Details in Genesis 3 that get lost in Translation

There are some things that just do not translate well into modern English, and may lead to a misunderstanding of the text. Here are a few observations from the Hebrew text.

 

  1. The conversation in verses 3:1-8a is almost entirely plural i.e. We, y’all, us, etc.. When the serpent speaks, he doesn’t speak to Eve exclusively he speaks to both Adam and Eve (‘you’ plural). Interestingly, depictions of the temptation in art always included Adam and Eve until English began to lose the 2nd person plural; then pictures depicting only Eve and the serpent began to appear, corresponding with the change in our language that makes it difficult to distinguish between the 2nd person plural and the 2nd person singular. However, there are still strong clues in our modern English texts that Adam was there i.e. Eve uses “We,” she gives the fruit to her husband “who was with her,” etc… While the plurals are less clear, they are not entirely absent.
  1. In the section beginning in Ge. 2:4 and ending in 3:24, God is addresses almost exclusively as YHWH Elohim (Lord God); YHWH is the name of our Lord. There are only two exceptions in this section of Scripture; when the Serpent speaks, he uses only “Elohim (God).” This is also seen in Job where the narrator uses YHWH, but Satan uses Elohim (God). The impression in the text of Genesis 3 is that the serpent refuses to use God’s name.
  1. In verse 8, the last plural is used when “They hear God,” the text then switches rather dramatically to the singular, “and that man hid HIMSELF and his wife from the presence of the Lord God among the trees in the garden.” We get the sense that when they heard God, Adam recognized the sin and then took action (unfortunately English translations keep this in the plural). Maybe this is a hint to why Paul made the declaration he did 1 Ti. 2:14. Note, the conversation that then ensues between God and Adam, unlike the earlier conversation with the serpent and Eve, is entirely in the singular voice.
  1. When God addressed Adam in vs. 3:11, he specifically addresses the command Adam violated i.e. “Did you eat from the tree from which I commanded you to not eat?” This is significantly different than his address to Eve in vs. 13 where God simply asks “what did you do?” and God never asks the serpent for any explanation at all.
  1. Adam’s response in Ge. 3:12 emphasizes his blame of God. In the phrase “The woman who you gave me,” the verb “You gave” is emphatic. In Hebrew “נָתַ֣תָּ עִמָּדִ֔י” is “You gave me,” but when the suffixed ה is added i.e. “נָתַ֣תָּה עִמָּדִ֔י”, it become “You gave me!” Adam’s blame of God comes across much stronger in the Hebrew text.
  1. Many have accused Eve of blame shifting, like Adam, when she responded to God’s question saying, “The serpent deceived me and I ate.” However, Eve may be getting a bad rap here; her statement reads far more like a statement of fact than it does an attempt to shift the blame. This may be another hint an explanation for Paul’s declaration in 1 Ti. 2:14. Similarly, God’s response to Eve is far gentler than his response to Adam i.e. simply stating “because you did this…” Below is a pretty graphic picture of the differences in Adam’s blame shifting speech and Eve’s response i.e. When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls his lips is wise. (Prov. 10:19)”

 

Adam said:  הָֽאִשָּׁה֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר נָתַ֣תָּה עִמָּדִ֔י הִ֛וא נָֽתְנָה־לִּ֥י מִן־הָעֵ֖ץ וָאֹכֵֽל

Eve said: הַנָּחָ֥שׁ הִשִּׁיאַ֖נִי וָאֹכֵֽל

 

Book Review: Where is that in the Bible?

Where_is_that_MadridPatrick’s goal is to provide Catholics with Scriptural evidence for the distinctively Catholic doctrines they hold. Given Patrick’s impressive resume, I expected to find well-reasoned arguments presented in his book “Where is that in the bible?”; however, that was not the case. Patrick begins his book by telling us an anecdotal story about a theological discussion he had with a couple of his protestant friends that forms the foundation for many of the arguments he later presents. He tells us that, as he discussed questions of biblical interpretation with his friends, he convinced them that many different interpretations were equally valid. Armed with this new understanding his friends soon abandoned their protestant faith and joined the Catholic church. The following is an excerpt from the story he tells:

 

“How can you be so sure that your particular interpretation of Scripture is accurate?” This question hung silently in the air between us for a moment.

Steve said, “Scripture is clear. We don’t have to worry that we don’t understand it. Its meaning is clear.”

“Is it? Are you certain you have the right interpretation?” I asked, eyebrows arched.

They nodded vigorously. So I used this exercise to show them why I as a Catholic look not just to Scripture alone, as they did, but also to the Church and its living Tradition of interpreting Scripture.

