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Omniscience in the Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach

The book of Sirach was written somewhere in the second century BC. This book was written during the height of Hellenization of Israel. The author of the book Yeshua Ben Sira writes that he traveled from Israel to Egypt and translated the Hebrew original work into Greek, stating:

You are urged therefore to read with good will and attention, and to be indulgent in cases where, despite out diligent labor in translating, we may seem to have rendered some phrases imperfectly. For what was originally expressed in Hebrew does not have exactly the same sense when translated into another language. Not only this work, but even the law itself, the prophecies, and the rest of the books differ not a little as originally expressed.

He urges caution in reading his work. This work incorporates various sayings found in Israel. It makes at least two allusions to outside works, Aesop’s Fables (Sir 13:2–3) and The Egyptian Satire of the Trades (Sir 38:24-39:11). The work seems to show familiarity with outside literature.

Within Sirach, there are various omniscience claims about God.

Sir 15:18 For great is the wisdom of the Lord; he is mighty in power and sees everything;
Sir 15:19 his eyes are on those who fear him, and he knows every deed of man.…

In Sirach 15:18 God is said to see everything. The picture is a common one in Jewish writings in which God is watching everything as it occurs. God’s “eyes” are said to be on those who fear Him, signaling God’s protection of his own people. The statement appears to clarify that God knows all deeds of man, even though that man might not be God’s.

Sir 17:19 All their works are as the sun before him, and his eyes are continually upon their ways.
Sir 17:20 Their iniquities are not hidden from him, and all their sins are before the Lord.

Sir 17:23 Afterward he will arise and requite them, and he will bring their recompense on their heads.
Sir 17:24 Yet to those who repent he grants a return, and he encourages those whose endurance is failing.

In Sirach 17:19-20 God is said to see the works of man as the sun lights up the day. Whereas the Sun gives vision to people, God is able to see as if the Sun is always lighting everything. God records man’s sins. The context is God’s judgment. If man does not repent of his sins then God will punish them in measure.

Sir 23:18 A man who breaks his marriage vows says to himself, “Who sees me? Darkness surrounds me, and the walls hide me, and no one sees me. Why should I fear? The Most High will not take notice of my sins.”
Sir 23:19 His fear is confined to the eyes of men, and he does not realize that the eyes of the Lord are ten thousand times brighter than the sun; they look upon all the ways of men, and perceive even the hidden places.
Sir 23:20 Before the universe was created, it was known to him; so it was also after it was finished.

Sirach 23:18-20 concerns itself with the impious man. A common claim in Israel was that God does not see man’s sin. In verse 18, the reason the impious man believes God cannot see what he does is that he does it in the dark. God’s omniscience, to the impious, was thought to be a function of God’s visibility during the daylight. The author counters this by ascribing a light to God’s eyes.

In these verses, God’s eyes are said to burn 10,000 time brighter than the Sun. The Sun is not the source of God’s knowledge. God’s eyes generate their own light, which sees all things.

The number 10,000 is very interesting and has pagan counterparts. Pettazzoni writes:

The vain fancy of the impious man that he can escape the all-seeing vision of Deity is to be found also in the Avesta, with reference to Mithra, who is a sky- and sun god… Also the “ten thousand eyes” of the Iranian Mithra (Yasht x. 7, 24, 82, I4I) and the thousand eyes of Varuna (Atharva-Veda iv, I6, 4) recall the pronouncement of ben Sirach that “the eyes of the Lord are ten thousand times brighter than the sun”…

Zeus also is ascribed three times ten thousand spies on Earth who spy on his behalf. Of course, in Israel, Yahweh is not ascribed monstrous eyes. He is not given a multiplicity of eyes, and when the Bible does talk about his eyes (i.e. his seven eyes in Zec 4:10) it is more likely referring to angels of God who act as spies.

Instead of having ten thousand eyes, Yahweh’s eyes burn 10,000 times brighter than the Sun, suggesting a visual omniscience or a figurative claim that nothing in secret will be hidden from God.

Sir 34:16 The eyes of the Lord are upon those who love him, a mighty protection and strong support, a shelter from the hot wind and a shade from noonday sun, a guard against stumbling and a defense against falling.

Verse 34:16 describes the particular focus of God’s omniscience as being towards the fate of those who follow him. God watches His people and protects them and provides them comfort. This mirrors Sirach 15:19, in which God pays particular focus on those who fear Him.

Sir 39:19 The works of all flesh are before him, and nothing can be hid from his eyes.
Sir 39:20 From everlasting to everlasting he beholds them, and nothing is marvelous to him.
Sir 39:21 No one can say, “What is this?” “Why is that?” for everything has been created for its use.
Sir 39:22 His blessing covers the dry land like a river, and drenches it like a flood.
Sir 39:23 The nations will incur his wrath, just as he turns fresh water into salt.
Sir 39:24 To the holy his ways are straight, just as they are obstacles to the wicked.

Sirach 39 might contain a claim of exhaustive divine foreknowledge. God is said to see everything. He sees everything “from everlasting to everlasting”, which could be a claim that He sees the entire future or it is a claim that God watches everything always. God is said in Sirach 42:21 to be from “everlasting to everlasting”, a common claim in the Hebrew Bible. The phrase possibly could mean that while God is living everlasting to everlasting that He sees all.

There is also a hint that nothing takes God by surprise. Verse 20 says “nothing is marvelous to him”. This could be another indication that the author has exhaustive divine foreknowledge in mind. Alternatively, it could be due to mankind not being able to build novelty (as Ecclesiastes 1:9 claims, “Nothing is new under the Sun”).

This passage goes on to affirm some sort of divine determinism. God makes everything for a reason (could this be why God is not taken by surprise?). The same resources God uses for good for those who love him, God uses for evil for those who reject Him. Nothing happens outside God’s providence. This is not to be confused with individuals not having free will, as the idea seems to be that people can repent of their evil and be forgiven (Sir 17:24).

Sir 42:16 The sun looks down on everything with its light, and the work of the Lord is full of his glory.

In Sirach 42:16, omniscience is ascribed to the Sun in a figurative sense. The Sun illuminates all God’s great works. This phrase “looks down on everything” is a type of light-based omniscience that the impious would ascribe to God. Yes, God knows everything, but because He sees everything in the light. The phrase was limited to this understanding. The author of Sirach rejects this. The Sun might be omniscient in a sense, but God is much more so.

Sir 42:18 He searches out the abyss, and the hearts of men, and considers their crafty devices.
For the Most High knows all that may be known, and he looks into the signs of the age.
Sir 42:19 He declares what has been and what is to be, and he reveals the tracks of hidden things.
Sir 42:20 No thought escapes him, and not one word is hidden from him.
Sir 42:21 He has ordained the splendors of his wisdom, and he is from everlasting and to everlasting. Nothing can be added or taken away, and he needs no one to be his counselor.

In Sirach 42:18, God is said to “known all that may be known”. This seems to mirror a common Open Theist claim about God’s omniscience. God’s knowledge is limited to actual facts. God is said to search people and figure out the “signs of the age”. These statements do not appear to affirm exhaustive divine foreknowledge.

God is then said to declare “what has been and what is to be”, signifying, in context, God’s wisdom (verse 21). This also could be a function of divine determinism spoke about in Sirach 39:21. If this is a statement about exhaustive divine foreknowledge the surrounding phrases sound awkward. God “looks into signs” and “searches out the abyss and the hearts of man”. God is said to “consider their ways”. The concept of divine timelessness is definitely not in the mind of this author.

The last statement that God “nothing can be added or taken away” appears in context of “no one to be his counselor”. Is this a claim of Platonistic perfection? It likely is rather a claim of divine wisdom, claiming that God is the wisest of all creatures. God does not need counsel.

Sir 48:22 For Hezekiah did what was pleasing to the Lord, and he held strongly to the ways of David his father, which Isaiah the prophet commanded, who was great and faithful in his vision.
Sir 48:23 In his days the sun went backward, and he lengthened the life of the king.
Sir 48:24 By the spirit of might he saw the last things, and comforted those who mourned in Zion.
Sir 48:25 He revealed what was to occur to the end of time, and the hidden things before they came to pass.

In Sirach 48, Hezekiah is said to be a prophet of God. He is said to have revealed “what was to occur to the end of time.” Could this mean he revealed what was to occur “at” the end of time? This is more likely the case, as with the other prophets (specifically of the exilic timeframe). There is not word in this passage what type of knowledge Hezekiah is imparting. Is this foreseeing the future in a clairvoyant way? Are these loose prophecies which God has plans to fulfill although it is not a literal representation of the future? The context is not clear.

In all, Sirach shows some signs of Hellenization, as one might expect with a text translated to Greek in Egypt. Do Hebrew concepts of omniscience and everlastingness translate well to a Greek speaker? Is the author adopting Hellenistic terms to help give the text a wider audience? Is there leeway in the text to allow traditional Hebrew theology to retain acceptability? It is hard to know the answers.

