“Very Good” – what does phrase this mean?

And God saw everything that He had made and behold it was very good“. Gen1:31 KJV

The expression “very good” used in Genesis 1:31 is important to many brethren’s beliefs.  The expression, combined with some New Testament passages, is understood to define a state of being for Adam and Eve and all creation.  Commonly Adam and Eve’s state before the Fall is referred to as being neither mortal nor immortal but in a third ‘probationary state’.  For brevity, I have referred to this condition as being “amortal” elsewhere.

The first port of call for Bible scholars is the text.  Historical interpretations and explanations are interesting but run a distant second in terms of authority.

Very h3966. מְאֹד m e ‘ ōḏ : A substantive, adverb, or adjective in function, very, greatly, great, abundance; might, power. It is used as a noun indicating might, power, will (Dt 6:3; 2Ki 23:25). As an adverb, it usually means very, i.e., all that God created was very good (Ge 1:31). It takes on the sense of exceedingly as an extension of very and may come at the end of a phrase (Ge 13:13). It can precede the word it is emphasizing as in greatly exalted (Ps 47:9 [10]). Repeated, it emphasizes something greatly (Ge 7:19); exceedingly (Ge 17:2; Ex 1:7). The phrase ` aḏ – meōḏ adds an exceptional emphasis to a preceding assertion (Ge 27:33; 1Sa 11:15; 2Sa 2:17; Isa 64:9 [8]).  [1]

Good h2896 טוֹב ṭôḇ , טוֹבָה ṭôḇāh , טׂבָה ṭōḇāh : An adjective meaning good, well-pleasing, fruitful, morally correct, proper, convenient. This word is frequently encountered in the Old Testament and is roughly equivalent to the English word good in terms of its function and scope of meaning. It describes that which is appealing and pleasant to the senses ( Nu 14:7; Est 1:11; Ps 52:9 [ 11]); is useful and profitable ( Ge 2:18; Zec 11:12); is abundant and plentiful ( Ge 41:22; Jdg 8:32); is kind and benevolent ( 1Sa 24:18 [ 19]; 2Ch 5:13; Na 1:7); is good in a moral sense as opposed to evil ( Ge 2:17; Lev 27:14; Ps 37:27); is proper and becoming ( Dt 1:14; 1Sa 1:23; Ps 92:1 [ 2]); bears a general state of well-being or happiness ( Dt 6:24; Ec 2:24); is the better of two alternatives ( Ge 29:19; Ex 14:12; Jon 4:3). The creation narrative of Ge 1 best embodies all these various elements of meaning when the Lord declares each aspect of His handiwork to be “good.” 

The two words occur together eleven times.  A few examples of the phrase are:

  • The next use after Gen1 is of Rebecca’s external appearance “the damsel was very fair to look upon” Gen24:16 KJV.
  • Joshua and Caleb use the phrase “it is an exceeding good land” when appealing to the wandering tribes in Num14:7.
  • Jonathan tells Saul that David’s works “have been to thee-ward very good” 1Sam19:4
  • Jeremiah saw a basket of very good figs Jer24:2

There is nothing in the Hebrew to suggest there is anything meant by the phrase other than something being really first rate.

If “very good” is intended to have further significance than the simple meaning, the context should make this clear.  The context of Genesis 1 provides ample testimony to the plain meaning of the phrase “very good”.  Five previous times God had declared the work done as being good (h2896).  This occurs on Day 1, day 3 twice, day 4 and day 6.  At the conclusion of Day Six, God declares the completed creation as Very Good.

Contextually the phrase is indicative of the quality of every element of the creative work accomplished in Genesis 1, irrespective of it being animate or inanimate.  Some (not all) writers claim a special significance for the phrase “very good” exclusively for Adam & Eve.  This is changing the clear reading and statement of Gen1:31.

