Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Deuteronomy 24:1 "Erwat Dabar"

     Moses wrote, "If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him
because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate
of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves
his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes
her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from  his
house, or if he dies, then her first husband , who divorced her, is not allowed to
marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes
of Yahweh. Do not bring this sin upon the land Yahweh your God is giving you
as an inheritance." (Deut. 24:1-4; TNIV)

     What is the meaning of the phrase "something indecent" (erwat dabar) in
verse1? This has been a point of discussion for many centuries, and we have no
reason to believe it will cease any time soon. Even in the days of Jesus' earthly
service there were at least two dominant rabbinic schools of thought; the Hillelites
and the Shammaites. The school of Hillel allowed divorce for virtually any reason
whatever, and the school of Shammai interpreted Deut. 24 more narrowly, only
on the grounds of sexual immorality, that is, as unchastity on the part of the woman
within marriage. (Cf. m. Git. 9:10; b. Git. 90a; Josephus, Ant. 4.8.23 ...244-59,  
Vit. 76; Philo, Spec. Leg. 5)

     A sampling of English translations of the Hebrew text interpret erwat dabar
in the following manner: "some indecency" (RSV, ESV); "something indecent"
(NIV); "something objectionable" (NRSV); "something improper" (HCSB);
"some uncleanness" (KJV); "some unseemly thing" (ASV); "something obnoxious"
(TANAKH).  This gives us quite a range of interpretations. The Septuagint (LXX)
reads "aschemon pragma,"  literally  "nakedness  of  a  thing"  i.e., a matter of
uncleanness. The Latin Vulgate reads, "aliquam foeditatem" i.e., any filth.

     Hebrew lexicons show a wide range of definitions for erwah. Hebrew and 
Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament, George Fohrer, page 213, "indecency."
Student's Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary, Alexander Harkavy, page 547, "any
filthy thing." Student's Hebrew Lexicon, Benjamin Davies-Edward C. Mitchell,
page 491, " a blemish." Hebrew-English Lexicon To The Old Testament, William
Gesenius, page 653, "shame, filthiness...any defect found in a woman." A Concise 
Hebrew And Aramaic Lexicon Of The Old Testament, page 283, "something
indecent." The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, Koehler-
Baumgartner, volume 2, page 883, "bareness, nakedness." The Brown-Driver-
Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, page 789, "nakedness of a thing, i.e. probably
indecency, improper behavior." 

     The lexicographical data makes clear that erwah is something indecent, filthy or
shameful or possibly some sort of defect. The question is, what was the "indecency?"
One thing is certain, it was not adultery. Adultery was punishable by execution!
(Deut. 22:22; If adultery were meant by erwah rather than being allowed to
leave and become the wife of another man, the offending woman would have been
put to death.

     Erwat dabar refers to something the husband found offensive or distasteful in
his wife other than adultery. The phrase is found in the context of purity ordinances
and in this text must refer to something repulsive. It seems to refer to sexually
indecent behavior. It could have been that she was caught with her genitals exposed.
Erwah was commonly used with the meaning "nakedness or genitals" particularly
of a woman. (Cf. Lam. 1:8 where Jerusalem is personified as a lewd woman) One
thing is for certain, it refers to some unspecified form of unacceptable behavior.
The exact details of  what the indecent thing was are yet elusive.

Copyright 2011


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Who Were The Nephilim?

     Genesis 6:4 says, "The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also
afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they
gave birth to children by them. These were heroes of old, the men of renown."

     Nephilim is the "translation" or rather transliteration (bringing over the letters
of one language to another ; in this instance from Hebrew in to English) that we
find in the ASV, RSV, NIV, TANAKH, NRSV, NET, ESV, and TNIV. The
reason they transliterate is, there is some uncertainty as to the meaning of the
Hebrew word. Efforts to interpret the Hebrew word Ne'pilim go back at least
as far as the Septuagint (LXX). The LXX translator(s) uses the Greek words 
hoi gigantes twice in the text. According to the Greek-English Lexicon Of 
The Septuagint, Revised Edition, complied by J. Lust, E. Eynikel, and K.
Hauspie, page 120, gigantes means "giant, mighty one."

     The likely reason that both the LXX and the KJV translate Ne' pelim as
"giants" is the fact that Num. 13:33 indicates the Ne'pelim , associated with
the sons of Anak were men of imposing stature. The context makes that clear.
The spies said, "...all the people that we saw in it are men of great stature. And
there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of  Anak, who come from the Nephilim),
and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them."
There is no certainty that the description of the Ne'pilim in Num. 13:33 applies
to Gen. 6:4.

