More LXX translational issues: Isa 28:16

It has been interesting looking at the quality of the LXX translation of the OT and comparing it with the MT (Masoretic Text: Hebrew) to try to understand how some of these issues came about. This will probably be my last post on this subject since there are other things I would like to write on after this. For now, let us turn our attention to Isa 28:16 (NKJV):-

Therefore thus says the Lord GOD:
“Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation,
A tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation;
Whoever believes will not act hastily.”

The context of this particular verse is God encouraging the faithful remnant (Isa 28:15) who live among those who put their trust elsewhere. The phrase there “will not act hastily” comes from the Hebrew לֹ֥א יָחִֽישׁ which literally means “will not (have to) haste/flee”. The various English translations have attempted to translate the sense of this to elucidate the phrase better, for example:-

NASB – … will not be disturbed.
NIV – … will never be stricken with panic.
NRSV, NET – … will not panic.
JPS – … need not fear.

As you can see, the translators were trying to make better sense out of the word here because there is some awkwardness in the original “haste” within the context of the rest of the verse. I think the general sense of the verse is something along the lines of “God will protect Zion and those who trust in God (who live in Zion) will not have to flee because Zion will be kept safe.” The preceding verses talk about those who place their trust in evil and “death”, so either you trust in God or you trust in death, to keep you safe (Isa 28:15) – the issue in question being the source of their safety.

Now, when I looked at Rom 9:33 which quotes Isa 28:16, I was surprised to find there a different version of the verse, which looks like this (NKJV):-

As it is written:
“Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense,
And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.

Okay, I think to myself – this looks interesting. First of all, Paul introduces this “a stumbling stone and rock of offense” which isn’t in Isaiah – maybe he is paraphrasing the text to draw a parallel between the “stone for a foundation, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation” to a Christological reference (Psa 118:22). Then there’s the change of “will not act hastily” to “will not be put to shame”. While I can appreciate that Paul might have been playing loose with the idea of “As it is written”, it should be quite clear that these two changes alters the meaning of the text. In Rom 9:33, the general sense is something like “God has appointed his stone that many will reject, but those who do not reject him and believe in him will be vindicated (not be put to shame).” I do agree, however, that at the most practical level, this probably isn’t a deal-breaker. From an academic point of view, however, this was very interesting and was worth investigating more.

I figured, this has to be the LXX again, judging from the pattern that has been emerging in my studies, so I went straight to the LXX and sure enough, we see part of the problem there. In the LXX, Isa 28:16 (LXX Brenton) reads:-

Therefore thus saith the Lord, even the Lord.
“Behold, I lay for the foundations of Sion a costly stone,
a choice, a corner-stone, a precious stone, for its foundations;
and he that believes on him shall by no means be ashamed.

Here we see how Paul got the “will not be put to shame” bit but there is no “stumbling stone and rock of offense” in the LXX, which I think we can just attribute to his paraphrasing (I really don’t want to get into a speculative debate about Paul’s motives and sources here.) My interest here is to discover why the LXX translators made the change from “will not hasten” to “shall by no means be ashamed”.

Initially I wondered if the LXX translators might be doing what our English translators were doing, trying to make the sense of Isa 28:16 clearer and using a more dynamic translation instead of a literal one. The problem is that “ashamed” makes the issue one of vindication rather than security/safety that the original “hasten” implies. If it was a dynamic translation, it’s a pretty bad one contextually speaking. Then I started to look at the Hebrew text again. The Hebrew word translated “hasten” is יחישׁ (Hebrew:yachish) and one of the Hebrew words that is translated “ashamed” (Isa 29:22) is יבושׁ֙ (Hebrew:yevosh). When I saw this I thought, “Wow, those two words sure look the same!” – the main difference being only in one alphabet, the ח (chet) and the ב (bet) because the difference between the י (yud) and ו (vav) can easily be mistaken in handwriting.

