See if you can spot the difference in these two Hebrew phrases above.
Sunday morning we were reading Zephaniah 3:17, “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness;he will quiet you by his love;he will exult over you with loud singing. (ESV)”. The text of Zeph. 3:14-20 (especially in Hebrew) is the language of a loud and jubilant celebration. In this context, the phrase “he will quiet [you] by his love” in the middle of 3:17 seems startlingly out of place. When I looked at the Greek text to see if there might be any insights about why read as it did, I found that it read very differently i.e. it reads “He will renew you in his love[i].” In Hebrew the difference between these variants is a only single letter, and the two different letters that account for these variant readings are so similar that they are frequently misread. Adding more weight to the possibility that the Hebrew text may have long ago been mis-transcribed, the Syriac text also follows the Greek text[ii], providing a second ancient witness for this variant reading i.e. “He will renew you in his love[ii].”
This text above comes from Ps. 133 in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The text below is a transcription into modern Hebrew letters. Look at how similar the ר and ד are in this ancient text.
While most English translations follow the Hebrew text, several have felt that this variant is significant enough to mention in the foot notes, and the NET has opted to follow the Greek/Syriac texts, noting that “the MT (Hebrew text) reads, ‘he is silent in his love,’ but this makes no sense in light of the immediately preceding and following lines[iii].” The NET footnote mirrors my on thoughts as I read this passage i.e. “this makes no sense!” Given the textual evidence, and the context of this passage, I think it is very likely that the Greek text (a text used by the Apostles) has captured an original text that has since been lost in Hebrew.
God is celebrating because his people have been renewed in his love!
[iii] The MT reads, “he is silent in his love,” but this makes no sense in light of the immediately preceding and following lines. Some take the Hiphil verb form as causative (see Job 11:3) rather than intransitive and translate, “he causes [you] to be silent by his love,” that is, “he soothes [you] by his love.” The present translation follows the LXX and assumes an original reading ) יְחַדֵּשׁ y‘khaddesh, “he renews”) with ellipsis of the object (“you”). (NET NOTES on Zeph. 3:17)
There is a huge cultural chasm between our culture and the cultures of the Old Testament and that chasm is often presents obstacles as we seek to understand the text of Scripture. Translators of the OT face these obstacles in most passages of the OT as they try to communicate its words into English. To overcome these obstacle, translators look at ancient translations of the text, read ancient commentaries about the text, look at archeological evidence, look at variant texts, etc… to better understand the text they are trying to translate. And sometimes they are still left choosing between several possible alternatives. And even when meaning of a text is easily understood, it is still never as precise as our English translations of the text would make it appear. Biblical Hebrew uses a much smaller vocabulary (about 8000[i] words) than does English (about 1,000,000[ii] words). Furthermore, Old Testament Hebrew is a language that is rich with synonyms which further reduces its effective word count. To compensate for the much smaller vocabulary, most words in Biblical Hebrew have much broader ranges of meaning than do their English equivalents. For example, the same word in Hebrew can be translated “to carry, to lift, to support, to forgive, to marry, etc…” Additionally, there are far fewer verb tenses in Biblical Hebrew and they are much more fluid than they are in English. One of the challenges of Biblical Hebrew is trying to understand which verb tense was intended in a given text. For example, most translations of Hosea 1:10b read “And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God”.” Most people would be surprised to learn that the conjugated Hebrew verb for “it was said” and for “it shall be said” are identical in the Hebrew text. The change of tense was a choice made by the translator, and there is some debate about what tense was intended.[iii] The broad range of meaning of Hebrew words, and the fluid use of verb tenses are just a few of the challenges faced by biblical Hebrew scholars.
While Hebrew scholars often hold strong opinions about the intended meaning of the passages found in the Hebrew Scriptures, they also tend to approach scholarly debate with a lot of grace when challenging those who hold differing opinions because they also recognize how many questions are still unanswered. Understanding both the strengths and weaknesses of your own position is critical to honest debate. When looking at the Genesis account, these scholars recognize that many of the questions we have about how and when creation took place are simply not answered as neatly as we might desire and, while they often have strong opinions about how these passages should be understood, they recognize that there is room for an abundance of grace for those who have come to different conclusions. When Hebrew scholars, who have spent a lifetime studying the language of the OT, are unwilling to make the kind of dogmatic assertions that are being made by people who have not studied the language, it should be a red flag that something is wrong.
There are a many good questions that should be asked as we approach the biblical account of creation, and good arguments can be made for a number of answers to these questions. Unfortunately the goal of some “creation ministries” has not been to prove that their answers to these questions are the best answers, but rather to prove that they are the only answers. In pursuing this goal, these ministries have often presented extremely flawed arguments in an attempt to force the text of Scripture into their mold. The problem is not that their suggested interpretation of the biblical text is unreasonable; the problem is that far too much energy is being spent trying to prove that all other interpretations are unreasonable instead of honestly looking at the text itself and recognizing where there is room for honest disagreement. Sometimes these ministries have acted like an overzealous cop who so strongly believes his suspect is guilty that he is willing to cross ethical lines and manufacture evidence in order to gain a conviction of a man who may be innocent. When proving that all other explanations of the creation account are invalid becomes the goal, it can lead to an overzealous desire to convict those who interpret these passages differently of mishandling Scripture. Intentionally or not, their over zealousness has far too often been the catalyst for false accusations that have been leveled against brothers and sisters in Christ.
I would like to examine an article written by Answers in Genesis that demonstrates how easily ethical lines can be crossed when the goal becomes “proving” all other explanations are wrong. The primary question being raised in this article is “Are there gaps in the Genesis genealogies?” This is a good question and there are good biblical scholars who validly disagree on the answer to this question. Answers in Genesis takes the position that there are no gaps in the early genealogies of Genesis, and while their answer is an entirely reasonable explanation of the biblical text, it is not the only valid explanation of the text. Problems arise in their argument, not because of how they understand the text, but because they have over zealously tried to “prove” that all other explanations are invalid. The focus of AiG’s argument is based on how the Hebrew root ‘YaLaD’ (to begat) should be understood. Some Hebrew scholars do support AiG’s understanding of these early genealogies in Genesis, but none will support AiG’s suggestion about how the Hebrew root ‘YaLaD’ must be understood. While AiG’s proposal, if true, would preclude any other understanding of these genealogies, it is not a proposal supported by Hebrew scholarship and it marks the point where AiG has begun to cross an ethical line. In order to defend their position, AiG must move farther still beyond a line that they should have never crossed. Let’s take a look at AiG’s six arguments.