The Sirach seems to affirm a visual omniscience of all things, in the context of God continued effort to watch the actions of man in order to dispense justice. God is given control over the happenings of the world, creating everything for a divine purpose, but giving individuals the opportunity to choose their own outcome in the divine play.

Goldingay on Quasi-predictions

From the Word Biblical Commentary on Daniel:

The quasi-predictions begin this process by interpreting recent history in the light of Scripture. They are not indulging in mere theological apologetic, but in a radical theological necessity (Fishbane, Interpretation, 510–11 [and see 509–22 generally], against Hartman, ―The Functions of Some So-called Apocalyptic Timetables NTS 22 [1976] 1–14). Nor is it the case that the mere—pretended!—ability to predict the future in 11:2–39 gives grounds for believing the actual prophecy in 11:40–12:3. It is rather the quasi-predictions’ ability to make sense of the past by relating it in the light of Scripture that implies grounds for trusting the actual prophecy’s portrait of what the future will bring, painted in the light of the same Scripture. When they speak about the past, they do so on the basis of having historical data, and scriptural text as a means of interpretation. When they speak about the future, they have only scriptural text, and are providing an imaginary scenario, a possible embodiment of that text, which is not to be pressed to provide (or be judged by) historical data. Its object is not to provide historical data but to provide scriptural interpretation of what the events to come will mean. The seer implicitly wishes to commend a certain form of behavior, namely, resistance to Seleucid/reformist pressures. His explicit focus, however, is a cognitive one. He aims to provide a way for conservative Jews to understand their present experience, looking at it in the light of various scriptural texts. The supernatural being provides this for the seer (10:1, 14); the ―discerning‖ provide it for the multitude (11:33).

Gary Yamasaki on Reading Biblical Stories

From Insights from Filmmaking for Analyzing Biblical Narrative:

A more prominent issue in the scholarly debate on this verse relates to the words of the angel of the Lord, “now I know …. ” On this phraseology, john Walton summarizes the key issue in the debate when he writes, “interpreters … object that God, in his omniscience, must have known that Abraham would do what he did. God, by his nature and affirmed attributes, cannot add to his cognitive knowledge.” On this issue, Walton himself suggests, “We must differentiate between knowledge as cognition and knowledge as experience. We can agree that God knew ahead of time what Abraham was going to do. But there is ample evidence throughout Scripture that God desires us to act out our faith and worship regardless of the fact that he knows our hearts.”36 Gunkel, on the other hand, addresses the apparent challenge to God’s omniscience in this verse by explaining, “The use of this concept in reference to God implies an anthropomorphism because, strictly taken, it excludes omniscience,” suggesting that this attribution of a lack of omniscience to God was simply due to inadvertence on the part of the author ofE in his crafting37 of this account.

Note how both these authors work to explain how this text could possibly suggest that God is here coming to know something new, a dynamic not in keeping with the idea that God is omniscient. In other words, both authors take God’s omniscience as a given. In the world of systematic theology, this is certainly a trait that has been attributed to God. It must be noted, however, that this attribution has emerged out of theological study of the Bible as a whole, and not from this narrative itself. Once again, this is at odds with a cinematic-story paradigm in which any given text is part of a self-contained storyworld (seep. 40, above). Therefore, analysis of the omniscience of God in Gen 22:12 ought to consider evidence only from the story-world of the Pentateuch on this issue. Further, the sequentiality of all stories (seep. 53, above) means that only evidence found in the text preceding Gen 22:12 should be considered, as subsequent evidence is not yet within the purview of a reader coming upon this verse.

An Open Letter to William Lane Craig

Tim Stratton writes to WLC on the nature of time. An excerpt:

My disagreement with you is regarding the claim that if the B-theory of time is true, then causal determinism is NOT false. That is to say, if the B-theory is reality, then causal determinism is true. In fact, just as the shape and structure of a slide at the water park determines the movement of the person traveling down the slide, the shape and structure of the 4-D block of spacetime causally determines the beliefs and behaviors of the “illusion of self-consciousness” traveling down the frozen “worm” in the static block. My argument is that these “choices” are purely illusory on a naturalistic B-theory model.

Dr. Craig, you rightly bring up the issue of divine foreknowledge and future free choices; however, I think this analogy is dissimilar. As you have taught me, knowledge (possessed by God or not) does not stand in causal relation with anything. For example, an infallible weather barometer that knew with 100 percent certainty that it will rain in Spain tomorrow does not cause the rain in Spain tomorrow.

However, on the B-theory model, the shape and structure of the eternal and static block does causally determine the beliefs and behaviors of the “person” who is nothing more than a slice of a frozen worm in the static block. Consider my water park analogy again: if the shape of the slide veers to the left, you could not go to the right even if you wanted to. Similarly, if the frozen worm in the static block veers to the left, the illusion of self-consciousness goes to the left no matter what. Therefore, this “choice” is nothing but an illusion if the B-theory of time is true (this would include the so-called “choice” to believe the B-theory is true).

Fishbane on Mythmaking and the Bible

W Scott Taylor of ideoamnostoutheou posts a quote from Micheal Fishbane on the Facebook group The Open Theist Reformation: Biblical Open Theism:

Myth, Anthropomorphisms, Cosmic Plenum and Ancient Near Eastern ‘tendentious and presumptive dismissal of biblical language about God’. *
“A striking feature of contemporary attempts to differentiate ancient Israel from myth often depends upon definitions that first define myth in terms of polytheistic paganism, and thus juxtapose this definition to features of biblical monotheism—concluding thereby that ‘myth’ is absent from the latter. For example, on the argument that an essential variable of ancient Near Eastern paganism is the origin of the gods in a cosmic ‘plenum’, from which substance: they emerge as differentiated personalities, but upon whose elemental character they are necessarily and inherently dependent, the figure of a singular God with a transcendent will, who is (apparently) distinct from the natural world to which He gave created form, is of a fundamentally different sort. Hereby, myth is linked with the natural gods of polytheism and totally dissociated from supernatural monotheism. Accordingly, it is presumed that any hint of myth as recognizable from the ancient Near East (in terms of divine action, imagery, or personality) can only be harmless vestiges of a figurative (or metaphorical) sort and thus neither true nor living myth.

But this is a self-serving and fallacious line of argument. Whether or not these characterizations of polytheistic paganism or monotheism are in any way accurate, the exclusive identification of a literary phenomenon (myth) with a specific religious cultural form (natural polytheism) is both tendentious and tautological: the first, because the defintion is arbitrary and selective; and the second, because the identification is always self-confirming, and without any means of checking its circular or redundant character. Such argumentation is also based on certain essentialist views regarding polytheism and monotheism, though it generally avoids this stigma through the pretense of comparative historical study, and conceals an old cultural animus against brute ‘myth’ (the heir of Hellas) under the cover of an analytical phenomenology of religion. [22] Nevertheless, such intellectual practices reveal just how much the category of myth still serves as a container for all the cultural forms of ideologies that one has purportedly transcended (like irrationality, polytheism, and paganism) — for the sake of others assumed to be superior in kind (like reason, monotheism, or historical inquiry) and with which one identifies.[23] The result is a lamentable impoverishment of the notion and nature of myth, and its formulations within biblical monotheism; but it is also a schematization of monotheism that equally impoverishes its inherent and complex features. Indeed, the upshot of much recent writing is to claim differences between monotheism and polytheism that are arguably more polemical than propeadeutic, and that need to be thoroughly reconsidered.[24]

Equally tendentious is the presumptive dismissal of certain apparently mythic features of biblical language (its unabashed and pervasive deptions of God in anthropomorphic and anthropopathic terms) that blatantly occur in the monotheistic canon of Scripture—as if these were merely due to ‘the inadequacy of human language’ and ‘limitation of human thought’, or to some sort of necessarily ‘indirect grasp’ of ‘spiritual concepts’ by ‘images…that emphasize the sensual’.[25] But on what grounds are such assertions made? Surely there is nothing in Scripture itself that would point in this direction, or suggest that the representations of divine form and feeling in human terms are anything other than the preferred and characteristic mode of depiction. [26] Moreover, on what basis should one assume that the plain sense of Scripture is some (quasi-allegorical) approximation of a more spiritual or purely metaphorical content? And would would that content be, we may well ask, and is it even possible to get past the thick immediacy of biblical language and its concrete and sensible accounts of God? [27] One can only conclude that the evasion of the direct sense of Scripture that such attitudes represent are attempts to save Scripture from itself—for oneself, and must be considered a species of modern apologetics.[28]

[26.] Cf. the judicious concern of Jame Barr, ‘Theophany and Anthropomorphism in the Old Testament’, Congress Volume, Oxfort (SVT 7; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1960), 33, who urges the interprete to shift from the question ‘Is God conceived of as essentially in human form”‘ to ‘When he does appear in a forma at all, is it thought that the human form isthe natural or characteristic one form him to assume?’ ”

* NOTE: the previous paragraphs (not the title) were taken from the Introduction :

“Biblical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking”, by Micheal Fishbane (see free preview via Google search on the title.

