THE WITNESS OF OTHER VERSIONS.
The number of English translations of the New Testament increas-
es year by year. We have Moffat's, Weymouth's, Williams',
Phillips', and many others. The number of translations of the Old
Testament is probably almost as great, and if we include the more
ancient versions, they may even exceed those of the New Testament.
Moreover, the Bible in whole or in part has been translated into
many hundreds of other languages, and the Jewish people themselves
have produced quite a few versions in their own vernacular. It is
these versions as well as those in various languages other than
English-Aramaic, Greek, Latin, and Hebrew (New Testament) - with
which this chapter is chiefly concerned.
The best known among the earliest of such other-than-English
versions is that commonly referred to as the Septuagint. This
Greek translation of the Old Testament was made, supposedly, by
some seventy Jewish scholars in the third century B.C. The origin
of the word "Septuagint" is to be found in the Epistle of Aristeas who
recorded that King Ptolemy Philadelphas (285 - 246 B.C.) at the
instigation of Demetrius of Phaleron, had determined to have a Greek
accordingly asked the High Priest Eleajar at Jerusalem to send a
commission of the most erudite Jewish scholars for the undertaking.
With alacrity, Eleajar dispatched 72 elders (six from each tribe) to
make this version.
It is considered unlikely that the whole of the Old Testament was
translated into Greek at one "sitting", but it is believed that at least
the Pentateuch was completed during Ptolemy Philadelphas' time and
that the remainder was completed later in Alexandria, probably
within 150 years.
Three subsequent Greek versions appeared. One, a literal
translation of the Hebrew by Aquila is dated around 128 A.D. A
second, by Theodotian is dated about 180 A.D., and a third of unknown
date was produced by Symmachus. These three were put into parallel
form by Origen along with the original Septuagint and accompanied
by a transliteration of the Hebrew text into Greek character s, to form
his great critical work, The Hexapla, only small fragments of which
It is with the original Septuagint that we are chiefly concerned here
and primarily with its rendering of Genesis Chapter 1. There are
numerous copies of this available and these do not differ significantly
with respect to the information they supply relevant to the present
issue. Remembering that this text originated in Egypt in an atmos-
phere of broad educational interests where the best of the tradition
and folklore and philosophy of the ancient world was being recorded
and preserved and where a certain cosmology had already crystall-
ized in a form which saw the first stage of creation as a Chaos rather
than a Cosmos, what the Jewish scholars have and have not seen fit
to recognize of the precise structure of the Hebrew original will be
better under stood. It is to be assumed that the translators them-
selves were scholars in the Hebrew of the Old Testament: but they
were also concerned to produce a rendering which would impress
their Greek readers with the "soundness" of the Mosaic Cosmology,
by which would be meant its essential concordance with the views of
the day though entirely free of any polytheistic element, as well as
the antiquity of their own history as a people to match that claimed
by the Egyptians for themselves. These two facts are important:
first, because the version makes one odd exception in this first
chapter in the handling of the Hebrew verb which is otherwise
not easily accounted for, an exception which allowed them to present
a cosmology that, like other pagan cosmologies, appeared to make
creation begin with a Chaos much as the Egyptian and Greek cosmog-
Hebrew chronology considerably, presumably in an attempt to give
a comparable antiquity to their own history, like that of the Egyptians.
Here, then, is a picture as it relates to their translation of this
Throughout the whole of Chapter 1, the Hebrew verb occurs
27 times. In verse 2 once, in verse 3 twice, in verse 5 twice, in
verse 6 twice, in verse 7 once, in verse 8 twice, in verse 9 once, in
verse 11 once, in verse 13 twice, in verse 14 twice, in verse 15
twice, in verse 19 twice, in verse 23 twice, in verse 24 once, in
verse 29 once, in verse 30 once, and in verse 31 twice. In 22 of
these instances the Septuagint has employed some form of the Greek
verb ie., "become". Of the remaining 5 occurrences
of , they have used some part of the Greek verb , In four
of these 5 cases the verb appears as an imperative directed
towards the future. Thus in verse 6 where the Hebrew has, "And
let it be a divider between, etc....", the Greek has used the future
of , ie., , "it shall be...." This seems quite proper.