     Actually, there is a growing scholarly consensus that Ne'pelim means "fallen
ones."  The Dictionary Of Classical Hebrew, edited by David J.A. Clines,
published by Sheffield Academic Press, volume 5, page 723, "giant" is given as
a meaning,  but he adds, "perhaps fallen ones, i.e. dead." Some have assumed
they were fallen angels who cohabited with women and produced sort of a
superhuman race. The evidence for this view is as strong as the evidence that
there are snowflakes on the sun. First, the expression "sons of God" probably
refers to the righteous people who "walked with God" (Gen. 4:26; 5:22,24; 6:9)
The "daughters of men" seem to have been worldly, ungodly women driven by
materialism, lust, and greed. (Isa. 3:16-4:1) Based on the context, since Gen. 6:1-4
immediately follows the genealogical lists  of  Cain  and  Seth,  it  is  most  likely
that  "the  sons  of  God"  are  the  righteous descendants of Seth (Gen. 4:25-5:32),
and "the daughters of men" are the descendants of Cain. (Gen. 4:17-24) Second,
we can be sure that Gen. 6 is not describing sexual relations between fallen angels
and humans because Jesus taught that angels have no such inclination or capability.
(Matt. 22:30) Furthermore, the descendants of the union of the "sons of God" and
"the daughters of men" are called "men of renown" ('anse hassem). They were
human beings, mortals, not part angel and part human. They were mere men. 

     It seems therefore, that the Nephilim were men who had fallen into moral
corruption. They were notorious for their wickedness. They were oppressors and
as the result of their incorrigibly wicked state, Yahweh would bring catastrophic
global destruction upon the human race, except for righteous Noah and his family.


Copyright 2011

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Elohim: Why "God" And Not "Gods"?

     Several years ago I heard a preacher say, "The word translated God in Gen. 1:1
is the Hebrew word elohim. It is grammatically plural and it could accurately be
translated 'gods' in this passage because it contains the concept of the trinity or a
plurality of  persons in the Godhead."  According to the author of an article titled
"How To Know If A Translation Is Faithful," not only could elohim be translated
"gods" in Gen. 1:1, but it must be so translated if one believes in the verbal
inspiration of the scriptures. He writes, "You must also believe every word of God
must be accurately translated as to its meaning, part of speech (noun, verb, pronoun,
etc.), and all of its grammatical information (masculine or feminine gender; first,
second or third person; verbal tense; etc.)." He went on to say in his article, "...every
word of the original Hebrew or Greek must be translated  and accurately as to its
meaning, part of speech, and all of its grammatical information, before any 
resulting translation (in whole or in part) can be considered faithful."
(all emphasis mine RD)

     Elohim occurs about 2570 times in the Hebrew text. It is a masculine plural
noun and is the general Hebrew word for deity. In Genesis 1:1 Moses wrote,
"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." (Bereshith bara elohim
eth hashamayim we'eth ha'arets) Though elohim is plural in form, it is singular in
meaning. It is unlikely that a plurality of persons in the Godhead is Moses' focal
point by the use of elohim, (though a plurality of persons in the Godhead is taught
in many other texts throughout God's word), and it is certain that the word is not
to be translated or represented by the word "Gods" in the English text of Gen. 1:1.

     Elohim describes God as the sovereign creator of the universe. Everything is
subject to Elohim. Moses' use of Elohim is designed to denote the majesty of
the deity. Hebrew grammarians identify this use of Elohim as the honorific or
majestic plural. It is an intensive plural used in an honorific sense. It indicates God's
perfect, unlimited, and matchless qualities. Elohim is God of God's and beside
him there is no other! "For thus says Yahweh, who created the heavens (he is God!),
who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he
formed it to be inhabited!): I am Yahweh, and there is no other." (Isaiah 45:18)

     In the opening verse of the Hebrew Bible, Moses introduces God (elohim) to
mankind as the incomparable, majestic, and supreme creator who made everything
with his powerful word. (cf. Psa. 33:6,9; Heb. 11:3)

     Elohim is translated "God" instead of "Gods" in Gen. 1:1 because it is singular
in meaning. There was only one God for all faithful Israelites and there remains
only one God for spiritual Israel today. Belief in monotheism was the guiding
idealogy of God's covenant people, and no loyal Hebrew would contemplate a
polytheistic concept such as believing that elohim implied many "gods" created
the heavens and the earth.

