In Rom 4:3, Paul cites Gen 15:6 in the Greek (from the LXX) as follows:-
ἐπίστευσεν δὲ Ἀβραὰμ τῷ θεῷ καὶ ἐλογίσθη αὐτῷ εἰς δικαιοσύνην. Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. (NKJV)
What Paul understands by this verse is that Abraham’s belief in God was regarded by God as righteousness. In a sense, faith equals righteousness. When we inspect the Greek here, however, we find that things are not so clear. The literal translation of the Greek is something like this:-
Abraham believed God and he ἐλογίσθη (elogisthe) to righteousness.
The Greek verb elogisthe comes from the root word logizomai, which according to the BDAG carries a semantic range of meanings:-
to reckon, calculate
to give careful thought to a matter, to consider, to ponder
to hold a view about something, be of the opinion
These meanings do not include the idea of an imputation of values to another, such as “accounted to him for” as understood by Paul. The Barnes’ Commentary, for examples, says:-
I have examined all the passages, and as the result of my examination have come to the conclusion, that there is not one in which the word is used in the sense of reckoning or imputing to a man what does not strictly belong to him; or of charging on him what ought not to be charged on him as a matter of personal right.
The preposition εἰς (eis) likewise carries a range of meanings (BDAG):-
extension involving a goal or a place, ie. towards
extension in time, ie. until
marker of degree, ie. up to
marker of abstract goals, ie. into, to
marker of a specific point of reference, ie. with reference to
marker of a guarantee, ie. by
distributive marker, ie. -fold
the predicate nominative or predicate accusative, under Semitic influence, ie. as
marker of instrumentality, ie. by, with
other uses, eg. at
While this is quite a list of meanings, many of the uses cannot apply to “righteousness” since it is not a place, time, degree, guarantee, distributive marker nor an instrument. It is also not a “goal” in the normal sense of the word. In all likelihood, it is being used as a predicate accusative.
It seems that a more likely translation of Gen 15:6 from the LXX is:-
Abram believed God, and he considered (it) as righteousness.
*In quoting the LXX, Paul changed “Abram” to “Abraham”. Whether this was intentional or not is unknown but there is little material difference to the meaning.
At this point, we are pretty close to the Hebrew Gen 15:6:-
וְהֶאֱמִ֖ן בַּֽיהוָ֑ה וַיַּחְשְׁבֶ֥הָ לּ֖וֹ צְדָקָֽה And he trusted Yehovah and he יַּחְשְׁבֶ֥ (yachshev) to him righteousness.
The Hebrew verb yachshev, according to the HALOT, carries the meanings:-
respect, hold in high regard
The primary meaning of “weave” clearly doesn’t fit into this context. Looking at the other use of this word form in Gen 38:15 where it carries the meaning “assume” or “regard”, that seems to be the more common usage. If so, we can translate the text as:-
And he trusted in Yehovah and he assumed/regarded (it) to him as righteousness.
It is worth noting that “righteousness” here is just a common noun and is not in a genitive form (Greek), or carries a pronomial suffix (Hebrew). In other words, it isn’t talking about anyone’s righteousness, or righteousness attached to a person, but simply the idea of righteousness.
We now have good agreement between the Hebrew and the LXX translations but there are two unknowns remaining in this text. Who is it that considered/assumed/regarded what as righteousness?
And he trusted in Yehovah and he assumed/regarded (it) to him as righteousness.
The first “he” we can safely say refers to Abram due to the context – it has to be Abram who trusted Yehovah and not Yehovah trusting himself. What of the next “he”? Christians traditionally follow the Pauline reading and so assume that the second “he” refers to God and the “it” refers to Abram’s believing or faith. There is nothing, however, in the sentence that would lead to that reading. Someone who is unaware of the Pauline tradition would not have read it that way.
The NET translators tried to justify their assignment of the second “he” to God by saying that the verb form (waw consecutive in the third person) from verses 5-7 always refers to God. This is, however, an extremely weak argument, not just because the same waw consecutive verb in verse 8 clearly refers to Abraham, but because this verb form is one of the most common (if not THE most common) form in the Hebrew bible.
A more normal reading of the verse, unaffected by Paul’s take, would go like this:-
An he (Abram) trusted in Yehovah and he (Abram) regarded (it) to him (God) as righteousness.
Here the “it” would refer to God’s intention of giving Abram a son and an heir. Abraham could trust in God because God was righteous. God then reiterates that promise in the very next verse, Gen 15:7:-
Then He said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.”
Abram responds by asking for an assurance (Gen 15:6):-
And he said, “Lord GOD, how shall I know that I will inherit it?”
Contrast this to the Pauline version where after God considers Abram’s belief as righteousness, Abram goes on to ask for assurance. This does not flow quite as smoothly as the unbiased reading.
Among Jewish scholars, there is some dispute about this. Rashi seems to agree with Paul’s reading while Ramban (Nachmanides) disagrees. In the Mikraot Gedolot, he wrote:-
The correct interpretation appears to me to be that the verse is stating that Abraham believed in G-d and he considered it due to the righteousness of the Holy One, blessed be He, that He would give him a child under all circumstances, and not because of Abram’s state of righteousness and his reward, even though He told him, Your reward shall be very great.
In the Word Biblical Commentary on Genesis, the author says the Masoretic Hebrew would dictate that without an explicit change of subject, the presumed subject would still be Abram.
בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֨הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ וְחֹ֖שֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י תְה֑וֹם וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם And the earth was empty and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep, and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters.
In the eyes of the ancient peoples, the broadest encompassing categories were the heavens and the earth. Everything we know is contained within these categories. At this time, however, the expanse of heaven and earth were like a blank canvas as nothing else had been formed. Some translations like to use “formless” (NASB, NKJB) instead of “empty” (which is how this word is often translated elsewhere in the bible, eg. 1Sam 12:21, Isa 29:21) and the idea is that things were in a pre-creation or pre-ordered state.
The basic material of this world, however, included waters – deep waters that seemed to have been considered a part of the primeval universe. The word used for this “deep” comes from the Hebrew “tehom”, which is a cognate for the Akkadian word “tiamat” found in the Babylonian creation story, the Enuma Elish (1900-1600BC) which predates the time of Moses (ca.1400BC). The first few lines of the tablet reads as follows:-
At a time when even the glories above had yet to be named, And unuttered was the word for the world which lay beneath It was then that the first being, Apsu, who was their source, And the progenitor Tiamat, the mother who gave birth to all, Intermingled their waters, producing neither field nor marsh At a time when no divine beings had yet come into existence, There were no names to be spoken, and no fates pronounced, But the gods were given birth within those intermixing waves.
