Biblical Truth in High Definition
by James J. S. Johnson, J.D., Th.D. *
The stunning clarity of HD television has revolutionized our way of viewing the world around us. Those of us old enough to have grown up with basic black-and-white TV know that the introduction of color to the screen—and now high-definition color—brings superior clarity to the people, landscapes, action, and much more in our new wide-screen experience. The story (i.e., the dialogue, character movements, etc.) is still the same as it was in the old black-and-white box, but our senses are immediately aware of the richer details that we now can see. Color makes all the difference in the world, and HD gives sharpness and clarity to the minutest details of the images moving before us.
Similarly, our study of Scripture can be wonderfully enhanced by digging into the goldmine of original word studies, revealing to us a deeper comprehension of the meaning of words and phrases as biblical stories unfold before us. Every word, even the “jot and tittle,” is vital because it was God-breathed. So every detail of the original language is key to our understanding and appreciation of what God is communicating to us.
Sometimes that extra detail is helpful for clarifying topics highly relevant to biblical apologetics. Hebrew word studies help explain the literal meaning of specific Bible passages. The details that God provides are sometimes like buried treasures, waiting for us to uncover them by taking a closer look at the detail-rich meanings of the original words. We can be sure that a glimpse into the profound meanings hidden beneath the surface words will inspire awe as we approach our study of the Word of God.
Three word studies that bolster our defense of biblical truth appear in Psalm 139:15, Genesis 8:3, and Genesis 1:1. Each verse offers much more than we can comprehend with just a cursory look at those passages.
God used “needlework” to build babies in the womb.
Why would King David refer to a baby in the womb as being knit or woven together like a piece of needlework? David was not privileged to know about DNA, RNA, protein synthesis, or how a baby’s bodily tissues are knit (or woven) into their respective places as parts of a growing unborn baby.1
Even the King James translators, who typically translated Hebrew words as literally as possible, appear to have shied away from the literal Hebrew of Psalm 139:15 that they translated as:
My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth [emphasis added].
The passive verb translated by the English phrase “curiously wrought” is a form of raqâm, paralleling that verse’s earlier (and more general) passive verb “made.” But what does raqâm mean? Ultimately, the authoritative meaning for any biblical word is the meaning that Scripture itself uses for that word. To discern God’s meaning for the words He uses, we compare Scripture with Scripture.
If we review every use in the Bible of the Hebrew verb raqâm, what do we observe? The verb raqâm appears nine times. Eight are translated as “needlework,” “needleworker,” or “embroiderer.”2
Did King David know modern science when he chose to use the verb raqâm to describe how a baby is knit together in his or her mother’s womb? No. But God the Holy Spirit, who inspired David to write Psalm 139, knew all about how babies are procreated and developed inside a human mother. So, it is no surprise that David, who was divinely inspired to accurately describe an embryonic baby’s development, used such literal terms:
Next comes a marvelous verse, long anticipating modern science. “My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought” [quoting Psalm 139:15]. The mysterious process was one of “embroidering” (the literal meaning of the striking phrase “curiously wrought” is “embroidered”). It is as though a form were being sewed onto an intricate and beautiful pattern already laid out. This is an accurate description of the remarkable process of embryonic growth as delineated by modern molecular biology. The pattern in the DNA molecule is an intricate double-helical structure, which serves as a template for specifying and building up, cell by cell, the final adult body. It is an amazing process, which modern geneticists are only beginning to understand, but it was outlined here in Scripture almost three thousand years before it began to be understood at all.3
The related noun riqmah that is derived from the verb raqâm portrays the same idea of embroidery, sewing, cross-stitching, or some other kind of needlework.4 What amazing detail!
God used “back-and-forth” motion to wash the world as the floodwaters drained.