Arguments 1 and 3
The genealogical information given in Genesis 46 presents a serious problem for those who suggest that the Hebrew root ‘YaLaD’ (begat) can refer only to a direct descendant. In trying to defend this position, AiG tells us that “A person needs to read the quoted verse (Ge. 46:15) carefully to correctly understand its meaning. The begat (bare) refers to the sons born in Padanaram. Genesis 35:23 lists the six sons born in Padanaram (those whom Leah begat), who are listed as part of the total group of 33 children in Genesis 46:15. Thus, this passage confirms that begat points to the generation immediately following—a literal parent/child relationship.” There are several serious problems with this explanation.
First, no distinction is made between the six children that were direct descendants and the remaining twenty-seven given in the list. While the qualification “in Paddam-Aram” may indicate that, through the birth of these six children, ultimately Leah bore thirty three children, it is an inescapable conclusion that this usage of YaLaD (begat) refers to multiple generations. It is this kind of usage that many scholars believe may be intended in other early genealogies given in Genesis.
Second, this same pattern is repeated for Zipah (vs. 18), Rachel (vs. 22), and Bilah (vs. 25). In each of these for examples, a list of children and grandchildren is also provided, and then the total number is said to have been born to the woman whose name follows the list. However, in none of the remaining three examples is any qualifying location provided, further demonstrating the impossibility of the very imaginative interpretation suggested by AiG. AiG tells us that “nowhere is it stated that these four wives physically bore the total number of sons listed for each” but the whole point is that scholars see these as examples where the text is speaking of generational gaps, where the text speaks of both children and grandchildren that are born to these women, and the text is very clear on that point. Genesis 46:18 states that “she [Zilpah] bore to Jacob these sixteen persons (NASB)[iv]” but only two were her biological children, the rest were grandchildren or great grandchildren.
Third, this is not the only passage that uses the root YaLad (begat) in a way that indicates multiple generations. Duet. 4:25 tells us that “you will beget sons and sons of sons,” and in Ruth 4:17 were are told that “A son has been born to Naomi.” This son, we know from the narrative, was the direct descendant of Ruth and Boaz. Not only is there a generational gap, there wasn’t even a direct biological relationship between Naomi and Ruth and only a distant relationship between Naomi and Boaz.
AiG’s recognizes that there are skipped generations found in Mt. 1:8 and Mt. 1:11, but AiG tells us that “Here, the Greek word for begat is gennao, which shows flexibility not found in the Hebrew word and does allow for the possibility that a generation or more may be skipped.” Where did the idea that the Hebrew word ‘YaLaD’ is less flexible than the Greek word ‘gennao’ originate? It appears that this idea came solely from AiG. This implied limit to the semantic range of meaning for ‘YaLaD’ is not supported by any Hebrew reference lexicon, and AiG has not referenced the work of any Hebrew scholar that would support such a conclusion.
The Greek NT has been translated into a number of Semitic languages, like Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic. These languages share many common roots, and one frequently shared root is ‘YaLaD’ (to beget). When we examine translations of Mt. 1 in every Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic translation, we find that ‘YaLaD’ is consistently used to translate the verses with their known genealogical gaps. Some examples are Shem-Tob ben-Isaac ben-Shaprut’s 14th century Hebrew translation[v], the Peshitta (an Aramaic 5th century translation)[vi], and the Van Dyke[vii]. If, as AiG contends, the root ‘YaLaD’ (begat) can never be used to refer to anyone other than a direct biological descendant, then we would expect that the translators of these Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic translations of this biblical text would have recognized the problem and chosen other words to express the non-direct relationships found in this genealogy; they did not. The universal usage of this root in every Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic translation alone demonstrates the fallacy of this argument.
AiG tells us that “The Hebrew word yalad for begat is not used in the 1 Chronicles passage (1 Chronicles 7:23–27);” however, it is present[viii] in the very first verse of this passage.
In Luke 3:36, and in most copies of the LXX (ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew text) we have an additional generation that is not present in the Hebrew genealogies found in Ge. 11:12 or 1 Chr. 1:24. AiG contends that this was an error introduced into both the LXX and the text of Luke 3:36. They point to an early manuscript (P75) of Luke which does not contain the additional generation, and suggest that this was the original text and that all other copies reflect a corrupted text. While this, unlike the other arguments, is a possible explanation, it is far from certain.
Most scholars believe the genealogies that include Cainan reflect the original text of Luke and that the basis for Luke’s genealogy is found in the LXX. P75 was found in 1952, and many new English translations of Scripture have been published since its discovery i.e. the NIV, NASB, ESV, NRSV, NLT, HCSB, etc…; to date, no translation committee has felt there was sufficient evidence to warrant changing our English translations and every new English translation still includes the name Cainan. Before the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, scholars often presumed that differences between the LXX and the Hebrew text reflected either corruption or mistranslation of an original Hebrew text; however, the DSS have demonstrated that many of these differences were actually a reflection of previously unknown Hebrew variants[ix]. For this reason, scholars today have much more respect for the translation quality of the LXX than did scholars of a generation past. Because this additional generation is found in so many ancient manuscripts[x], many scholars believe that copies of Luke that include Cainan are more likely to represent the original text.
