[b-hebrew] Genesis 1:2 - And the earth was without form, and void

Harold Holmyard hholmyard at ont.com
Thu Apr 13 13:40:58 EDT 2006

Dear Steven,

>Hi Folks,
>Questions on..
>Genesis 1:1-2 (KJB)
>In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
>** And the earth was without form, and void;  **
>and darkness was upon the face of the deep. 
>And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. 
>There are two controversies on the phrase with the asterisks above.
>The conjunction 'and' is not in the Hebrew coming from verse one, 
>and some folks claim it really should be the adverb
>     'now' -  (At this point in the series of events; then)

HH: There is a conjunction in Hebrew at the beginning of Gen 1:2 that 
could be represented in English by "And" before "the earth was without 

>Honestly, I don't have the gist of why they think this 'now' 'is significant, 
>I think it has something to do with a pre-Adamic race, or a gap theory 
>(although how it helps those theories I haven't yet figgered out)
>but that is not the issue anyway.

HH: In Hebrew when there is a wav conjunction followed by a noun and a 
verbless clause as in Gen 1:2, this ordinarily represents a background 
circumstance. It introduces a circumstances clause. This is sometimes 
called an "off-line" clause, since it is off the main narrative advance, 
giving addtional information.

>Could our Hebrew grammarians tell us what translations (and/now/other) 
>would be appropriate or inappropriate.  It may relate to the ...

HH: Either "and" or "now" could work.

>Second question which is, I believe, more substantive ..
>A controversy between "was without form" or "became without form".
>The late Arthur Custance insisted on "became" 
>The Hebrew verb hayah, i.e., "to be" here translated "was," signifies not only "to be" but also "to become," "to take place," "to come to pass." When a Hebrew writer makes a simple affirmation, or merely predicates the existence of anything, the verb hayah is never expressed. Where it is expressed it must always be translated by our verb "to become," never by the verb "to be," if we desire to convey the exact shade of the meaning of the original...

HH: This seems a false statement because hayah stands in Gen 3:1 where 
the meaning does not seem to be "became" but simply "was" in a 
predication of existence:

Gen. 3:1 Now the serpent WAS more crafty than any of the wild animals 
the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You 
must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

HH: Here are other examples, with the hayah word capitalized:

Gen. 6:4 There WERE giants in the earth in those days; and also after 
that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they 
bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men 
of renown.

Gen. 29:17 Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel WAS lovely in form, and 

>The Hebrew of Gen. 1:2 requires the rendering of Hayah by the word "became," instead of the word "was" or better still "had become," the separation of the Waw from the verb being the Hebrew method of indicating the pluperfect tense. 

HH: So this conclusion does not follow.

>Another view is taken by in this article....
>Should ‘was’ be ‘became’ in Genesis 1:2? - By John W Adey
>Linguistics of ‘become’ / ‘became’
>[8] hyth becomes ‘became’ only when it is accompanied (more often followed) at some point within the sentence by an additional linguistic component, like the Hebrew letter ‘l’ (‘lamed’). Without this additional (prepositional) ‘l’ component hyth could not have the sense of ‘became,’ it would remain ‘was.’

HH: Yes, hayah often means "become" when accompanied by the preposition, 
but I doubt that it has to have the preoposition to do so. Here is a 
case when it does not have the preposition:

Gen. 3:20 ¶ Adam named his wife Eve, because she WOULD BECOME the mother 
of all the living.

>This additional ‘l’ element acts as a preposition: ‘to’ (sometimes there may be another preposition. See [11](a), and n.5). In ‘became’ translations this Hebrew ‘l’ (‘lamed’), in English ‘to,’ is rarely apparent. This is because ‘became’ is a composite of ‘l’ (or some other preposition) combined with the verb ‘to be’ (e.g., ‘was’). It could be put literally as: ‘it was to’ = ‘became.’

HH: This is true. The verb can also mean "happen" or "come about (1 Sam 
4:16; 6:9).

1Sam. 4:16 He told Eli, “I have just come from the battle line; I fled 
from it this very day.” ¶ Eli asked, “What HAPPENED, my son?”

1Sam. 6:9 but keep watching it. If it goes up to its own territory, 
toward Beth Shemesh, then the LORD has brought this great disaster on 
us. But if it does not, then we will know that it was not his hand that 
struck us and that it HAPPENED to us by chance.”

HH: The verb has numerous other similar uses as well (arise, come, 
appear, be established, exist, remain, continue, be situated, etc.).

Harold Holmyard

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