Of course we all know that the Bible wasn’t written in English, right? So why, oh why, do I come across so much of this sort of thing…
I’m reading a newsletter sent by a Christian mission organisation, talking about the significance of the Passover – a subject that is very close to my heart. They talk about the traditional four cups of wine:
“Each one has a message based on the words of God to Moses in Exodus 6:6-7.” So far, so true. But then they spoil it by saying: “This quartet of phrases all begin with the same two words, I will.”
No, they don’t. Not in the original text. In fact, I can’t even think how to translate “I will” into Hebrew!
(Note for those who don’t know me: I am an Israeli, and a native Hebrew speaker.)
Hebrew doesn’t have a phrase equivalent to “I will”, we incorporate it into the verb itself. You know that bit in the Bible where Moses asks God for his name and God says something that’s normally translated into English as “I am who I am”? The “I am” bit in there is one word in Hebrew: אהיה – pronounced: eh’ye. This word literally means “I will be”, though, depending on context, it can also be “I am”.
To make things a teensy bit more complicated, we’re dealing with biblical Hebrew here, which has some forms that aren’t used in modern Hebrew. The form used in Exodus 6:6-7 is one that looks as though it’s a verb in the past tense, with an “and” before it, so, for instance, the bit translated into English as “I will bring you out…” actually looks like it says: and I brought you out. But it’s really a way of saying, in biblical Hebrew: I will bring you out. But my point is: there is no “I will” there. There’s no such thing in Hebrew – our verbs don’t get split into different words like in English, where you use “will” to indicate future – for example in English you take the verb “to go” and in order to make it future tense, you say “I will go”. In Hebrew the “will go” part is one word. (We even have cases where you drop the “I” – as in the case I mentioned earlier of the word אהיה = I will be.)
I find this stuff really annoying, because it means people are reading stuff into the text that just isn’t there, and finding meaning that was not intended. I remember being at a group Bible study once when someone said: notice what word this verse begins with – it starts with “but”… and then started to talk about the significance of this. I was the annoying one who pointed out that the original text did not begin with “but”, it was just the way it got translated into English.
Here endeth today’s rant.