Let’s say someone wrote these words a hundred years ago: “I never said you stole money.” As Steve and Mike did, anyone you asked would say he understands the meaning of that sentence. Six short words, nothing complicated. But do you understand the meaning for sure? Perhaps the person who wrote it meant to say: “I never said you stole money.” Implying that someone else said it. Or maybe he meant: “I never said you stole money.” He thought it, he suspected it, but he never said it. Or, “I never said you stole money.” He said your neighbor did. Or, “I never said you stole money.” He meant that you lost the money, or you squandered it, or did something thing else with it he didn’t approve of- but you didn’t steal it.”

While Patrick’s story makes a good sound bite, it fails the most basic rule of hermeneutics i.e. a text must be understood within the context of the passage from which it was taken. Without context most small phrases can be understood in a wide variety of ways. In his example, he has simple demonstrated that taking words out of context can result in a gross misunderstanding of its intended meaning and this is something every scholar already acknowledges. The goal of good hermeneutics is to understand the intent of the author and that often requires hard work. It isn’t simply looking at a text and deciding the meaning you like best (eisegesis), it is digging in and searching for evidence that demonstrates what the author himself intended to say (exegesis). As an example, let’s see what happens when I take the words from the example that Patrick provided, i.e. “I never said you stole money,” and place them within a larger context.          

 

“John allowed his friend Tom, who had been released from prison, to stay with him in his home as Tom began to rebuild his life. One day John came home, and upon seeing that money he had left on the dining room table was gone, he asked his friend about the missing money. In fear, Tom responded, saying “I didn’t steal it!” His friend replied, “My dear friend, I never said you stole money, I just wanted to know what had happened to it.”

 

Within the context of this passage, the phrase we just read becomes far less ambiguous because the context provides boundaries that limit the possible meanings from which we may choose. And even in this light, there is still much more context that we do not know;  context encompasses much more than just the words on the page from which a phrase was taken, and the better we understand the whole context, the more clarity we will have in our understanding of what the author intended to say. The more we learn about the author, his intended audience, their culture, and the circumstances that prompted his words, the easier it becomes to understand his words as he intended them to be understood. While our understanding of the context is often incomplete, and this sometimes prevent us from identifying a single possible meaning, a good understanding of the context, even when incomplete, will always eliminate many wrong interpretations. Understanding any text, including the Bible, is not the free for all suggested by Patrick; there really are good tools we can use to provide boundaries that differentiate between valid interpretations and invalid ones, but it sometimes requires us to put in a little effort.

Let’s now take a look at some of the arguments that Patrick presents in his book. The first argument we will examine is his claim that Hebrew and Aramaic lack the vocabulary used to describe close relatives like “uncles” and “cousins.” Here is what he says:

“In Hebrew and Aramaic languages, as they were spoken at the time of Christ, there was no word for cousin or uncle or some other close relative. All close relatives were referred to simply as “brother” or “sister.” And though in Greek there are specific words for these relationships, it is quite reasonable to assume that the Greek word for brother (adelplios) was employed even in instances where it would be more precise to call someone a cousin or a nephew. This was because it reflected the culture’s use of the word brother in a wider sense.”

 

In reality, Hebrew does have a word for “uncle” and Aramaic has two. Additionally, both Hebrew and Aramaic describe a “cousin” as a “son of an uncle.” Here are some references from early Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic texts that demonstrate that these familial relationships could be described by words other than “brother” in all three languages.

 

‎  או־דדו או בן־דדו (Lev. 25:49 Hebrew)

His uncle or the son of his uncle (i.e. cousin) [English Translation]

‎  או אחבוהי או בר אחבוהי (Lev. 25:49 Aramaic Targums OT “commentary”)

His uncle or the son of his uncle (i.e. cousin) [English Translation].

‎  או דדה או בר דדה (Lev. 25:49 Syriac [Aramaic OT])

His uncle or the son of his uncle (i.e. cousin) [English Translation]

‎  ומרקוס בר דדה דברנבא (Col. 4:10 Peshitta [Aramaic NT])

And Mark is the son of Barnabas’ uncle (i.e. cousin) [English Translation]

 

Note also that the Greek also makes these relationships clear.

 

ἀδελφὸς πατρὸς αὐτοῦ ἢ υἱὸς ἀδελφοῦ πατρὸς  (Lev. 25:49 LXX)

his father’s brother (i.e. uncle) and the son of his father’s brother (i.e. cousin) [English Translation]

Μᾶρκος ὁ ἀνεψιὸς Βαρναβᾶ (Col. 4:10 GNT)

Mark, the cousin of Barnabas  [English Translation]

 

Contrary to the claim Patrick has made, if they wanted to speak of a relationship other than “brother,” the had the words to describe those relationships in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and they used them in other places in Scripture.