At this point, I realised that a number of scenarios could have happened that gave rise to this discrepancy in the text:-

  1. The LXX translator misread the word while translating
  2. The LXX translator had access to a better copy and our existing OT has the wrong word
  3. The LXX translator had the right copy but decided to interpret and did a bad job
  4. The LXX translator relied on a manuscript that contained a copyist error

I thought it might be interesting as an academic exercise to try to figure out which was the correct text. We know that the LXX translators did their work around the 3rd century BC. Our OT text is based off the Aleppo Codex, a Masoretic copy produced in the 10th century AD. Although much “younger”, it is considered the most reliable and accurate copy of the OT Hebrew text in existence (even more accurate than the DSS) for reasons that I can’t go into in such a short post. In any case, I felt I needed an older witness besides the Aleppo Codex to verify who got it right. As it happens, among the Dead Sea Scrolls are various fragments of Isaiah (4Q60 etc.) and a complete scroll of Isaiah (1QIsa). This scroll is kept in the Shrine of the Book in Israel and the actual manuscripts have been photographed and put on line, which was great news for me! While the DSS were written around the 2nd century BC, the sources would have dated even further back and so we have a source that is over a thousand years older than the Aleppo Codex. So what does the Great Isaiah Scroll say in Isa 28:16? It says “hasten”.

This means that it is unlikely that the LXX translators had a copy that was correct and everyone else got it wrong. More likely, the translator made a mistake in reading the text, or that the copy he was working off had a copyist error. This is what the DSS Great Isaiah Scroll for Isa 28:16 looks like. The red box highlights the word “yachish” (hasten).

isa2816dss

This is Isa 29:22 from the same scroll where I have highlighted the word “yevosh” (ashamed).

isa2922dss

It is easy to see how a mistake might have happened, and why reliance on the LXX poses particular problems when these errors are inherited by the NT writers.

How was Paul’s Hebrew?: Gal 3:16

In some of the discussions following my previous posts, the point was made that Paul was fluent in both Hebrew and Greek as a serious student of Scripture and a man of “great learning” (Acts 26:24). While I do not doubt that Paul probably used both Greek and Hebrew/Aramaic, my reading of Paul is increasingly leading me to the conclusion that he was predominantly a Greek speaking Jew. For starters, in just about all of his citations of the OT, he drew upon the LXX. This could be explained by the fact that he was addressing a primarily Greek speaking audience in a Hellenised world.

While there is much we could speculate about his background as Saul of Tarsus (in modern day Turkey) and his educational background, that would serve little useful purpose. What I would like to look at is how this “Hebrew of Hebrews” (Phil 3:5) handled the Hebrew texts. Specifically, let us look at Gal 3:16 (NKJV):-

Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ.

The context of this verse is Paul making the case that the promises made to Abraham prefigured Christ. He builds his argument around the fact that the word “seed” was used in the OT promises, as opposed to the plural “seeds”. So, for example, Gen 26:4 (NKJV) says:-

And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.

On the surface of it, this seems to be a plausible, if a little novel, line of reasoning that Paul is employing here. If the promises were made to a single “seed”, who would that have refered to? For Paul, Christ was the best candidate. Had it been “seeds”, then Israel might have fit in better. Where we find a problem is with how this argument was constructed – it was predicated upon the Greek distinction between the singular σπέρματί (Greek:spermati – seed) and the plural σπέρμασιν (Greek:spermasin – seeds). When we look at the LXX translation of Gen 26:4, it reads:-

καὶ πληθυνῶ τὸ σπέρμα σου ὡς τοὺς ἀστέρας τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ δώσω τῷ σπέρματί σου πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν ταύτην, καὶ ἐνευλογηθήσονται ἐν τῷ σπέρματί σου πάντα τὰ ἔθνη τῆς γῆς

The underlined bit translates to the seed (singular) of you (singular)” and this is exactly in line with Paul’s argument. The Hebrew text, however, presents a slightly different story.

