A sweet sister, Elaine Hintze, from my beloved first ward of Brookhollow, has asked me to write about something she read in regards to a Hebrew translation Joseph Smith mentioned. The quote she is referencing can found in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith on pages 342-361. It is an excerpt from the King Follett Discourse, which is one of my top five favorite talks ever, and it is full of mind blowing profound-ness-es that are so simple we often overlook them, but so true they change everything. Follett was not a King, of course, but King was his first name, and he was a friend of many, and he died, and the prophet spoke at his funeral. That talk is the discourse commonly referred to as the “King Follett Discourse”, or the “King Follett Sermon”. It is famous for its doctrine regarding the nature of God, and you can read the talk in its entirety on this BYU page.
Specifically, she is asking me about this quote from Joseph Smith:
You ask the learned doctors why they say the world was made out of nothing; and they will answer, “Doesn’t the Bible say He created the world?” And they infer, from the word create, that it must have been made out of nothing. Now, the word create came from the word baurau which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence, we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos–chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory. Element had an existence from the time he had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning, and can have no end.
Some of this was theoried and proposed long before Joseph Smith, though now, obviously, science has since confirmed this, that energy is never created or destroyed, but may become matter or transfer back to energy. In physics, this is called the Law of Conservation of Energy, and means that the total amount of energy cannot change because it is conserved over time, though it may change form. Energy can be neither created nor destroyed (see the genius of Wikipedia for more juicy details).
So why, she asked, does the Hebrew word baurau mean “to organize” instead of “to create from nothing”?
In Hebrew, the word is “בָּרָא”.
The word has nothing to do with “creating from nothing”. The “from nothing” is not even implied. Rather, the “creating” has to do with a fancy art project.
Imagine a table full of all the art supplies you have in your house, and pick and choose out of the pile different things to use, and then use different tools to make something with what you’ve got. That’s how we made Christmas ornaments for our tree this year, and that’s kind of how the world was made.
It means to fashion, to shape, to cut out, to put together.
To create by organizing out of the chaos is not just mean a sorting out, though that is included. All the construction paper goes over here, the pile of fancy cutting scissors goes over here, glue sticks there, glitter over there, beads there and stickers here and markers there and crayons here.
But then what?
Oh, let’s use these scissors with this paper, and cut that shape out, and then add this design with those markers, and then a dot of glue here, and some ribbon there, and glitter everywhere.
Even then, the glitter has to dry so the excess can be shaken off.
And then everything has to be put away again, because creating from chaos is messy work. Excepting it creates something amazing.
The word implies layers of building, that it was not just one simple step in one simple process.
First, the choosing which paper. Then, deciding which scissors. Then, the actual cutting. Then which glue to use where for what. Each is a step, a process, a “period” of work on a certain project (not necessarily a “day” of “time” that passes, but that is a separate discussion).
That’s creating by organizing the chaos.
In addition, what is created follows a plan already approved. That’s important. What is going to be created, or organized, is first designed. Part of the organizing is devising a plan. That’s important, and we will come back to it (compare with the Assyrian banu (also a III weak verb) and its G (= qal) stem). The design is important also because it is designed intentionally, and for a purpose.
It is the identifying what elements are there, the putting sorting them out, and the putting them together into new matter according to plans already approved to create something specifically to serve a unique purpose for the benefit of something else as part of the overall plan.
That’s a very different creation than magic, BOOM, something from nothing.
It’s a very significant process that involves both choosing (materials, or “elements”) and organizing (re-organizing, we would say in today’s vernacular). The process is both developmental (line upon line, one piece of the “project” at a time) and transformative (what energy was there is now fashioned into a new form). In this way, both agency and Order (priesthood office) are maintained by Jehovah as Creator, while we ourselves participate but also progress.
The same process parallels in a spiritual sense as in the temporal. So while this can be understood in the creation of the world itself, it also applies to our spiritual development. As we make and keep sacred covenants (agency), through ordinances of the priesthood (Order, or “authority”), we are established and become more than we were before. Even our roles, whether it be functional (wife, mother, visiting teacher) or a specific calling (nursery lead, personal progress specialist) or an explicit progress through Office (such as being called to be the Bishop). It is the same word, “created”, and follows the same pattern both temporally and spiritually.
In this, we can see the word is used for creation (of the universe – Genesis 2:3; Psalm 33:9, 89:12-13; Isaiah 42:5, 40:26, 40:28, of the cosmic forces – Isaiah 45:7; Amos 4:13; and living creatures – Genesis 1:21, 27, 5:1, 2, 6:7; Deuteronomy 4:32; Psalm 89:47-48, 129:13; Isaiah 45:12) and for the establishment of Israel as a nation (Ecclesiastes 12:1; Isaiah 43:7, 11, 15; Malachi 2:10) and for the transformation or renewal or restoration of temporal or spiritual things (Numbers 16:30; Psalm 51:10-12; Isaiah 41:18-20, 45:8, 57:19, 65:17-18; Jeremiah 31:22).
There are many implications of this, which will be fun to explore in other posts.