formless and void..."
Did you know the longwinded, neverending arguing over the translation of the verb "was" is, after all, perfectly unnecessary altogether? The entire matter is settled by the simple fact that the word is almost exclusively used only when a change or transition has taken place. In other words, the fact the word is present in the Hebrew text indicates it's usage is in line with the Old Earth Creationist view set forth here.
This is not only the case when comparing its usage in the Old Testament, in which we have unnumbered thousands of examples of its use in our favor and but a handful of uses in the copulative. It is true in the very passage in question and in Genesis chapter one in general. This article will set forth this simple idea.
The following examples are given from the King James Bible. In the King James Version, the translators consistently used italics to indicate to the reader when a word has been added merely for clarity of content. With that in mind, take a look at the following examples.
Here are the opening three passages in Genesis chapter one. Notice in verse two, the word "was" appears in regular font. This is because the word actually is present within the Hebrew text of the passage which reads "...the earth was without form and void."
The Hebrew word "hayah" is in the text, which translates to "was" or "became" in the English. But since the word actually is present within the Hebrew text, the King James translation committee used the plain font to indicate this to the reader.
Now notice the rest of the sentence: "...and darkness [was] upon the face of the deep." In this part of the sentence, the Hebrew word is not present in the Hebrew text.
The text actually reads something along the lines of "...and darkness upon the face of the deep." The King James translation committee felt that this statement may appear awkward in English, so they added "was," perfectly appropriate for an English speaking person reading the text. It clarifies the meaning.
But because the word is not actually present in the Hebrew text, the translation committee put the word in italics to indicate such to the reader.
Here are the same passages again, but let's examine verse three so you see the significance I wish to highlight in all this.
In the part of the sentence which says "...and there was light," you'll notice here again that the word is provided in the plain font. As above, the reason is because the actual underlying Hebrew word is present within the text being translated.
When God said "Let there be light," the existing condition was one of darkness as is pointed out in verse two. So, what is indicated here is that a change has taken place--a transition has occurred. A state of darkness had changed to one of light. It was due to this creative act of God in which the darkness over the surface of the deep was changed to one of light.
If no change had taken place, the underlying Hebrew text would not contain the word. It would translate roughly as "And God said, Let there be light: and there light."
And then, the King James translation committee, no doubt feeling this would be unclear, would've added "was" in italics to make the statement clearer in English. It would've been added in an italics font to indicate to the English reader that a word had been added for clarity. But this is all beside the point. The word actually is present within the text, and so we have it as it stands, the "was" being presented in plain font. That a transition has occurred is self-evident, for the passage is describing a creative act of God.
Arthur Custance talks about this issue in the following article:
"There is really no need to give references to prove something so commonly known. Yet if illustrations are desirable, the first chapter of Genesis furnishes plenty of them. Thus in verse 3 the actual Hebrew should be translated: "And God said, 'Let there become light: and it became light.'" To indicate this, the verb to be is twice written in the text as shown by the use of solid type for "be" and "was." But it did not "become" good in verse 4, so was appears in italics, since no Hebrew verb is used in the original. In verse 5, the introduction of light led to a new thing, a time period which "became" the first day. Similarly throughout the chapter, this principle is clearly and consistently applied. In verse 12: "The seed [was] in itself" -- not became in itself; and in verse 29: "The Lord said, I have given you . . . all that [is] upon the face of the earth"; consequently the verb to be is not represented in the original Hebrew in either case, a fact noted in the Authorized Version by the use of italics for the word is.
The Old Testament is full of examples. On every page they can be found as long as the Authorized Version is used; this is one of the advantages this version has over the Revised Standard Version. A glance at Judges 6 and 7 will illustrate this beautifully, for here the verb to be is written in italics where it simply means "was" or "is," etc., because it has been omitted in the Hebrew original. This will be noted in Judges 6:10 (am), 13 (be), 15 (is and am), 22 (was), 24 (is), 25 (is), 30 (was), 31 (is and be); 7:1 (is), 2 (are and are), 3 (is), 12 (were), 13 (was), 14 (is). These all appear in italics. But contrast 6:27, where "was" is not in italics and therefore a really new situation has come about, i.e., "and so it came to be that" or "it came to pass that because he feared. . . ."
It is a remarkable fact that we have in Jeremiah 4:23 what appears to be an exact parallel to Genesis 1:2; but there is this significant difference which is clear enough to anyone who will read the Authorized Version text with care. In Jeremiah 4:23 the verb "was" is in italics. The sense is therefore simply, "I beheld the earth and lo, it was without form and void." The statement in Genesis 1:2 is significantly different." - Arthur C. Custance, The Doorway Papers, Vol.6, Part 3, Ch.2 (here)
For further study, see also his book entitled Without Form and Void (and especially appendix iv).
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