In the Enuma Elish, “tiamat” was this primordial chaos that was depicted as a tumultous sea, as well as the “mother” of the gods. The Genesis narrative puts God (Elohim) well over the apex of the Babylonian pantheon.
Going back to Gen 1:2, the fact that the water had a “face” upon which the Spirit hovered seems to suggest something like an ocean. There was also the “heavens” and the “earth”, but it is not very clear how the water fits into the other two at this point. Today, our cosmic world-view consists of a round planet earth and waters that cover parts of the surface of the planet. The ancients, however, saw the cosmos differently. For them, earth was flat and everything above the flat earth was the heavens. Around the flat earth, however, and possibly in the heavens as well, was huge amounts of water. It is possible that the “land” at this stage was viewed as being submerged in the waters.
God was already present, obviously, and the “spirit of God”, being the active agent by which God performs His will, was “fluttering” above the surface of the water since there was no dry land to stand on yet. This as, therefore, the ripe stage for creation – God, through His spirit, fluttering like a bird over the primeval ocean that covered the earth, and the heavens above.
וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֖ים יְהִ֣י א֑וֹר וַֽיְהִי־אֽוֹר And God said, “Let there be light” and light was.
וַיַּ֧רְא אֱלֹהִ֛ים אֶת־הָא֖וֹר כִּי־ט֑וֹב וַיַּבְדֵּ֣ל אֱלֹהִ֔ים בֵּ֥ין הָא֖וֹר וּבֵ֥ין הַחֹֽשֶׁךְ And God saw the light, for (it was) good, and God separated between the light and between the darkness.
וַיִּקְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים ׀ לָאוֹר֙ י֔וֹם וְלַחֹ֖שֶׁךְ קָ֣רָא לָ֑יְלָה וַֽיְהִי־עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹ֖קֶר י֥וֹם אֶחָֽד And God called the light “day” and the darkness he called “night.”. And it was evening, and it was morning. Day one.
The very first thing that God ordered out of the darkness was “light”. No mechanics were given. Light came into being simply at the expressed will of God, without effort. The previously dark heavens and earth were now bathed in light. The sky was no longer black as before, but blue, even if the sun had not yet been created. It was naturally the first thing to be ordered since without light, everything else would remain hidden in darkness. There was a logical precedence that called for light to be “created” first. Darkness, however, was uncreated. It was the beginning state and was defined by the absence of light and generally represented the absence not just of light, but of order.
The ancient writer did not yet have the concept of a heliocentric galaxy or how the days and nights were the result of earth rotating on its axis. To them, the sun existed for the day, and the moon for the night. While it should be apparent that the sun brought light, it was not the only source of light and light, as such, could exist apart from the sun (such as from the moon and the stars). The light of day, was not yet connected to the cosmic role of the sun. God calls the light “day”, although in reality it wasn’t “light” that God called day, but the time when the earth was lit. Conversely, when the light was absent, the time was called “night.” This was being written from the perspective of someone on earth, experiencing the progression from day to night and from night to day. This was not being written from a scientific heavenly or cosmic perspective, where the notion of day and night would be irrelevant.
The day came to a natural end when darkness set upon the land and all activity ground to a halt. This also marked the beginning of the next day. The full cycle of night to day and back to the end of day was considered a “day”, even if sunlight only illuminated a part of the day. In this sense “day” is actually a measure of time, and not just the state of being in sunlight.
Gen 1:6-8 (Day Two)
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֔ים יְהִ֥י רָקִ֖יעַ בְּת֣וֹךְ הַמָּ֑יִם וִיהִ֣י מַבְדִּ֔יל בֵּ֥ין מַ֖יִם לָמָֽיִם And God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters,” and there was a division between water and water.
וַיַּ֣עַשׂ אֱלֹהִים֮ אֶת־הָרָקִיעַ֒ וַיַּבְדֵּ֗ל בֵּ֤ין הַמַּ֙יִם֙ אֲשֶׁר֙ מִתַּ֣חַת לָרָקִ֔יעַ וּבֵ֣ין הַמַּ֔יִם אֲשֶׁ֖ר מֵעַ֣ל לָרָקִ֑יעַ וַֽיְהִי־כֵֽן And God made the firmament and divided between the waters which was below the firmament and between the waters which was above the firmament, and it was so.
יִּקְרָ֧א אֱלֹהִ֛ים לָֽרָקִ֖יעַ שָׁמָ֑יִם וַֽיְהִי־עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹ֖קֶר י֥וֹם שֵׁנִֽי God called the firmament “heavens”, and it was evening and it was morning of day two.
So what exactly was a “firmament”? In the ancient world-view, there was a dome or an arc that stretched over and covered all of the earth. This was what appeared to people as the sky and it was on this sky that the heavenly bodies transited. The notion of an infinite universe that was deeply three-dimensional was not yet understood and this sky was almost like a two-dimensional canvas. Sometimes, portals or gates would open up in this come and water would pour through, and come down on earth as rain. It must mean, therefore, that there was a massive source of water up beyond the visible sky that was responsible for rains and floods. This is why we see in Gen 7:11, 8:2 the mention of “windows of heaven” which open and close, giving rise to the phenomenon of rain and floods. From that primeval water of Gen 1:2, it has to somehow be divided into the waters above and the waters on earth (and under the earth.)
[Kyle Greenwood, “Scripture and Cosmology: Reading the Bible Between the Ancient World and Modern Science”]
The writer of Genesis was actually describing how the world, as he understood it, came about. It was working back from how he saw things to the beginning, rather than as a first principles approach to cosmogony. Interestingly, for this day, there was no “good” commendation given. Some would consider Gen 1:9-10 events of day two, and thus the “good” commendation can be found there.
Gen 1:9-10 (Day Three*)
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֗ים יִקָּו֨וּ הַמַּ֜יִם מִתַּ֤חַת הַשָּׁמַ֙יִם֙ אֶל־מָק֣וֹם אֶחָ֔ד וְתֵרָאֶ֖ה הַיַּבָּשָׁ֑ה וַֽיְהִי־כֵֽן And God said, “Gather the waters from under the heavens to a one place, and let dry ground appear,” and it was so.
וַיִּקְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים ׀ לַיַּבָּשָׁה֙ אֶ֔רֶץ וּלְמִקְוֵ֥ה הַמַּ֖יִם קָרָ֣א יַמִּ֑ים וַיַּ֥רְא אֱלֹהִ֖ים כִּי־טֽוֹב And God called the dry ground “land” and the gathered waters He called “seas”, and God saw that it was good.
