Proposition three is that the Hebrew verb bara’ has a functional focus. Walton starts off by emphasizing that reading the Bible in English is really of no help whatsoever. The issue is not what the English word “create” means, but what the Hebrew word that is usually translated that was in Genesis 1 means. No amount of discussion of English can answer that. And thus it is clear that this is a problem for those who emphasize the need to take the Bible “literally” or “at face value”, because words that are approximately equivalent in any two languages do not simply overlap completely without any addition or reduction to their range of meaning. And so unless one knows Hebrew well enough to understand words in terms of their general usage and not simply a definition or translation provided in English, one will at best be “taking literally” the translation (itself an interpretation) that has been provided by someone else. Although these points are made by Walton in passing, they are important ones for anyone approaching Scripture (and particularly those working from Protestant presuppositions) to reflect on.
The word bara’ has been the focus of much attention because in the Hebrew Bible, only God is the subject of this verb. Yet as important as this point may be, Walton notes that the objects of the verb have been the focus of far less attention. Walton thus provides a helpful list (pp. 41-43). In some cases, a material sort of creation is a possible meaning, but there do not seem to be any instances that require that meaning, whereas many instances do require a functional meaning. The irony is that some have used this point to argue that creation as denoted by this Hebrew verb is by definitionex nihilo, since no material is specified. But Walton suggests that in fact the opposite may be the case: materials are not specified because they are not the point. The point is rather the organization of matter into something functioning (pp.43-44).Walton suggests that the term “beginning” in Genesis 1:1 denotes the whole period of creation that follows, rather than a single point in time. As such, it is the first section devision and equivalent to the references to “generations” (toledot) that subdivide the rest of Genesis. This would result in there being twelve sections, which is inherently plausible given the significance of that number for ancient Israelite authors (pp.45-46).