Schaefer reviews Swinburne

Peter Schaefer reviews Mind, Brain, and Free Will by Richard Swinburne. An excerpt:

Swinburne then turns (briefly) to matters of epistemology. How do we go about making judgments on various matters? As elsewhere, he defends some basic epistemic principles including the by-now-familiar principles of credulity (PC) iii and testimony (PT)iv. Any evidence that the way things seem or what people tell us not caused ultimately by the things apparently perceived or testified to provide a defeater for PC and PT. This last point can be unpacked more formally as the epistemic assumption (EA), which states that there are three components to justified belief in a theory. First, there must be a justified belief that the theory makes true predictions. Second, the only sources of evidence for that justified belief would be apparent experience, memory, and testimony that the theory predicts certain events and that those events occurred. Third and most importantly, such justification is undermined by any evidence that any apparent experience was not caused by an apparent experience of the event apparently remembered, or any apparent testimony was not caused by the testifier’s intention to report his or her apparent experience or memory. As will be seen shortly, this last part of the EA undergirds Swinburne’s case for free will in the face of recent neuroscientific findings.

McMahon on Psalms 139:16

THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD IN PSALM 139:13-16

Timothy P. McMahon

David’s words in Psalm 139:16 are often cited to support the notion that God has predestined the lives and actions of human beings. The New King James Version’s rendering is typical:

And in Your book they were all written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.

From this translation one might reasonably understand that God, like the Fates of Greek mythology, has determined the individual’s lifespan and the course of events within it. Yet, interestingly enough, the old King James Version, whose translators’ predestinarian bent is evident throughout their work, viewed this text from a much less fatalistic perspective:

And in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.

In their view, apparently, God was able to foreknow, and perhaps to foreordain, David’s physical characteristics from his embryonic state. One might take this as an anachronistic (not only for the psalmist, but for the translators) description of genetics.

While the KJV translation here offers a reasonable concept, in order to understand the text more fully, we must examine the original Hebrew. One caveat at the outset: The text of Psalm 139:13-16 is extremely difficult. (Note that the two renderings above achieve quite disparate results, both containing several italicized words supplied by the translators in their attempt to make sense of the original.) We will attempt a fresh analysis of the text in order to propose a new interpretation of the passage.

Let us first view the passage under consideration within the context of Psalm 139 as a whole. Dahood (1969:3:284) points out that the psalm is a declaration of innocence on the part of the author. HaShem knows that he is pure, that he is not guilty of unfaithfulness or idolatry. His accusers (v.19) have nothing to stand on. God Himself can vouch for him. God knows everything about him, all his deepest secrets, even what he cannot know about himself[1].  Even if he wanted to escape the providence of HaShem, that would be impossible. Heaven is not high enough, the sea is not far enough, the winds are not remote enough, Sheol is not deep enough. The breadth and depth of God’s knowledge are “too wonderful for me, too high for me to attain” (v.6). He concludes the section leading up to our passage by exclaiming:

Even in the darkness He observes me[2]

and night is daylight all around me.

Even the darkness is not too dark for You

and at night it shines like daytime for You.

As darkness, so is light.

The imagery in v.12 of darkness, night and concealment remind David of that place which in Hebrew thought most typifies the unknown: Sheol, the realm of the dead[3]. The Old Testament offers only imprecise descriptions of the netherworld, where humans exist consciously in a shadowy state. In the Hebrew mind, the tentative, undefined existence in Sheol was comparable to another realm of human existence of which men had only the shadow of knowledge: the life of the fetus in his mother’s womb. The association between Sheol and the womb is intensified by the figure of the earth as mother[4]. Just as the fetus lives within his mother’s body, so Sheol is a chamber within the earth[5]. Job declares:

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will return there[6].

Scripture elsewhere affirms God’s intimate knowledge of the netherworld (Job 26:6; Proverbs 15:11). Here, David declares that He possesses equally comprehensive knowledge of pre-natal life. As we approach vv.13-16, then, we must understand that the focus of David’s awestruck praise is not God’s ability to make things happen in the future, but His ability to examine the impenetrable, to see as well in darkness as in light, to know thoroughly and intimately those realms which to humans are mere shadows. Scripture often celebrates HaShem’s ability to bring about His will (e.g., Isaiah 49:10; Psalm 115:3), but here the subject is His wisdom, His understanding, His ability to perceive and know all things.

verse 13

ki atah qanita kilyotay // tesukkeni bebeten imi

for You possessed my kidneys // You covered me in my mother’s womb

While the syntax of this verse is refreshingly straightforward, there is room for discussion on the meanings of several key words.

(a) qnh. Generally in its 182 occurrences = “possess, acquire, purchase.’’ In Ugaritic it seems to mean “create, bring forth,’ which sense scholars have attempted to assign in Hebrew as well[7]. We see no compelling reason to accept this idea here, though.

(b) kilayot literally are the kidneys of a human or animal. The term is also used figuratively in a manner similar to the biblical use of ‘heart’ to signify a person’s innermost being or true self. This then might be a statement to the effect that God knew David intimately from his very beginning. Alternatively, TWOT suggests that kilayot is put here by synechdoche for the body as a whole, in which case it would be an indicator of HaShem’s protective care over the bearer of the messianic lineage.

(c) skk normally means ‘to cover,’ as in Exodus 33:32, “I will cover you with My hand,” indicating protection (Nahum 2:5), oversight (Exodus 25:20) or concealment (Lamentations 3:44)[8]. Dahood proposes translating the preposition b- ‘from,’, a usage common in Psalms[9]. This changes the focus to an affirmation of God’s protection throughout his life: “You have covered me from my mother’s womb.”

verse 14

odka ‘al ki nora atah nipla’ot

I will praise You, High One, for You are marvelously wonderful

nipla’im ma‘aseka // wenapsi yada‘ta me’od

marvels, Your acts // yes, You know my soul intimately.

The challenge of this verse is the inverse of the previous: Here, the vocabulary is relatively simple, but the syntax is difficult. Our translation above departs from the Massoretic Text in favor of the reading preserved in the Qumran manuscript 1QPsa as transcribed by Sanders (1967:72). In contrast, the best rendering we can come up with reading MT is as follows:

I will praise You because I am awesomely marvelous. Your acts are marvels, which my soul knows very well.

(a) This rendering divides the “marvels” between HaShem and David, his creation, rather than focusing on the Creator alone[10]. The final clause then addresses the psalmist’s knowledge rather than the knowledge of God, which we believe to be the overall theme of the composition.

(b) ‘al is normally a preposition, ‘on, upon,’ which here would be logical in sense, ‘because.’ Dahood (1969:3:293) sees here, as often in Psalms, a divine title, ‘el, similar to the universally recognized ‘elyon, ‘ Most High.’ The preposition ‘al here would be superfluous, as the following ki already means ‘because.’

(c) The MT form nora’ot is a feminine plural adjective, ‘awesome,’ with no apparent noun to modify. 1QPsa reads nwr’ ’th (which we have vocalized nora’ ’atah), the masculine singular form along with the 2ms pronoun. This yields an exclamation from David to HaShem, “You are awesome!” serving as an explanation for the preceding verb of praise[11].

(d) The form nipla’ot (from 1QPsa; MT reads niple’ti) is a nif‘al feminine plural participle from pl’, ‘to be marvelous.’ We have interpreted it as a substantive participle used adverbially: “You are marvelously awesome.”

(e) With Dahood we have repointed MT yoda‘at (fs qal participle) to yada‘ta (2 ms qal perfect), “You have known.” A more wooden rendering of the last word in the verse would yield, “You know my soul so well.” The important factor is to see it as a description of God’s knowledge rather than the psalmist’s.

David is simply in awe of the extent of HaShem’s knowledge both of the creation in general and of himself in particular. (This dual focus, along with the highly emotional state of the psalmist, explains the somewhat abrupt transitions in the syntax.) Even if the entire world is against him, HaShem knows his innocence; HaShem will vindicate him, for He has known him intimately since his very conception.

verse 15

lo’ nikhad ‘ozmi mimeka // aser ‘usseti baseter

my bones were not hidden from You // when I was made in the secret place

ruqqamti betahtiyot ’ares

[when] I was woven in the lowest parts of the earth

(a) The pointing of ‘ozmi ordinarily would indicate its derivation from ‘osem, ‘might,’ but, as this does not fit the sense, a derivation from ‘esem, ‘bone,’ is much more plausible and supported by the versions. While one would normally anticipate the plural ‘asamay, the singular is apparently used as a collective (cf. NKJV, ‘my frame’)[12].

(b) The verb form ‘usseti is understood as a form of ‘sh, ‘to make,’ although among over 2,000 occurrences, this is the only attestation of the pu‘al conjugation in Scripture. The sense fits well, and we have seen no convincing alternative proposal. Perhaps the pu‘al is used in an intensive sense to depict the duration of the process.

(c) We have rendered seter as ‘secret place’ because of its parallel to “the lower parts of the earth,” an unmistakable designation of Sheol.

(d) The verb rqm and its noun riqmah occur collectively twenty times in the OT, always with the meaning ‘embroider, weave.’ The verb implies great skill on the part of the weaver and usually a variegation of colors in the woven object. This unique usage seems to be an allusion to the marvelous intricacy of the human body, recognized even in pre-scientific times.

