Why is the article the used in the following verse of the Bible?

At the first God made the heaven and the earth.

To me at first, which according to OED means at the beginning; in the initial stage or stages, sounds more natural, unless there are specific grammatical delicacies that I am not aware of.

The passage is from an app on my iPhone called My Bible Pro. It uses the King James Version of the Bible. Here are some screenshots.

enter image description here enter image description here

  • 1
    Well, according to the Google search that I just performed, Genesis 1:1 (KJV) starts with "In the beginning…" – user11550 Jul 14 '12 at 8:15
  • 2
    @Mahnax - Google search? Pfft! I can confirm that the KJV Bible on my bookshelf begins Genesis 1:1 with the words "In the beginning ..." – user16269 Jul 14 '12 at 8:34
  • 2
    This is definitely not the King James Version. It's the Bible in Basic English. Unfortunately, as Barrie has said, "At first" is far more idiomatic. – Andrew Leach Jul 14 '12 at 9:29
  • 1
    @Noah - 5 different people have now told you that this is NOT KJV. Your app is wrong! – user16269 Jul 14 '12 at 9:40
  • 5
    There's a slider for intensity of KJV? – cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Jul 14 '12 at 14:28

Evidently, this is from the Basic English Bible (BBE), not the more common King James Version.

If you find out how to switch your app to the King James Version, though, you're bound to find some linguistic oddities there, too. Language has changed a lot over the past 300 to 400 years. Whether you read Shakespeare, Chaucer, or the King James Bible, you can't expect it to sound like contemporary English, which is why more contemporary translations have been written.

The Basic English translation may have some grammatical oddities as well, but for very different reasons. It was deliberately written with very few basic words; it's essentially a "Green Eggs and Ham" translation of the Scriptures.

As for why it was translated as "At the first" and not "At first", I'm guessing they wanted to retain the three-word prepositional phrase construct, but for some reason thought "In the beginning" would be too difficult for its target audience.

  • I guess, I am using the right version. Maybe there is a problem with the app. Just switched it to BBE and apparently it uses the same text. – Noah Jul 14 '12 at 9:37
  • 6
    While you're debugging, go to the beginning of Matthew. If you see the word begat over and over again, you know you've got your King James turned on. ;^) – J.R. Jul 14 '12 at 9:46

At the first God made the heaven and the earth is most certainly not from the King James Bible, whose first words are In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

At the first is, however, found in these two subsequent passages in Genesis:

Unto the place of the altar, which he had made there at the first: and there Abram called on the name of the LORD. (13:4)

And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first. (28:19)

At the first might also be occasionally found elsewhere, but at first is more usual in most contexts.

  • I dont know, but the app says that it's the KJV. I just posted the screenshots. – Noah Jul 14 '12 at 9:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.