The counterpart to the heavens created in day two was now being ordered in day three. The waters below the firmament must have originally covered everything (thus requiring the Spirit of God to hover over the surface) was now collected in places, revealing (soon to be) dry land. They have experienced enough floods to understand that waters can recede to let land appear. Under the heavens, we now have the juxtaposition of land with the seas. Once again, these were very basic features and categories in an ancient person’s view of the world.
*Some consider this part of day two so the next section begins day three.
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֗ים תַּֽדְשֵׁ֤א הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ דֶּ֔שֶׁא עֵ֚שֶׂב מַזְרִ֣יעַ זֶ֔רַע עֵ֣ץ פְּרִ֞י עֹ֤שֶׂה פְּרִי֙ לְמִינ֔וֹ אֲשֶׁ֥ר זַרְעוֹ־ב֖וֹ עַל־הָאָ֑רֶץ וַֽיְהִי־כֵֽן And God said, “Let sprout on the land, grass, herb that bears seed, fruit tree(s) that bears fruit of its kind, whose seed is in it, on the land.,” and it was so.
וַתּוֹצֵ֨א הָאָ֜רֶץ דֶּ֠שֶׁא עֵ֣שֶׂב מַזְרִ֤יעַ זֶ֙רַע֙ לְמִינֵ֔הוּ וְעֵ֧ץ עֹֽשֶׂה־פְּרִ֛י אֲשֶׁ֥ר זַרְעוֹ־ב֖וֹ לְמִינֵ֑הוּ וַיַּ֥רְא אֱלֹהִ֖ים כִּי־טֽוֹב And the earth brought forth grass, herb that bears seed according to its kind, and tree(s) that make fruit whose seed is in it according to its own kind, and God saw that it was good.
וַֽיְהִי־עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹ֖קֶר י֥וֹם שְׁלִישִֽׁי And it was evening and it was morning. Day three.
This was a long day. After the land had appeared out of the waters, it could not be left barren. Vegetation was seen as part and parcel of what makes the land up, and so it belonged together with the “creation” of land. It was well understood that seeds were basic to continued production of herbs and trees, seeing as the ancients had been in agrarian cultures. Of course, in our scientific world-view, we are aware that plants also depend on water and light, and carbon-dioxide, and a host of other things for survival. The writer was not trying to supply the mechanics of plant growth as much as he was making a statement about how God must have created the world as he observed it. Keep in mind that at this point, the sun had not yet been created if we are to follow the sequence of Genesis, and yet each day was already punctuated by evenings and mornings, further underscoring that this was not written as history, but theology.
Gen 1:14-19 (Day Four)
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֗ים יְהִ֤י מְאֹרֹת֙ בִּרְקִ֣יעַ הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם לְהַבְדִּ֕יל בֵּ֥ין הַיּ֖וֹם וּבֵ֣ין הַלָּ֑יְלָה וְהָי֤וּ לְאֹתֹת֙ וּלְמ֣וֹעֲדִ֔ים וּלְיָמִ֖ים וְשָׁנִֽים And God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide between the day between the night, and let there be for signs and for appointed times and for days and years.
וְהָי֤וּ לִמְאוֹרֹת֙ בִּרְקִ֣יעַ הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם לְהָאִ֖יר עַל־הָאָ֑רֶץ וַֽיְהִי־כֵֽן And let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens for light on the land.”
וַיַּ֣עַשׂ אֱלֹהִ֔ים אֶת־שְׁנֵ֥י הַמְּאֹרֹ֖ת הַגְּדֹלִ֑ים אֶת־הַמָּא֤וֹר הַגָּדֹל֙ לְמֶמְשֶׁ֣לֶת הַיּ֔וֹם וְאֶת־הַמָּא֤וֹר הַקָּטֹן֙ לְמֶמְשֶׁ֣לֶת הַלַּ֔יְלָה וְאֵ֖ת הַכּוֹכָבִֽים And God made the two great lights. The great light to rule the day and the little light to rule the night and the stars.
וַיִּתֵּ֥ן אֹתָ֛ם אֱלֹהִ֖ים בִּרְקִ֣יעַ הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם לְהָאִ֖יר עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ And God gave them in the firmament of the heavens to light the land.
וְלִמְשֹׁל֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם וּבַלַּ֔יְלָה וּֽלֲהַבְדִּ֔יל בֵּ֥ין הָא֖וֹר וּבֵ֣ין הַחֹ֑שֶׁךְ וַיַּ֥רְא אֱלֹהִ֖ים כִּי־טֽוֹב And to rule in the day and in the night and to divide between the light and between the darkness, and God saw that it was good.
The two great lights were the sun and the moon, as was obvious to any person who wasn’t blind. These have actual Hebrew names – “shemesh” for sun, and “yareach” for moon – but neither of these proper nouns were used. What could have been the reason for this? “Shamash”, as it turns out, was also the name of the Mesopotamian sun god (and god of justice). It is possible that the more oblique language of “greater light” and “little light” was used to avoid the mention of these names because they were worshipped as gods in ancient times. Perhaps the writer was keen to present a monotheistic creation narrative, in which there was one god responsible for everything.
The sun and the moon served not only as light sources, but also play important calendrical functions. The word “moedim” in this verse is usually translated as seasons, possibly because the translators were thinking of the seasons of a year. The word itself, however, is almost always used in reference to appointed times of meeting and feasts of the Lord and translated as such. Here the writer, I believe, was anticipating the calendrical function of the moon, in particular, which was the basis for their lunar calendar. This explains the specific mention that they were for “signs”, as in the sign of a new month, or the sign of the beginning of a feast. This is a connection that appears many times in the rest of the Old Testament (eg. Dt 16:1, Ps 81:3).
Just as the waters under the firmament had to be divided again into land and seas, the lights in the firmament were further divided, into the sun for the day, and moon and stars for the night. In ancient times, these celestial bodies were often associated with deities and angels.
Gen 1:20-23 (Day Five)
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֔ים יִשְׁרְצ֣וּ הַמַּ֔יִם שֶׁ֖רֶץ נֶ֣פֶשׁ חַיָּ֑ה וְעוֹף֙ יְעוֹפֵ֣ף עַל־הָאָ֔רֶץ עַל־פְּנֵ֖י רְקִ֥יעַ הַשָּׁמָֽיִם And God said, “Let there abound in the seas an abundance of living soul(s), and flying birds over the land on the face of the firmament of the heavens.”
וַיִּבְרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֔ים אֶת־הַתַּנִּינִ֖ם הַגְּדֹלִ֑ים וְאֵ֣ת כָּל־נֶ֣פֶשׁ הַֽחַיָּ֣ה ׀ הָֽרֹמֶ֡שֶׂת אֲשֶׁר֩ שָׁרְצ֨וּ הַמַּ֜יִם לְמִֽינֵהֶ֗ם וְאֵ֨ת כָּל־ע֤וֹף כָּנָף֙ לְמִינֵ֔הוּ וַיַּ֥רְא אֱלֹהִ֖ים כִּי־טֽוֹב And God created the great sea-monsters and every living soul that moves which swarms the waters according to their kind, and all the winged birds according to their kind, and God saw that it was good.
וַיְבָ֧רֶךְ אֹתָ֛ם אֱלֹהִ֖ים לֵאמֹ֑ר פְּר֣וּ וּרְב֗וּ וּמִלְא֤וּ אֶת־הַמַּ֙יִם֙ בַּיַּמִּ֔ים וְהָע֖וֹף יִ֥רֶב בָּאָֽרֶץ And God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and be great and fill the waters in the seas, and let the bird(s) be many in the land.
וַֽיְהִי־עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹ֖קֶר י֥וֹם חֲמִישִֽׁי And it was evening, and morning. Day five.
Where most bible versions translate the word “nephesh” here as “living creatures”, it is usually translated as “souls”, which can be used to mean living beings. It is interesting that animals were referred to as souls, and I think this goes back to the ancient notion of life as anything that breathes, whether it be humans or animals. When someone dies, the breathing stops and the soul leaves. Special mention was made about some “great sea-monsters” or “tanninim” which features in Ugaritic myths as a sea-monster that serves Yam, the god of the sea. It is unclear what this actually referred to for the writer of Genesis but it could be any of the great sea creatures that is seen to dominate the seas and rivers (Eze 29:3, Isa 27:1). It is there, I think, to represent the creatures of the sea in the same way that birds came to represent the creatures with wings.
[“Context of Scripture”, Ugaritic Myths, The Ba’lu Myth, CTA3, Anatu’s Response]
For the first time, God specifically blessed these souls, both in the sea and in the air, thus according them a status beyond that of vegetation. Not only that, they were given the command to multiply and to fill the earth. We notice the language of “abundance” and “fruitfulness” as being part of what God considers “good” and connected to blessings.
Gen 1:24-25 (Day Six)
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֗ים תּוֹצֵ֨א הָאָ֜רֶץ נֶ֤פֶשׁ חַיָּה֙ לְמִינָ֔הּ בְּהֵמָ֥ה וָרֶ֛מֶשׂ וְחַֽיְתוֹ־אֶ֖רֶץ לְמִינָ֑הּ וַֽיְהִי־כֵֽן And God said, “Let the land bring forth living soul(s) according to its kind, beast(s) and moving things and living things of the land according to its own kind,” and it was so.
וַיַּ֣עַשׂ אֱלֹהִים֩ אֶת־חַיַּ֨ת הָאָ֜רֶץ לְמִינָ֗הּ וְאֶת־הַבְּהֵמָה֙ לְמִינָ֔הּ וְאֵ֛ת כָּל־רֶ֥מֶשׂ הָֽאֲדָמָ֖ה לְמִינֵ֑הוּ וַיַּ֥רְא אֱלֹהִ֖ים כִּי־טֽוֹב And God made the animals of the land according to its kind and the beasts according to its kind and all moving things of the earth according to its kind, and God say that it was good.
Animals are more generic whereas beasts (or cattle in some cases) are more specific types of animals. These were clearly not conceived of as comprehensive categories, but observational categories, and would therefore have potential overlap. They were what the ancient readers would normally see in the world around them.
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֔ים נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה אָדָ֛ם בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ וְיִרְדּוּ֩ בִדְגַ֨ת הַיָּ֜ם וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֗יִם וּבַבְּהֵמָה֙ וּבְכָל־הָאָ֔רֶץ וּבְכָל־הָרֶ֖מֶשׂ הָֽרֹמֵ֥שׂ עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ And God said, “Let us make man in our image according to our likeness, and let him dominate the fish of the sea, and the birds of the heavens, and the beasts, and in all the land and over all moving things that moves over all the land.”
וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים ׀ אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמ֔וֹ בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹהִ֖ים בָּרָ֣א אֹת֑וֹ זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בָּרָ֥א אֹתָֽם And God created the man in His image, in the image of God He created him. Male and female He created them.
וַיְבָ֣רֶךְ אֹתָם֮ אֱלֹהִים֒ וַיֹּ֨אמֶר לָהֶ֜ם אֱלֹהִ֗ים פְּר֥וּ וּרְב֛וּ וּמִלְא֥וּ אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁ֑הָ וּרְד֞וּ בִּדְגַ֤ת הַיָּם֙ וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וּבְכָל־חַיָּ֖ה הָֽרֹמֶ֥שֶׂת עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ And God blessed them and God said to them, “Be fruitful and be great (many) and fill the land and subdue it, and dominate the fish of the sea and the bird(s) of the heavens and all the animals that moves on the land.
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֗ים הִנֵּה֩ נָתַ֨תִּי לָכֶ֜ם אֶת־כָּל־עֵ֣שֶׂב ׀ זֹרֵ֣עַ זֶ֗רַע אֲשֶׁר֙ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י כָל־הָאָ֔רֶץ וְאֶת־כָּל־הָעֵ֛ץ אֲשֶׁר־בּ֥וֹ פְרִי־עֵ֖ץ זֹרֵ֣עַ זָ֑רַע לָכֶ֥ם יִֽהְיֶ֖ה לְאָכְלָֽה And God said, “Behold, I give to you-all all the herbs that bears seeds which is on the face of all the land, and all the tree(s) which is in it, fruit bearing tree(s) that bears seeds, to you-all it shall be for food.”
וּֽלְכָל־חַיַּ֣ת הָ֠אָרֶץ וּלְכָל־ע֨וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֜יִם וּלְכֹ֣ל ׀ רוֹמֵ֣שׂ עַל־הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־בּוֹ֙ נֶ֣פֶשׁ חַיָּ֔ה אֶת־כָּל־יֶ֥רֶק עֵ֖שֶׂב לְאָכְלָ֑ה וַֽיְהִי־כֵֽן And to all the animals of the land and to all the bird(s) of the heavens and to all the moving things on the land which has a living soul in it, all green herbs for food, and it was so.
וַיַּ֤רְא אֱלֹהִים֙ אֶת־כָּל־אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשָׂ֔ה וְהִנֵּה־ט֖וֹב מְאֹ֑ד וַֽיְהִי־עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹ֖קֶר י֥וֹם הַשִּׁשִּֽׁי And God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good, and it was evening and it was morning. Day six.