Additionally, witnesses to this genealogy also exist in the Jewish Pseudepigrapha, and these witnesses add details that may provide grounds for understanding why Cainan was omitted from the Hebrew text. In the book of Jubilees[xi] we are told that Cainan the son of Arphaxad (and father of Shelah) found a cave with writings about astrology written by the “watchers who lived before the flood.” He copied the writing and then hid this from Noah because he was afraid of Noah’s response. This led to sin that apparently resulted Cainan being sent away. His involvement in astrology and subsequent expulsion may explain why his name was blotted out of the OT record. Additionally, mathematical analysis[xii] of both the Hebrew and Greek genealogies of the OT demonstrate that it is extremely unlikely that this additional generation was due to a simple transcription error because the numbers have been adjusted to provide the same numerical sums in the genealogies that contain this name as are provided in the genealogies that omit it. Whether the name Cainan was part of the original text of Luke is a much more difficult question to answer than AiG has suggested. Regardless of what one concludes regarding Luke’s genealogy, that decision should be made based solely on evaluating the evidences related to this passage. Attempting to use this passage to prove that the meaning of a Hebrew word should be limited is circular reasoning, and something to be avoided.
There is no reason to defend Harold Camping’s argument, so I will ignore it and focus on the errors in AiG’s response. AiG tells us that “These verbs use the hiphil form of the verb” and that the “Hiphil usually expresses the causative action of qal.” While both statements are true, AiG then leaps to the unwarranted conclusion that “God chose this form to make it absolutely clear that we understand that there are no missing generations in chapters 5 and 11 of Genesis. Any other Hebrew verb form would not have been nearly as emphatic as the hiphil form.” This is stated without providing references to any Hebrew scholarship that would support this conclusion, and there is no Hebrew reference lexicon that would suggest the hiphil form would limit the semantic range of meaning for this root in this way. While it is true that the hiphil form USUALLY expresses causative action, they have failed to recognize that the meaning of a verb is not always derived from its form; common usage must always take precedence in determining meaning. For example, if I say “I speak Hebrew[xiii]”, the piel (intensive) form of the verb is used; however, the meaning of this verb is just simple active even though the piel construction is used. There are many Hebrew verbs that “break the rules” when one considers the meaning that “should” be derived from its form. When we look at the interchangeability of the qal (light, active) and hiphil (causative, active) for the root ‘YaLaD’ (to begat) as it is used in the biblical text, we should recognize that caution must be exercised before deriving the meaning for this verb based on its form.
More importantly, AiG’s understanding of causative action is itself flawed. In biblical Hebrew, the causative form is frequently used to indicate the person who was the cause of an action even when that person was not the agent who did the action. When Scripture speaks of David bringing (hiphil) the shields of gold to Jerusalem (1 Chr. 18:7), it does not intend to convey the idea that David personally carried them to Jerusalem, but rather that he had his men bring them to Jerusalem. When it speaks of Solomon bringing (hiphil) the dedicated items into the Temple (2 Chr. 5:1), again the intent is not to convey the idea that Solomon literally carried these items himself, but rather that they were brought to the temple by others following his order. Similarly, when Scripture tells us that God brought disaster on Israel, most of the time that action was carried out by the men of other nations i.e. God was the cause of the action, but not the agent of that action. Additionally, it is clear that this verb can be used in the Hiphil form to indicate genealogical gaps. One of the best examples can be found in Duet. 4:25 which uses this exact form to say “for you will beget sons and sons of sons;” a statement that couldn’t more strongly indicate multiple generations.
Strong vigorous debate is an invaluable tool for learning only when we come to that debate willing to acknowledge the weakness of our own position and willing to hear the positions of those with whom we disagree. Some of the most valuable debates I have engaged in personally are the ones I have lost; they were valuable because loosing meant that I learned something that I had not known before. When we enter into a debate with the idea that winning is more important that learning, too often the result is that integrity is compromised in order to achieve that goal, and no one profits from that debate. It is time we stop coming to debates over Creation with the goal of winning, and start engaging in debates with the goal of truly learning from one another.
[i] Strong’s identifies 8674 Hebrew words, other sources vary slightly.
[ii] The number of words in the English language is: 1,025,109.8. This is the estimate by the Global Language Monitor on January 1, 2014. The English Language passed the Million Word threshold on June 10, 2009 at 10:22 a.m. (GMT). The Millionth Word was the controversial ‘Web 2.0′. Currently there is a new word created every 98 minutes or about 14.7 words per day. Though GLM’s analysis was the subject of much controversy at the time, the recent Google/Harvard Study of the Current Number of Words in the English Language is 1,022,000. The number of words in the English language according to GLM now stands at: 1,025,109.8. The difference between the two analyses is .0121%, which is widely considered statistically insignificant. Google’s number, which is based on the counting of the words in the 15,000,000 English language books it has scanned into the ‘Google Corpus,’ mirrors GLM’s Analysis. GLM’s number is based upon its algorithmic methodologies, explication of which is available from its site.
[iii] Among Hebrew scholars there is a debate about whether the first instance should be translated as “it was said” or whether “it should be said” better communicates the intent of Hosea. The use of the perfect is primarily based on the translation of this text found in the LXX.
[viii] In 1 Chr. 7:23 (the very first verse from this passage) we read ‘וַתַּ֖הַר וַתֵּ֣לֶד בֵּ֑ן’ (and she conceived and begat a son). In Hebrew, letters like ה,ו,י,נ are weak letters, and it frequently dropped when verbs containing them are conjugated. In the text from 1 Chr. 7:23 that I provided, both verbs contain weak letters and both verbs have dropped a letter in their conjugated form in this text. The root for ‘to conceive’ is הרה and the final ה is dropped when conjugated as ותהר, the root for ‘to begat’ is ילד and the י is dropped when the verb is conjugated as ותלד. The prefixed ת simply indicates that this is the 3rd person feminine singular imperfect.
[ix] Because the DSS are very fragmentary, every passage found in the LXX cannot be compared to an original text from the DSS collection; this is one example where we our comparison is still limited only to Hebrew manuscripts that centuries newer than the Greek texts of the LXX to which they are being compared.