The sense in all four instances is "to serve as" or "to serve for",
and not simply "to become" and although the meaning is similar, it
is not precisely the same. We have here not a change in fact, only
in function, a circumstance which is recognized by Lexicographers.
In verse 14 the Hebrew has (which even by the most
adverse of critics of the present thesis would be allowed to mean
"become" since the verb is followed by the Hebrew lamedh), the
Septuagint has which falls into the same class of verbal
forms as verse 6. The same is precisely true of verse 15 where, as
inverse 14, the is accompanied by a lamedh and should certainly
have been rendered "Let them become as lights....", the Septuagint
again uses the form of command - . In verse 29 there is
either a straightforward future sense or a form of command (once
again the being followed by lamedh) and so the Greek employs a
simple future of the verb "to be", meaning either "let it be...." or
"it shall be...."
Now this, then, accounts for all the occurrences of the verb
save one, and this exception occurs in verse 2. Here, for reasons
which are worth considering, they made an exception. But just to
show how really exceptional this case is, it may be well to note in
summary that, excluding these occurrences of the Hebrew verb
which are strictly future or in the imperative mood, ie., verses
6, 14, 15, and 29 (all of which have been rendered in the Authorized
Version as "Let it be for", "Let them be for", "It shall be for...."),
the Septuagint scholars uniformly rendered by the Greek
verb so showing that they viewed it in this context
as meaning "become" and not as a simple copula. Thus there
is only one case out of 23 occurrences of the verb which they
have made an exception and treated it as a copula, translating it in
verse 2 as , thereby presenting the reader with the opening words
of Gen.1.2 as : ie., "But the earth was...." a circum-
stance strongly influencing Jerome as he produced the Latin Vulgate
which in turn served as a basic guide in many cases to all the other
Western versions from the Authorized to the present day. As a
consequence, the Universe appears to have begun as a Chaos.
Now the word Chaos had a rather special meaning in Greek thought.
It did not necessarily signify what we mean by a situation which has
become so badly disrupted that it is a ruin. The Greek concept
tended rather to mean only the infinity of space: not an engineered
dis-order but an early stage of development before order had been
imposed on the Universe. The opposite of Chaos is Cosmos.
The first stage in the development of the Cosmos was therefore
being presented as a stage of total emptiness - and this total empti-
ness was termed Chaos. In Appendix II it will be seen that Ovid
defined it as, "Rudis indigestaque moles", ie., "A shapeless mass
unwrought and unordered". Webster defines Chaos as, "The void
and form less infinite; the confused, unorganized state of primordial
matter before the creation of distinct or orderly forms". But this
interpretation of the word was a later one, held only by Roman authors
and not by the Greeks, and when the Septuagint was being written,
the word Chaos almost certainly still bore its more ancient meaning,
ie., the infinity of empty space. In time it came to be viewed as
not so much empty space but as unorganized matter.
Thus it is not really too surprising that the Jews who formed
the translation Committee of the Septuagint and who knew too well
that the Version they produced was to take its place beside the lit-
erature of Greece in the great library at Alexandria, should seek, but
without actually distorting the Hebrew text, to make it possible to look
upon it as a reflection of the same basic cosmogony as was commonly
accepted at that time. Yet they did NOT, be it noted, actually use
the word Chaos as a translation of the Hebrew tohu where it might
have seemed the obvious thing to do if this is how they saw the earth's
condition in verse 2. I think their use of term s other than the Greek
word Chaos is a significant indicator of their view of Gen. 1.2.
That the words in Gen. 1.2, however, have a very different meaning
from the Greek Chaos or the modern "nebulus", is shown later (in
were quite aware of this. So they left the meaning “open” by a
transliteration which was true in part but not the whole truth and
could be interpreted by the reader with some freedom to adjust the
meaning to his own particular preconceptions. The earth was a
"chaos", whether initially or as a consequence of some intervening
event it is not specifically made clear in the Greek version, even
though they did as shown above, use instead of for the particle
between verse land verse 2. It may be argued that a Jewish reader
would not necessarily see such a significance in the use of as
many commentators have done since, including Jerome. Yet
Onkelos evidently did, for he viewed the situation as a Chaos, not in
the Greek sense but in the more modern sense, a destroyed rather
than a waiting-to-be-ordered world. In conclusion, therefore, in
Genesis chapter 1, wherever is clearly indicative of a change or
a becoming, the Septuagint has in all but one case (22 out of 23) used
the Greek . And, as Thayer has underscored, it is most
important to note that the verb is not to be equated with
. The Septuagint were, it would appear, consciously depart-
ing from their normal practice in verse 2.