We now come to the climax of the creation narrative, climbing up in status from vegetation to fish and birds, to animals and finally to man. There are many interesting things about these verses. For one, in Gen 1:26 God spoke in the plural, “in our image.” Some have called this a “majestic plural” meaning that it was a way to show the greatness of God by using the plural instead of the singular. On the other hand, in the next verse, with “in His image” the singular was used. Others have suggested that the plural here referred to the divine council that served with God. In any case, it is an interesting detail. What is clear, though, is that man sat on top of the hierarchy, and was given clear dominion over the other living things of the earth. The language of dominion may not sit well with modern day environmentalists but it is what the bible uses.
[Michael S. Heiser, “The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible”]
Man was uniquely made in the pattern or likeness of God. Male and female they were created, suggesting that this was a separate narrative from the Gen 2 narrative of Eden. The progression here is less chronological or sequential, as it is in terms of significance and ranking. This is another reason to think that the order of creation presented here is not meant to be taken literally or historically, but theologically.
Note that here, God gave man the rulership over all living things, but in Gen 1:29, He gave them only the plants for food. Likewise, in Gen 1:30, He gave the animals only plants for food. This would make sense especially for an agrarian culture. If taken literally, we would all be vegans or vegetarians! Like any good ruler, the responsibility and care for the welfare of the ruled is implied so care and stewardship is part of this dominion.
On this final day of creation, God pronounced the “good” verdict twice. First was in Gen 1:25 at the conclusion of the creation of the animals, and then again after the creation of man. God did not bless the animals as he did the fish and the birds earlier, but He blessed man with the same mandate to be fruitful and multiply. One could make the case that blessings, in this context, had to do with fruitfulness.
The categories of creation over the six-days are:-
Darkness and deep waters
Heavens and the earth
Firmament. Division of waters above and below
Dry land and seas
Sun and moon, and stars
Fish and birds
Men and women
It seems to me that this was less of a chronological order of creation and more an order of importance of categories within creation, with humans being the most important within this hierarchy. Even from a scientific point of view, if one were to take this order literally, it would mean that earth would be created before light was created. It would mean that waters were not created and were only divided. It would mean that evenings and mornings existed without the sun being first created. Then we have the problem with the “firmament” which simply does not have an equivalent within the modern scientific categories. Some people try to relate this to “atmosphere” but there is nothing in the language or context that suggests that it is anything other than a part of the ancient world-view that has no place within modern cosmology. There is also so much missing from this sequence, even if one were to take it only as the sequence of the creation of earth itself and not of the universe.
Others have pointed out the correspondence between days 1-3 and days 4-6 a follows:-
[Greenwood, Kyle. Scripture and Cosmology (p. 106). InterVarsity Press.]
Here we see the poetic structure of Genesis 1 as a juxtaposition of form and purpose. God first brings order out of disorder, and creates the “container” forms, and then fills them up. This further points the passage away from chronological history towards theological narrative.
The main message of Gen 1 seems to be:-
There is only one true God in all of creation
Everything else is created by God
Man has a special place in creation, indicated by the fact that he was created in God’s image, and the rank he occupies in the hierarchy of creation
Man is given a mandate to rule
Man is blessed so that he might be fruitful
Creation was made for man
Man owes everything to God, and should rightly serve God
Order and function/roles are good. Disorder is bad
The creation hymn is clearly theological in design. If it happens to coincide with some theories of the creation of the physical world, all the better. The writer, here, does not seem to be concerned with chronology or science, but with theology.
There are, nevertheless, proponents for a literal reading of Gen 1. These are typically Creationists who take the narrative as literal history, and even scientifically accurate documentary. I looked at some of the evidence they put forward to argue for this but have found that much of it is speculative and circumstantial.
It seems appropriate to end with the words of J. I. Packer, a well renowned scholar and thinker, written in response to “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics”:-
What the Bible says about the facts of nature is as true and trustworthy as anything else it says. However, it speaks of natural phenomena as they are spoken of in ordinary language, not in the explanatory technical terms of modern science. It accounts for natural events in terms of the action of God, not in terms of causal links within the created order; and it oflen describes natural processes figuratively and poetically, not analytically and prosaically as modern science seeks to do. This being so, differences of opinion as to the correct scientific account to give of natural facts and events which Scripture celebrates can hardly be avoided
It should be remembered, however, that Scripture was given to reveal God, not to address scientific issues in scientific terms, and that, as it does not use the language of modern science, so it does not require scientific knowledge about the internal processes of God’s creation for the understanding of its essential message about God and ourselves. Scripture interprets scientific knowledge by relating it to the revealed purpose and work of God, thus establishing an ultimate context for the study and reform of scientific ideas. It is not for scientific theories to dictate what Scripture may and may not say, although extra-biblical information will sometimes helpfully expose a misinterpretation of Scripture.
As Advent rolls around the corner, we will no doubt hear the many familiar verses and passages that have become associated with the season. One of the most prominent of these verses is Isa 9:6 which reads as follows:-
For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
This is pretty much the same translation we get with the NKJV, NASB, NIV and the ESV, with minor stylistic differences. The NET, NRSV and JPS, however, presents a slightly different translation. In this article I would like to look at what is behind these differences and you may be surprised to find that there is a lot more going on here, and the final translation of the verse may be something rather unexpected.
Let us begin where I tend to begin in this series, with the original Hebrew. The Hebrew bible has different versification and in this case, the equivalent verse is actually Isa 9:5, and here is the text.
If we were to smooth out this translation, the first part would read something like this:-
For a child has been born to you, a son has been given to you, and the dominion will be on his shoulder.
The thing to notice here is that the words “yulad” (has been born) and “nitan” (has been given) in the Hebrew are in the perfect (completed) tense [or more familiarly, past-tense]. The common English translations (NKJV, NASB, NIV, ESV) obfuscates this with “is born” and “is given”, whereas the NET, NRSV and JPS actually translates this more accurately as “has been born” and “has been given”. This also means that the plain reading of this verse would present Isaiah as referring to something that has already happened, as opposed to a future referent. Who could he be referring to then, if not a future messiah?
The second part of the verse gets even more complicated because not only is “yiqra” (called) in the perfect tense (ie. completed and past) but it is what is known as a qal-verb (simple unaugmented form) which means that it is an active verb. Active verbs typically require a subject (the acting agent) and usually has an object (that which is acted upon). Since “yiqra” is an active verb in the perfect tense meaning “called”, then there must be a subject, and an object. Someone called someone else something. Okay, so now we look back at our sentence and we have to ask ourself who the subject of this sentence is? Who is doing the calling here? The object we know from the suffix of “shemo” (meaning: his-name) so we know that someone called his-name something. The “his” here refers to the “child” from the first part of the sentence. When a noun ends with an “o”, that’s usually a third person masculine singular referrent – “him” or “his” – and since “shem” means “name”, “shemo” means “his name”.