 

Patrick also makes the claim that if Scripture had intended to communicate that Jesus had siblings, the author would not have used the definite article “the,” suggesting that the use of the definite article proves that Jesus was an only child. Here is what he says:

 

“Scripture only refers to Christ as “the” son of Mary, but never as “a” son of Mary, which we would expect if there were other “sons” of Mary.”

 

Neither in Greek, nor in English, is there any expectation that using the definite article when speaking of a child precludes the possibility that other children existed, and examples we find in Scripture strongly contradict this proposal. For example, we recognize that the Apostle Peter’s brother was Andrew (Matt. 10:2) and yet Jesus says to Peter “You are Simon the son of John. (Jn. 1:42)” Jesus’ use of the definite article doesn’t leave us wondering whether Peter was an only child because we recognize that language doesn’t work that way. Furthermore, Patrick’s argument becomes especially weak when we realize that that there is only one reference to “son of Mary” found in Scripture (Mk. 6:3). In this light, Patrick’s argument is completely meaningless.

 

The vast majority of the “proofs” presented in Patrick’s book, mirror the two I have presented above. Many of his arguments crumble because they begin with a faulty foundation (as in the examples above). This is a book that will “speak to the choir” as they say, but it is uncompelling for anyone willing to examine his arguments with more than just a cursory glance.

 

 

 

Renewed in his love!

Renewed in his Love

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].”

שיר המעלות לדויד-ב

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!

What an awe inspiring thought!


 

[i] LXX “καὶ καινιεῖ σε ἐν τῇ ἀγαπήσει αὐτου”

[ii] Syriac “ונחדתכי בחובה”

[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 ykhaddesh, “he renews”) with ellipsis of the object (“you”). (NET NOTES on Zeph. 3:17)

 

Strong’s Theology (updated)

Strong's ConcordanceThe 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.

Has he really borne our “griefs” and carried our “sorrows?”

QuestionThe King James translation of the bible has profoundly influenced both the language and culture of the English speaking world. It was the catalyst for the standardization of English spelling and grammar and has been extremely influential in the construction of western thought, law, and ethics. For much of its history, it was seen as the only legitimate translation of Scriptures by large segments of the English speaking world. The English speaking world has deeply loved the King James translation of Scriptures in a way that has been unmatched by any other version.

Unsurprisingly, the King James version has also greatly influenced, both directly and indirectly, the translations found in most English bibles that have been published since its introduction in 1611. Translators of newer versions have often been hesitant to make significant changes to the wording of our most beloved verses because they recognize that these phrases have been engrained into the memories of men and women who hold them very dear to the heart. While this hesitancy to make significant changes to the wording used in the KJV has helped to keep the vocabulary consistent across many different English translations, it occasionally has caused some minor misunderstandings when the meaning of words has changed but the vocabulary has remained the same. Let’s examine one such misunderstanding found in Is. 53:4. The KJV version of this verse reads “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.” The words translated as “griefs” and “sorrows” are “חלי” and “מכאבות”; however, these Hebrew words are typically understood to mean “severe illness or injury” and “physical pain” but “grief” and “sorrow” in English more accurately convey the idea of emotional pain. For comparison, let’s take a look at how these Hebrew words are used in other places in Scripture.

Now Ahaziah had fallen through the lattice of his upper room in Samaria and injured himself. So he sent messengers, saying to them, “Go and consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, to see if I will recover from this injury.” (2Ki 1:2 NIV).

Comments: While some versions do follow the tradition of the KJV and translate this as “sick/illness,” the context of this passage clearly indicates that the concern was about an injury sustained when the king fell. No translation uses the word “grief” in this passage.

Three days later, while all of them were still in pain (Gen 34:25 NIV)

Comments: The men of Shechem had all just been circumcised and were still experiencing the physical pain caused by circumcision. No translation uses the word “sorrow” in this passage.

While the Hebrew words “חלי” and “מכאבות” can be used to communicate the idea of emotional pain and suffering, they do so nearly identically to the way that equivalent words in English do. In English, words like “wound,” “injury,” “illness,” “hurt,” and “pain” are typically used to speak about physical suffering but they can also be used to convey the idea of “grief” and “sorrow” when additional contextual clues are included i.e. “He is a wounded soul,” “his heart hurts,” “she was injured by his words,” “he felt ill because of what he had done,” etc… And like English, without these contextual qualifications these words always bring to mind the idea of physical pain. For example, without qualification the phrase “she experienced great pain because of her injury” communicates only the idea of physical pain and injury.

With this insight, let us look again at portrait of the suffering servant found in Isaiah 53. This passage describes one who has been struck, crushed, bruised, whipped, wounded, led to the slaughter, and killed. Over and over again the language used in this passage communicates the idea of physical pain and suffering. While Christ also experienced emotional pain and suffering that far exceeded his physical torment, these were not “our sorrows” or “our griefs;” his emotional pain and suffering on the cross is something none of us truly understand because it was different from anything we have ever experienced. What this verse is describing is the punishment that we deserved but that Christ bore on our behalf. The words “grief” and “sorrow” used in many versions of this passage fail to capture this meaning or the extent of the pain and suffering that Christ bore on our behalf.