וְהִרְבֵּיתִ֤י אֶֽת־זַרְעֲךָ֙ כְּכוֹכְבֵ֣י הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וְנָתַתִּ֣י לְזַרְעֲךָ֔ אֵ֥ת כָּל־הָאֲרָצֹ֖ת הָאֵ֑ל וְהִתְבָּרֲכ֣וּ בְזַרְעֲךָ֔ כֹּ֖ל גּוֹיֵ֥י הָאָֽרֶץ

Here, the relevant phrase “in your seed” is found in one Hebrew word – בְזַרְעֲךָ֔ – that transliterates to “b’zerakha”. This breaks down into three components:-

“b” meaning “in”
“zer” (or “zera”) meaning “seed”
“akha” meaning “your” in reference to Abraham

The thing about “zer” or “zera”, though, is that this word in the Hebrew does not distinguish between the singular or the plural. It’s a bit like the word “sheep” in English where both the singular and plural are the same word “sheep”. “Zera” is just like that in Hebrew – there are no words to distinguish between the singular or the plural of “seed”. For example, in Gen 47:19 (NKJV) we have:-

Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for bread, and we and our land will be servants of Pharaoh; give us seed, that we may live and not die, that the land may not be desolate.

The word “seed” used here is obviously plural from the context – they were not asking Pharaoh for one seed but many seeds. The Hebrew word for “seed” here is “zera”, the same case as in Gen 26:4. Likewise, in Lev 27:16 (NKJV) we have:-

“If a man dedicates to the LORD part of a field of his possession, then your valuation shall be according to the seed for it. A homer of barley seed shall be valued at fifty shekels of silver.”

The “seed” here is again clearly plural from the context and in the Hebrew it is the same “zera” as used in Gen 26:4. You simply cannot argue that “zera” is singular or plural based on the word itself just as you cannot do that with the word “sheep” in English. In practice, you would have to rely on the context to determine if the singular or the plural noun was intended. In the context of Gen 26:4 (NKJV), it appears that “in your seed” sounds like a reference to the multiplied descendants, and is therefore plural in meaning. Even if you choose another passage such as Gen 22:17-18 (NKJV), you see the same sort of plural context:-

Blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.

Notice that the referents here are the many descendants that Abraham will have. The pattern “… your descendants … your descendants … your seed …” should strongly make it clear that “seed” here is plural because the Hebrew for “descendants” is in fact “zera”. This means that the verse could just as well have been translated:-

Blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.

Just in case you still need convincing, look at Gen 13:15-16 (NKJV) to see how “seed” was understood within the Abrahamic promise:-

… for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered.

Here it is even clearer that “zera” (translated “descendants” here) is plural. It just doesn’t get any clearer. I should mention that in all these cases, where our English translations read “descendants” or “seed”, the LXX renders it as the singular σπέρμα (meaning “seed” in the singular). The NKJV and most English translations used the plural word “descendants”, showing that the translators understood that the context suggested a plural “zera”. What this means is that contextually speaking, “zera” should be plural even though the Hebrew word itself does not differentiate between the plural or the singular. That said, Paul wasn’t making his argument based on the context but on the morphology of the word.

Now, if we assume that God spoke to Abraham in Hebrew rather than Greek, Paul’s argument should center about the Hebrew usage of the word “zera” and the entire argument he used in Gal 3:16 would fail. Had he even considered the Hebrew word “zera”, he would have known that the distinction he relied upon did not appear in the Hebrew and his entire line of reasoning would fall apart. Even if we should take the context of Gen 26:4 into account, you would still not arrive at a reading that yields a singular “seed”. How then could this expert of the Torah and master of the Hebrew language overlook such an obvious (in the Hebrew at least) mistake? That’s what I’d like to know.

Just so we are clear – I do not disagree with the substance of Paul’s argument. What I find problematic is his “exegesis” of Gen 26:4 and his making a distinction that isn’t there in the Hebrew and using that false distinction as the basis of proof-texting to a Greek speaking audience who most likely wouldn’t know any better. So what options do we have here concerning Gal 3:16? They are (MCQ):-

  • He really didn’t know what the Hebrew text of Gen 26:4 (and similar verses) said and was relying on the LXX.
  • His mastery of Hebrew wasn’t good enough to realise the problem with the word “zera”.
  • He knew the OT and was good in Hebrew but decided to make up a non-existent distinction.
  • He forgot what the Hebrew rendition was or made a blunder?

