In continuing with my previous two posts on Biblical creation, today I consider the phrase “And God saw that is was good” (NSRV translation) and will concentrated my discussion on the words “saw” and “good.”
In English, such a phrase lends to a certain physicality and moral and/or ethical interpretation in that “to see” implies an subject and an object and of course seeing implies perceiving through the senses. Good, of course, might be interpreted in contrast to bad. Such an interpretation might be furthered considering the long held Christian tradition of depicting God in art, where God has long been imagined as an old man, replete with eyes that see.
The Hebrew scriptures, however, are very clear: God has no “image,” has no “form.” God has no eyes. So how can God see?
To proceed, then, I begin by looking at the Septuagint, that is the Greek translation of the Hebrew text, where the word translated as “saw” as in God saw that it was good, is eido (οἶδα). This term is the root for the English idea and is not to be understood in terms of physical sight. Rather eido is the kind of seeing that is related to knowing, much like when we say to another “I see what you mean.” We are not saying we literally see something, for there is nothing to be seen in such a context. Rather, in saying “I see” what we really mean is “I understand.” That is to say, one knows it: “if one has seen something, one knows it” (Verbrugge 402).
But of course the Greek term is a translation, a translation, in this case, of the Hebrew verb way-yar (וַיַּ֧רְא), (biblehub.com), derived from raah (רָאָה). This term is employed throughout the first chapter of Genesis when referring to God’s “seeing” (verses 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31) his creation of the course of six days. Notions of observing, perceiving, looking after, giving attention to, discerning, to see so as to learn to know are embedded within this verb.
So what is it God sees and/or knows in the creation? God sees that it is good. Note, God does not call it good, God sees, or knows, it is good.
What then can we make of good?
The Greek term is kalos (καλός), which means “beautiful, as an outward sign of the inward good, noble, honorable character; good, worthy, honorable, noble, and seen to be so” (biblehub.com). But Greek appreciation of the outward form of things “scarcely penetrated the world of the Old Testament” (Verbrugge 287) where kalos, in being translated for the Hebrew tob, “means good–not so much in the sense of an ethical evaluation as in that which is pleasant, enjoyable, beneficial. Kalos is that which is pleasing to Yahweh, what he likes, or what gives him joy” (ibid.) As an aside, kalos is the term for good used to describe the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Thus in declaring that which is created as “good,” the text is saying it is pleasurable, it is enjoyable, it is beneficial to God, as opposed to the sense of a goodness in contrast with “badness,” or evil.
I think of my own creative impulse and what I create with it. Is not the very process of creation pleasurable? Do we not enjoy it? Is not creating something a beneficial process?
As described in my first of this series of posts, in creating God does not create ex nihilo, but takes what is formless and gives it form. And as discussed in the second of these posts, this process involves a pattern, there is an order to Creation, a process which culminates with the creation of humankind, which is, as the text created in God’s image. But what that means will have to wait for another day and another post.
Suffice to say, here in conclusion, the creation, as God comes to experience it, as God comes to know it, observe and engage the process is something pleasurable. God enjoys creating, of giving shape to the shapeless, form to the formless.