Frequently, as in this case, these kinds of misunderstandings were not the fault of the KJV translators but are the result of modern English speakers who have misunderstood the KJV translation. The cause of these misunderstandings are frequently the result of assuming that we have understood the meaning of words that are still commonly used in contemporary English today when our understanding differs significantly from the understanding of English speakers from the 17th century.

With this insight, let’s take a look at how “grief” and “sorrow” were understood by English speakers in the 17th Century. While both words included the meaning we associate with them today, they both also had a broader semantic range of meaning that has significantly narrowed over time. It is the meaning that has been lost which most closely mirrors the definition of the Hebrew words used in original text of this passage. The University of Michigan has an online middle English dictionary that can be consulted when researching how English words were used in older English literature. Consulting this dictionary we see that there are aspects to the meaning of “grief” and sorrow” that no longer part of the definition of these words today.

griefSickness, disease, bodily defect or injury; (b) pain, suffering, torment, bodily affliction; ~ of hed, headache; (c) wound, hurt place.

sorrowPhysical pain, soreness, agony; torture; also, the fact or state of being in pain; also, a pain; a spasm of pain, pang; nimen ~, to feel pain; (b) physical sickness, disease; also, mental illness [quot. a1398]; also, a sickness, disease; also fig.; (c) lovesickness; a pang of lovesickness; also, the state of being lovesick; (d) Jesus’ suffering on the cross, the passion of Jesus; (e) the torment of Hell, infernal pain; also, an infernal pain; also, the suffering of purgatory; ~ stede, the place of torment, Hell.

With this background, let’s look at this phase as it is translated in the in the KJV and ESV translations.

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows (Isa 53:4 KJV)

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows (Isa 53:4 ESV)

While the translators of the KJV and the ESV have translated this verse almost identically, the KJV translators had accurately communicated the meaning of the Hebrew text to their intended audience i.e. English speakers of the 17th Century but, by following the KJV tradition, the ESV translators have miscommunicated the meaning of this text to their intended audience. Yes, God in his love and mercy for us does care about our deepest emotional pain but that is not the concern that Isaiah was attempting to communicate in this passage. In this passage Isaiah was telling us about how Christ would bare the punishment that we all deserved.

 

 

A review of “In the Beginings” by Steven E. Dill

In_the_beginningsIn his book “In The Beginnings” Steven E. Dill presents his arguments for adopting the “Gap theory” interpretation of the Creation account given in Geneses 1. While I personally do not see the “Gap theory” as the best explanation for the account given in Genesis 1, my criticisms of Dill’s books are unrelated to my rejection of the Gap theory. There are good scholars that present reasonable arguments for the “Gap Theory” and while I would also disagree with their conclusions, I do respect their work. On the other hand, Dill’s book is one that I could not recommend. Dill rarely provides references for the claims he makes, some of which are quite absurd. He often tries to bolster his position by claiming that Hebrew scholars (frequently unidentified) do agree with him and yet he subsequently spends four pages (pages 128-131) trying to explain why all of the leading Hebrew scholars have misunderstood the text of Genesis 1 and why he (without any knowledge of the Hebrew language) was able to determine what they had failed to see. The suggestion is clear, if Hebrew scholars disagree with him, it is because they just didn’t understand the text, but if they do agree with his position then their status as Hebrew scholars adds credibility to his argument. It is a “heads I win, tails you lose” kind of argument. There are many factual errors in the text of this book (both scientific and linguistic). I have highlighted a few of the linguistic errors below.

Let’s take a look at some of the claims Dill makes:

Dill claims that some Hebrew scholars believe that “yom” when modified by a number ALWAYS refers to a literal day. The truth is that Hebrew scholars are divided on the question about whether the word “yom” in Genesis 1 refers to a literal 24 hour day or something else; however, no legitimate scholar would make the claim that every instance of “yom” when combined with a numerical modifier ALWAYS refers to a literal 24 hour day. They don’t make this claim because there are existent texts in both the OT and other Hebrew literature that demonstrate the fallacy of this claim.