[x] The NET bible notes that “the witnesses with this reading (or a variation of it( are substantial: א B L ¦1 33 )Καϊνάμ(, A Θ Ψ 0102 ¦13 Û (Καϊνάν, Kainan)”
One of the most beautiful poetic passages of the Hebrew bible is found in Ecclesiastes 12, and the richness of this passage is too often missed because people have failed to understand the rich poetic imagery that Solomon has employed. Throughout this passage, word pictures are employed to describe the process of aging and all that comes with it. How many of these word pictures can you identify and correctly interpret?
The most challenging word pictures found in this passage are in verse 5; their challenge lies in the fact that we no longer have a clear understanding of the intended imagery of the almond blossom, the locust [tree], or the caperberry. Many translations have opted to interpret some or all of these word pictures for you, often without indicating their departure from the underlying Hebrew text. While the NLT attempts to keep the original imagery, it adds the common interpretations of that imagery into the text i.e. “before your hair turns white like an almond tree in bloom, and you drag along without energy like a dying grasshopper, and the caperberry no longer inspires sexual desire.” However, I believe Robert Alter, in his book “The Wisdom books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes,” offers a better solution when he notes that “It is less strained to read these lines simply as images of the cycle of growth and decay in nature as man is about to depart from that cycle.” Alter also offers a possible solution to one of the most challenging word pictures in this text. He notes that “The most puzzling reference is to the laden locust. Some see this as indicating a plant, not an insect (in fact a meaning carried by the English word as well); others detect a reference to the female locust heavy with eggs, after laying which she dies. Perhaps the least strained construction is a locust tree heavy with ripe fruit.”
How many of the word pictures employed by Solomon can you identify?
Remember your Creator while you are still young,
before the days of misery come
and turn into years in which you say “there is no pleasure in them.”
Remember him –
Before the light of the sun, and the moon, and the stars grow dark,
And the clouds return after the rain.
When the guardians of the house tremble
and the strong men stoop,
When the grinders are idle because they are few
and those who peer through the windows fade away.
When the doors to the street are shut,
And the sound of the mill grows faint.
When one rises to the sounds of the bird,
But the daughters of song have been subdued.
Even heights bring fear,
And the streets terrify them.
— the almond tree blooms,
the locust tree is heavy laden,
and the caper berry breaks open —
Because a man goes to his eternal home,
And mourners go around in the streets.
Remember him –
Before the silver cord breaks
and the golden bowl crashes to the ground,
Before the well’s pitcher is smashed
and it’s crank wheel broken.
Before dust returns to the earth from where it came,
And the spirit returns to God who gave it.
Futility, futility, said the preacher, all is futility.
Seldom have I read a text in the Hebrew bible and have been as surprised by how differently that text sounded in our English bibles than I was when I read 2 Chr. 7:14 this week. Most English versions read something similar to this rendering from the NIV.
“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
When I followed along as this verse was read in English, my first thought was “Where is the ‘if’ in this verse?” In Hebrew, this verse reads like we began in the middle of the sentence and we missed something important that came earlier. This is how it sounds in Hebrew.
“…and my people, who are called by my name, are humbled and pray and seek my face and turn from their evil ways, I certainly will hear from heaven and I will forgive their sin and I will heal their land.”
As I looked back at the prior text to see what I had missed, the text appeared even stranger. Chapter 7 begins with the joyous celebration dedicating the Temple. Solomon had finished his prayer of dedication, and fire had come down from heaven, consummating the temple dedication. Following this, there has been three weeks of celebration with praise, music, and feasting, and then when this had been completed and the people returned to their homes, God appeared to Solomon:
“And Lord appeared to Solomon at night. And he said to him, I have heard your prayer and I have chosen this place to be my house of sacrifice. Thus I will restrain the rain from the heavens, and thus I will command the grasshopper to eat the [produce of] the land! And if I send a plague against my people, and my people, who are called by my name, are humbled and pray and seek my face and turn from their evil ways, I certainly will hear from heaven and I will forgive their sin and I will heal their land.”
At first glance, this appears to be a rather strange response to the dedication of the Temple. Why would God promise to withhold the rain, and send plagues against his people in response to the dedication of the temple? The answer is that he didn’t, God’s answer here isn’t an unsolicited response to the dedication of the temple, it is a direct response to Solomon’s own prayer. Only when we look back to Solomon’s prayer recorded in Chapter 6 does God’s response begin to make sense. Here is a portion of Solomon’s prayer.
“May you hear the petitions of your servant and your people Israel who pray towards this place. Hear from your dwelling place in heaven, hear and forgive.
If a man sins against his neighbor, and is compelled to take an oath before your alter in this house, may you hear from heaven, act, and judge your servants, repaying the wicked for his deeds, and vindicating the righteous man, and rewarding him for his righteousness.
If your people are struck down by an enemy because they sinned against you, and they return and praise your name, and they pray and seek your favor in this house, may you hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and bring them back to the land that you gave to them and their fathers.
When the heavens are restrained and it does not rain because they sinned against you, and they pray towards this place, praising your name, and turn from their sin because you have punished them, may you hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your servants. And teach your people Israel to walk in your good way, and send rain on your land, [a land] that you gave to your people to possess.
When there is famine in the land because of a plague, whether it is blight or mildew, locust or grasshopper, or because their enemies have raided their fortified cities. All are afflicted and all are ill. Every prayer and petition for every man and for all your people Israel, each man knowing his own affliction and pain and spreading out his hands towards this house, may you hear from heaven, your dwelling place. May you forgive and repay each man according to all his ways. You know his heart because you alone know the human heart. Do this so that they will fear you all the days that they live in the land you gave to our fathers.”
As we look at Solomon’s prayer, we can see that God’s response was not unexpected, it was a direct answer to thing for which Solomon had already prayed.
Some additional difference in the Hebrew text
While most versions translate יִכָּנְע֙וּ reflexively i.e. ‘they will humble themselves,’ this Hebrew verb form is primarily used as a passive. ‘they will be humbled.’ The Hebrew text conveys a bit more strongly God’s part in humbling his people, while still conveying the idea that man has a responsibility to respond when God has humbled him. God’s response in 2 Chr. 7:14 mirrors Solomon’s declaration (2 Chr. 6:26) that it is God who punishes.
