or caused it to be divided

Genesis 1:4 reads as follows: “4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”
The parallel passage in Abraham 4:4 reads: “4 And they (the Gods) comprehended the light, for it was bright; and they divided the light, or caused it to be divided, from the darkness.” The parenthetical  “or caused it to be divided” is fascinating, as we can be fairly certain that these words derive from an academic source.

As you no doubt know, Joseph attended a Hebrew class taught by Joshua (or James) Seixas. The Hebrew verb translated “divided” here is in the hiphil verb stem, which generally has a causative force. And indeed, responsive to the hiphil form of the verb, Joseph  makes it explicitly causative. Further the Seixas grammar explicitly suggests something close to this on page 39:  “as habdil to cause to divide, from badal.”
So Joseph was dutifully following what he learned from his Hebrew instructor. As it turns out, though Seixas was probably wrong to suggest that specific causal nuance here. Because the qal or simple active form of the verb as Seixas gives it, badal, is completely hypothetical, that verb never actually occurs in the simple active form. In such cases, the hiphil form of the verb is usually translated as if it were in the simple active or qal form, and not the causative or hiphil form. All of which is to say that adding the causal nuance, though well intentioned, was probably not justified.
To check this conclusion I examined each of the approximately 60 translations of this verse at the Bible Gateway, and only one of them, the Lexham English Bible, reflects this causal nuance: “And God saw the light, that it was good, and God caused there to be a separation between the light and between the darkness.”
So Joseph, to his credit, learned his Hebrew lesson well. It just so happens that in this particular case his Hebrew instructor suggested a specific nuance that was probably not justified.


  1. From a linguistics case, you might be right (haven’t researched an opposing pov to argue it), if he applied that translation to the extant Hebrew of Genesis.

    I realize you’re making the claim that he learned what Genesis “really said” in Hebrew class and interpreted or made up the BoA based on that body of knowledge he had.

    But as you know all translation involves a degree of both interpretation. Even speaking clearly to each other in English lacks the ability to convey all we want to convey, let alone adding in thousands of years of oral history before writing it down, thousands of years more across linguistics and cultural evolution then “translating” it. The task sounds impossible.

    So the counter point isn’t is Joseph right or wrong in what he “chose” (which still might be the wrong dichotomy, because we don’t know how much choosing he really did), but rather what is conveyed by what’s there.

    I’m still struggling with the difference between the two. Is it just pointing out that God didn’t do it himself, but he delegated it? From the temple drama it seems like that’s the takeaway. And applying that verse to the temple creation drama seems appropriate. So you have Gods, rightly so, being labeled as such in the creation scriptures, for who could organize worlds and command darkness and light if not Gods. And then we have Adam and Jehovah being the ones depicted doing that work in the drama. So if that doesn’t make them both Gods, in their own respects, I’m not sure what does. So there’s another slight evidence both for Adam God and a clue that we don’t have a clue to how much Joseph was connected to its formation.

    The clarification of Gods being involved from the beginning and doing some kind of causing, perhaps linked to this idea of delegating, could be an important theological clue instead of a teacher induced error.

  2. mikerharris says:

    Interesting article. Any evidence that suggests how proficient Joseph was in Hebrew? Did he really know his binyans that well?

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    He had the equivalent of about a semester under Seixas. He was a committed student, and we actually have some of his worksheets. But he approached the language more as an artist than a technician.

  4. mikerharris says:

    Is a semester sufficient to know hiphil? Where are these worksheets? Thanks.

  5. Less than a novice says:

    To me, this sounds like a distinction without a difference. I can tell you that I baked a cake, but in reality I caused it to be baked by putting it in the oven. There were no other people or beings involved but I didn’t produce the heat.

    To my reading, the much more serious issue is changing God to plural.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    The worksheets are in the Community of Christ archives.

    The pluralizing of God was certainly influenced by the plural form of ‘Elohim. For details, see this:


  7. Kevin Barney says:

    It’s interesting that Joseph gives both the KJV rendering and the causal rendering disjunctively, almost as if he is laying it out there as a possibility and not taking a firm position on it. What would the causal nuance mean? Presumably that God did not effect this separation between light and darkness himself directly, but that perhaps he set in motion the physical circumstances that would lead to it, or perhaps he delegated this action to another in temple endowment fashion.

  8. This is one of those pretty-clear evidences that Joseph Smith is interjecting his understanding of Hebrew into Abraham.
    In other words, whereas Moses= KJV Genesis run through the JST/Translation/thought process, Abraham= Hebrew Genesis run through the JST/Translation/thought process.
    I expand and explain that in depth at

  9. Wondering says:

    “[O]r caused it to be divided” may not be disjunctive. “Or” can be disjunctive, but it can also mean “or, in other words”. It can link alternatives; it can also be used to introduce a synonym or explanation of a preceding word or phrase. I wonder if the explanation meaning of “or” might be more consistent with the influence of Joseph’s Hebrew study.

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    Good point, Wondering. Instead of disjunctive it could be explanatory (based on his Hebrew study).

    And Ben, I was hoping you would see this and comment. Thanks for the link to your fuller thoughts.

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