Dill says:

“In my studies of the biblical account of creation, I have discovered that it doesn’t take much effort to find conflicting opinions among the scholars. There are Hebrew scholars who will agree with what I just said. They agree that when one of these numerical modifiers is added to YOWM, it always refers to a literal day.”  pg 67

And he then continues with:

“How do I explain the fact that I think they [Hebrew scholars] are absolutely wonderful but absolutely wrong? I can only assume that they base their opinion on extra-biblical Hebrew writings. Apparently YOWM plus a number doesn’t have to mean a twenty-four hour day when you look at the entire history of the Hebrew language. While this may be true in other writings, I still insist that in the bible, YOWM plus a number always refers to a literal day”, pg 67

On page page 68 lists a number of verses beginning  in which a number and the word ‘yom’ are used where he claims the meaning is a literal 24 hour day. A quick glance at his list revealed that he had included Zach. 14:7. However, Zach. 14:7 refers to an eschatological day that is unending i.e. this verse actually disproves the very thing he is trying to prove. I did not bother to check the rest of the list, so there may be other equally inaccurate citations included. Included below is the verse in question, in context, and a couple of other biblical references that refer to this same day. Additionally, I have included part of the description of this day given in the New American Commentary on Zachariah.

“On that day there will be no light, no cold or frost. It will be a unique day without daytime or nighttime–a day known to the LORD. When evening comes, there will be light. On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half to the eastern sea and half to the western sea, in summer and in winter. The LORD will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and his name the only name”. Zec 14:6-9 NIV (a “unique day” is Lit. “yom echad” exactly as it is in Genesis 1:5)

“The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end. Then will all your people be righteous and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendor.” Isa 60:19-21 NIV

“There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever” Rev 22:5 NIV

 

“The statement that this unique day will know neither “daytime nor nighttime” continues the thought from v.6 that there will no longer be any light. This absence of light, as stated above, does not necessarily suggest darkness. Rather, any light visible to the people would emanate from the Lord himself. More to the point, no longer would people mark time by the movement of the earth around d various heavenly bodies. The changes in physical phenomena that have delineated days since the very beginning of time could not possibly describe the scope of the changes the Lord will accomplish in his new creation.” New American Commentary, Zachariah.

When trying to describe the function of the conjunctive vav, Dill says that

“Genesis 1:2 begins with the Hebrew word WAW (Sometimes written as VAV)”, In The Beginnings, Steven E. Dill, pg 134.

Here, he did not even get the facts about the conjunction itself correct. The “vav” is a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, it is not a Hebrew word and the letter itself is used many different ways. In its use as a prefixed conjunction it most commonly carries a sense of “and”, but it can carry a sense of “or,” “but.” Additionally, it can mean “now” in a stylistic sense but not in a sense of immediacy i.e. in English we prefer not to begin sentences with the word “and” but this is quite common in Hebrew. English stylists will often exchange “and” for “now” in English translations to reflect better English style. Below I have included the Hebrew text of Ge. 1:2., beginning right to left, the first letter of the first word is the conjunctive vav, the second letter (also a prefix) is the definite article, and the last three letters form the word “eretz” (land, or earth). In other words, the first “word” of the text doesn’t read “and” it reads “and the earth”

והארץ היתה תהו ובהו וחשׁך על־פני תהום ורוח אלהים מרחפת על־פני המים

On page 133 Dills states that:

“”The earth” pretty much means “the earth” as far as I can tell from the scholars.”

However, most scholars translate this as “the earth” not because the word generally means “the earth” (it doesn’t) but because it is part of the complete phrase “את השׁמים ואת הארץ” (the heavens and the earth). In this context it refers to the whole earth i.e. the globe on which we live. When these Hebrew words appear alone they are typically translated as “sky” and “land” and take on the expanded meaning of “the whole earth” only when the context itself demands.

 

On page 75 Dill states that:

“The creation account in Genesis cannot be subjected to twisted interpretations. “Night” always means “night.” “Morning” always means “morning.” “Evening” always means “evening”. All of these words refer to portions of the normal twenty-four [hour?] day.”

Unfortunately Dill didn’t bother even looking at a Hebrew lexicon before making this absurd claim. Even my pocket lexicon includes several definitions for בקר (translated as morning in Genesis 1) i.e. morning, morning-time, dawn; the next morning, tomorrow, early, soon, etc…, and a reference like HALOT provide a great deal more. In Hebrew, context and grammar must drive meaning because most Hebrew roots have a much broader semantic range than do the words used in English translation.

On page 184, he states that:

“Often a special Hebrew construction using the imperfect form of the verb asserts that something came to pass (cf. Gen. 1:7, 9). Less often, the construction is used with the perfect form of the verb to refer to something coming to pass in the future. (Isa. 7:18, 21; Hos. 2:16).”