Verse 15 makes explicit the equation of the womb with Sheol. Since Sheol is “the secret place,” a miscarried fetus is “hidden” there (Job 3:16). Perhaps the view of Sheol as Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16) is prefigured in this usage, for “the secret place” is also used to designate the intimate dwelling of HaShem (Psalm 18:11; 32:7; 91:1).

While David employs passive forms here (“I was made… I was woven”), there can be no doubt that he views HaShem as the One who brought him forth: “Your hands have made me and stood me upright” (Psalm 119:73). The comparison of Sheol, which is in the earth, recalls God’s original formation of Adam “from the dust of the earth” (Genesis 2:7). That God brought David forth from the lower parts of the earth also foreshadows the redemption of Christ, who descended into “the lower parts of the earth” (Ephesians 4:11) to bring forth the souls of the righteous, such as David, to eternal life by His resurrection (cf. the application of Psalm 16 to Christ in Acts 2).

David’s poetic usage of the expression ‘embroidered’ or ‘variegated’ leads us to pause briefly to reflect upon the ancient biblical writers’ appreciation of the process of conception and fetal development. Qohelet (11:5) reminds us of the limitations of our knowledge:

Just as you do not know the way of the wind, or how the bones develop in the pregnant woman’s womb, so you do not know the action of God who does it all.

Again, God’s understanding of fetal development is an indication of the superiority of His knowledge. The most explicit biblical description of the process is found in Job 10:8-11, which we cite with minimal comment:

Your hands fashioned and made me altogether

— yet now You destroy me!

Remember that You made me out of clay

and to the dust You will return me[13].

Did You not pour me out like milk,

and curdle me like cheese?

You clothed me with skin and flesh

and knitted me with bones and muscles.

verse 16

golmi ra’u ‘eneka // we‘al sipreka kullam yikkatebu

Your eyes saw my fetus // and in Your book they all were written

yamim yussaru welo’ ehad bahem

they were formed [over a period of] days, and one of them is His

or, and not one is among them[14].

The difficult text of verse 16 has challenged interpreters throughout the centuries. The LXX renders almost word for word, yielding a translation not much better than the standard English versions:

akatergaston mou eidon oi ofqalmoi sou, kai epi tou bibliou sou panteı grafhsontai; hmeraı plasqhsontai kai ouqeiı en autoiı

Your eyes beheld my unformed [body] and in Your book all will be written; they will be formed [over a period of] days, and none [is] among them.

The main problem is determining the antecedent of the plural suffix of kullam, which in turn is the apparent subject of the verbs yikkatebu and yussaru. The only available candidate, golmi, ‘my fetus,’ is singular[15]. The usual approach is to find the requisite plural noun in yamim, ‘days.’ From this is derived the notion that the psalmist’s days are written in God’s book; that is to say, his life, or at least its duration, is predetermined. However, we see no solid basis for the idea that the plural suffix is “anticipatory” to a following noun here. Further, the verb ysr means ‘to form, shape,’ generally a physical object; rarely used figuratively in the sense of ‘formulate’ a plan of action. The concept of ‘forming days’ has no OT precedent. Finally, in this interpretation, the word ehad, ‘one,’ must refer to one of the days, which yields no perceptible sense from either textual variant of the final clause[16]. Modern interpreters generally resort to some sort of emendation (e.g., glmygmly, ‘my actions,’ with support from the Syriac) or reanalysis (Dahood reads gilay-m, ‘my life cycles’), but none of these attempts is to our satisfaction.

Unconvinced by ancient or modern interpretations, we here present our own proposal. We caution the reader that our solution is hypothetical, not resting on empirical evidence, yet we consider it eminently reasonable[17]. We propose that glmy be revocalized as golmay, a plural form representing the diversity of elements in the embryonic human body. The form is then understood in English as a sort of collective noun. We would then translate golmay as ‘my fetus,’ but the plural form would enable us to take this noun properly as the antecedent of the plural suffix -m, and so also as the subject of the two plural verbs, “were written” and “were formed.”

We cite by way of analogy the Hebrew noun panim, ‘face,’ which “always occurs in the plural, perhaps indicative of the fact that the face is a combination of features” (TWOT:727), and accordingly can take plural verbs (Isaiah 29:22) and adjectives (Proverbs 25:23), even when it refers to the face of only one person. In this light, we translate as follows:

Your eyes watched my fetus [in all its features]

(In Your book it was fully described in writing)

As it was being formed over a period of time.

And one of those [features] is His.

The second clause is understood as somewhat parenthetical; the third clause is subordinate to the first. The final clause is a bit abrupt, but such transitions (including the shift from second to third person) occur earlier in the composition and are well documented in Psalms generally.

David marvels at the depths of God’s knowledge and His providence. Throughout David’s gestation, HaShem watched the unfolding of the marvelous process He had set in motion when He created Adam and Eve with the power of procreation. Yet surely He was not merely observing, but carefully watching over David, forerunner of the promised Messiah.

What does it mean that David’s features were written in God’s book? This is usually taken as a reference to the book of life, which is then understood (in the light of Revelation 21:27) to mean that God determined David’s eternal destiny at the moment of his conception[18]. However, the book of life is not the only divine book mentioned in Scripture. Revelation 20:12 refers in the plural to “the books,” echoing Daniel 7:10. In addition to the book of life, God has other books in which He records people’s deeds and also the experiences of His people (Psalm 56:8). There is even a “book of HaShem” concerning the natural activities of the animals (Isaiah 34:16)[19]. We believe that David is referring to God’s careful record keeping concerning His beloved, even numbering the hairs on our heads. As cited above, Qohelet 11:5 infers that fetal development is in some sense “God’s action,” and our verse 16 stresses that it takes place over a period of time (taking yamim adverbially, as LXX and commonly in OT).

What then is the sense of the final clause? What “feature” of the fetus pertains especially to God? We believe this refers to the inner man, the soul or spirit. HaShem is “the God of the spirits of all flesh” (Numbers 16:22 & 27:16), not merely of the elect. (Certainly the spirit of every son of Israel would be His in a special way simply by virtue of the covenant.) Paul in Romans 5 establishes that by the justifying power of Christ all men are redeemed from the sin of Adam, and, in that sense, the spirit of the fetus would truly be His, at least until death ensues from the revival of sin (Romans 7:11)[20]. David himself trusted that his deceased child’s soul was in God’s loving hands (2 Samuel 12:23). “The spirit [nesamah] of man is HaShem’s lamp, searching the chambers of the belly” (Proverbs 20:27). Finally, it must be in the spirit that Christ illuminates every man who enters the world (John 1:8).

God, looking upon David as a mere shapeless mass, could view him as the person he would become. To HaShem, Creator of all, the individual’s genetic makeup is an open book. Certainly if we, mere human beings, can reasonably anticipate the results of our efforts, God, in His inestimable intelligence, can foresee David’s physical and mental characteristics and so deem him a suitable forerunner of the King. His ability in this regard is the same for every one of us as we are conceived in our mother’s womb. So we, too, can exclaim with the psalmist:

And for me, how precious are Your thoughts, O God,

How mighty their essence.

 

Bibliography

Bialik, Hayim N. and Yehoshua H. Ravnitsky, The Book of Legends (Sefer haAggadah), tr. William G. Braude. New York: Schocken, 1992 ed. (originally published in 1908-11).

Dahood, Mitchell J., Anchor Bible vol. 17A, Psalms 101-150. Garden City, NJ: Doubleday, 1970.

Klein, Ernest, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English. New York: Macmillan, 1987.

Rosenberg, A.J., Psalms: A New English Translation, vol. 3. New York: Judaica Press, 1991.

Schwartz, Howard, Lilith’s Cave: Jewish Tales of the Supernatural, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988.

Weiser, Chaim M., Frumspeak: The First Dictionary of Yeshivish. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1995.

[1] Here we might compare Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:1-5. An apt comparison may be made also to Christ, the One falsely accused throughout His life by the self-righteous of His day and finally condemned in the place of a criminal. In fact, a majority of this psalm may be read in a quite edifying manner as Messianic.

[2] Interpreting God as the subject of yesuppeni and taking swp here as equivalent to Arabic safa, ‘to watch, look.’ Cf. Job 9:17, “who observes me from the storm cloud.” See Dahood (1969:3:291).

[3] Darkness is associated with Sheol in Psalm 88:13; Job 15:22; 1 Samuel 2:9; Psalm 143:3.

[4] The image of Mother Earth does not appear as such in Scripture, probably to differentiate Israelite religion from the fertility cult so dominant in the beliefs of the surrounding peoples, and to emphasize that HaShem, who sometimes describes Himself with maternal imagery (Job 38:29; Isaiah 49:15-16), is the source of all creation, including the earth. It is implicit in the use of “mother” to designate the land of Israel (Hebrew eres means both ‘land’ and ‘earth’) in such texts as Isaiah 50:1; Ezekiel 19:2; Hosea 4:8, and also the land of Babylon in Jeremiah 50:12. It is also recognizable in such expressions as daughter (of) Zion, etc.