Most English texts use the conditional ‘if’ three times in verse 13 i.e. ‘If I will restrain the rain,’ ‘if I will command the grasshopper,’ and ‘if I send a plague’ but the first two instances in the Hebrew are not conditional. The Hebrew word used here is הן and is most often translated as ‘behold,’ ‘thus,’ etc… The text communicates that this is something God will do, and not something he might do.
Why then do our English translations read the way they do?
The LXX (an ancient Greek translation of the OT) of these verses reads much more closely to our English translations, and it includes all of the conditionals missing in the Hebrew text. The KJV relied heavily on this Greek text, and subsequent English translations very often follow the textual tradition set by the KJV translators. Additionally, some scholars have suggested that the Hebrew text may align closer to the Greek, positing the idea that ‘הן’ is an example of an Aramaism in this Hebrew text; ‘הן’ can be used in Aramaic as a conditional in some circumstances. If we accept this proposal, it could account for the two missing conditionals in verse 13, but it does not explain the missing conditional in verse 14. While this is a possible explanation for the differences between the Hebrew and Greek texts, it is much more likely that the author of Chronicles, who lived at a time when the Jewish people primarily spoke Hebrew, used this word with its Hebrew meaning, and the translators of the LXX, who lived centuries later at a time when Aramaic had become the prevalent spoken language used by the Jews, simply misunderstood the meaning of this word.
Solomon, in his prayer, acknowledged that God, in his sovereignty, may choose to use life’s difficult circumstances to guide his people to repentance. He recognized that God’s punishment is not that of a tyrant ready to pounce, but rather it is that of a loving father who desires the very best for his children. When God appeared to Solomon, he himself confirmed that Solomon had correctly understood God’s heart for his people. The idea that God, as a loving father, uses the difficult circumstances in life to guide us back to his path is a theme often repeated in Scripture. Hosea describes God as blocking the wrong path of sinful Israel in order to bring them back into fellowship with him, and the author of Hebrews expounds on this idea in Chapter 12, declaring that God’s punishment demonstrates that we belong to him and that he truly loves us.
And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Heb. 12:5-11 NIV)
The story of the Gospel that is threaded throughout all of Scripture is not an instruction about what we must do to please God, but rather it is a description of what God has already done for us, and how we should respond to the God who first loved us and is always trying to draw us into true intimacy with him.
The new “Aramaic English New Testament (AENT)” claims to have resolved a number of issues in our understanding of the biblical text by translating directly from an “original” Aramaic text. However, these claims are better categorized as slight of hand than they are new discoveries in biblical studies. In this article, I will investigate a number of the claims made and show why these are not nearly the earth shattering discoveries that the translators of this text have claimed.
Was the NT really written originally in Aramaic?
The authors of the AENT suggest that our Greek NT texts are a “re-translation” of original Aramaic texts, stating that “Most people are shocked to learn that the bible they grew up with was not translated directly from original Aramaic texts but rather from Greek versions that were re-translated into English.” However, there is very little evidence to support this conclusion. The oldest Aramaic text that we have in our possession comes from the late 4th century, but the earliest Greek text we have is dated to the mid 1st century i.e. within a decade of the time we believe it was original penned. While there is speculation that there may have been an Aramaic ‘Q’ text that was used as a source by the author of the NT, very few Syriac scholars believe that the text of the Peshitta that we have today represents that original ‘Q’ text. The majority of Syriac scholars believe that the Peshitta is an Aramaic translation of Greek (or Latin) original texts. The suggestion that the Peshitta text represents an original text that was later translated into Greek is a very minority position that has no direct textual support.
Is “my God, my God, why have you spared me?” really a better translation?
1. It presupposes that the NT authors (Matthew and Mark) misunderstood Jesus words.
The proposed translation of the Aramaic is highly unlikely, and because the NT authors explained their own understanding of these Aramaic words spoken by Jesus, we must conclude that the NT authors themselves misunderstood Jesus’ words in order accept this proposition. Such a suggestion would would significantly damage a belief in the inspiration of the of the Scriptures.
2. It ignores the fact that שבק was the expected translation for עזב used in both the OT and NT.
Aramaic translations of the OT that pre-date the Gospel accounts use the very same words in translation as were quoted in the Gospel (See above). This was the expected Aramaic word choice to communicate the idea of being ‘forsaken’ which is clearly communicated in the Hebrew text of Ps. 22:1. There is very little reason to believe that the intended meaning of the Aramaic word used by Jesus on the cross would be different than the same word used in the text of Ps. 22:1 or from the meaning conveyed in the explanatory Greek text provided in the Gospel account.
3. It ignores the fact that the Greek word ἐγκατέλιπές used in the explanatory text, is the same word used in the translation of Ps. 22:1.
As with the Aramaic translation of Ps. 22:1, the Greek LXX translation of the OT (which also predates the NT) uses the same vocabulary as is used in the Gospel account. In both the Gospel account and in the LXX, it is clear that the meaning communicated in Greek was “to forsake.”
4. The suggested translation of the Aramaic is uncommon.
While the suggested translation of the Aramaic is not impossible, it is very unlikely. The common understanding of the Aramaic mirrors the understanding of the Hebrew and Greek words used in translation. The following is the definition provided in HALOT (Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament).
Is “rope” really a better translation than “camel” in Mt. 19:24?
1. The word is not used anywhere else in Scripture to mean “rope.”
Aside from the “disputed” texts, גמל/גמלא is not used in either the OT or NT with the meaning of “rope.” In the OT we see many usages that refer to “camels” i.e. Gen. 24:10, 22, 30, 32, 61, 63, 64, 31:17, 32:16, Lev. 11:4, Deut. 14:7, 1 Sam. 15:3, 30:17, 1 Chr. 5:21, 27:30, Neh. 7:68, Job 1:3, 17, 42:12, Isa. 21:7, Tob. 9:2, Jdt. 2:17, 1 Es. 5:42. In the NT, aside from these “disputed” text, even the AENT translates גמלא as camel (check Mk. 1:6, Matt. 3:4, 23:24 in the AENT). Note: while a simplification, the suffixed ‘א’ in Aramaic is roughly equivalent to a direct article.