The mystery here is in the identity of the subject or agent – who is doing the calling? Before we get into that, it is worth pointing out that the English translations completely alters the original meaning and translates “yiqra” passively into “he will be called”. What was originally a perfect active verb became an imperfect passive verb. Once again, NET, NRSV and the JPS gets this more right than the NKJV, NASB, NIV and ESV. The JPS Isa 9:6 reads:-
He has been named “The Mighty God is planning grace, The Eternal Father, a peaceable ruler”
At least they got the tense correct but even here, it translates the verb passively and avoids the problem of requiring a subject or agent for the verb. One clue to how to resolve this mystery comes from the Targum, the Jewish oral tradition and commentary of the bible. In it, it gives the translation of Isa 9:5b as:-
And his name has been called from before the One Who Causes Wonderful Counsel, God the Warrior, the Eternally Existing One, “The Messiah who will increase peace upon us in his days.”
Here you see that they have made the first three of the four titles the subject or agent, and the last title the name. In other words:-
And the wonderful Counsellor and mighty God, our(my) everlasting Father, has called him the Prince of Peace.
This construction and translation is legitimate because, for example, we find a similarly structured verse in Gen 3:20a:-
וַיִּקְרָ֧א הָֽאָדָ֛ם שֵׁ֥ם אִשְׁתּ֖וֹ חַוָּ֑ה
Transliterated and translated this is:-
v’yiqra ha’adam shem ishto chawah
and’called the’man name (of) his-wife Eve
Here we see both the subject and object follows the active verb “yiqra” with the name being the last in the sentence. If this is true, then the child does not have four titles as we have been taught, but one title – “Prince of Peace” – and the one declaring this is the wise and mighty God himself, our everlasting Father. This child was, literally, a “son” of God the Father.
The conventional (but erroneous) translation is popular because it lends itself to trinitarian arguments which identifies the child with the father, the messiah with God himself. Unfortunately this is not borne out by the actual Hebrew text. The text still has strong messianic overtones, especially in the following verse where it says (Isa 9:7):-
Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
This verse falls within the first 12-chapters of Isaiah, the oracles against Judah, and comes on the heels of the vision Isaiah had in Isa 6:1. Isaiah served under four of the Israeli kings – Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah. Uzziah was considered one of the good kings but he had just died. His son, Jotham, was already a co-regent for 11-years by that time, and would go on to rule another 5-years as a good king after Uzziah died. After Jotham, Ahaz (a bad king) reigned for 16-years before Hezekiah took to the throne at the age of 25. Hezekiah would have been born by this time* and it is quite possible that at the time Uzziah died or soon thereafter Isaiah was thinking about Hezekiah and prophesying about him when he said those words in Isa 9:6.
*The calculation of years is complicated by the unknown years of co-regency between kings.
Now, it is not uncommon for biblical prophecies to have multiple fulfillments and even if it was Hezekiah that Isaiah was originally thinking about, it could also refer to a future messiah. However, if this was referring to Hezekiah in the first place, there is no way that Isaiah would have conferred him the titles “mighty God” and “everlasting Father”. That would force the translation to follow the lines of the Targum, meaning that these titles were a reference to God, the agent, who was declaring the name of the messianic child to be the Prince of Peace.
This child is spoken of again in Rev 11:15:-
Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!”
As we approach the season of Advent in these chaotic times, may we keep our eye on the one Prince of Peace whose kingdom will have no end.
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 alter the meaning of the text significantly. 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 had to be the LXX again, judging from the pattern that had 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:-
The LXX translator misread the word while translating
The LXX translator had access to a better copy and our existing OT has the wrong word
The LXX translator had the right copy but decided to interpret and did a bad job
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).
This is Isa 29:22 from the same scroll where I have highlighted the word “yevosh” (ashamed).
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.
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:-
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!
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.
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.
In a previous post I pointed out how 2Tim 3:16 could not be used as proof-text for the idea of biblical inspiration. We looked at the text and the context to arrive at that conclusion. But even if 2Tim 3:16 had been a proof-text, there would still be logical problems with a book, 2Timothy in this case, being considered inspired just because the same book declares itself to be inspired. There is circularity in the logic here and it would be like an accused saying, “I’m innocent because I said so!” We would not accept that kind of reasoning in the courts of law, so why would we resort to that kind of logic when it comes to the issue of the inspiration of scripture? What this shows is that we’re going to need a whole new kind of reasoning if we’re going to show the inspiration of scripture, and stop relying of proof-texts. The early church surely could not rely on 2Tim 3:16 to determine whether a book was inspired or not. So how did they do it?
While the early Christians readily accepted the OT canon, things were less tidy with the NT writings. Various letters were often circulated and read in the different churches. Back in those days, one of the main ways information was disseminated was through public reading. This is also why it came to be that scripture reading was a part of church life from very early on. In addition to reading of scriptures, letters from various persons and other churches were also read. Acts 15:23-29, for example, is a short letter from the church in Jerusalem to the church of Antioch, Syria, and Cicilia. Such a letter would be read publicly – a little bit like what we might do in our “announcement” segment of our church services.
Over time, some of the letters gained greater circulation whilst others surely faded away. The trouble was that there were a great number of such letters going around and it eventually became a concern as to the veracity of those letters. Some were clear forgeries and it came to the attention of bishops these were being read in the churches, which led to some reactionary measures which included certain simple criteria being put in place for what could be read. This happened pretty early on, as soon as the documents falsely claiming to be authoritative started going into circulation, as you would expect. This was not an organised effort, especially since the early church wasn’t as institutionalised as it is now. I suppose it would not be too much to say that it was actually more of a commonsensical approach, as opposed to a mystical or religious one. It came about that some of these criteria became more useful and widely accepted. We will discuss these criteria but for now, let us begin with the nature of the NT writings from the perspectives of the authors themselves.
The books of the NT were not “born” as scripture. They were originally letters of communications to various individuals and churches addressing a variety of needs and issues. We know this because Paul, in several places, specifically said that he was rendering his own opinion in the midst of teaching biblical positions (on the basis of OT laws.) The case in point here is 1Cor 7:25 (NASB):-
Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy.