[5] Sheol is actually called a “womb” in Jonah 2:3, and the sea is said to have come forth from the womb in Job 38:8.

[6] Job’s statement is echoed almost verbatim in Qohelet 5:15, and, in less mythological terms, by Paul in 1 Timothy 6:7. Qohelet further equates the pre-natal and posthumous states in 6:4-5, indicating his belief in a conscious intermediate state, as opposed to the common but erroneous contrary interpretation of 9:5-10. The imagery of Job is brought out more fully in Ben Sira 40:1, “from the day they go forth from their mother’s womb, till the day they return to the mother of all living.”

[7] Primarily in Genesis 14:19-22, where HaShem is called qoneh samayim wa-eres, which might then be rendered ‘Creator of heaven and earth,’ although ‘Possessor’ is equally valid. Also see Deuteronomy 32:6, which may be translated to the effect that HaShem created Israel, but could also be understood as a declaration that He redeemed (‘purchased’) His people from Egypt.

[8] A homophone meaning ‘knit together’ has been proposed for this text and Job 10:11 (cited below).

 

[9] Supported by LXX ek gastroı and Syriac min karseh

[10] It also assumes that the verb niple’ti is derived from pl’, ‘marvel,’ rather than from plh, ‘separate,’ with which the form is more compatible.

[11] LXX oti foberoı qaumastwqhı, ‘for You are awesomely wonderful,’ is supportive here.

[12] LXX to ostoun mou is again sympathetic. 1QPsa reads ‘sby, ‘my pain(s),’ unless this represents a phonetic confusion of the labials b and m.

[13] Echoing the words of God to Adam in Genesis 3:19.

[14] Verse 16 exhibits a textual variant. The ketib, which is the text as written, reads l’, ‘not.’ The qere, the Massoretic marginal correction, reads lw, ‘to him.’ KJV and NKJV follow the ketib. We have chosen in our main exposition to follow the qere, but also offer an explanation following the ketib version.

The same variation between the negative and the possessive occurs in Isaiah 9:3 (v.2 in MT). KJV, following the ketib, renders “Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy; they joy before thee…” The negation here is nonsensical. Reading the qere, we understand the verse: “You have multiplied the nation, You have increased their joy; they rejoice before You…”

[15] The word glmy is a hapax legomenon in the Bible. The only other occurrence of the root is the verbal form yglm in 2 Kings 2:8, where Elijah ‘rolled up’  (perhaps ‘wadded up’?) his garment. Klein (1987:101) defines golem as a “shapeless matter.” In medieval and modern Hebrew the verb develops such meanings as ‘personify’ and ‘embody.’ Rosenberg (1991:517-18) quotes Rashi and Redaq (David Qimhi) to the effect that glm refers to “the solidified drop of sperm, before the limbs and organs are formed in it. It is called golem just as wood is called golem before it is formed into a utensil.” Klein also compares Aramaic gulma, ‘shapeless mass.’ Finally, in Yeshivish, the slang of the rabbinical academies, goilem (note the Yiddish pronunciation) has come to mean ‘a hopelessly foolish or ineffectual person’ (Weiser 1995:31).

The rabbis of the midrash (Genesis Rabbah, cited in Bialik 1992:15) viewed this text from two angles. It was said in the name of R. Eleazar, “As the Lord was creating Adam, He had come to the stage when Adam had the form of a golem, an unarticulated lump, which lay prone from one end of the world to the other. With regard to this, Scripture says, ‘Thine eye did see my golem.’ In contrast, R. Judah bar Simon said that while Adam lay prone as a golem, ‘God caused to pass before him each generation with its sages, each generation with its scribes, each generation with its leaders, as it is said, ‘O [Adam], when thou wast a golem, thine eyes did see all [the worthies whose names were] inscribed in thy book’.” Medieval kabbalists developed a rather extensive legend concerning the golem. Such luminaries as the Maharal (R. Judah Loew of Prague) were said to have brought a clay figurine to life through magical invocation of the Tetragrammaton, and golem was used to describe this humanoid. See, among others, Schwartz (1988:243-5).

[16] The rabbis, following the qere reading lw, have traditionally understood this as a reference to the sabbath: At the original creation, God formed the seven days, and one of them was His. We find this interpretation lovely, but cannot imagine how it would be of any relevance in the context of Psalm 139.

[17] It is entirely possible that our proposal has been offered before, and we are simply unaware of its existence in the literature. If this is the case, we are not attempting to appropriate another’s scholarship. We can only vouch that we have not seen it elsewhere, and that it is, in this sense, the outcome of our own prayer and seeking of divine wisdom.

[18] We find it curious that those who oppose the open view of God would seek to buttress their argument by citing this text to support the notion that God made these determinations when David was in utero, as elsewhere it is held that all such determinations were made “before the foundation of the world.”

[19] Perhaps, in light of the command to “read,” this refers to the Torah, but we prefer to find in this text an allusion to the “laws of nature.” God’s involvement with the animal kingdom is portrayed in the whirlwind discourse in Job and in Psalm 104, esp. vv. 14, 21, 27-30.

[20] Taking the ketib reading l’, ‘not,’ we would render, “and not one of them [yet] existed [in its mature state].” In other words, God could perceive all of David’s features when they did not yet possess discrete forms.

Psalms 139:16 – Not a Calvinist Prooftext

Reprinted in full from Will the Real God Step Forward:

Psalm 139:16

New International Version (NIV)
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

JPS Hebrew-English TANAKH
16:Your eyes saw my unformed limbs;
they were all recorded in your book;
in due time they were formed to the very last one of them.

This is the same verse as depicted in two very different translations. The NIV translates the verse as the “days” were formed and written before one of the “days” came to be. The JPS says the “unformed limbs” were formed and written before the “unformed limbs” became fully formed. The NIV uses the term “days” as the subject of the sentence clauses, the JPS uses the term “days” as an adverb; all these things happen in the days the limbs were being formed.

Although the Hebrew is not straightforward, the NIV leaves room for only one interpretation. In this version, the word “days” is the subject of all three clauses: the days “were ordained”, “were written” before “one them came to be”. As is often the case, this translation is used as a proof text for predestination and foreordination. It is claimed that God has predestined the days of every individual’s life. This has been the theme of too many Calvinist commentators who subordinate biblical exegesis to theology:

Foreordination in general cannot rest on foreknowledge; for only that which is certain can be foreknown…His foreknowledge of what is yet to be, whether it be in regard to the world as a whole or in regard to the, detailed life of every individual, rests upon His pre-arranged plan (Jeremiah 1:5; Psalm 139:14-16; Job 23:13, 14; 28:26, 27; Amos 3:7).

Boettner, Lorraine. The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1966(p. 74)

The translation committee of the NIV was heavily weighted with Calvinist sympathizers. The lead translator was Edwin H. Palmer, who had died in 1980 served as executive secretary of CBT, as coordinator of all translation work on the NIV, and as the first general editor of The NIV Study Bible. Dr. Palmer was a pastor of Christian Reformed Churches and an Instructor in Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary (1960–1964). He wrote two books, one of which was The Five Points of Calvinism.

But as the JPS translations indicates, this is a poor prooftext for the Calvinist’s point. There is a better competing translation to the translation offered by the NIV. Although many if not most Calvinists accept Psalm 139:16 as a proof text for predestination, Calvin himself would agree with the JPS translation that the Hebrew uses “days” in an adverbial sense:

PSALM 139

16. …Interpreters are not agreed as to the second clause. Some read ימים, yamim, in the nominative case, when days were made; the sense being, according to them — All my bones were written in thy book, O God! from the beginning of the world, when days were first formed by thee, and when as yet none of them actually existed. The other is the more natural meaning, That the different parts of the human body are formed in a succession of time; for in the first germ there is no arrangement of parts, or proportion of members, but it is developed, and takes its peculiar form progressively.

Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. 12: Psalms, Part V, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com Psalm 139

Calvin does not go into detail why he thinks “days” should be translated adverbial but I propose three reasons: the common adverbial use of the word “days” transliterated yā·mîm in the Old Testament, the context of Psalm 139, and the description of the use of yā·mîm as an adverb by a grammarian. It cannot be emphasized enough; this idea is supported by one very important grammarian: John Calvin.

The Hebrew word for days in Psalm 139:16 is transliterated yā·mîm (Hebrew יָמִ֑ים) is used 269 times in the Old Testament. It is used nominatively or accusatively, as the subject or the direct object of the verb, fewer than 45 times. (Amos 9:13 Behold the days are coming) Most of the other uses are adverbial uses of noun, what often is referred to as the genitive case.  (Genesis 8:12 So he waited yet another seven days and sent out the dove) It is admitted that “days” is a noun, the question is how is the word “days” used in the sentence; as the subject of the verb or the object of the verb or as an indicator of the duration of the action.

