‘Bible Verse Q&A’

Did God command Israel to “dash the heads of babies on the rocks”?

October 18th, 2014

In a conversation recently, someone brought up Psalm 137:9.

Psalm 137:9 (NKJV)

9 Happy the one who takes and dashes

Your little ones against the rock!

This verse does indeed create a disturbing visual. See More »

Which version is better in Zechariah 4:10?

October 17th, 2014

Which Bible translation of Zechariah 4:10 is correct? Here are some examples:

Zechariah 4:10 (NKJV)

10          For who has despised the day of small things?

For these seven rejoice to see

The plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.
They are the eyes of the Lord,

Which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth.”

Zechariah 4:10 (ESV)

10 For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.

“These seven are the eyes of the Lord, which range through the whole earth.”

Zechariah 4:10 (NLT)

10 Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.”

(The seven lamps* represent the eyes of the Lord that search all around the world.)

 

The main difference in the versions is that some (e.g., ESV, NRSV) translate the first clause as a conditional/circumstantial clause and others (NKJV, NIV 1984) translate it as a question. The NLT goes a bit further and translates it as a command. I think the best translation is the one that has it as a question. The question “Who has despised the day of small things?” is a rhetorical question, to which the answer is “No one”. No one, at least no one who plans on doing something great, has despised the day of small things.

 

In other words, here are the three options represented in various translations:

  1. “Whoever has despised…shall rejoice”
  2. “Who has despised…? (A: no one!)
  3. “Don’t despise…”

 

I honestly don’t know how the ESV could have missed this one so badly. While the Hebrew word מִי (mî) can be translated as an indefinite pronoun “whoever”, that does not fit the rest of the syntax at all.

  • First, it would require that the second clause “…shall rejoice” have the subject “whoever” repeated, which it is not.
  • Second it would require that the verb “shall rejoice” be singular, to match the singular subject (just as the verb “has despised” is singular), but “shall rejoice” is plural.
  • Third, there’s a little thing in Hebrew called a waw (or vav) consecutive and it is never used to introduce a circumstantial clause, nor is it ever used after a “whoever”. You can think of it as our English “and”.
  • Fourth, it awkwardly requires the word “seven” to be a part of the following sentence.

 

It is much better to translate that word מִי (mî) as “Who?” – an interrogative pronoun, rather than an indefinite pronoun “whoever”. Then the second clause becomes its own sentence “These seven rejoice to see…”. “These” is plural and the verb “rejoice” is plural. The next sentence (10b) tells us what seven things are being referred to: the seven eyes of the Lord (see also 3:9).

 

In this case, “Who despises the day of small things?” is a rhetorical question. No one who intends to accomplish great things despises the day of small things. The Lord is smiling on their work in rebuilding the temple because they intend to see it through. And the bigger picture is that the temple, even when completed, is just a small thing compared to what it symbolized  – what God planned to accomplish ultimately in the Messiah.

 

The NLT takes a logical leap from “Who has despised…? (no one)” to “No one has despised…” to “Do not despise…”. In any case, the point is keep your eyes on the end!

 

Interestingly, the NIV 2011 has “Who dares despise…?”. And,

The Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT, abbreviated “LXX”) puts this first phrase as a question, just like I am suggesting.

 

So, in conclusion, I think the NKJV wins the translation battle this time*.

Zechariah 4:10 (NKJV)

10          For who has despised the day of small things?

For these seven rejoice to see

The plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.
They are the eyes of the Lord,

Which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth.”

*Other times, the NIV wins and still other times the ESV wins. When doing serious study, you should compare multiple versions and when they differ, you should consult a few critical commentaries (commentaries which refer to the original languages) and/or ask someone who knows the original languages (Hebrew for the OT and Greek for the NT).

Barbaric or Human? Where was God?

November 25th, 2013

Judges 21:21-22 – when the men came and took wives as they danced and the way they explained it afterwards, I thought, “how primitive!”. Also the killing of men, women, and children (Jud 21:10-11, their own decision, not commanded by God this time)… a critic might say how could a good God allow such things, but is God’s job or even his purpose to create a utopian life, by human standards? And aren’t we, even in our “modern”, “enlightened” state still quite primitive and barbaric by His standards anyway?