An argument sometimes raised is that in Gen2:18 God said that it was not good that man should dwell alone – which led to the special creation of Eve.  The suggestion is that this proves very good has a moral connotation since Eve was there for companionship and character development.  (That Eve was also present for reproduction is omitted.)  However, this argument suffers because Gen 2:18 doesn’t then bring in the phrase very good.  We are back to Gen 1:31 where man and woman are created in the image and likeness (Gen 2:18 status achieved) and then the focus moves out to all creation.  The reference doesn’t prove any point about the meaning of very good beyond the plain Hebrew.  (Honestly such claims do beggar belief, are literalists claiming a fourth state for Adam? – this ‘logic’ belonged to one of the brethren who recommended my disfellowship).

Additionally, it should be noted the traditional OEC or YEC both include the serpent – that original thinking of the flesh – as part of the definition of very good.  This point was noted quietly by Bro Sargent who observed

The quality of being “very good” is therefore not peculiar to the man, nor does it bear some special significance for him; as “a beast of the field” it must include the serpent. Clearly, being “very good” in the sense in which it is here used of the animal creation does not exclude “the thinking of the flesh””.[2]

My conclusion is that the Hebrew use of the words together through the rest of the Old Testament and the clear reading of Gen 1 support nothing more or less than a general statement of a work well done and creatures well formed, all fit and ready to achieve God’s purpose.  Ie this expression understood in context neither supports nor denies special creation.

Extraordinary claims are made for the meaning of the phrase which is entirely absent from Genesis.  This is not a new observation.  I recognise my comments are outside the usual interpretation applied to the words – despite the specifics of the context and use.  However, others have arrived at similar conclusions eg Bro Sargent (who didn’t support evolution and was writing at the time of a controversy on the subject) said

In fact, “very good” was God’s judgment of the creation as a whole, viewed as an ordered system.  In this Adam was included, but to apply the term specifically to Adam in a particular state is not scripturally justified.[3]

Three years later Sargent published an article by Bro Byrt making a similar point

we find man himself included in the blanket pronouncement, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good”? Man himself, then, was good in the same sense as the other created things, that of fitness to a pre-existing plan[4]

Bro Levin in his thorough study in 2011 (again not an EC brother) wrote:

“It has a system quality that says ‘each part is good and working together they constitute a whole that I esteem very good’ Alas very good has been hijacked for an altogether inappropriate usage….to say this describes Adam and Eve’s moral state or nature is to misread a straightforwardly contextual phrase”[5]

Succinctly Bro H Whittaker observed “very good” is far too vague to be useful, without further definition[6].

 

[1] Baker, Warren.  Carpenter, Eugene.  AMG Complete Word Study Dictionary – Old Testament  (2003)

[2] Sargent “Dr Thomas on Adam’s Temptation” The Christadelphian Volume 106, 1969, page 124

[3] Sargent, L.  “Why not ask”  The nature of the Resurrection:  The Christadelphian, Vol 102 page 27 (1965)

[4] Byrt, John “The Image of God” The Christadelphian, Vol. 105, page 18 (1968).

[5] Levin, David (2011) The creation text: studies in early Genesis” The Christadelphian Tidings Publishing Company, Livonia Michigan USA page 132

[6] Whittaker, H. “Commentary on Genesis 1-4” Biblia (p. 58) (1986).

8 thoughts on ““Very Good” – what does phrase this mean?

  1. Pingback: Very Good comment in the Testimony Magazine | Christadelphians Origins Discussion

  2. Pingback: Our evil mind, interaction with law and the struggle to obey – Rom 7 | Christadelphians Origins Discussion

  3. Pingback: The history of the BASF | Christadelphians Origins Discussion

  4. Pingback: Fixing up Gen 1:31 | Christadelphians Origins Discussion

  5. Pingback: Adam, Very good and Rom 7:18 | Christadelphians Origins Discussion

  6. Pingback: True principles & uncertain details – an Enfield Bible class | Christadelphians Origins Discussion

  7. Pingback: The pathway to unity – Enfield Bible class 12 February 2020 | Christadelphians Origins Discussion

  8. Pingback: The very good creation included conflict/violence | Christadelphians Origins Discussion

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s