I’m open to other options you might come up with to help rescue Paul from this conundrum.

For the sake of completeness, there is an argument that Gen 22:17 might allow for a singular “zera” because of the genitive suffix for the word “enemies”. Gen 22:17 (NKJV):-

… and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies.

The Hebrew for this bit goes:-

וְיִרַ֣שׁ זַרְעֲךָ֔ אֵ֖ת שַׁ֥עַר אֹיְבָֽיו

transliterated and literally translated we get:-

v’yirash            zarakha             et shaar  oyevav
and’possess  seed-of-yours     gate     enemies-of-his

Specifically, because of the “v” suffix in “oyevav” which makes it “enemies of his” (as opposed to “oyevahem” which would become “enemies-of-theirs”), it has been suggested that this would indicate that the preceding (antecedent) “seed” must be seen as singular. This seems like a plausible save for Paul. Then again, when we look at how this exact same phraseology is used in the subsequent Gen 24:60 (NKJV):-

And they blessed Rebekah and said to her: “Our sister, may you become the mother of thousands of ten thousands; And may your descendants possess the gates of those who hate them.

Here you have the exact same phrase in Hebrew with “soneav” (meaning “haters-of-his”) at the end instead of “oyevav” in Gen 22:17. Once again, you have the “v” suffix but here it is obvious that it is plural because the number “thousands of tens of thousands” is given, taking away the ambiguity in “zera”. What this means is that the “v” suffix does not automatically imply a singular antecedent as can be shown from its usage in Gen 24:60. Note that in both Gen 22:17 and Gen 24:60, the English translators unanimously rendered the words with a plural genitive, ie. “their enemies” and “of those who hate them” rather than “his enemies” and “of him who hates them”.

Ahhh… another over-lengthy over-technical post. I best end this here!

Inspired eisegesis: Eph 4:8

In my previous post, we looked at where Paul had possibly arrived at an unorthodox position as a result of reliance on the LXX. Fortunately, it was not a real deal breaker – in the end, one was still to be kind to our enemies whatever the motivations might be. From a pragmatic point of view, it got the job done even though the supposed “biblical justification” failed. To be sure, this wasn’t the only instance where Paul went off the rails when citing the OT in his arguments. Of course, in all fairness, he probably didn’t have the tools and references that we have today. Nevertheless, it still remains a rather interesting curiosity that challenges us on how we see the writings of the NT. In this post, we will look at another one (or two) such instances, beginning with Eph 4:7-11 (NKJV):-

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says:

“When He ascended on high,
He led captivity captive,
And gave gifts to men.”

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers …

I have left out verses 9 and 10 for brevity but let us look at the above verses. These should be pretty familiar verses because of the important place they occupy in the teaching of the so-called “five-fold ministry” of the church. Paul was making the point that Christ, having been resurrected from the dead and ascended into heaven, gave gifts to men – in particular the five-fold ministries. In order to back-up his argument, Paul partially cites Psalm 68:18 (NKJV) to make that connection between Christ’s ascension and the giving of gifts. The problem, though, is that he misquoted the verse. Psa 68:18 (NKJV):-

You have ascended on high,
You have led captivity captive;
You have received gifts among men,
Even from the rebellious,
That the LORD God might dwell there.

Even without going into the Hebrew (or the LXX in this case), it is clear to see that Paul had mis-remembered Psalm 68:18 where it says that the Lord, in his ascended state, received gifts among men rather than gave gifts to men. It is obvious from the context of Ephesians 4 that Paul totally understood it as the Lord giving gifts (and thus not due to copyist error) – completely opposite from what the Psalmist wrote. The Hebrew word לָקַ֣חְתָּ (laqachta) is explicit in the direction of the gifts and leaves no room for misunderstanding or confusion of the meaning.