There is a difference in perspective. We see barbarism and primitiveness as compared to our own advancement and civility and blame God. We must think we are more evolved than the God of those ancient peoples, that we could have done a better job being their god. By comparison, God sees us all as barbaric, selfish, primitive sinners. He works within the context of our existence, because he sees beyond the physical world.

More important than the physical conditions is our spiritual condition and the spiritual lessons learned while we are in this physical life. Sometimes things that are unthinkable to us physically seem to pass by God unnoticed. He notices, it’s just that compared to the spiritual plane, those physical events are “small potatoes”. Romans 8:18

What does 1 Corinthians 1:7 mean “so that you come short in no gift…”?

November 4th, 2009

I recently gave a sermon entitled “Seven Facts about You” (click to listen) from 1 Corinthians 1:1-9.

A question came up after the sermon about verse 7. What does it mean when it says “so that you come short in no gift”?

For verse 7, there are a few possible interpretations. Consider this quote:

“The exact meaning of you are not lacking in any spiritual gift is uncertain. The possibilities are:

(a) there is not one of God’s gifts that you do not have (TEV and REB have this interpretation);

(b) there are none of God’s gifts that you do not have enough of;

(c) there is not one of God’s gifts that you have less of than any other gift (the King James Version [KJV] seems to take this meaning).”

from Ellingworth, P., Hatton, H., & Ellingworth, P. (1995). A handbook on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. UBS handbook series; Helps for translators. New York: United Bible Societies.

However, I think the best explanation for this verse is that no believer is left without a spiritual gift.

Examine the context. Paul is establishing several facts about the Corinthian believers and any “who call on the name of the Jesus Christ our Lord”. So this must be something that is true for every believer.

We know from experience that not every believer has every gift. We also know logically, if that was true there would be no diversity, and passages like 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 would lose their meaning. The metaphor of the body with all its different parts would also lose its meaning. This addresses (a).

It is also not true that every believer has their particular gift maxed out. Quite often I see people with a particular gift, but they fall short in it. I suppose you could say that they aren’t really falling short, they just aren’t appropriating the gift’s full potential. You might also say that it applies at the church level, but again, you’d have to admit that it sure doesn’t seem to be true in many churches. This addresses (b).

Lastly, I can personally testify that some gifts are stronger than others in me, so I don’t think (c) is true either.

It IS true, though, that every believer is given one or more spiritual gift(s). No believer comes up lacking by not having a spiritual gift.

Do you know how the Lord has gifted you? How are you giving back to Him?
Please contact me or seek out a friend to help you discover or use a gift for the Lord.

Jesse

For verse 7, there are a few possible interpretations. Consider this quote:

“The exact meaning of you are not lacking in any spiritual gift is uncertain. The possibilities are:

(a) there is not one of God’s gifts that you do not have (TEV and REB have this interpretation);

(b) there are none of God’s gifts that you do not have enough of;

(c) there is not one of God’s gifts that you have less of than any other gift (the King James Version [KJV] seems to take this meaning).”

–Ellingworth, P., Hatton, H., & Ellingworth, P. (1995). A handbook on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. UBS handbook series; Helps for translators. New York: United Bible Societies.

I, however, think the best explanation for that verse is that no believer is left without a spiritual gift. Consider the context. Paul is establishing several facts about the Corinthian believers and any “who call on the name of the Jesus Christ our Lord”. So this must be something that is true for every believer.

You and I both know that not every believer has every gift. If that was true there would be no diversity and passages like 1 Cor 12 and Romans 12 would lose their meaning. The metaphor of the body with all its different parts would also lose its meaning. This addresses (a).

It is also not true that every believer has their particular gift maxed out. Quite often I see people with a particular gift, but they fall short in it. I suppose you could say that they aren’t really falling short, they just don’t realize it. You might also say that it applies at the church level, but again, you’d have to admit that it sure doesn’t seem to be true in many churches. This addresses (b).

Lastly, I can personally testify that some gifts are stronger that others in me, so I don’t think (c) is true either.

It IS true though that every believer is given one or more spiritual gift. No believer comes up lacking by not having a spiritual gift.

Hope this helps,

Jesse

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