The “special Hebrew construction” to which Dill refers is called a “vav consecutive” or “vav conversive” and it is frequently used (i.e. thousands of times) in OT narratives with both perfect and imperfect verb forms. When a conjunctive vav is prefixed to a verb (any verb not just HYH) in ancient Hebrew narratives, it changes the sense of that verb from the perfect to the imperfect or from the imperfect to the perfect. The vav consecutive demonstrates a continuance in the flow of the narrative rather and not a change to the action of the verb aside from the shift between perfect/imperfect or imperfect/perfect. The perfect and imperfect sense of Biblical Hebrew verbs very loosely correlates to our past and future verb tenses but should be thought of as complete (perfect) or incomplete (imperfect) actions rather than simple “past” and “future” actions. With or without the prefixed conjunction, biblical Hebrew verbs may be used to communicate a variety of perfect/imperfect tenses and context alone is what determines which tense is best used in translation.

The foundation of Dill’s argument is based on his interpretation of the Hebrew language of Genesis 1. However, Dill clearly does not read Hebrew and, throughout his book, he repeatedly demonstrates very significant misunderstandings of the Hebrew language. Unfortunately his misunderstandings of the Hebrew language frequently lead to grossly inaccurate conclusions. For those who do read Hebrew, this book will often leave you cringing. For example, the section headings for the days of Genesis (in great big bold letters) read “ECHAD YOM,” “SHENI YOM,” etc… (OUCH!). For those who don’t read Hebrew, these should have been “YOM ECHAD,” “YOM SHENI,” etc…  This is the equivalent of writing Daymon, Daytues, etc… instead of Monday, Tuesday. If we saw this in a text, we would be pretty sure that the author didn’t speak English. There is very little that is said about the language that can be trusted. This is a book that provides very little value to anyone trying to understand the text of Genesis 1.

All Hollows’ Eve Oct. 31, 1517

Matthew Barrett has written an article describing what “Sola Scriptura” is and what it is not. This is an article that I would highly recommend.


‘Sola Scriptura’ Radicalized and Abandoned

LutherReformation Day reminds us of Luther’s monumental decision to post his 95 theses to the church door at Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. Luther’s theses would strike into motion an irreversible set of confrontations with Rome, eventually leading to the genesis of Protestantism.

While these 95 theses are important, Luther’s stance on the authority of Scripture over against Rome was not expressed in all of its maturity in 1517. The formal principle of the Reformation would become more and more conspicuous with every passing debate between these two nemeses.

Sola Scriptura

In 1519 at the Leipzig debate with the Catholic debater Johann Eck, whom Luther called “that little glory-hungry beast,” Eck brought the real issue to the table: who had final authority, God’s Word or the pope? For Eck, Scripture received its authority from the pope. Luther strongly disagreed, arguing instead that Scripture has authority over popes, church fathers, and church councils, all of which have erred.

Luther was quickly classified with the forerunning heretics, John Wycliffe and Jan Hus. At first Luther denied such an association, but during a break in his debate Luther realized that Hus had taught exactly what he believed. Eck returned to Rome and reported his findings to the pope, and Luther left the debate only to become further convinced that Scripture, not the pope, is the sole and final infallible authority.

Luther’s sola scriptura principle would be most famously articulated in 1521 at Worms. On April 17, 1521, Luther was told he must recant. After thinking it through for a day, Luther returned and declared:

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason, for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they often err and contradict themselves, I am bound to the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise. Here I stand. May God help me. Amen.

Luther’s speech is firm and straightforward: Scripture is the norma normans (determining norm), rather than the norma normata (determined norm). As he would explain in future writings, Scripture has priority over the church, for the church is the baby born out of the womb of Scripture, not vice versa. “For who begets his own parent? Who first brings forth his own maker” (LW 36:107; WA 6:561)? Luther rejected the two-source theory that viewed oral tradition as a second, extrabiblical, and infallible source of divine revelation passed down from the apostles to the magisterium. Instead, he argued that Scripture alone is our infallible source of divine revelation.

Continued Here

What is a “day” in Genesis one?

earth In Hebrew, like in English, the meaning of the word ‘day’ is dependent on the context in which it is used. It can refer to a 24 hour period of time, it can refer to a period of daylight, or it can refer to a long undefined period of time. In English here are some examples: “There are 30 days (24 hour periods) in June,” “The park is open only during the day (period of daylight),” “They didn’t use computers in his day (an undefined period of time).” The word ‘yom/day’ in Hebrew is used with the same broad range of meaning and in Genesis 1:1-2:4 we have all three different meanings for the word ‘day’ being used. Genesis 1:5 “God called the light, ‘day’ and Genesis 1:14 “let there be lights in the firmament of heaven to divide between the day and the night” are both clearly references to daylight; also in vs. 14 we also have a reference to 24 hour periods of time “they will be signs for the seasons, and for the days, and for the years.” In Genesis 2:4 “in the day the Lord God made the earth and the heavens” is clearly a reference to a period of time longer than 24 hours. The question that remains is what was the intended in remaining eight occurrences? There are significant textual issues that make the interpretation of these remaining ‘days’ in Genesis 1 difficult. While some of these issues are glossed over in our English translations, they shouldn’t be ignored by those trying to understand the meaning of the ‘days’ in Genesis 1. These issues have always been a factor in interpreting this text and are some of the reasons that questions about the proper understanding of the ‘days’ of creation have always been a point of contention. Let’s take a look at a few of the textual issues found in this text that have puzzled people for thousands of years.