Prior to this, in 1Cor 7:19 (NASB), Paul indicates that he was teaching: “… but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.” In essence, Paul was applying OT principles into the Corinthian context, producing a teaching that was based on (OT) scriptural authority. After he had done this, he inserts v.25 as his own opinion. I think it is quite clear that Paul wasn’t of the mind that he was writing new scriptures that were inherently authoritative. His teaching was authoritative in a derivative sense – in that it reflected (OT) scriptural principles, albeit interpreted with the benefit of Christian history. He does this again in 2Cor 11:17 (NKJV):-
What I speak, I speak not according to the Lord, but as it were, foolishly, in this confidence of boasting.
Once again, Paul explicitly injects what he considers his personal views into the text, referring to most of 2Cor 11. It seems rather unlikely that Paul was writing this with the mind that he was creating inherently authoritative scripture (as opposed to derivatively authoritative.) None of the early Christians would have initially anticipated that there would one day be a selection of their writings that would be considered “scriptures” in the same way that the “holy writings” of old were.
This is an important thought, and if true, it must be asked – at which point did these NT writings come to be regarded as “scriptures”? The thought is important because most Christians assume that the NT books are scriptures because they were inspired by God, presumably from the time of writing. But at the time of writing, it is likely that the authors as well as the readers had no notion of the letters being inherently inspired, much less as holy scriptures. Authoritative, definitely and derivatively. Scriptures. Probably not yet.
Consider how Luke (although the gospel itself doesn’t name him) explains his work. Luke 1:1-4 (NKJV):-
Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.
Luke, it seems, was saying that he was doing what many others have done – that is to put together an account of Jesus’ teachings – and he was writing this for his friend Theophilus (although some argue that Theophilus wasn’t an actual person but a “code” for a those who love God.) On the surface of it, it was a personal letter, albeit an extremely long one. Luke’s motivation was that it seemed like a good idea to him – ἔδοξεν κἀμοὶ would be more directly translated “and I thought”. I’m not entirely sure why some versions translate it as “seemed good” because the idea of “good” just isn’t there in the Greek. The NRSV and NIV come closer with their translations of Luke 1:3 (NRSV):-
NRSV – I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus … NIV – With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus …
So Luke had this idea (you could say that he was perhaps inspired?) to inform Theophilus of what he had learned in order to convince him (v.4). Regardless of whether Luke might have been inspired by God to embark on his writing or not, it is important to see that Luke himself did not explicitly think that he was creating new holy scriptures, as far as we can tell. It seems like he thought he was doing what many others have done (probably referring to other gospel writers though not necessarily limited to the gospels of Matthew & Mark. John was written much later.) If Luke didn’t see his writing as scripture, it should follow that his first readers would not regard it as holy scriptures either. That must have happened at some later point. At this beginning point, no one was going “Oh, Luke wrote under the inspiration of God and therefore his gospel should be included in the new canon.”
Clement of Rome, writing around 96AD, wrote the following. 1Clement 42:1 (Lightfoot translation):-
The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ was sent forth from God.
This might have worked for Matthew but Luke was not himself an apostle, nor was he one of the first disciples of Jesus, nor even a Jew. While it is true that he might have travelled with Paul, neither was Paul one of the original 12-apostles, nor was he a direct eye-witness to the life and ministry of the Lord. (Mark was also not one of the 12-apostles either.)
My point is that the writings of Luke, which we now regard as holy scriptures, acquired that status somewhere down the line after the initial writing and first reading. The recognition that it was “theopneustos” (God-breathed:beneficial or profitable – see earlier post) came through a process that didn’t speed up until the middle of the 2nd century when the problems with spurious writings became more widespread.
The reason for all this study is to make us consider what the nature of “inspiration” might be. What qualifies something as “scripture” if not explicit divine inspiration? And when did that happen? I suspect that some Christians have this notion that God guided the hands of the writers to virtually dictate what was to be written. In that way, they would claim that every single word of the NT was literally the word of God, selected divinely and supernaturally conveyed through the NT authors’ hands (and those of their amanuensis.) At least for the examples above – this does not seem to be the case. I would suggest that “inspiration” must work some other way than what the Germans called senkrecht von oben (came vertically from above.)
This post is getting way longer than I would like it to be so I will leave you with this cliff-hanger!
In writing about textual and linguistic issues, it becomes natural to ask about the nature of scriptural inspiration. I thought I’d write down some thoughts on this rather important subject. Let’s just start where we find the word in the bible – 2Tim 3:16. Paul was writing to Timothy to encourage him to stay the course and to hold fast to what he has been taught. In the preceding v.14-15, Paul tells Timothy to continue in what he had learned and then referring specifically to “the Holy Scriptures” as the source of his learning. Paul further adds that these “Holy Scriptures” were able to make him wise salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
The phrase “Holy Scriptures” (NKJV) or “sacred writings” (NASB) here is translated from the Greek ἱερὰ γράμματα (Gk:hiera grammata). “Writings” is a good translation – elsewhere in the NT, the same word is often translated “letters” so we’re thinking “holy letters”. Note that since the earliest Greek were uncials (all uppercase), there is actually no capitalisation in the Greek. When you see capitalisation, that’s the input of the translators and isn’t reflected in the original text.
Now, this phrase “hiera grammata” is an odd one, as it is not found in this combination anywhere else in the bible (not even in the LXX). The context of the verse suggests that this refers to the Tanakh (our Old Testament) because at this point of writing, the gospels have probably not been penned yet. Paul died around 64AD and Mark, often believed to be the first gospel to be written, would have been written just after that and before 70AD. This means that the most likely candidate for “hiera grammata” would be, as suggested in the context, the Tanakh. Timothy, being born to a devout Jewish mother, would have been taught the Tanakh since he was young so that v.15 would make good sense.
Paul goes on in v.16 to elaborate that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, …” (NKJV and NASB) It should be obvious that Paul wasn’t referring to ALL kinds of writings at large but to all the scriptures he had just been talking about, namely the Tanakh. He certainly could not have been referring generally to the yet unwritten gospels. It is also quite unlikely that he would be referring to his own letters (including the one being written). The word “scripture” here is different from the “grammata” of v.15. It is another related word – γραφὴ – which is also used to refer to the Tanakh in Mark 12:24 and elsewhere in Pauline epistles. I think it is quite safe to say, on the basis of the context and on lexical usage, that the “scripture” in the mind of Paul is simply the Old Testament.