2. Neither ancient Greek or Latin translations support the meaning of “rope.”
Both ancient Greek and Latin translations of this passage understand the word here to be indisputably “camel.” Neither the Latin ‘camelum’ nor the Greek ‘κάμηλον’ can be understood to mean ‘rope.’ There were many Aramaic speakers during the period when these Greek and Latin texts were being distributed that would have recognized a mistake if one had truly been made.
3. The meaning of ‘rope’ is not even given in Lexicon’s of ancient Hebrew / Aramaic.
The root גמל is common in Semitic languages, and as noted below, Hebrew, Aramaic (Syriac), and Arabic roots have the same meaning. The following is the entry for גמל provided in HALOT:
Like so many publications of the past that have claimed new, never before understood discoveries about the bible, the claims made by the translators of AENT do not represent new discoveries; the suggestions made by these translators have been made many times before, and have been rejected by the majority of scholars over and over again. Other translations made directly from the same Aramaic texts (like the Lewis Translation of the NT Peshitta in 1896) read nearly identically to our English texts in both of the cases presented above. A quick check of other translations of these same Aramaic texts (yes they really do exist) will quickly confirm that reading from the Aramaic texts does not change our understanding of these texts in the ways suggested by translators of the AENT. The Aramaic interlinear is not provided for those who can read the text for themselves, for they would recognize the slight of hand being presented, but only to provide the illusion of credibility for the vast majority who are unable to read the Aramaic text.
It is often suggested that Jesus used a the word ‘agape’ in John 21:15-17 to describe a higher form of love when speaking to Peter, but when Peter chose to use ‘phileo,’ he did so because he was indicating a lower form of love. According to this theory, Peter was hurt when Jesus asked him if he “really” loved him according to the lower form of love (phileo) that Peter had already confessed twice before. The crux if this interpretation relies on the belief that ‘agape’ and ‘phileo’ carry significantly different meanings; however, this is a claim that is not supported when we look at the weight of the evidence. Let’s take a look.
1. Scripture tells us why Peter was grieved.
Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” (Joh 21:17 ESV)
Note that there is no indication in the Scripture that Peter was grieved because Jesus had used a different word for love. The reason given in Scripture about why Jesus was grieved is very different from the one suggested in the Agapeo / Phileo theory.
2. The conversation was originally in Aramaic.
In Aramaic, it is likely that only a single word would have been used for every instance where ‘agape’ and ‘phileo’ are used in the Greek text. The following is the translation of this passage found in the Peshitta (an ancient Aramaic translation that some scholars believe was derived from an original Aramaic source document that may have also been a source for the synoptic Gospels i.e. Matthew, Mark, and Luke)
(Do you love me more than these?)
רחם אנת לי יתיר מן הלין
(Yes Lord, you know that I love you.)
אין מרי אנת ידע אנת דרחם אנא לך
(Do you love me)
רחם אנת לי
(Yes Lord, you know that I love you.)
אין מרי אנת ידע אנת דרחם אנא לך
(Do you love me?)
רחם אנת לי
(It grieved Caphas because he said a third time “do you love me?”)
וכרית לה לכאפא דאמר לה דתלת זבנין דרחם אנת לי
(Lord, all things you understand. You know that I love you)
מרי כל מדם אנת חכם אנת אנת ידע אנת דרחם אנא לך
—– Note the consistent use of רחם to denote love in this passage —-
3. The idea that there was a distinction in meaning between agapeo and phileo is a very modern idea.
This passage was frequently commented on by the writers of the Early church, some who were fluent in Greek, but none ever mentioned the idea that the change of word affected the meaning of this passage. In the fourth Century, Augustine, in the City of God, uses a Latin translation of this passage to prove that ‘dilectio’ and ‘amor’ are completely synonymous; he uses this passage because it uses both Latin words and he assumes that his readers will acknowledge that the use of these two distinct Latin words is synonymous in this context. It is unfathomable to believe he would chosen this example if there was any debate on whether the underlying Greek words were or were not equivalent. After presenting the Latin translation, he concludes with the following statement:
“I have judged it right to mention this, because some are of opinion that charity or regard (dilectio) is one thing, love (amor) another. They say that dilectio is used of a good affection, amor of an evil love. But it is very certain that even secular literature knows no such distinction.”
4. Most Greek scholars reject the idea that John intended to make a distinction by changing the word used for Love in this passage.
Carson, Bruce, Bauer, Danker, Borchert, Morris, Mounce, and others have all rejected this interpretation of this passage.
5. The few Scholars who do believe there is a distinction in the meaning of these words do not even agree on what that distinction is or even which word denotes the “greater” love; they offer very contradictory assessments of each word’s meaning.
Kenneth Wuest (Wuest’s Word studies from the Greek NT) “In John 21 : our Lord uses ‘agapao’ in verses 15 and 16, ‘phileo’ in 17. Peter uses ‘phileo’ three times. Our Lord uses the noblest word in the Greek language the first two times and changes to Peter’s word the third time, but assures Peter that his coming martyrdom speaks of the fact that his future love for his Lord will be based not only upon his delight in his Lord but upon his apprehension of His preciousness.”
Don Wilkins (NASB translator) says: “On the more specific question of PHILEO/AGAPAO, I would like to suggest that PHILEO is a higher form of love than AGAPAO. AGAPAO seems to be a ‘charitable’ love in that one provides for another’s needs, without developing a relationship as a friend to the other person (i.e. no personal ties). PHILEO, on the other hand, implies the close connection between friends and the related obligations that were so important in the ancient world. By this interpretation, then, Jesus twice asks Peter if he is committed to him at the lower level of love, and Peter responds by raising the commitment to the higher level of a true friend. The third time, Jesus questions whether Peter is really committed to him at this higher level, or perhaps whether Peter really understands what such commitment really entails, and this would explain Peter’s hurt feelings. So it is not that Jesus asks him the question three times, it is rather (as I think the Greek implies) the fact that Jesus uses PHILEO the third time. Some people object to the notion that AGAPAO would not include the bonds of friendship, but in every passage where the objection would be raised, I think there is a reasonable answer–sometimes that friendship is not being denied, but that it is just not the focus of AGAPAO.”