יום אחד – one day

While most translations translate ‘yom echad’ as “the first day,” there are several significant issues with this translation. First, “first day” in Hebrew is “יום ראשון” (yom rishon) and not “יום אחד” (yom echad). In every other place, except one, we find that “יום אחד” has been translated into English with phrases like “one day,” “a single day,” etc…, the other exception is a reference to “the first day of the first month” in Ezra.  Second, while the definite article (the) is included in most English translations, it is not included in the Hebrew text of the first five days.

Note: For those who would like to see how “יום אחד” is translated in other places in the bible, here is a list of the other places where this phrase appears: Gen. 1:5, Gen. 27:45, Gen. 33:13, Num. 11:19, 1 Sam. 9:15, 1 Sam. 27:1, Ezr. 10:17, Isa. 9:13, Jon. 3:4, Zech. 14:7.

יום שׁני – a second day

The definite article (the) is absent in the Hebrew text but included in many English translations.

יום שׁלישׁי – a third day

The definite article (the) is absent in the Hebrew text but included in many English translations.

יום רביעי – a forth day

The definite article (the) is absent in the Hebrew text but included in many English translations.

יום חמישׁי – a fifth day

The definite article (the) is absent in the Hebrew text but included in many English translations.

יום השׁשׁי – day of the sixth

This is the first time that the definite article (the) was included in the Hebrew text. This difference shows that the author understood how to use the definite article and raises many questions about its absence in the first five days. One must wonder why the author chose to use a construct form only in this verse i.e. “day of the sixth” rather than “the sixth day.”

ויכל אלהים ביום השׁביעי מלאכתו – In the seventh day, God finish his work.

וישׁבת ביום השׁביעי מכל־מלאכתו – And he rested in the seventh day from all his work.

Twice we have the phrase “in the seventh day,” a phrase that includes both the definite article (the) and the preposition “in”; glaringly absent is any reference to the phrase “there was an evening and there was a morning” that closed each of the prior days. Both the author of the book of Hebrews and leaders of the early church recognized that these grammatical features implied that the seventh day has not yet ended.

ביום עשׂות יהוה אלהים ארץ ושׁמים – in the day the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

Here the text implies that God made the heavens and earth in a single day (note the exact same word ‘yom’ is used). If ‘yom’ should only be understood as a only a literal 24 hour period of time, then we have a significant conflict with the account of creation given in the prior 6 days.


Questions: 

  1. Why is the first day called “one day” and not “the first day?” Is this a clue that another day may have proceeded this day? Could there have been a “gap” between the real first day and the first day described in the account given in Genesis 1?
  2. Why is the definite article missing in the account of the first five days? Is this a clue that these days were not consecutive?
  3. If the missing definite article is insignificant then why is it included in the account of the last two days?
  4. What was the author trying to communicate by using the construct form in day 6?
  5. Does the lack of the closing phrase “there was an evening and there was a morning” in the account of the “seventh day” imply that day has not yet ended?
  6. If the all days in Genesis 1:1-2:3 are literal 24 hour days, why would the ‘day’ in Genesis 2:4 be figurative?

Interpreting the length and sequence of the days in Genesis 1 is not nearly as easy as some believe. There are many more issues involved than the few I have mentioned here. There is room for a number of different interpretations but no single interpretation is entirely without difficulties. It is important to remember that questions about the length of days in Genesis 1 have been raised long before questions about geology, evolution, or modern science ever entered this debate.Those who insist that the text of Genesis 1 clearly supports their view to the exclusion of all others, whether literal or figurative, have simply not done their homework.

 

Did Jesus believe the bible?

torah scrollAndy Davis, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Durham, North Carolina has written an excellent series of articles showing what Jesus believed about Scripture, its inspiration, and its authority for our lives. Many churches today have allowed an ever increasing skepticism about the reliability and authority of Scripture take hold; maybe it is time that we stop and reconsider what Jesus,  the author and finisher of our faith, believed about Scripture and remember that it is Jesus we are called to emulate.