Most of the 269 times are adverbial uses of yā·mîm. In many cases as in Genesis 8:12 “seven days” just appears as a noun without a preposition or other indicator of adverbial use. In the English it is common to put a preposition before a noun to indicate the adverbial use of the noun. For example “we sleep at night.” The preposition “at” helps us to understand the noun “night” is being used adverbially in the sentence describing when we sleep.

In comparison to Psalm 139:16, in Genesis 24:55 there is a close equivalent use of yā·mîm. There is no preposition or adjective qualifying “days” the word just appears in the sentence. The reason the word few is in parenthesis is the translators have to supply an adjective to make the English understood. It is not common in English to use the accusative or nominative “days” alone in the sentence. But this is common in Hebrew.

Genesis 24:55 (NKJV) But her brother and her mother said, “Let the young woman stay with us a few days, at least ten; after that she may go.”

The word “days” is being used adverbially.  The subject of the sentence is not “days” but “the young woman.”  This common adverbial use of “days” is in Psalm 139:16.

Many translators have chosen to use the word “days” in Psalm 139:16 as the subject of the word form. (NKJ, NIV ESV, NASB, ASV, Douey-Rheims).  Other translators have used the word “days” as an adverb in the sentence.  (KJV, JPS, AKJV, ERV, Jubilee, Webster) Syntactical adverbial use of the word “days” describes the length of the activity of the main verb.   This form of the word “days” transliterated yā·mîm is used 269 in the Old Testament, and the overwhelming syntactical use is adverbial. (over 240 times)  In fact, placing yā·mîm at the end of the clause “all of them (unformed limbs) were being written,” and at the beginning of the clause “they (unformed limbs) were being formed” is a clever use of the adverb “in the days” complementing the imperfect forms “were being written” and “were being formed,” and at the same time providing a common link between the two clauses.  The formation of the unformed limbs was occurring in the same days God was seeing and writing down the event.

Another common indicator of meaning is context. There are three pronouns in Psalm 139:16. What are the antecedents of these pronouns?  The NIV translators thought the three pronouns should refer to “words.”
Psalm 139:16 NIV
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
 all the days (they) ordained for me (they)were written in your book
 before one of them (them) came to be.

The “JPS Hebrew-English TANAKH” translators thought the three pronouns should refer to “unformed limbs.”

Psalm 139:16 JPS
Your eyes saw my unformed limbs; they were all record in your book; in due time they were formed to the very last one of them.

In the Hebrew, the first clause is “(they)were written in your book.”  The word days comes after the first clause. The first use of the pronoun “they” is before the word “days” is even used. This would be very unusual because pronouns are used to avoid boring and redundant use of nouns. In order to be boring and redundant, these nouns would have to be used prior to the pronoun.

In fact the “unformed limbs” seems to the whole topic of the preceding three verses. These unformed limbs are mentioned as; my inward parts, me in my mother’s womb, my frame. The whole context is David as an unformed fetus before he was born. . Certainly context in verses 13-16 shows at least five references to the unformed limbs being formed.

Psalm 139:13-18 New King James Version (NKJV)
13 For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;[a]
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.

It is most likely the reference to “all of them” is David’s unformed limbs. This is supported by the King James version which says, and in thy book all my members were written. In fact the King James version used “days” adverbially and uses “unformed limbs” as the antecedent of the pronouns in the sentences.

Psalm 139:16 (KJV)
16 Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.

The word for unformed substance is used as the subject and object of the prepositions. (“my members” were written, they were fashioned, and there were none of them.) The phrase (in continuance) is a translation of the Hebrew word “days.” This is an adverbial use of “days.”

The following is a lengthy quote from perhaps the most famous Hebrew grammarian. Gesenius affirms the use of nouns as adverbs in the sentence. There is not real distinction morphologically between nouns used in the accusative vs the nominative in the Hebrew. As a grammarian he would categorize this noun as an accusative noun, although he admits this is the adverbial syntactical use (genitive case) of Hebrew language. He actually uses a form of “day” in the Hebrew as an example of “day” used as an adverb.

 (b) Substantives in the accusative (the adverbial case of the Semites, § 118 m), cf. τὴν ἀρχήν, δωρεάν, e. g. מְאֹד (might) very, אֶ פֶ֫ס (cessation) no more, הַיּוֹם (the day) today (cf. § 126 b), 1מָחָר to-morrow, יַ חַ֫ד (union) together. Several of these continued to be used, though rarely, as substantives, e. g. סָבִיב , plur. סְבִיבִים and סְבִיבוֹת , circuit, as adverb circum, around; others have quite ceased to be so used, e. g. כְּבָר (length) long ago [Aram.: only in Ec.]; עוֹד (repetition, duration) again or further.

Gesenius, W., E.Kautzsch & A.E. Cowley (ed.), Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1910), 270. (§ 100. Adverbs.2.(b))

The grammarians agree, it is possible to use the word “days” in the adverbial sense.  The overwhelming use of the word day (Hebrew yā·mîm) is in the adverbial sense.  Why does the NIV insist on using days as the subject and not as an adverb?

Are the commentators guided by exegesis or by theology? If the JPS translation is correct then this is not a proof text of the Calvinist eternal now. In the eternal now, God exists outside of time and sees every detail of the future outside of the limitation of time. The JPS translation leaves room for God seeing the development of the unformed fetus in real time as the event happens.

If one were to examine the literal Hebrew translation in the same word order, it would look like this:

The Westminster Leningrad Codex (WLC)

16 גָּלְמִ֤י׀ רָ֘א֤וּ עֵינֶ֗יךָ וְעַֽל־סִפְרְךָ֮ כֻּלָּ֪ם יִכָּ֫תֵ֥בוּ יָמִ֥ים יֻצָּ֑רוּ ׳וְלֹא׳ ״וְל֖וֹ״ אֶחָ֣ד בָּהֶֽם

My unformed substance, they saw, your eyes, and in your book, all of them, will be written, days, they shall be formed, and not, and him, one in them.

I would like to propose a different translation.

Your eyes saw my unformed substances and they were being recorded in your book, in the days the unformed substances were being formed, and as yet, not one of them was fully formed.

There is no controversy about the first clause (Your eyes saw my unformed substances). It is translated, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance.”

The second clause (and in the days) the word “days” is used adverbially. The pronouns used for the subject of the verbs formed and recorded is unformed substance and not days. The English word “words” (ימים, yamim) is being used syntactically as an adverb. It is referring to the timing of the verb ordain NIV or fashioned NKJV. God is observing the formation of the unformed embryo as it is being formed into a newborn baby.  In the words of John Calvin (the different parts of the human body are formed in a succession of time.) Calvin refers to this translation as the more natural meaning because of the context of Psalm 139.

Another problem of this verse is the tense forms of formed and written. (were being formed, they were being recorded in your book) The Hebrew has two tenses, the imperfect and the perfect. In English we call the imperfect the future and the perfect as the past for convenience. The Hebrew however stresses that the perfect is a completed action and the imperfect is an incompleted action. Every translation I could find translates the verbs in the past tense but the verbal form is imperfect not past.

The Psalmist is putting us into the perspective of God, in the past, when the events were not yet done. Keil and Delitzsch refers to this as the synchronous past.  As God’s eyes saw the embryo being formed into a human being he was recording the events as the embryo is being formed. Naturally to the Calvinist this would be against his theology. A Calvinist believes God decrees or writes in his book the formation of the embryo before the world began. These tense forms of “written” and “formed” should be respected.

There is some confusion about the translation of the last clause but it is probably an elliptical construction. An elliptical construction is the omission of one or more words in a sentence that are understood in the context. God was observing the process of the embryo being formed and as yet not one part was fully formed.

If the meaning were “the days were ordained,”  then God would be injecting some sort of timeless, philosophical, statement in the middle of a discourse about the formation of embryos. The word translated as “fashioned” is transliterated as yatsar, Hebrew יָצַר. It is used 63 times in the Old Testament. It is translated “ordained” by the New King James translators 0 times, King James version 0 times, and the NASB 1 time and the NIV 3 times. “Ordained” implies that God preplanned the event in ages past. The most natural meaning of the word yatsar is to fashion or form.

There is a real problem with the tense of the verbs. The verb for “saw” is in the past tense but the words fashion/ordain and “were written” are in the future tense. The tenses in Hebrew do not necessarily correspond to the English tenses. The past tense refers to completed action and the future tense refers to uncompleted action.  When God was looking at the unformed limbs he recorded them and fashioning them.

Your eyes saw my unformed limbs; they are being recorded in your book; in the days they were being formed to the very last one of them. Why do most translations used the past tense for the these verbs? (all the days ordained for me were written in your book) Keil and Delitzsch perhaps the most respected Hebrew commentary refers to the tenses as follows.

The signification of the future יכּתבוּ is regulated by ראוּ, and becomes, as relating to the synchronous past, scribebantur. The days יצּרוּ, which were already formed, are the subject. It is usually rendered: “the days which had first to be formed.” If יצּרוּ could be equivalent to ייצּרוּ, it would be to be preferred; but this rejection of the praeform. fut. is only allowed in the fut. Piel of the verbs Pe Jod, and that after a Waw convertens, e.g., ויּבּשׁ equals וייבּשׁ,

Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary on Psalms 139:16

The synchronous past is referring to a point of view. The passage starts out with the past “Your eyes saw” and the words which follow are translated with a view as if one was speaking in this past time. Although the verb “is being written” is in the future/uncompleted tense it is referring to the past event “saw.” The timing of the event (is being written) is at the same time as the past tense “saw” making the action of the verb write being in the past. Therefore to match the past tense of “saw” the verb “write” is put into the past tense.