So here we have an example where Paul based his argument upon a mis-remembered OT verse. There is no squirming out of this one easily. Fortunately, it is not of great significance because the OT citation isn’t needed to make the point that Christ gave us gifts – a point that can be made in other more legitimate ways. It does show, however, that Paul does get his OT wrong at times. He got the broad strokes right, but sometimes gets the details (and exegesis) wrong.

Just in case this wasn’t explicit enough, here’s a bonus example from Hebrews 8:7-9 (NKJV):-

For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. 8 Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah — not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD.

The following verses continue in the citation of Jer 31 which you can verify for yourself. The underlined words are where the discrepancy lies. Jer 31:31-32 (NKJV) reads:-

Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah — not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD.

So how did the author get the idea that God disregarded faithless Israel? You guessed it – bad LXX translation. This is what the passage reads in the LXX, Jer 31:31-32 (LXX Brenton-English):-

Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day when I took hold of their hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; for they abode not in my covenant, and I disregarded them, saith the Lord.

In this case, the writer of Hebrews actually correctly cited the LXX but the LXX contained a mistranslation of the original Hebrew. Once again, this isn’t really that significant as long as we’re looking at the broad strokes.

In addition to misquotations, Paul also quotes the OT out of context at times. Take Rom 10:5-8 (NKJV) for instance:-

For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, “The man who does those things shall live by them.” But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, “ ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach)

Here Paul is trying to contrast a righteousness that is through the law, and that which is through faith. He argues that the righteousness that is through faith “speaks this way” and then cites Deut 30:14 (NKJV) which goes:-

But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.

This seems alright on the surface until you read the rest of Deut 30:11-14 (NKJV) and discover that it has a completely different context. Deut 30:14 is talking about the LAW being something that can be performed, that isn’t too difficult to achieve or to attain. In other words, Deut 30:11-14 was in fact making the opposite case than Paul was making. God was saying that the people should obey his commandments (Law) and that these commandments aren’t hidden in heaven that one needed to ascend into it, nor unreachable beyond the sea. Rather, “the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.” Paul, however, makes a completely different case and turns it into a verse about the “word of faith”. If anyone were to make such a case today, they would be shot down for using the bible out of context, and they would be right.

And yes, there are still other instances where Paul does this. In many of the cases, he mangles the original OT meanings and gives it a different or even opposite meaning. One might ask – why does Paul do this and why didn’t anyone point it out? Well, for one, Paul was writing mostly to Gentiles and they were pretty ignorant of the OT texts. In fact, most of the uneducated Jews may not even know the OT well enough to catch these errors, especially when they heard it in a reading. Secondly, Paul’s heavy reliance on the LXX means that he inherited the translational errors inherent to the LXX. These sometimes got incorporated into his own pastoral and doctrinal teachings. Thirdly, Paul was a Pharisee and he might have been used to “Midrashic interpretation” which, in summary, allows a Rabbi to pretty much say anything he wants without regard to the meaning of the OT text being cited. Here is how it is explained by David Stern in this essay (pg.1865):-

The scholar Michael Fishbane, who has exhaustively studied these and similar cases in the Bible, has described them as part of a larger phenomenon which he calls inner-biblical exegesis … Although most of these examples are not, strictly speaking, exegeses … These include the tendencies to harmonize conflicting or discordant verses; to reemploy and reapply biblical paradigms and imagery to new cases; to reinvest “old” historical references with “new” historical contexts …

That’s just a very scholarly way of saying that “Midrashic interpretation” basically makes up stuff that isn’t there. This is (still) a feature of Rabbinic Pharisaism and Paul might have been used to it. That, of course, doesn’t make it right but it might explain this penchant of his. What it does not do is legitimise the practice. This shouldn’t surprise us, though, because Paul was, after all, human like us and prone to eisegesis as we are.

All in “Al”, to heap or not to heap coals: Prov 25:22

Another public holiday, another linguistic write-up.