What is Christ’s View of the Bible? Introduction

Christ Would Rather Die than Disobey Scripture

Christ Taught that He Fulfilled Scripture

Christ Taught the Unbreakable Permanence and Authority of Scripture

Christ Lived Sinlessly Moment by Moment by All Scripture

Christ Staked His Life on the Word of God

Christ Proved His Deity by a Single Word of Scripture

Christ Proved the Resurrection by a Single Verb Tense in Scripture

Christ Instilled Passion for the Scriptures in His Followers

What Scripture Says, God Says

What is Christ’s View of the Bible? Conclusion

Kiss the Son: the “corrupted” text of Scripture

kiss the feet2Often today, people justify their lack of trust in the bible with the claim that the text of the bible has been “corrupted” and we can no longer be sure about what it originally said. I wanted to take a moment to look at one of the more challenging texts where there it is truly reasonable to assume that there really may have been textual “corruption” so that we can understand what kind of issues biblical critics are really talking about and why there is so little merit to their claims. These textual issues are not big, earth shattering changes. They are typically very minor issues that hardly affect the meaning of the text. The vast majority of known issues affect only spelling. With that being said, let us look at one of the more difficult verses.

In the NIV, Psalm 2, verses 11-12 read:

Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psa 2:11-12 NIV)

The BHS[i] lists a number of variant texts in Hebrew, Greek, and Syriac for verses 11/12; the division between these verses is in question and although this Psalm is among those in the DSS[ii] (Dead Sea Scrolls) collection, the end of this Psalm is missing so the DSS offer no help to resolving this problem.

Here are some of the possible alternative readings in Hebrew  followed by the MT reading for comparison:

עבדו את-יהוה בשמחה        (“serve the Lord with gladness”)

עבדו את-יהוה ביראה           (The MT reads “serve the Lord with fear”)

 

וגדלו שמו ברעדה…              (“make his name great. With trembling…”)

וגילו ברעדה                         ( The MT reads “rejoice in trembling”)

 

ברעדה נשקו ברגליו             (“with trebling kiss his feet”)

נשקו בר                              ( The MT reads “kiss a son”)

 

Here are some possible variant translations:

1) Serve the Lord with Gladness, Make his name Great. With trembling kiss his feet lest he becomes angry and you are destroyed in your way.

2) Serve the Lord with Gladness, Make his name Great. With trembling kiss [the] son lest he becomes angry and you are destroyed in your way.

3) Serve the Lord with fear, Rejoice in trembling. Kiss [the] son lest he becomes angry and you are destroyed in [your] way.

4) Serve the Lord with fear, Rejoice in trembling. Kiss his feet lest he becomes angry and you are destroyed in [your] way.

Here is how this reads in an English translation of the LXX[iv].

“Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice in him with trembling. Accept correction, lest at any time the Lord be angry, and ye should perish from the righteous way”

The biggest argument against the MT[iii] (Masoretic Text) reading stems from the use of the Aramaic בר (bar) for “son” rather than the Hebrew בן (ben). The two primary problems that are raised because of this usage are 1) בן  is already used in this Psalm in vs. 7 and changing to Aramaic in vs. 12 would be inconsistent and 2) this Psalm is believed to have been authored early enough that should it should be free of these kinds of Aramaic influences. That being said, Peter Craigie argues that MT reading is original and believes the change from Hebrew to Aramaic was a tool used to draw attention to the change in context between foreign and domestic audiences. One additional problem exists because of the lack of the preposition ל (or ב)  that would be typically used with the object of נשק (to kiss). In Hebrew if I say, “Kiss Me!” it is lit. “Kiss to me!” (נשק לי); one would expect “kiss to the son” (נשקו לבן) if that had been what was intended. The lack of the preposition and definite article and the use of Aramaic here make this reading difficult. I prefer option 4 above because it is only a slight emendation to the text i.e. נשקו בר becomes נשקו ברגליו, it means essentially the same thing, it is in harmony with the Messianic nature of the entire Psalm, it deals with the issue of the unexpected Aramaic, and it reflects a very common type of copyist error that has frequently been identified in other manuscripts. That being said, I do not think that the MT reading is without merit; it could be original.

Overall, it is important to recognize that, even in a difficult passage like this one, the best manuscript evidence offers readings that are remarkably similar. Most differences we see in manuscripts are far less difficult i.e. a change in spelling, the use of a synonym or a contraction, etc… The next time you hear someone challenge the reliability of Scripture based on the claim that there are “thousands” of variant texts and we do not know which ones are correct, realize that, in the vast majority of these cases, most of these variants say exactly the same thing! When there are truly difficult passages, like the one above, even then the differences are not critical. A real examination of the challenging texts of the bible leads to the conclusion that the preservation of the original text of the bible has been remarkable despite what critics may tell us.



[i] BHS (Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia) is the standard critical text of the Hebrew OT and lists most of the variant readings in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, etc… It was produced before the majority of the DSS were published and so does not cover those variants well. The BHQ deals with these newer manuscript discoveries.

[ii] The DSS are the earliest witness we have of the Hebrew text of the Bible

[iii] The MT (Masoretic Text) is the standard Hebrew text.

[iv] The LXX is a 2nd century BC Greek translation of the OT.