Another word study provides insight to creation apologetics—the worldwide Flood’s drainage (Genesis 8:3) was anything but “tranquil.”5 Specifically, the draining floodwaters were geographically “returning...continually,” according to the Hebrew phrase halôkh vashûbh, literally portraying ocean tides swaying in a “back and forth” rhythm (continually going forth and returning)—denoting continuous “going and returning” action. Notice how the biblical text’s precision in Genesis 8:3 matches the geologic evidence, as we have previously reported.5, 6
God overruled Hebrew grammar rules to teach Trinitarian theology.
Hebrew word studies demonstrate their value in the Bible’s first verse: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” The subject is “God,” translating the Hebrew text’s plural noun Elohîm. The action verb is “created,” translating the Hebrew text’s singular verb bara’.
What a grammar teacher’s conundrum! A plural subject noun with a singular verb!
Yet what better way to foreshadow the Bible’s Trinitarian theology of God’s being? This is clarified later in Scripture, of course, as the Great Commission illustrates,7 but the doctrine is introduced in Genesis 1:1. The universe’s Maker is plural, yet one.
God created directly, but not “intensively.”
Genesis 1:1 has more to say about God’s first action as Creator—informing us about what God’s action of creating was and what it was not.
Hebrew verbs usually appear in one of these seven basic forms: qal (simple active), niphâl (simple passive), piêl (intensive active), puâl (intensive passive), hiphîl (causative active), hophâl (causative passive), hithpaêl (active and passive combined—i.e., your action directly impacts yourself, like combing your own hair).8
Genesis 1:1 uses a singular masculine qal verb, bara’ (“He created”). So what does that tell us about God’s action?
From God’s perspective, His action of creating was “simple”; it was not “intensive” work. Astoundingly, God did not work very hard to decree into existence, from nothing, all the heavens and earth!
Also, God’s work of creating was not merely “causative.” God acted directly, not merely as a first cause instigator triggering a long series of dominoes.
Furthermore, because the verb bara’ is a perfect verb, the action of creating is reported as completed—finished! That specific work of creation that God did on Day One needed no further ex nihilo (out-of-nothing) creating. And that was just the beginning! The next five days involved developmental use of Day One’s creation, providing us with many more biblical word study opportunities in Genesis.
The rest of Scripture also offers a legacy of word study gems, waiting to be mined. A wealth of hidden treasures awaits those who take the time to look closer. Our understanding of the Word of God is enhanced—much like our perception of the screen when we look at a high-definition color television—when we study the original language text of the Bible.
- “Weaving” perfectly describes how human body tissues are constructed. See Menton, D. 2005. Fearfully and Wonderfully Made. DVD. Directed by Paul Varnum. Answers in Genesis.
- The Hebrew active participle form of raqâm translates as “needlework” or “needleworker” in Exodus 26:36; 27:16; 28:39; 36:37; 38:18; 39:29. “Embroiderer” is likewise used for raqâm participles in Exodus 35:35; 38:23. The only time that the verb raqâm is translated “curiously wrought” is in Psalm 139:15, where the verb is in the puâl (intensive passive) form.
- Morris, H. M. 2001. Treasures in the Psalms. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, Inc., 222-223. See also Morris, H. M. 2001. Curiously Wrought. Acts & Facts. 30 (12).
- Wigram, G. V. 2001. The Englishman’s Hebrew Concordance of the Old Testament, reprint of 1874 3rd edition. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1192.
- Morris, J. and J. Johnson. 2012. The Draining Floodwaters: Geologic Evidence Reflects the Genesis Text. Acts & Facts. 41 (1): 12-13.
- Technically, these linked Hebrew verbs (halôkh vashûbh) are infinitives that function as participles denoting durative action.
- Notice that the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) commands baptism in “the name” (singular—not “names”) of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost—three in one.
- Another form is the poêl, denoting continuous action.
* Dr. Johnson is Associate Professor of Apologetics and Chief Academic Officer at the Institute for Creation Research.
Cite this article: Johnson, J. J. S. 2012. Biblical Truth in High Definition. Acts & Facts. 41 (8): 8-10.