The First Ten Words

Genesis 1:1 – From a Writer’s Perspective


Christians, perhaps more than most, know well the power of words.

‘Remember the word to Your servant,

Upon which You have caused me to hope.

This is my comfort in my affliction,

For Your word has given me life.’

Psalm 119:49-50

The Psalmist tells us then that a word has the power to give life. A later confirmation of this may be found in the New Testament Gospels, in which John stated:

‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’

John 1:1

Here of course ‘the Word’ refers to Jesus Christ himself – who, as we know, declared himself as ‘The way, and the truth and the life.’ So once again we’re told, ‘Your word has given me life.’

Proverbs has several examples of a word’s potential:

  • A good word makes the heart of man glad.
  • A harsh word stirs up anger.
  • How good is a word spoken in due season.

My own favourite is Proverb 25:11:

‘A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold

In settings of silver.’

I love to see well-written text. I have done since long before I knew such gems could be found in the bible. This makes me a slow reader as, when I see a particularly well-crafted phrase or sentence I tend to read it a second or third time – as though I’m savouring its flavour.

When I was in my early teens I wanted to be a writer.

I’d been a keen reader for years and was amazed at the writer’s gift of transporting readers from an ordinary world to an extraordinary one of excitement and adventure.

When I began work I’d use my bus journey from Immingham to Grimsby to read and to be transported elsewhere. In the case of my Wilbur Smith novels, this was usually Africa. So entranced would I become that I would often literally be transported beyond my destination.

So, instead of getting off at my required stop I’d sail on several stops further and have to catch another bus to return to where I should be.

Years later, when I began to learn the writer’s craft, hoping to one day produce my own masterpiece, I quickly learned the importance of engaging the reader’s attention very early on.

This is especially important when submitting work to a publisher or editor. Most works submitted to busy editors are not even read. They remain on what is cruelly known as ‘The Slush Pile’.

Of those that are picked up, most of these are not read beyond the first paragraph. For if the editor is not immediately captivated, the precious manuscript is tossed into the bin.

It’s the same with books in a bookshop. If the prospective buyer isn’t quickly enthralled or their curiosity aroused, the work is returned to the shelf. It should therefore come as no surprise that the opening to a work of literature is referred to as ‘The Hook’.

Like fish on a line, readers must be hooked to prevent them escaping.

The opening needs to arouse curiosity if the work is to be read further. It must raise questions in the reader’s mind. Questions that simply have to be answered.

It’s perhaps easy to see that a question mark looks like a hook.

When I self published my children’s novel through Amazon in 2015, I opted for the simple ‘Question-type Hook’ to engage my 9-11 year-old target audience. I figured that if you ask a nine year old a sufficiently interesting question, he or she will usually hang around for the answer. Or in this case, will continue reading.

Here’s how I opened:

‘Is there anything that’s puzzled you? Something you’ve

never been able to find an answer for?’

It was a simple question but an unexpected one and Levi

frowned and glanced up at his uncle Seymour while he

considered a reply.

He would later come to reflect that it was on this day,

and with this question that his childhood truly died.’

‘The Door to Caellfyon’

So, whilst I began with a straight forward question, some authors open with a statement , worded in such a way that questions are raised.

Take Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ for example:

‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’

Here, we have a statement that raises not one question but several:

  • Who dreamt the dream?
  • Where are they now? Not in Manderley … the phrase states ‘Went to’.
  • What happened in Manderley? Something did. Something significant enough to warrant dreaming about it. That much is clear.

This opening is not just a classic but has been highly successful. Sales of ‘Rebecca’ between 1938 & 1965 are estimated at almost three million copies.

Another book, familiar to all of us, opens with a statement that not only tells us a great deal, but engages us with a vital question.

Its sales have been vastly greater than, not only ‘Rebecca’, but every other literary work in human history. By far. No other work comes close in terms of copies published.

Whilst we must accept that not every reader will read this particular book cover-to-cover, all will read the opening sentence – or, in this case, verse. Therefore, the following ten words form the most widely-read sentence ever to have been printed.

‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.’

Genesis 1:1

This leads me to another piece of advice I was given while learning the writer’s craft, and that is, a well-rounded piece of work ought to include five basic ingredients:

Who, What, When, How & Why.

With the help of the Holy Spirit, Moses managed to encompass MOST of these in his ten-word opener.


Who?
That would be God. ‘In the beginning God …’

What?
Creation. ‘…God created…’

When?
‘In the beginning …’

How?
God. This is explanation enough but the fact is validated repeatedly throughout the Bible.
In Matthew 19:26 Jesus tells his disciples:

‘… with God all things are possible.’

Also, whilst authorship of the letter to the Hebrews is uncertain, whether it was Paul, Barnabas or Apollos, the writer confidently stated in Chapter 11 verse 3:

‘By faith we understand that the universe was created
by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made
out of things that are visible.’

There can be no greater example of the power in words. In this case one word from God created all that is seen. Furthermore, in Psalm 33:6 we are told:

‘By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and
all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.’

So, in the ten words comprising Genesis 1:1 we have the Who, What, When & How of creation. Four of the required five.

That leaves us with why.

And that is the hook, right there in the Bible’s opening verse.

WHY?

Why did God create Heaven and Earth?

This must be the most profound question faced by Mankind. And to answer that one, readers have no choice … but to read on.