In his exhortation to the Roman church, Paul advises them to be peaceable and not to seek revenge. The reason he gives is through the citation of two separate OT verses, Deut 32:35 and Prov 25:21-22, suggesting that God will eventually exact vengeance upon the unjust and their kind acts towards the “enemies” will only compound the injustice and thus multiply the eventual judgement upon them. In other words, be nice to your enemies because in so doing, you’re making it worse for them. Rom 12:19-20 (NASB) says:-

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Now, off the bat, this should come across as a little strange considering all that Jesus had taught – the forgiveness of our enemies from the heart – as opposed to the hope for their eventual punishment (although this was certainly a popular thought in the Jewish mind for their enemies.) Are we really to be kind towards our enemies for the sake of their eventual punishment? The citation Paul used came from Proverbs 25:21-22 (NKJV) which goes:-

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For so you will heap coals of fire on his head, And the LORD will reward you.

This seems to justify what Paul had intended in “leaving room for the wrath of God” but for a little problem in the text. Specifically, the word translated “heap” in our English translations is the word חֹתֶ֣ה (Hebrew:choteh) which actually means “take” or “snatch”. The relevant part of the verse reads (R-to-L):-

כִּ֤י גֶֽחָלִ֗ים אַ֭תָּה חֹתֶ֣ה עַל־רֹאשׁ֑וֹ

Transliteration and direct translation:-

ki    gecholim atah choteh al_rosho
for coals          you   snatch  on_his-head

As you might already see, we have a problem here with the agreement between the verb “snatch” and the preposition “on” (Hebrew:al). Normally a preposition “from” (Hebrew:me) would be used together with a verb like “snatch”. The LXX (from which Paul most likely quoted) translates the Hebrew “choteh” as the Greek σωρεύσεις :“heap” (or “pile up”) as well. Everywhere else this lexeme appears in the OT, however, it is translated as “take” or “snatch” or “pluck”.

Isa 30:14 (NKJV) – … a shard to take fire from the hearth …
Psa 52:5 (NKJV) – … and pluck you out of your dwelling place …
Prov 6:27 (NKJV) – Can a man take fire to this bosom …

The only reason why “heap” is used over against its normal meaning is because of this verb-preposition disagreement and preference was given to the prepositional direction. Here is where it might be useful to look into the history of the Hebrew language. Hebrew and its more ancient form – Paleo-Hebrew – belong to a Semitic language group that, while similar to, is distinct from the Akkadian cuneiform family. It does, however, share considerable similarity with the Ugaritic cuneiform (Northwest Semitic group) writing and there are suggestions that the Ugaritic cuneiform is a pre-cursor to Hebrew. In Ugaritic, the preposition “al” can mean both “on, upon, onto, over” as well as “from on”, meaning that Prov 25:22 can be translated (literally) as:-

For coals you snatch from-on_his-head, and Yahovah (will) complete/pay [shalem] you.

The meaning of this translation goes from one of adding to the wrath to one of defusing the wrath – the removal of angry coals from someone and runs along the lines of Prov 15:1 (NKJV):-

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Now, this, to me, sounds a lot more consistent with what Jesus taught and, more intuitively, something that God would reward. The motivation for doing good to our enemies takes a 180-degree turn along with the change in the handling of the preposition “al”. This also flows much better with the tenor of the rest of Proverbs, that of peacemaking rather than just tongue-biting while a vengeful fire burns within. Contextually, why would you want to heap coals of fire on someone who is (Prov 25:21) hungry and thirsty anyway? Wouldn’t it be far more prudent to take the opportunity to win them over by offering them hospitality here? Would not extending kindness to a needy “enemy” defuse the fiery coals of enmity? Prov 24:17 (NKJV) tells us not to rejoice or be glad in our hearts when our enemies stumble or fall.

It seems to me, then, that not only is this translation more viable linguistically by taking into consideration the normal meaning of “choteh”, it is also more sensible contextually and consistent theologically. Unfortunately, it raises another problem for us because Paul had cited it from the LXX which had lost this nuance and he had used the text in a way opposite from how the author of Proverbs most likely intended it to be. I think Paul got it wrong in so far as making room for God’s wrath.

In summary, here is what Jesus himself taught concerning our enemies in Luke 6:35 (NKJV):-

But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.

Go read the rest of it in Luke 6:27-36 (NKJV) on your holiday.