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“NOW the earth was formless and empty…”, Gen 1:2, NIV.

“Now” seems to draw distinction from the act of creation in verse 1, whereas other translations start with “And”, which seems to indicate the two verses are part and parcel of the same matter. To me, it’s a significant difference because “Now” intentionally signals a new phase, allowing for an interlude after creation. Or am I wrong and “now” is being used in a different sense, perhaps more out of convention? Is there some change in tense possible in the original text which lends cause to the “now” translation?

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3 Answers 3

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This is a little linguistically messier that it appears.

First, there is no question that the first word of Gen 1:2, being וְהָאָ֗רֶץ , is literally, "and the earth"; but that does not necessarily mean that it should be translated that way. Hebrew frequently has the conjunction "and" but is only translated as such, sometimes - it has other functions as well.

For example, taking the sample of versions on https://biblehub.com/genesis/1-2.htm shows that in this matter there are three types of translation of this first Hebrew word:

  • the "and is ignored completely, eg, NLT, ESV, NKJV, NASB1995, NHEB, YLT, GNT, etc
  • The "and" is translated as such, eg, KJV, NASB, NAB, etc.
  • Something else such as "now" (eg, NIV, BSB, CSB, HCSB, WEB, JPS); or "when" (NET, ISV, etc).

Significantly, the LXX translates it "but the earth".

English "now"

The English construction beginning a sentence with "now the ..." usually suggests another fact that must be understood associated with the previous fact in preparation for the following fact. This is why this construction is preferred by so many translations as the Hebrew conjunction has a similar function at times.

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In Genesis 1:2, the phrase וְהָאָרֶץ "Ve-Ha-Arets" is a combination of three (3) words.

"Ve"(וְ):"And" + "Ha"(הָ):"The" + "Arets"(אָרֶץ):"Earth"

[Now] The וְ "Vav" introducing [Genesis 1:2] is accompanied by first vowel of creation (שְׁוָא) called 'Sheva'. The translation of the וְ "Vav" w/ Sheva (pronounced : "Ve") into English = "And", not Now.

If the phrase in [Genesis 1:2] had been וְ-עַתָּה "Ve-Atah" then the English translation could state : And-[Now]. * However - we do not find עַתָּה "Now" in [Genesis 1:2].

וְהָאָרֶץ הָֽיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחשֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵי תְהוֹם וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל־פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם

"Now" עַתָּה is nowhere in [Genesis 1:2].

Why do some English translations of [Genesis 1:2] put "Now" instead of "And"? * Poetic License.

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Op states, "“Now” seems to draw distinction from the act of creation in verse 1, whereas other translations start with “And”, which seems to indicate the two verses are part and parcel of the same matter. To me, it’s a significant difference."

There is a significant difference between verse one and two. God created the heavens and the earth.

That is a complete sentence. When He created the word is בָּרָא (bara) And used five other times in the first chapter of Genesis.

As for the earth, it came to be a chaos and vacant, and darkness was over the surface of the waters. Literal Concordant.

"The sentence, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” is an ending to God’s description of the creation of the universe. If it was intended as a part of God’s summary of the entire creation, then the second verse—”The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters”—would have been the beginning of the description of this creation. It is not. Verse 2 is a completely separate and distinct subject. Hebrew reads from right to left. Starting with the preposition “In,” which is always attached to the feminine noun “beginning.” This tells us that this is the original creation of the heavens and the earth, that is being spoken here as a separate and distinct event from all that follows. Quoted from: Tohu wa -bohu, Earth “Was” or “Became,” Waste and Void? – Robert Clifton Robinson

Genesis 1:2 is stating that the earth became something different than when it was originally created.

Here is the same word "hayeta" used when Lots wife became something else, a pillar of salt.

Genesis 19:26 But his wife looked back behind him, and she became (hayeta) a pillar of salt.

As for the earth it to became something different than when it was originally created.

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