אחר As an Ordinal Number and the Meaning OF Genesis 1:5 -- By: Andrew E. Steinmann

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 45:4 (Dec 2002)
Article: אחר As an Ordinal Number and the Meaning OF Genesis 1:5
Author: Andrew E. Steinmann


אחר As an Ordinal Number and
the Meaning OF Genesis 1:5

Andrew E. Steinmann*

* Andrew Steinmann is associate professor of theology and Hebrew at Concordia University, 7400 Augusta Street, River Forest, IL 60305–1499.

It has long been noted that the Hebrew cardinal number אחד, “one,” can also be used in place of the ordinal number ראשׁון, “first.”1 In addition, it has also been noted that Gen 1:5 uses the cardinal number for the first day of creation, whereas the other days are numbered using ordinal numbers (Gen 1:8, 13; 19, 23, 31; 2:2, 3). Most contemporary English translations understand the use of the cardinal number in Gen 1:5 as a case of the cardinal functioning as an ordinal, translating, “the first day.”2 Most commentators support this understanding.3 The Jewish Publication Society’s Tanak follows the Hebrew more closely, noting that no article is used in Hebrew, translating, “a first day.”4 A minority of English translations, however, does not view this as an instance of אחד functioning as an ordinal number and translate “one day.”5 This, in fact, is the translation found already in the lxx (ἡμέρα μία).

Which is the correct understanding of Gen 1:5, and does it make a difference in how one understands the meaning of this verse? To answer this, we must first explore the use of אחד as an ordinal number.

I. אחד As An Ordinal Number In Numbering Units Of Time

1.The numbering of days of a month.אחד is used to indicate the first day of a month. The usual formula is בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ or be + one le + article + month. It means “on the first day of the month.” This formula is used seventeen times.

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