I found a Bible translation that instead of reading “the Spirit of God” in Genesis 1:2, it says “a mighty wind.” Is this a correct translation?
Technically speaking the answer is yes. But other translations have been proposed, such as “wind from God.” Some biblical passages can be translated in different ways, requiring careful examination of the immediate and larger contexts. There are passages in which even the context allows for different interpretations, and in such cases we should be humble enough to acknowledge that reality. But in the case of Genesis 1:2, the linguistic and contextual arguments favor a more traditional reading.
1. A MIGHTY WIND
Several arguments are used to support “a mighty wind.” First, previous phrases in the verse describe the chaotic conditions of the earth before its organization by God—formless, empty, and dark—suggesting that the phrase under discussion is describing a state of disorder, hence the rendering “a mighty wind sweeping over the waters” (Gen. 1:2, NABRE).* Second, it is correctly argued that ruakh means “wind” as well as “spirit.” Third, the word ‘elohim (“God”) is sometimes used in Hebrew to express something outstanding or incomparable. The best example is Jonah 3:3: “Nineveh was an exceedingly great city” (literally, “a great city to God” [see also Gen. 23:6; 30:8; Ex. 9:28]). Fourth, since the verb rakhap (“hovering”) is here associated with “wind,” it could be translated “[a mighty wind] was sweeping over the face of the waters.” Finally, it is argued that the idea of a mighty wind is also found in some ancient Near Eastern Creation stories.
2. THE SPIRIT OF GOD
The translation “Spirit of God” has been the traditional rendering among Christians, although “wind” was held by some Church Fathers, as well as in some Jewish writings. The following arguments have been used to support the traditional reading, “the Spirit of God.”
First, nowhere in the Old Testament does the phrase “Spirit of God” mean “a mighty wind,” making it most unlikely to assign this meaning to Genesis 1:2. Second, the noun ‘elohim (God) is used 32 times in Genesis 1, and it always means God. Arguing for the superlative in one case seems to be unlikely. Third, in verse 1, ‘elohim (God) is identified as the Creator, making it practically impossible to justify the use of the same term in verse 2 to designate a chaotic power (a “mighty wind”). Third, it has been argued by some that the use of ‘elohim is not required in the texts, given that translating it as God would still make sense. Even if this particular use is possible, the context would be decisive. Fourth, although the previous phrases describe a state of disorder, the reference to the Spirit of God is not one of them but serves to prepare the way for God’s creative word that follows in the narrative. While there was disorder, the Spirit was protectively caring for the raw materials of the earth. Fifth, this idea is expressed by the verb rakhap (“was hovering”). In the two other places where this verb is used in the Old Testament, it does not refer to the movement of a mighty wind (Deut. 32:11; Jer. 23:9). The best parallel is Deuteronomy 32:11, in which it designates the movement of the wings of an eagle as it cares for its young. The personal character of the Spirit of God is not absent from the Old Testament (see Ps. 104:30). Finally, the meaning of our text is not determined by alleged parallels from ancient Near Eastern texts.
* Texts credited to NABRE are from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, D.C. All rights reserved.