Now according to my count the Septuagint rendered by
some 146 times in Genesis alone: in Genesis and Exodus together, 201
times; in the Pentateuch, some 298 times; and in the whole of the
Old Testament, close to 1500 times. Since the Old Testament uses
the verb approximately 3570 times, it appears that in nearly
half its occurrences the Septuagint considered the correct sense to be
"become". A very large number of the cases where occurs
refer to the future as a changed circumstance where, as we have
seen, it is necessary to introduce it since it is no longer merely
copulative: quite properly this demanded in Greek the simple future
of the verb "to be". On a fair number of occasions the Septuagint
has taken the Hebrew original and paraphrased it, rendering the verb
"to be" followed by some other verbal form as a single verb which
comprehends the composite of the Hebrew original. I do not know
exactly how often these two situations (future tenses and paraphrastic
renderings) occur, but it must account probably for a fair percentage
of the balance of appearances of the Hebrew verb . When we add
'those instances in which the Hebrew verb appears as an imperative,
and those in which it has the meaning of "existing" (ie., living), we
shall not be far wrong if we conclude that in the great majority of
cases the Septuagint did not look upon the meaning of the Hebrew verb
as mere "being" in the copulative sense but as "becoming" or "coming
In summary, I think it is safe to say that is seldom considered
by the Septuagint as meaning "is" or "was", and that their rendering
of it in Gen. 1.2 as was probably in order to avoid conflict with
the accepted cosmogony held in Alexandria and by the Greeks gen-
erally . For such a conflict would have appeared, had they translated
Gen. 1.2 as "But the earth had become unorganized....", since this
clearly implies that it had not been so in the beginning.
We have already made reference to the Targum of Onkelos, but in
order to make this Chapter more or less complete in itself, a brief
review of what this Targum represents may be in order.
The word Targum, (from Ragamu, "to speak", in certain Semitic
languages) is a term for the Aramaic versions or paraphrases of the
Old Testament which became necessary when, after or perhaps
during the Babylonian exile, Hebrew began to die out as the common
language of the people and was supplanted by Aramaic. The first
evidence of a Targum as an already existing body of accepted Aramaic
paraphrase has been found by some authorities in Neh. 8.8. Accord-
ing to tradition, Ezra and his coadjutors were the original founders".
There grew up a certain accepted rendering into Aramaic of parts of
the Old Testament which assumed something of the status that the
Authorized Version did in the seventeenth century in England. The
Mishnah or official Commentary of the Jews on the Old Testament
soon contained a number of injunctions respecting the "Targum", but
for many centuries it was preserved orally and not written down.
All that is now extant of these traditional "renderings" are three
distinct "Targums" on the Pentateuch, a Targum on the Prophets,
Targum son the Hagiographa (Psalms, Job, Proverbs), and the five
Magilloth (Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Esther, and Ecc-
lesiastes), another Targum on Esther, one on Chronicles, one on
Daniel, and one on the Apocrypha.
The most important of the three Pentateuch Targums is named
after Onkelos, probably a corruption of Aquila, a proselyte and one
of Gamaliel's pupils. Aquila's Greek version became so popular
that the Aramaic version current at the time was credited to him.
It appears that this Targum originated among the scholars of Rabbi
Akiba between 150 - 200 A.D. in Palestine. It was later sent to
Babylonia where it was modified and edited and vowelled in the Baby-
lonian manner about 300 A. D. Hence arose the Babylonian Targum.
