gen 1:1)
Note: If you haven't read the introductory page to this series on the timing of the start of the Sabbath, you might want to go back to it first.

Word Meanings - God
(Strong's H430 - elohim and G2316 - theos)

The word "God" in scripture can have a variety of meanings:

1. God in the ultimate sense of Yahweh, the Father.

The well-known Hebrew prayer, the Shema says:

"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:" (Deut 6:4)

In Hebrew, this reads more like:

"Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our Elohim, Yahweh is one" (Deut 6:4)

Here god (Elohim) is referring to the personal name of the Father, Yahweh.

2. God in reference to the Word (Yahshua, Jesus), Yahweh's only-begotten son.

Consider the famous verse John 3:16 which is also speaking of the Father:

"For God (theos) so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)

This says that Yahweh had an only-begotten Son whom He gave as the world's Redeemer. He created the words through His Son who is also called God.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God (theos), and the Word was God (theos). The same was in the beginning with God (theos). All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made." (John 1:1-3)

3. God in reference to false gods

"For though there be that are called gods (theos), whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods (theos) many, and lords many,)" (1 Cor 8:5)

4. God in reference to humans

"Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods (theos)?" (John 10:34)

Jesus was here quoting from Psalms:

"I have said, Ye are gods (elohim, H430); and all of you are children of the most High. (Psa 82:6)

This verse in Psalms links the Greek theos to the Hebrew Elohim as one verse is a quotation of the other.

"Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods (elohim): yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together." (Isa 41:23)

Clearly, the word "God" can have a variety of meanings.

Word Meanings - Heaven
(Strong's H8064 - shamayim and G3772 - ouranos)

1. "Heaven" as Opposed to "Earth"

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." (Gen 1:1)

In this verse, "heaven" is distinguished from the earth. It refers to what we see from the earth which is our point of reference.

"The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork." (Psa 19:1)

"The heavens" is not just referring to the empty blackness of space. "Heavens" includes all that we see from the earth which, in its vastness and beauty declare His glory.

2. "Heaven" our atmosphere, where the birds fly

This use of "heaven" is describing the space between the waters that were directly upon the earth and those that were above the atmosphere forming a canopy and greenhouse-like effect over the earth.

"And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day." (Gen 1:7-8)

It is used in reference to where the birds fly:

"And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven." (Gen 1:20)

3. "Heaven" as we think of the dwelling place of God

These passages are referring to heaven as we would refer to the dwelling place of God.

"And for this cause Hezekiah the king, and the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz, prayed and cried to heaven." (2 Chron 32:20)
"I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. ... How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter." (2 Cor 12:2,4)

So the term "heaven" clearly has three distinct word meanings.

Word Meanings - Earth
(Strong's H776 - erets and G1093 - ge)

1. "Earth" Our Planet

"Earth" is used to earth the planet as distinct from say Mercury or Venus as planets. Also to distinguish it from the rest of creation - what we see from our vantage point on earth.

"And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters." (Gen 1:2)
"At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes." (Matt 11:25)

2. "Earth" as in dry land as opposed to water

"And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good." (Gen 1:10)

3. Earth referring to the People of the Earth

"And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech." (Gen 11:1)
"And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast." (Rev 13:3)

In the verse above, "world" is translated from the Greek word "ge" which is most commonly translated "earth." It is referring to the people of the earth, not the earth itself. The earth or world will not wonder after the beast but the people of the world will. This is an important point to know in correctly understanding the phrase "in the heart of the earth" and correctly understanding the events associated with Jesus' resurrection.

"Earth" clearly has multiple word meanings. There are others in addition to the three above.

Here are two more bonus words for you to further make the point. These are not words found in Genesis 1:1 but are important terms. The first one especially is much misunderstood.

Word Meanings - Name
(Strong's H8034 - shem and G3686 - onoma)

The word "name" can have multiple word meanings:

1. Personal name

"And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them." (Exo 6:3)

"JEHOVAH" is here translated from what is more-correctly-pronounced Yahweh which is the personal name of God.

"And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins." (Matt 1:21)

"Jesus," of course, was not what He was called while on earth. The name for the only-begotten son of God is more accurately "Yahshua" or some close variation of that. It means "Yah is salvation," Yah being a short, poetic form of Yahweh as in "Halleluyah." (Hallelujah - there was no letter j in the English language until shortly before the King James Bible was written)

2. Character

Having a good name is a reference to having a good character. God's name is much more than a reference to His personal name. It is very closely linked to His character. Look for a link here in the future to a study on God's name and how it is related to character. Here is a good example of name having to do with character:

"And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation." (Exo 34:5-7)

As God proclaimed His name, what He actually gave was a list of character traits.

3. Reputation

Name, of course, is also related to reputation which is basically character as perceived by others. It could also refer to fame regardless of character:

"And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." (Gen 11:4)

Word Meanings - Angel
(Strong's H4397 - malak and G32 - aggelos)

The term "angel," in both the Old and New Testaments can have multiple word meanings. See the page What are angels for more details.

1. Angelic beings

What we most-commonly think of as angels have names, have access to heaven and are sent by God on missions to this earth:

"And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings." (Luke 1:19)

2. Messengers, including human

The term "angels" can also include people in some cases. Commonly, the term is so used of someone sent with a message (as angelic beings frequently are).

"And David sent messengers (malak) to Ishbosheth Saul's son, saying, Deliver me my wife Michal, which I espoused to me for an hundred foreskins of the Philistines." (2 Sam 3:14)
"Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers (agellos), and had sent them out another way?" (Jam 2:25)
"For this is he (John the Baptist), of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger (aggelos) before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee." (Matt 11:10)
"And when the messengers (aggelos) of John were departed, he began to speak unto the people concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness for to see? A reed shaken with the wind?" (Luke 7:24)

3. God Himself:

The term angel is even used in scripture in reference to God. Note that in the following case He has come to Abraham with a message:

"And the angel of the LORD (Yahweh) called unto Abraham ... And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD (Yahweh)" (Gen 22:15-16)

So "angel" also can have multiple word meanings. Just as in English, words in other languages can mean more than one thing. The point of this page is that words in Bible usage can often have more than one meaning. This should be readily apparent to English speakers but sometimes a person will get it in their mind that a Bible word can only mean one thing and that can lead to serious misunderstandings.

If a word is said to have more than one meaning, of course, that must be supported by scriptural use. We don't want to go too far with that idea and start making up our own word meanings.  

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