Hebrew Verb Asah

Hi. On a post about the age of the sun, some of you guys described that in Genesis 1:16, where it says God “made” the two great lights, it uses the Hebrew verb asah. You guys said that In Genesis 1:16, it uses the completed form of the verb, indicating that Genesis 1:16 says that God had already made the sun and moon, as well as the stars. However, using a website called Biblehub, I found Hebrew text analysis. The text analysis showed the form of the verb in Genesis 1:16, and I clicked on it. When I found examples of the verb form, they never seemed to describe completed action. The verb form that I found is way-ya-as. For Example in Genesis 3:21, it talks about God making tunics of skin for Adam and Eve. It doesn’t indicate completed action. Additionaly, I am wondering if there are even examples of this verb form being used to indicate completed action. Are there any examples? Am I reading the biblehub thing wrong?

I believe Biblical Hebrew is considered an aspect dominant language, not a tense dominant language like English. The verb forms are not going to match up perfectly to English translations, because the verbal systems conceptually focus on different facets of the verb’s action. Perfective and imperfective aspect can be used to communicate a variety of time frames for action, depending on other parts of the discourse structure. You aren’t always going be able to come up with the best English tense translation just by looking at verbs and their glosses in isolation.

See here for some examples from Genesis:


What’s getting to me is that the text says Genesis 1:7, asah is an incomplete verb. In Genesis 1:16, according to biblehub, it uses the same form.

Incomplete? You mean imperfective? But that is the point. You have to look at the structure of the discourse (the whole sentences and paragraphs) to get a good translation to English, you can’t compare a form in one context to a form in another context and decide the meaning is the exact same. Glosses are probably not going to be much use to you unless you have a sense of how the Hebrew verb system works and are able to analyze how the forms interact with their discourse context. You would be better off looking at the verses you are wondering about in multiple translations to see how Hebrew scholars handled the translation. Translation really isn’t an area that you are equipped to second-guess linguists and Hebrew scholars just because you have access to some interlinears.

1 Like

Ok. it’s just that there isn’t a major difference between the context of Genesis 1:7 and Genesis 1:16 in my opinion. If there may indeed be a difference, feel free to let me know.

Are you saying that the verb forms mean different things depending on their context? Does this mean that the form way-ya-as can have multiple definitions/

when I said definitions, I meant can it be imperfective as well as perfective

That is why they are translated the same into English past tense, right? There are examples all over the place of the imperfects being used to describe a completed action, you just gave several. Gen 3:21 is a completed action. You don’t have to use a perfective to indicate completed action, and perfects aren’t just for past. Hebrew perfects can be translated in to English as did, has done, or had done, depending on the context. They can even describe future or present actions that are considered actions where the endpoint of the action is in focus.

Gen 3:21 has an imperfect consecutive. This construction is commonly used in Hebrew narrative: http://hebrew.billmounce.com/BasicsBiblicalHebrew-17.pdf

A past tense narrative sequence may begin with a Perfect verb followed by any number of consecutive Imperfect verbs.

1 Like

I don’t understand. Tense and aspect are features of a language’s verbal system, they aren’t part of a word’s “definition.”

1 Like

That’s why I corrected my statement of saying definitions. LOL. I meant imperfective and perfective but now I get the system much better thanks for helping me understand. So does this mean that Genesis 1:16 suggests that God already made the sun moon and stars?

I think some people try to argue that, but I don’t think you can make this open and shut cases based on Hebrew verb forms because a parallel to the English past perfect doesn’t exist. I think you should pick the most natural sounding translation for how someone typically tells a story in English, and it wouldn’t be with a past perfect there unless prior existence of the action in the timeline was really salient.

Do you mean that it’s past tense? What are the garments of skin? He made the garments before?

So even imperfects can be used to talk about completed action or past tense? A quick google search, however, said this: " In Biblical Hebrew the Imperfect conjugation is used generally to describe actions that are not completed or actions that occur in the present or future ."

It is past tense in English translation. Hebrew doesn’t have “past tense,” it has perfect and imperfect aspect. Perfect and imperfect aspect in Hebrew can both be used to communicate about completed past actions that would be translated with past tense verbs in English.

Yes, but what you have been looking at are consecutive imperfects, which is not the same structure as a straight up imperfect use. There is a main verb in the perfect that the consecutive imperfect is dependent on, as I understand it. I’m not proficient in Hebrew, I have just studied languages enough to have a handle on the vocabulary used to describe Hebrew.

What do you think Genesis 1:16 meant when it said that God made the sun and moon?

God made the sun and the moon. In the past relative to the time the story was recounted.

1 Like

Yes. But I don’t blame you (except in thinking you can do this level of study without knowing the language).

Well, I would never say this. It’s much less probably that the verb form in 1:16 is indicating pluperfect (as you indicate) rather than the normal sequence (e.g., “and then…”).

I used this website, I’ll copy the article so you guys can see for yourself what it says: Verb Imperfect — unfoldingWord® Hebrew Grammar 1 documentation). As I read it, it seemed to say that imperfect verbs generally mean present or future. If you guys see that it means something else, please let me know.

Generally they are used to describe actions where the endpoint or completion of the action is not in focus, which is the case with the present and the future.

@Christy is right about the dominance of aspect over tense. Even so, when thinking in terms of tense, when the waw consecutive (as we have in Gen 1) is attached to the so-called imperfect, it usually equates to past tense. This is the normal (vastly normal) way to carry a story about the past in Hebrew.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

This is a place for gracious dialogue about science and faith. Please read our FAQ/Guidelines before posting.