The oral tradition behind it may therefore be traced to about 150
A.D. , but it could in fact be considerably earlier. Hence at or
about this time we have an Aramaic version of Gen. 1.2 which reads
the earth was destroyed", where the Aramaic verb has the meaning
"to cut", "to lay waste", or "to destroy", a rendering reflected in
the traditional Midrash interpretation quoted from Ginsberg (see
page 14 above).
The next version to be examined is the Vulgate. Jerome, or
more accurately, Sophronius Eusebius Hieronymous, its author, was
born in the city of Stridon on the borders of Dalmatia and Pannonia,
some time between 331 and 340 A.D. At about the age of 20, he was
sent to a Rom an school where he studied the classical authors under
Aclius Donatus. He later attended the University at Trier and
Aquileia, where he studied theology. After a tour of the East which
ended in 373 and after a severe illness, he adopted the ascetic life
and spent four years in the desert near Antioch where he studied
Hebrew. He was ordained in 379 and three years later visited Rome
on official ecclesiastical business from Antioch. In Rome he began
his work on the translation of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures into
Latin. This great work was completed before he died in 420 A.D.
and since that time remained in use throughout the Roman Church.
Of chief concern here is his rendering of the verb , especially
in the first chapter of Genesis. In his translation he consistently
has factum (or facta) est (ie., "became") wherever the Septuagint
has , and in verse 2 he has "Terra autem erat....", ie.,
"The earth, however, was....", thus faithfully reflecting the Greek
version. Whether he really was governed in this by what he found
in the Septuagint or was independently convinced that he was correctly
translating in each instance, we shall, of course, never know. But
this much at least can be said: once he had passed beyond verse 2,
he had no hesitation thereafter in equating the meaning of the Hebrew
verb with the Latin for "became", and he adopted this rendering
in 13 occurrences in the first chapter of Genesis alone. His depart-
ure from this general principle in verse 2 thus seems odd and looks
suspiciously like a Septuagint influence.
Now, if we allow that the term "Version" really means nothing
more than "Translation into a different language", we have another
non-English "Version" that may be allowed to bear its independent
witness - and this is the New Testament wherever it quotes the
Old Testament. For here the Hebrew original is translated by
inspiration (I believe) into Greek.
According to the Oxford Cyclopedic Concordance, there are 277
quotations from the Old Testament in the New, which are more or
less exact. There are, of course, many inexact quotations or
ly exact as to wording to allow the drawing of any conclusions about
equivalent verbal meanings within the two languages.
Of these 277 quotations, only 29 are of such a form that the verb
"to be" is an essential part of the English rendering in the Authorized
Version. In one case (No. 5 in the list below) the situation is
confused by the fact that the New Testament uses a different sentence
Of the 28 quotations remaining, the Old Testament in 20 cases
omits the verb entirely, its use being not required since the
meaning is copulative. This leaves us with only 9 clearcut examples
upon which to attempt the formulation of some kind of guiding prin-
ciple. The number is far too small to allow of any certainty - yet
there seems to be some measure of consistency.
To begin with, here are the 29 quotations.
(1) Matt.23.39 (Mk. 11.9): "Blessed is He...."
Psa.118.26: identical -is is omitted in Hebrew.
(2) Mk.10.8: "They shall be into one flesh" ( ).
So also LXX.
Gen. 2.24:" They shall become....", with .
(3) Mk.12.29: "The Lord our God is one Lord...." ( ).
So also the LXX
Deut.6.4: In Hebrew, is is omitted.
(4) Lu.4.18: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me...."
Isa.61.1: In Hebrew, is is omitted.
(5) Lu.19.46: "My house is the house of prayer...." ( ,
Isa.56.7: "My house shall be called...." (different verb
(6) Lu.20.17 (Matt. 21.42): "The same has become the Head of
the corner", ie, ,
so also the LXX.
Psa.118.22,23: "Has become, as it were, the head....",
(7) Jn.10.34: "I said ye are gods...."( ), so also LXX.
Psa.82.6: "I said, gods (are) ye....", no verb in Hebrew.
(8) Acts 13.33: "Thou art My Son" ( ).
Psa.2.7: "Thou, My Son", no verb in Hebrew.
