Friday, November 27, 2009

Perseverance of the Saints: Part 1

In the course of research completely unrelated to this entry, I used e-Sword to search the Bible for the word "root".

First item on the list was Deuteronomy 29:18:

Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood;

I immediately remembered that Hebrews 12:15 is similarly phrased:

Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;

But they are not phrased exactly the same — not in English, at least. To determine whether the author of Hebrews was, in fact, quoting Deut. 29:18, I took a look at the Greek behind both verses1.

Here is the Greek for the verse in Deuteronomy:

μή τίς ἐστιν ἐν ὑμῖν ἀνὴρ ἢ γυνὴ ἢ πατριὰ ἢ φυλή, τίνος ἡ διάνοια ἐξέκλινεν ἀπὸ κυρίου τοῦ θεοῦ ὑμῶν πορεύεσθαι λατρεύειν τοῖς θεοῖς τῶν ἐθνῶν ἐκείνων; μή τίς ἐστιν ἐν ὑμῖν ῥίζα ἄνω φύουσα ἐν χολῇ καὶ πικρίᾳ;

Here is the Greek for the verse in Hebrews:

ἐπισκοποῦντες μή τις ὑστερῶν ἀπὸ τῆς χάριτος τοῦ Θεοῦ, μή τις ῥίζα πικρίας ἄνω φύουσα ἐνοχλῇ καὶ διὰ ταύτης μιανθῶσι πολλοί,

In case you didn't catch it, take a look at the similar phrases in parallel:

μή τίς ἐστιν ἐν ὑμῖν ῥίζα ἄνω φύουσα ἐν χολῇ καὶ πικρίᾳ;

μή τις ῥίζα πικρίας ἄνω φύουσα ἐνοχλῇ

Now, if we remove the phrase "ἐστιν ἐν ὑμῖν" ("should be among you") for reasons we'll get to a little further down, we see:

μή τίς ῥίζα ἄνω φύουσα ἐν χολῇ καὶ πικρίᾳ;

μή τις ῥίζα πικρίας ἄνω φύουσα ἐνοχλῇ

I think by this point we can say with confidence that the author of Hebrews was in fact quoting Deuteronomy. But it's not an exact quote. Why? How is it changed, and is that significant?

Before we continue, we need to pull our train of thought into the station and pick up a few Greek passengers who will help us with the basic Greek vocabulary involved with these verses.

ἐν "en" (prep.)


καὶ "kay" (conj.)


ἄνω "anoe" (adj.)


ῥίζα "hridza" (n.)


πικρίᾳ "pikria" (n.)


πικρίας "pikrias" (adj.)


χολῇ "kholee" (n.)


ἐνοχλῇ "enokhlee" (v.)


Ok, now that they are on board, we also need to do some maintenance on the engine, with the following note:

The English translators of Heb. 12:15 rendered "ῥίζα πικρίας" as "root of bitterness"; but it literally reads "root bitter", or, compensating for Greek word order: "bitter root". This doesn't change the meaning at all; but we do need to note the change from Deuteronomy 29:18 LXX, which literally reads, "root springing up in...bitterness", to Hebrews 12:15, which literally reads, "bitter root springing up".

Ok, now we can fire up the boilers and get this train headed back out on the tracks.

Why did the author of Hebrews make this change?4 I'll give you the answer up front: So that he could make a clever play on words with the phrase "ἐν χολῇ" in the original. Specifically, he has conflated "ἐν χολῇ" into one word and flipped "χ" (one letter), and "ο", producing "ἐνοχλῇ", which literally means "to crowd in". (He dropped the "καὶ", because it was no longer needed, "πικρία" having been moved to earlier in the sentence.) So he has changed "in gall and" to "crowd [you] in."

(Incidentally, this is now the verb of the sentence, which is why "ἐστιν ἐν ὑμῖν" was removed. (See, I told you we'd get to it. :) But I digress...)

So what does all this have to do with anything? What does it mean? What is he trying to teach with this obviously intentional change?

We'll get to that in part two. :)

In the mean while, I've changed my blog settings so that I don't have to preview the comments before they show up, so feel free to comment. (I will delete any comments that I do not deem apropos, such as profane or advertising comments.)

1"But the OT was written in Hebrew!" Yes, and it was translated into Greek in the form of the Septuagint, or the "LXX". The Greek LXX was the version most often quoted by Jesus and the Apostles. (I need to do some more research before I can confidently write "exclusively quoted".)

Also, the versification is slightly different in the LXX, so Deuteronomy 29:18 KJV is actually verse 17 in the LXX. For consistency, I will refer to it as verse 18 throughout this post.

2"χολῇ" in Deut. 29:18 is the translation of the Hebrew ראשׁ ("rosh"), which refers to poison.

3Third person present active singular of the infinitive "ἐνοχλέω": "to crowd in, to annoy, to trouble." This is just "ἐν ὀχλέω", but as one word. We have already seen that "ἐν" means "in", and "ὀχλέω" means "to mob", or "to crowd", from the noun "ὄχλος", which is "a crowd, multitude, the common people".

4Some might say that this was unintentional — i.e. a copyist's error. However, I would contend that it was intentional, based on the fact that, in order to make grammatical room for the change, the writer 1) altered the word order and part of speech for "πικρίας", appropriately dropping a related conjunction in consequence, and 2) removed an entire phrase, changing the verb of the sentence. If this were merely a copyist's error, such precise changes would not have been made to adjust for the grammatical difference made by the so-called "error".

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