     The following sources may be consulted for more technical study on the use
of  elohim as an honorific or majestic plural (pluralis majestatis) in Hebrew
literature. An Introduction To Biblical Hebrew Syntax, Bruce K. Waltke and
M. O'Connor, pages 122-124; Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar, E. Kautzsch and
A. E. Cowley, page 463; Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, R. Laird
Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce K. Waltke, page 44; Theological Dictionary 
Of The Old Testament, G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, and translated
by John T. Willis, volume 1, page 267-284; New International Dictionary of Old
Testament Theology and Exegesis, Willem A. VanGemeren, General Editor,
volume 1, page 405; A Bilingual Dictionary of the Hebrew and Aramaic Old
Testament, Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, pages 50-52; A Biblical
Hebrew Reference Grammar, Christo H.J. van der Merwe, Jackie A. Naude and
Jan H. Kroeze, page 185. 

Copyright 2011


Saturday, January 1, 2011


     The sacred scriptures affirm that Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God was
conceived in and born of a virgin, i.e. a woman who had not been sexually
intimate with a man. Matthew affirms Mary's virginity. (Matthew 1:23-25) The
beloved physician Luke affirms that she was a virgin. (Luke 1:27) Mary affirms
her own virginity. (Luke 1:34) There is no way that a person can believe the
testimony of the scriptures and deny the fact that Mary was a virgin when Jesus
was conceived, and when he was born.

     A theological firestorm erupted in the 1950's when the Revised Standard
Version of the scriptures debuted. Previous English versions such as the KJV and
the ASV had generally used the word "virgin"  to translate 'almah in Isaiah 7:14.
The RSV used the phrase "young woman" instead of virgin. The translators were
charged with denying the virgin birth of Jesus, and their translation was maligned
as being the product of communists. Copies of the RSV were burned, and the
translation was banished from many pulpits. It appears that much of the emotionalism
of that period of time has given way to reason on most fronts.

     Hebrew has many words that identify a woman in various ways. Female
(neqebah; Gen. 1:27), daughter (bat; Gen. 34:1), sister ('achot; Gen. 34:13),
woman (ishshah; Gen. 34:4); wife (ishshah; Gen. 34:4);  maiden (yaldah;
Gen. 34:4), harlot (zonah; Gen. 34:31) concubine (pelegesh; Judg. 19:1,24,25),
and widow ('almanah; Gen. 38:11)

     'Almah is a feminine noun and is used seven times in the Hebrew text.
Gen. 24:43; Ex. 2:8; Psa. 68:25; Prov. 30:19; Song of Solomon 1:3; 6:8 and
Isa. 7:14) It is the feminine counterpart of the masculine form 'elem. 'Elem occurs
twice in the Old Testament (1 Sam. 17:56; 20:22) In both instances it is used to
describe David. 'Elem means young man, lad, boy. Since it is the counterpart to  
'almah, then 'almah means a young woman, a maiden, a damsel. 'Almah is not the
technical word for virgin. Bethula is the word that is used many times in the Hebrew
text for "virgin." Therefore, it appears that 'almah represents a young woman or
maiden, one of whose characteristics is virginity.

     Many of the Semitic languages have equivalents of  the Hebrew feminine
noun 'almah and its masculine equivalent 'elem. In Ugaritic the masculine noun  
glm occurs many times and the feminine glmt occasionally. Other equivalents are
found in various Aramaic dialects; Imperial Aramaic, Nabatean, Palmyrene,
Punic, Syriac, and Palestinian Aramaic. Equivalents of the noun are found in North
Arabic and Old South Arabic. In Akkadian we find a metaphorical use of slm that
coincides to some extent with the usage of the Ugaritic nouns glm and glmt. The
Septuagint is inconsistent in translating 'almah. It uses parthenos twice
(Genesis 24:43; Isa 7:14), elsewhere it uses neanis. In most other places the
Septuagint used parthenos  to translate bethulah, and neanis to represent  
na'ara, na'ar. Jerome's Latin Vulgate uses virgo in Isaiah 7:14 and Genesis 24:43.
Puella or adolescentula is used elsewhere. Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion
all use neanis in Isaiah 7:14.

     Someone may ask, "If 'almah means 'young woman,' since Matthew used
the word parthenos which means 'virgin,' isn't he misapplying the text?" No,
because 'almah does not exclude virginity. Its main focus is on youthfulness instead
of virginity.The word 'almah that God through the Holy Spirit, chose for Isaiah to
use is the ideal term. It allows "the house of David" (Isa. 7:13) in the prophet's day
to see God's deliverance from "Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah  the son of
Remaliah the king of Israel." (verses 1-10) God promised them, "For before the
child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose
two kings  you are in dread will be deserted." (v. 16) It also allows Matthew
to show how it is ultimately fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ. Matthew's quote
in 1:23 is from the Septuagint which uses the word parthenos, and it means virgin.
Inasmuch as 'almah does not exclude virginity, the prophecy works both in Isaiah's
day and for the birth of our Lord from the womb of a young woman who had not
been sexually intimate with a man.

Copyright 2011