The verb “fashioned” is in the imperfect tense. How is one allowed to translate this verb into the past tense? Keil and Delitzch propose an error in the original manuscript or some alternative, corrupted form of the past tense. This corrupted form is somehow coincidentally the exact form of the future. The argument is unconvincing and too convenient for their goal of supporting their theology which makes their analysis suspect.

Even if one were to accept their methodology does it fit the translation? The action of writing and fashioning, even if they are in the past tense should be no more later that the action of the verb saw. The action of seeing is in the past when the embryo is still being formed. The Calvinist must believe the ordaining/fashioning and the writing are in the remote past at the beginning of time. This will not support the beginning of time contentions of the Calvinist.

Very rarely, do I agree with John Calvin but I have to admire him in this way.  He did not allow his theology to trump the translation of the verse.  In the Hebrew the most common way to indicate duration of time is with a simple noun uncluttered by propositions.
Exodus 20:11 Version (NKJV) For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth

The reason “in” is in italics is because the word “in” is not in the Hebrew.  It is implied by the context.  This is the same construction used in Psalm 139:16.  The noun “words” is not the subject of the sentence.  It is describing the duration of the events “saw” “were writing” and “were forming.”  The most natural meaning of the texts is “in days when.”  This translation allows for a more natural use of tenses of the verbs.  Excuses do not have to be made for translating the tenses away from their natural meaning.  The context is respected.  The context is about the unformed baby.  This is not some theological aberration about the “eternal now” of Plotinus.

What does Psalm 139:16 say?
Your eyes saw my unformed substances and they were being recorded in your book, in the days the unformed substances were being formed, and as yet, not one of them was fully formed.

Physicist Rejects that Time is an Illusion

From Is the Future Already Written?:

Ellis’ calculations show that the evolving block universe does not contradict relativity’s prediction that two people can disagree on the order of two events. In both Einstein’s and Ellis’ pictures, the time at which each person perceives both events to have occurred is based on the discrepancies between how long it takes light from each event to reach them. In Einstein’s view, these events — and all future events — coexist. But in Ellis’ picture, both events must lie in the portion of the evolving block that houses the past; they are fixed into reality before information about them reaches anyone. Similarly, in Ellis’ view, two observers can disagree on the duration of an event, but only if that event has already crystallized into the past. Thus, Ellis’ model of time retains enough of the block universe to match with relativity’s predictions, but without needing to take Einstein’s drastic last step of assuming that the fourth dimension is solidified into the infinite future.

Apologetics Thursday – Acts 13:48

By Christopher Fisher

Act 13:48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.

A Calvinist reports that Acts 13:48 is the Bible verse that made him a Calvinist. He writes:

I think the thing that was so compelling to me in this verse is that it wasn’t a broad doctrinal statement on God choosing a people for him self or even a parable. Don’t misunderstand me – I love those. But in that moment it occurred to me that this was a very historical and contextual expression of predestination in the bible. There are very specific people that this happens in the stream of the narrative. It was never meant to be a theological argument that’s build up over chapters. It’s a succinct statement from Luke about what happened to these gentiles who heard Paul’s sermon. More than that, it says it so plainly put and straight-forward.

But, here is the interesting thing, the Bible verse actually has a very probable translation that destroys Calvinism. Due to the single fact that most translators are Calvinists, this young man adopted their readings and also became a Calvinist. One has to wonder how much more damage the Calvinist stranglehold on translations has done. The verse very easily could have been rendered:

Act 13:48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as appointed themselves to eternal life believed.

In the Greek language, the Middle and Passive take the same verb form. So unless the context is clear, there is uncertainty in if others are acting upon someone or if those people are acting upon themselves. This Greek Grammar website explains:

Middle and Passive Transitive Verbs Transitive verbs can be either middle or passive, and only the context can help you decide which meaning is intended. (Transitive) Middle Voice Usage For transitive verbs, the implication of the of the middle voice is that the action expressed by the verb directly affects the subject. The verbs in the following sentences are all transitive, and they all have a middle/passive form in Greek. οὐκ οἴδατε τί αἰτεῖσθε You do not know what you are requesting (Matthew 20:22) ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν· πάτερ, εἰς χεῖράς σου παρατίθεμαι τὸ πνεῦμά μου. Jesus said: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23:46) τί διαλογίζεσθε ἐν ἑαυτοῖς …ὅτι ἄρτους οὐκ ἔχετε; Why are you discussing among yourselves …that you have no bread? In each of these examples, the subject is presented as acting for its own benefit. Compare the following example. The verb used there (δέχομαι) is a lexical middle. ἐμὲ δέχεται [He/she] receives me (Matthew 10:40) The form of this verb that appears in the lexicon (δέχομαι) is middle voice. Since the verb always has a middle voice implication—the action it expresses (receiving) directly impacts its subject—it never appears with active voice forms. Its meaning is best expressed in the middle voice. Passive Voice Usage (always transitive) Observe the following sentences in which the subject is acted upon by someone not explicitly named. οὐχὶ δύο στρουθία ἀσσαρίου πωλεῖται Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? (Matthew 10:19) ἀφίενταί σου αἱ ἁμαρτίαι Your sins are forgiven (Mark 2:5) ἕκαστον γὰρ δένδρον ἐκ τοῦ καρποῦ γινώσκεται For every tree is known by its fruit (Luke 6:44) Notice that the subject of these verbs would be the object if the verb were active voice. This is the basic meaning of the passive voice. When translating Greek middle/passive forms of transitive verbs you may need to try both middle and passive translations to see which makes best sense in the context.

This cannot be stated enough: When translating Greek middle/passive forms of transitive verbs you may need to try both middle and passive translations to see which makes best sense in the context. Jesse Morrel makes an excellent case as to why this passage would be better rendered as middle.

Oord Counters Sanders on Evil

Open Theist Thomas J Oord criticizes Open Theist John Sanders on the problem of evil:

In The God Who Risks, Sanders often says God permits evil when it could have been prevented (all quotations in this blog come from that book)…

Sanders’s position ends up sounding like a “best of all possible worlds” defense to the problem of evil. According to it, God allows evil because preventing it would undermine the good of the overall project. Sanders admits that many atrocities are “pointless evils” and “God does not have a specific purpose in mind for these occurrences.” But he also seems to believe “some evils are justified for some greater good.”

I find it difficult to imagine how God preventing rape and murder in any particular instance would throw out of balance the structures of the universe. I am not convinced the creation project requires God to allow genuine evils – including the Boston Marathon bombing, the debilitating condition of severely handicapped infants, the rape and murder of innocent women, and countless other atrocities.

Brueggemann on God’s mercy

From Walter Brueggemann’s Theology of the Old Testament:

Third, given the range of the recital of adjectives concerning Yahweh in the stylized testimony of Israel, the primary propensity of Israel is to focus on Yahweh’s fidelity , expressed particularly in the terms merciful, gracious, abounding in steadfast love, and faithfulness. These terms, rḥm, ḥnn, ḥsd, ˒mth, saturate Israel’s speech about Yahweh and Israel’s imagination. This is not to say that other terms, including those of forgiving and visiting, are not used. But Israel’s most elemental and most recurring practice is to speak about Yahweh’s reliability and trustworthiness.

Logical Proof on Perfection

A classical theists attempts to “prove” God’s infinite perfection:

233. Thesis II. God is infinitely perfect.

Explanation. We mean by a perfection any real entity, anything which it is better to have than not to have. A being is infinitely perfect when it has all possible entity in the highest possible degree. It is clear at once that God, being the cause of the world, must have all the perfections that are actually in the world; for there can be no perfection in the effect which is not in the cause. But besides, He must have, we maintain, all perfections that are intrinsically possible, i.e., all that imply no contradiction. We must, however, distinguish between pure perfections — i.e., such as imply no imperfection, e.g., knowledge, goodness, justice, power, etc.; and mixed perfections — i.e., such as imply some imperfection, e.g., reasoning, which implies that some truth was first unknown. Now, we mean that God has all pure perfections formally or as such, and the mixed He possesses eminently, i.e., in a better way, without any imperfections.

Proof. Whatever the necessary Being is, it is that necessarily; but God is the necessary Being; therefore, whatever He is, He is that necessarily. Therefore, if there is any limit to His perfection, that limit is necessary; i.e., further perfection is excluded by the very nature of His physical essence; in other words, the entity or perfection of His being would exclude some further perfection. But no perfection excludes other perfection, or is incompatible with further perfection; there can be no contradiction between good and good, entity and entity, but only between good and not good, entity and non-entity, perfection and imperfection. Therefore no perfection can exclude any other perfection; hence no perfection is excluded either in kind or in degree; therefore God is infinitely perfect.

