In Biblical Hebrew there are two simple verb types (Qal grammatically active and Niphal passive) which covey no causation. They may be reflexive, permissive or tolerative or some combination. Would adding the phrase "permit/permitted" to English translation help preserve the lack of causality?
Is there a more accurate word than permit which would preserve the lack of causality?

Gen 1:3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.


Gen 1:3 And God [permitted himself to] say, [Let there] be light: and there [permitted] light.

More on Qal

More on Niphal

  • 1
    It seems to me like let could be the word. 'He split the sea' vs. 'He let the sea split.' (They do not mean the same.)
    – Kris
    Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 6:46
  • This is not really the forum to discuss Biblical Hebrew, but at depts.washington.edu/bibheb/files/VerbStems.pdf , an example for use of a 'QAL'form is 'he (or it) has broken (something) [transitive]'. This certainly conveys causality. The 'creative word' is a fundamental concept in both Jewish( jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10618-memra ) and Christian ( hissheep.org/messages/the_word_of_his_power.html ) theology: And God said_ God created by divine fiat. Out of nothing He spoke into existence the entire universe. God said, Let there be light…and there was light. Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 12:45
  • @EdwinAshworth Your correct this is not the place to discuss Biblical Hebrew. Your welcome to comment on my questions in hermeneutics.
    – user21407
    Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 14:02
  • But the translation is faulty because it doesn't capture the fact that the clauses are identical. Warning: the next comment contains transcribed Hebrew from Genesis; observant Jews please take note. Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 14:35
  • Və yomer Elohim "yəhi or". Va yəhi or 'And said Elohim "BE LIGHT". And BE LIGHT.' I.e, the form /yəhi or/ occurs both as the causative phrase and as the result. I think that's the point at issue here. Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 14:43

1 Answer 1


Thanks for the links to the article on the Biblical Hebrew.

A careful reading of this shows that you have made a false deduction from the admittedly misleading statement

The Qal stem is appropriately called "simple," in the sense that the root bears no consonantal affixes; it is simple semantically in that notions of causation are absent.

In linguistics, a causative is a form that indicates that a subject causes someone or something else to do or be something, or causes a change in state of a non-volitional event. (Wikipedia)

Here is example 1a in the article on Hebrew, followed by a comment:

He (God) split (Qal) the sea.

[This] represents a situation with God as the agent and the sea as the object of the splitting action.

The verb split used in this way (transitively) is an obvious causative verb.

The Hebrew article really seems to be saying:

(1) There is no clue in the Qal stem about whether the verb is causative or not [though the meaning of the verb itself tells us this]

(2) The Qal form emphasises the agent (doer / causer): God split the rocks (switching to a variant of example 1b), whereas the Piel form puts the emphasis on what the agent has wrought The rocks lay split asunder as a result of God's speaking, and the Niphal form emphasises solely the resulting change The rocks lay split asunder. Three different emphases in constructions describing the same event and aftermath - the event involving causation (ie being effected by an agent).

  • As they say in the article is Qal is about what X does expressly not about the what X causes. In qal the action remains the same but how the doer accomplishes it is ambiguous as one person pointed out rather than causative. In your example He split (Qal) the sea and He split (Hiphil) the sea there is an obvious intent to separate the two thoughts in the mind of the writer which is not conveyed by the English. Translating Qal into the permissive tense is better because it conveys the difference which otherwise ignored the permissive somewhat neutral in that it also also allows for causation.
    – user21407
    Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 2:03
  • You also are not answering my question but putting forth your opinion.
    – user21407
    Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 2:06
  • Also transitive relationships of verbs have absolutely nothing to do with causality. Both cause (states) and permit (states) are transitive verbs.
    – user21407
    Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 3:03
  • 2
    I'm telling you that your question is flawed. As Stoney B says, 'Qal is not marked for non-causality, it is simply not marked for causality; not the same thing at all.' In your question: 'Would adding the phrase "permit/permitted" to [the] English translation help preserve the lack of causality?' you are wrongly assuming an absence of causality in the event (That is what your words inescapably imply). There is causality involved here (God being the agent, the causer). My answer shows the ways used in English to switch the focus progressively from agent to result. Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 10:03
  • There is already information about causative verbs in general here at english.stackexchange.com/questions/74532/… , and on the inaccuracy of the 'let there be light' translation at revelationorbust.com/wordpress/?p=144 (thanks due to J Lawler): A jussive ... can be a command too. “Let light be” tries to capture the desire/command aspect, but that sounds ... like God is appealing to someone else to allow light to exist which is not at all what is happening. / This translation almost captures it in English: “And God said, ‘Light be!’ And light be!” Commented Mar 30, 2013 at 15:45

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.