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.
–Genesis, Chapter 1
What evocative language. What a way to start a story. What a choice of words. The prose is so strong, it’s poetic.
Of course the original writing was Hebrew. Does the Hebrew translation have the same effect on the reader? I don’t know. The translation above is the King James Version. Here’s the New International Version.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
Basically the same meaning, and probably more grammatically correct. No sentences begin with “And”, which I know drives some people nuts. And the last two sentences have been combined into one, which modern grammar-check software would undoubtedly suggest. It may be more correct, but as literature, it loses a little of its punch, a little of its rhythm, a little of its beauty.
The choice of words matter. Subtle changes can make powerful differences.
Let’s look at another beginning.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”
–The Gospel of John, Chapter 1
I find this language intriguing. If one were to pick up this story without knowing anything about it, the first two sentences would produce a shaking of the head. What??? A mystery right off the bat. Then the third sentence introduces the main character. Quite a powerful guy, it would seem. Then the talk of light and darkness. A sense of foreboding. Yeah, this would be my kind of story.
Many of my favorite books begin this way. A sense of mystery. The introduction of an intriguing figure. And you know something is going to happen.
This week we’ll take a look at beginnings, and we’ll see that words matter.