McCormick on Presentism

John McCormick on the Open Theism Facebook page:

(1) Rather than saying that God chose to leave the future open, I think it would be better to say that He did not create a future. In other words, God created only the “present”, and no past or future exist–not even in some meta-time that only God can see.

This is called Presentism, and it is compatible both with Scripture and physics.

Indeterminism is a central feature of quantum physics. My own study of time and physics indicates that there is no such thing as “time”, but only a constantly-changing “now”. I have personally verified this with physicists, including one of the leading physicists in time research.

Scripture supports Presentism through as many as 11,000 verses that indicate that there are things God does not know. (I’d be happy to supply you with a representative sample of those verses, or all of them if you want.) Yet we know for other reasons that God necessarily must have all power and all knowledge (many Open Theists would disagree…but they are all dorks…just kidding), so if it appears that He does not know a thing, then it means that things simply cannot be known–like a square circle, which is nonsense.

Fisher on Jesus being Lower than the Angels

Christopher Fisher provides commentary on Hebrews 2:9:

Heb 2:9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.

The entire thrust of the whole passage is to prove to his audience that Jesus was superior to the angels. Jesus would be in charge of the apocalypse, not the angels. Apparently, in the time of the author there were rumors that Jesus a powerless messenger. Hebrews counters that idea. One would think that if the author was trying to communicate the strange idea that Jesus was “setting aside” his Godhead to make himself “lower than the angels” that this point would be explicit as to heighten the overall point of the chapter. Instead, what is present is a desperate attempt to show that Jesus, although less powerful than the angels, would be superior to them in the coming apocalypse. The context does not fit an Augustinian understanding.

Because Godhood is not synonymous with omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience or any other Greek concept, Jesus can be lower than the angels yet be divine. As Will Duffy pointed out to me, the entire passage undermines the basic concept of immutability, the heart of the Augustinian concept of God. The Augustinian obsession with extra-Biblical attributes forces them into strange interpretations of these texts.

Mcmahon on Being Dragged – John 6:44

Excerpt:

Our passage in John 6 contrasts the first and third of the above designated groups. Jesus was explaining to the Jews who rejected Him that their refusal to believe in Him stemmed from their basic refusal to trust in God (in whom they falsely claimed to trust); that those who, in contrast, were now turning and following Him were the true believers in God, the true Jews. That’s what He means when he says that “everyone who listens to and learns from the Father comes to Me.” He isn’t talking about unbelieving Gentiles being regenerated (without even realizing that’s happened) and believing on Christ because they’re elect. He’s talking about Jewish people who were in personal relationship with God believing on Jesus because through their existing faith they recognize His divine origin. This model is not directly applicable to the human race in general today.

For PDF, click here.

Morrell Points out Reflexive Verb

Act 13:48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.

Speaking about Acts 13:48, Morrell points out the Greek word for appointed is in the “middle” voice. A literal translation would be “appointed themselves”. Morrell states:

3. Also notice the passive/middle ending “μένοι.” That means that ordained/disposed can be taken as something which was done to them (passive), in this case by the word, or something which they did to themselves (middle), in this case by allowing themselves to be properly influenced by the word. Given the context of this passage, especially in contrast with vs. 46 that uses the reflexive pronoun “ἑαυτοῦ” to say that they judged themselves unworthy of eternal life, this verb “τεταγμένοι” should be understood to be in the middle voice. Context is the only key in determining whether a verb is in the passive or in the middle, as the ending is identical.

For full post, click here.

Foundation of the World Mistranslation

W Scott Taylor of IdeoAmnosTouTheou on Facebook group Open Theism, Moral Government Theology, Pentecostal:

~ “From the Foundation of the World” ~ Mistranslation.

Mistranslation should be understood as a “theologically biased” translation. Biblical students with more than a passing acquaintance with the Greek of the New Testament realize that case and syntax analysis plays an important part in rendering the intent of the original author to those unfamiliar with the language.

The purpose of this post is to, 1.) show the Greek phrase in each instance it occurred in the New Testament, and, 2.) identify why, based upon basic Greek grammar of case and syntax the phrase has a more probable translation.

1.) Every instance of the phrase translated “from the foundation of the world” are listed below:

Matt 13:35 ἀπὸ καταβολῆς [κόσμου].
Matt 25:34 ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου.
Luke 11:50 ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου
John 17:24 πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου
Ephesia 1:4 πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου
Hebrew 4:3 ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου
Hebre 9:26 ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου
1 Pet 1:20 πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου
Revel 13:8 ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου.
Revel 17:8 ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου

2.) Note that in each case the preposition ( ἀπὸ or πρὸ ) are genitive and that each phrase is also genitive. An entry from “A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament And other Early Christian literature” Arndt & Gingrich, is provided to show that the first use of the genitive for ἀπὸ is spatial in meaning rather than temporal.

An alternate translation that would be equally as admissible if not more so than the traditional rendering would be:

“In view of the fall, or moral descent of the inhabitants of the world or social order.” How that works out practically in each instance of the phrase’s occurrence can be pursued, discussed and explained in follow on threads in this op.

For bibliographic purposes one would do well to review:

“C. F. D. Moule “An Idiom Book Of New Testament Greek” Chapter V Prepositions.” pg 48-92. Also, Daniel B. Wallace “Greek Grammar Beyond The Basics” pg 9,32-35,37,72-136,138,177-78,727-29. Other considerations exist and have been researched in the course of this presentation. It is my contention that there are no reasons why the verses in question cannot be rendered alternately as shown.

Needless to say, the impact of this can be very far reaching. So far in fact that it will touch nearly 90% of your Christian Theology.

god is open

Arminian on God’s Emotion

From by Jared Moore in an article entitled Does God Change? Yes and No. A Response to Bruce Ware:

Furthermore, in order to possess genuine emotions, there must be a sense where God is with humanity within time and space. Thus, when God’s disposition towards His people changes from joy to anger, this change is due to a change in experiential knowledge. Otherwise, these emotions are nominal (in name only). If God is relationally mutable, there must be a sense where His experiential knowledge changes. This experiential knowledge does not change the Scriptural truth that God is all-knowing, it simply means that since God is with us in time, He knows in a way as He experiences time with us that He did not know before (Ware would argue). His joy, anger, etc. are real within time with us. I, however, cringe with the thought of saying, “God is not all-knowing in an experiential way.” I must concede, however, that God is really angry, joyful, etc. in Scripture. These are not mere anthropomorphisms; however, I cannot concede at this point that God’s emotions are contingent on His experiential knowledge at the moment of experience. I think there may be a better way to tie God’s real emotions to His ultimate knowledge without arguing that God must experience knowledge to possess real emotions. His emotions may be so “other” than us that the manifestation of His emotions is what we see in Scripture, instead of Him learning something in an experiential manner that He did not know in an experiential manner prior to experiencing this knowledge in time and space.

For full text, click here.

Hill on Being Predestined to Adoption

From the discontinued Bob Hill site Biblical Answers:

Next, let’s look at the most important passage on adoption concerning the body of Christ, Eph 1:4-6. Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved.

Corporate Israel was God’s son by adoption according to Romans 9:4. We also see that the nation will not be cast away. But the nation will be purged in the tribulation according to

Zec 13:8,9 And it shall come to pass in all the land, says the Lord, that two-thirds in it shall be cut off and die, but one- third shall be left in it: 9 I will bring the one-third through the fire, will refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say, “This is My people”; And each one will say, “The Lord is my God.”

This will be in fulfillment of Hos 1:6-11.

And she conceived again and bore a daughter. Then God said to him: Call her name Lo-Ruhamah, For I will no longer have mercy on the house of Israel, But I will utterly take them away. 7 Yet I will have mercy on the house of Judah, will save them by the Lord their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword or battle, by horses or horsemen. 8 Now when she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. 9 Then God said: Call his name Lo-Ammi, for you are not My people, and I will not be your God. 10 Yet the number of the children of Israel Shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, You are not My people, There it shall be said to them, You are sons of the living God. 11 Then the children of Judah and the children of Israel Shall be gathered together, and appoint for themselves one head; and they shall come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel!

But only believing Israel will be saved.

Rom 11:2,24,25 God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, 25 For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob.

Every member of the body of Christ has the adoption based on God’s predestination, because we have all put our trust in Christ. We can’t lose our adoption. The body of Christ was predestinated to receive this adoption. We became members of this body and its blessings when we believed.

Sanders On Talking Nonsense

From John Sander’s The God Who Risks:

To be consistent, the ideas within a model must “make sense,” since if they do not then they are literally “nonsense” and unintelligible. In order for a model to be intelligible, it must be logically consistent. Statements that are self-contradictory are meaningless. Symbolically, a contradiction is written A and not-A. That is, something that belongs in category A is also not in category not-A. If we say “my red car is not red” or “the apple on my desk is not an apple” we are not making meaningful utterances. Statements such as “God is the creator and is not the creator” and “God is timeless and also experiences time” are self-contradictory. They simply make no sense.