These (OT) scriptures, Paul says, are θεόπνευστος (Greek:theopneustos = “god-breathed”) which is translated as “inspired” in most English versions of the bible. Here again you find a word that doesn’t appear anywhere else in the NT or LXX texts (For geeks: We call this type of word a “hapax legomena” or just “hapax” for short.) When you get a hapax, it makes it difficult to extract meaning contextually since it only appears this once. Scholars try to look at the etymology of the word – “theo” (god) and “pneuma” (breath, spirit, or wind) – to guess the meaning. It seems to suggest that the subject that is “inspired” is infused with the breath (or spirit) of God, whatever that means. This approach doesn’t always work since many words have meanings totally unrelated to it’s root words, eg. hippopotamus (ἱπποπόταμος) = horse (ἵππος) + river (ποταμός), but it is neither a horse nor a river.
*As an aside, Paul had the habit of inventing words – words that don’t appear in classical Greek literature, or used in other NT writings. Sometimes he uses words from the LXX or combines words to make new ones.
So what does Paul mean by θεόπνευστος? Fortunately for us, Paul himself furnishes the answer to this question in v.16 itself – it means that the scripture in question is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, training, etc. He certainly wasn’t putting forth a doctrine of “inspiration” as we know it. As far as I can tell, he was simply pointing out that the Tanakh contained God given truths that are “profitable” (ὠφέλιμος = “beneficial”). That’s about it!
This means that if all we had was 2Tim 3:16 – we’re not going to end up with too much of a doctrine of inspiration because Paul certainly wasn’t saying anything unusual there. We sometimes make a bit too much of a word, it seems. It doesn’t mean there is no doctrine of inspiration but it does mean that we are going to need a whole lot more than just 2Tim 3:16 which is all too often used as proof-text. This verse does not tell us anything about how the bible (OT and NT) embody the revelation of God. That is rightfully an important subject worth exploring. This we will do, hopefully in future posts (if there is interest of course.)
*Note of interest: The context of 2Tim 3-4 includes ideas such as “my teaching”, “sacred writings”, “scripture”, “the word”, “sound doctrine”. Paul clearly had something in mind when using these words – something that extends beyond simply the Tanakh. Very likely we’re talking about Paul’s theological ideas that incorporated the OT and prevailing teachings of Jesus as taught by the other apostles and elders.
666, that’s the weight of gold in talents that entered into Solomon’s treasury annually (1Kgs 10:14). It was also the number of persons under Adonikam who had returned to Jerusalem with Zerubabbel (Ezra 2:13). But these numbers don’t grab our attention as it does in Revelations 13:18 where it is presented to us as the “number of the beast.” If ever there was fodder for speculation, this was it. And speculate we did. It’s like finding a Sudoku puzzle in the bible that is begging to be solved. Growing up as a Christian, I’ve given it a few attempts myself, not to mention the countless teachings and articles that I have read on the issue. So, what does this have to do with linguistics? Quite a lot, as it turns out, but let us begin with the text, Rev 13:18 (NKJV):-
Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666.
I guess most of us secretly figure ourselves to be wise! The number 666 is just that in the Greek – ἑξακόσιοι ἑξήκοντα ἕξ – six-hundred sixty six. No translational mystery there. Where it gets interesting is that some of the oldest manuscripts of Rev 13:18 (two extant manuscripts:P115 and P.Oxy. LVI4499, and two missing manuscripts but referred to by Irenaeus) actually read 616 instead of 666. Most of the manuscripts read 666. So why is this variant reading of any interest to us? And whose name could the Apostle John have encoded into that number, 666 or 616? (an 11th century manuscript actually reads 665!)
This is the Papyrus Oxyrhynchus (or P.Oxy.), the oldest fragment of this part of Revelations that we have. On the third line you can see the letters “XIC” which is the ancient Greek shorthand for 616.
Well, fortunately for us, John had a disciple by the name of Polycarp. Known to us as a great martyr and bishop of Smyrna (circa. 150AD), he in turn had a disciple by the name of Irenaeus (mentioned earlier) who was quite a prolific writer and, fortunately for us, had written on the subject of 666. In his wok “Against Heresies”, Irenaues wrote (ANF, “Against Heresies”, Book V, Ch. XXX, 1.):-
Such, then, being the state of the case, and this number being found in all the most approved and ancient copies [of the Apocalypse], and those men who saw John face to face bearing their testimony [to it]; while reason also leads us to conclude that the number of the name of the beast, [if reckoned] according to the Greek mode of calculation by the [value of] the letters contained in it, will amount to six hundred and sixty and six; that is, the number of tens shall be equal to that of the hundreds, and the number of hundreds equal to that of the units (for that number which [expresses] the digit six being adhered to throughout, indicates the recapitulations of that apostasy, taken in its full extent, which occurred at the beginning, during the intermediate periods, and which shall take place at the end), — I do not know how it is that some have erred following the ordinary mode of speech, and have vitiated the middle number in the name, deducting the amount of fifty from it, so that instead of six decades they will have it that there is but one.
What John’s grand-disciple was talking about here is the Hebrew practice of Gematria where a number is associated with each alphabet, enabling words to be converted into representative numbers. This practice was also applied to transliterated Greek (and Latin) words and that was, according to Irenaeus, what John was doing in the Apocalyse (Revelations.) So how does that work?
The emperor at that time was Nero, the madman, and his title was Nero Caesar. In Greek this would be Καισαρι Νερωνι (“kaisari Neroni”) which when transliterated into Hebrew can take several forms, just as it would when transliterated (not translated) into any language phonetically. One form is as follows:-
*I should mention that the Hebrew word for Caesar is usually spelled with a “yud” or קיסר and the one used in the example above is a variant but a valid one. Jastrow’s dictionary of the Talmud (1926 ed., pg.1365), for example, lists both forms of spelling. Likewise, Nero is sometimes spelled with a trailing “nun” (n) as in “Neron” or without it. In many cases, the regular “nun” is used (=50) rather than the trailing/final “nun” form as written above (=700).
In the Gematria, the alphabets are numbered as “aleph” = 1, “bet” = 2, “gimel” = 3 and so on until 10, and then increases by tens until you reach a hundred, and then by the hundreds until you reach the last alphabet “tsadi” = 900. For the title נרון קסר you end up with the number 666. However, if you drop the trailing “n” and use “Nero” (typical of Latin) instead of “Neron”, your number adds up to 616. It is this peculiarity that suggests that the person behind the number is Nero. The earliest readers must have known this and altered the number to match their alternative spelling of his name, and thereby generating the alternative number 616 as found in some of the earliest extant manuscripts.
So, we identified the “beast”, it seems. Unfortunately, life is never that easy, is it? Given that most scholars believe that the book of Revelations (also known as the Apocalypse of John) was written circa 90AD or later, it seems a little odd for John to refer to Nero who reigned between 54-68AD as the “beast”. The mystery remains!