6. The words themselves are used nearly synonymously in Scripture.
Love for the Father
The Father loves (ἀγαπάω) the Son (Joh 3:35 ESV)
the Father loves (φιλέω) the Son (Joh 5:20 ESV)
Love for Lazarus
So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love (φιλέω) is ill.” (Joh 11:3 ESV)
Now Jesus loved (ἀγαπάω) Martha and her sister and Lazarus. (Joh 11:5 ESV)
Love for John
whom Jesus loved (φιλέω) (Joh 20:2 ESV)
whom Jesus loved (ἀγαπάω) (Joh 13:23 ESV)
Loving for evil things
everyone who loves (φιλέω) and practices falsehood. (Rev 22:15 ESV)
people loved (ἀγαπάω) the darkness (Joh 3:19 ESV)
they loved (ἀγαπάω) the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. (Joh 12:43 ESV)
Additionally, the word אהב (love) used in the Hebrew OT is translated by both agapeo and phileo in the LXX, sometimes these words are used interchangeably in the same verse even though only one word was used in the original Hebrew text. (ex. Pr. 21:17; Ho. 3:1)
7. The interchanging of synonyms was very common in biblical literature.
When we look at the passage in John 21:15-17, we find that John used a number of synonyms in this passage. The interchange of agapeo/phileo was only one out of four examples of similar synonym usages in these 3 verses alone! It is a pattern we see repeatedly thought the Scriptures.
Jesus: ἀγαπᾷς με πλέον τούτων (Do you love me more than these?)
Peter: ναὶ κύριε, σὺ οἶδας ὅτι φιλῶ σε (Yes Lord, you know that I love you)
Jesus: βόσκε τὰ ἀρνία μου (Feed my lambs)
Jesus: ἀγαπᾷς με (Do you love me?)
Peter: ναὶ κύριε, σὺ οἶδας ὅτι φιλῶ σε (Yes, Lord, You know that I love you).
Jesus: ποίμαινε τὰ πρόβατά μου (Tend my sheep)
Jesus: φιλεῖς με (Do you love me?)
Peter: κύριε, πάντα σὺ οἶδας, σὺ γινώσκεις ὅτι φιλῶ σε (Lord, You know all, you know that I love you.)
Jesus: βόσκε τὰ πρόβατά μου (Feed my sheep).
Ayman S. Ibrahim, professor of Islamic studies and senior fellow for the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written an excellent review of “Understanding Insider Movements: Disciples of Jesus within Diverse Religious Communities” by Harley Talman and John Jay Travis. In addition to addressing some of the significant shortcomings of this book, his review also outlines some of the significant theological problems with the Insider Movement Paradigm, problems he describes as the “Five Pillars of Insider Moments.” Slightly adapted from Ayman S. Ibraham, they are as follows:
In his review, Ayman S. Ibrahim hits the mark when he states, “these pillars are seriously dangerous, not only in themselves but specifically in their theological, soteriological, and missiological implications.” For those looking for a quick introduction into the world IM, this book review is an excellent place to begin.
“Church, stop sending people who don’t know their God, don’t know their message, and don’t know what it is like to submit to authority. Please, for the sake of God’s glory, stop.”
Steve Jennings, pastor of Immanuel Church of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates, in his impassioned plea to the church, describes one of the foundation issues that has lead to our biggest problems in missions today i.e. we are sending people to minister to people abroad who do not have the spiritual maturity or theological training needed to be successful. And rather than helping the ministries of the church abroad, far too often these missionaries are damaging those ministries. Steve asks us (the churches that are sending missionaries) some very good questions, questions that we really need to grapple with before we send another missionary abroad or spend another dollar on missions.
Why would you send someone to plant churches abroad who you would never hire as a pastor or nominate as a lay elder?
Why does it seem that “passion” rather than proven faithfulness is the main criterion for sending men and women to support those church planters?
Why on earth is the bar set lower for the frontlines than it is for the local church?
These are questions we really need to begin asking before we send another missionary or invest another dollar in foreign missions. If we fail to ask these kinds of questions, they may never get answered because too many of our sending organizations stopped asking these kinds of questions long, long, ago, and the resulting damage done by missionaries and bible “translators” is heart breaking. While the concerns raised in this article are concerns I have heard echoed many times by leaders of churches abroad, these are seldom concerns I hear from the organizations that are sending missionaries. This is not the first time I have heard those in church abroad plead with those sending missionaries to STOP what they are doing and work with the local churches rather than against them. In Bangladesh the local church has tried for decades to stop our western missionaries from undermining their work with unbiblical practices, but to no avail. This video describes the same dilemma that has been described by Steve, in this video a couple of Bangladeshi pastors tell us as they describe the problems they are facing because of missionaries sent from the west that:
“I must say that, yes, this is coming from outside from western countries…”
“It is a shame actually, we don’t know how to stop it. The Isai group (converts from a Muslim Background) they are also against that (practices of our western missionaries), and the traditional people (those from a Christian background), they are also against that, but we don’t know who to stop it.”
The Strong’s concordance is a great tool, but one that is too often abused. The biblical lexicon’s numbering systems allows one to identify lexical forms (i.e. roots) of Hebrew and Greek words that are used in the source that is represented in a text of a translation. Originally, this was intended to be used by biblical language students to aid in decoding lexical forms that might be difficult to recognize in the biblical text. For example, in Hebrew it is very common for the first letter of a root to be dropped in the form used in the biblical text For the beginning Hebrew student, finding words like these in a lexicon is nearly impossible because the entries are listed alphabetically. Before the development of computer bible software, a Strong’s concordance was one of the few ways possible for a biblical language student to identify the lexical form of words used in the biblical text.
The wrong tool for the job
Unfortunately, people sometimes believe that they can provide a better interpretation of their English translation by looking up the Hebrew and Greek roots and then choosing a new meaning from the ones listed in the definition for that root even when it differs significantly from the one chosen by the translators of their bible. This is something this tool was NEVER designed to do and using the tool for this purpose is an endeavor that can lead to disastrous conclusions. Few realize is that the lexical form (found in a Strong’s lexicon) is seldom the form that is found in the text itself, and yet it is absolutely necessary to understand both the form in used in the text and the context in which it is before the meaning of a word itself can be understood. Too often people misuse a Strong’s concordance by simply looking through the list of definitions and then picking the one that “they like best”; frequently picking a definition is not even possible when the context and grammar are considered.
In Hebrew, for example, each root (lexical form) can be conjugated in seven different constructions i.e. passive, active, intensive, intensive/passive, causative, causative/passive, and reflexive. Looking at the root אכל (to eat) we find that these constructions would correspond to eat, be eaten, devour, be devoured, feed, be fed, digest. Understanding the particular construction used is required before deciding which meaning is intended. Full lexicons, like HALOT or BDB, will separate the meanings by the corresponding construction but there is not enough room in Strong’s to provide this information. Looking at the Strong’s entry below, one must realize that definitions given are examples from several different Hebrew constructions i.e. “eat” is the qal form אכל, “devour” is the piel form מאכל, and “feed” is the hiphal form מאכיל; simply choosing a definition without regard to the form used in the text and the context in which it is used is almost guaranteed to lead to error (sometimes serious error). For example, Strong’s concordance provides the follow definition for the root אכל:
398 אכל a primitive root; to eat (literally or figuratively):– eat, burn up, consume, devour(-er, up), dine, eat(-er, up), feed (with), food.
To demonstrate how important these constructions might be in understanding a text, both of the following sentences below contain a words from the same roots i.e. Strong’s 935 (to come), 1004 (house), 398 (eat).
תבוא לביתי לאכול
תבוא לביתי להיאכל
One says, “You will come to my house to eat” and the other says, “you will come to my house to be eaten.” A Strong’s will not help one determine which form of Strong’s entry 398 was used. If you were given this invitation, don’t you think it would be important to know which form of the verb אכל was used?
Why does it matter?
There are many examples of popular fallacies that are passed along within evangelical circles that are the result of failing to understand the limits of word studies done with tools like Strong’s. For example, it is commonly taught that Proverbs 22:6 “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” intends to convey the idea that we are to train up a child “according to the way God created him i.e. according to his ‘bent’.” It is claimed that the real meaning of the word “way” (דרך) is “to bend” and verses like Psalms 11:2 “for behold, the wicked bend the bow” are used as proof of this original meaning. However there are several serious problems with this claim, let’s look at a few.
1) The root really does not mean “bent”; in this context it really carries a sense of aiming a bow. “Bending a bow” in preparation to aiming it is an English idiom that doesn’t work in Hebrew. This becomes readily apparent when we look at a verse like Psalms 58:7 “when he aims his arrows.” In this verse, the exact same verb is used to describe aiming (not bending) an arrow.
2) Idioms in one language frequently do not translate literally into another language. For example, few English speakers would understand the Hebrew idiom of “doing something while standing on one leg” just like Hebrew readers would not understand a literal translation of the English idiom “according to his bent.” The English idiom that speaks of “one’s bent” does not translate directly into Hebrew.
3) Even if the etymology of this word had been “to bend” (which it is not), leaping to the conclusion that words that come from the same root must have the same meaning is also a mistake (especially when comparing verb forms with noun forms!). For example the noun “לחם” means “bread” but the verb “לחם” means “to fight.” While both come from the same root, it would be a huge mistake to assume that “giving bread to one who is in need” implied that you intended to fight with them.
While the taking into consideration the character and personality of your children as you seek to raise them is good, it simply is not an idea that is taught in this verse. It is a fallacy that is the result of using biblical study tools in ways that they were never intended to be used. And while no one will likely get hurt by misunderstanding this verse in this way, similar examples of bad teaching can be down right dangerous. For example, one very popular evangelical author teaches that Ge. 2:24 tells us that we must “abandon” our mother and father when we get married. He claims that, based on his word study, he has discovered that the word translated “leave” really should have been translated “abandoned.” How many family relationships may have been hurt by those seeking to be obedient to what they have been told was the intended meaning of this passage?
These are mistakes that CAN be avoided!
Fortunately this kind of mistake is easily avoided. In English we have an wealth of good English translations and by comparing a text in different English versions we can gain a deeper understanding about what the original Hebrew and Greek words really mean without needing to consult the Hebrew and Greek texts. Whenever we are told that a word study of the Greek or Hebrew has revealed a “new” meaning in the text, we should respond with a high degree of skepticism if that meaning is not easily recognizable in our English texts. If the claim comes from a competent Hebrew or Greek scholar then further research may be warranted but the opinions of other competent Hebrew or Greek scholars should be consulted before adopting this new meaning. However, if the claim comes from one with little or no training in the biblical languages then it should probably be dismissed. It is hard to imagine how someone with no training in the biblical languages could use a Strong’s concordance to discover a “new” meaning in the text that was missed by thousands of qualified scholars who have devoted their lives to studying God’s word in its original languages.
The Hebrew text of Psalm 51:17, as pointed by the Masorites in the 6th century, reads “Sacrifice of God” rather than “My sacrifice.” While it is true that, in Hebrew, the only difference is in the vowel markings and those markings were not originally part of the text, early translations, like the Greek LXX (2nd Century B.C.), Aramaic Targums, 1 Century A.D.), and Latin Vulgate (4th Century A.D.), reflect a reading that is identical to the way that the Masorites pointed this text and, unlike the Hebrew text, the possessive form is not a “possible” reading in these early translations. I know of no ancient translation that supports the reading found in the updated NIV nor is this reading found in other modern translations. The 2011 revision offers a new reading of Psalms 51:17, but the textual evidence shows much stronger support for the reading found in the 1984 revision of the NIV.