(9) Rom. 3.10: "There is none that...." ( occurs through-
Psa.14.1,3: "There, no God.....", Hebrew omits verb
shall there be.... ( ).
Psa.69.25: "Let it become that their habitation be a deso-
lated one.... and no one shall become a dweller in
their tents...." ...
(11) Acts 7.32, 33: I am the God of your fathers...., ....is
Exod.3.6: verb omitted in both clauses.
(12) Acts7.49.50: "Heaven is my throne...."
Isa.66.1: verb omitted throughout.
(13) Rom. 3.13-16: Verb is is omitted throughout.
Psa. 5. 9 and 36.1: verb omitted throughout.
(14) Rom.4. 7, 8: "Blessed are they whose sins are forgiven...
Psa. 32.1,2: verb omitted in both cases.
(15) Rom.4.18: "So shall thy seed be...."
Gen. 15.5: "So shall thy seed become...."
(16) Rom. 11. 9, 10: "Let their table be as a snare....
Psa. 69.22: ".... become before them as a snare...."
(17) I Cor. 6.16: "They shall be ( )..... ( ) into
Gen. 2. 24: ... "They shall become as it were...."
(18) I Cor. 10.26: "The earth is the Lord s...."
Psa. 24.1: Hebrew verb omitted,
(19) I Cor. 15.54: "Death is swallowed up... where is thy vict-
Isa. 25. 8: Verb omitted in Hebrew. The quotation reads
slightly differently in Hos.13.14: I will become
thy ( ).... plague, oh death.... I will become
( ) thy destruction, O grave". This is not an exact
quote from the Old Testament to the New Testament:
where the Greek has ....
"Where, oh death, is your victory?"
(20) Gal. 3.13: "Cursed is every one that hangeth...."
Deut.21.23: Verb omitted in Hebrew.
(21) Heb.1.5: "Son of Mine, art Thou..."( ....)
Psa. 2.7: Verb omitted in Hebrew ("My Son, Thou....").
Num. 16.5: Hebrew omits verb.
(23) Heb.1.5: "I will be to him as a Father...."
II Sam. 7.14: "I will become to him as a Father...."
(24) Heb. 1. 8: "Thy throne is forever...."
Psa. 45.6: Hebrew omits the verb.
(25) Heb.2.6: "What is man that..."( ..)
Psa.8.4: verb omitted.
(26) Heb.5.6: "You, a priest..." ( ..)
Psa.110.4: Hebrew omits verb.
(27) Heb. 9.20: "This is the blood of the Covenant...."
Exod.24.8: Hebrew omits the verb.
(28) I Pet.1.16: "Be ye holy...." ( -imperative)
Lev. 11.44: "Become ye holy (imperative) for I am holy..."
This is an important illustration of the prin-
ciple. The people were to become what God is.
Thus the verb is proper in the first but not in the
(29) I Pet.1.24: "All flesh is grass".
Isa.40.6: Hebrew omits the verb.
Of these examples as already observed, nine only [ie. , Nos. (2)
(6), (10), (15), (16), (17), (19), (23), and (28)] involve the verb
in the Hebrew of the text of the Old Testament. From this small
body of information the following "rules"* seem to appear:
RULE N0.1. From the five references numbered as (2), (6),
(16), (17), and (23) it appears that where in the Hebrew the verb
is employed followed by , the New Testament writers were led to
use either the simple future of the verb "to be" [in (2) , and
in (23) ] or the verb "became" [in (6) and (16) - ,
] followed by the preposition ("into"). It would
seem that the best English literal rendering for both the Hebrew and
the Greek, where appears in the latter and in the former,
* It is virtually certain that these rules will prove to
be totally inadequate but at feast they make a starting point,
and nothing more is claimed for them than just that.
(2) and (17): "They shall become, as it were, one flesh".
(6): "He shall become, as it were, the head of the corner".
(16): "Their table, let it become, as it were, a snare".
(17): "They shall become, as it were, one body".
(23): "I will become to Him, as it were, a Father".
In each instance the thought expressed is that the end result shall
be analogously such-and-such. Thus in (2) and (17) the man and
wife do not literally become one body but only analogously. It cannot
have reference to the fact that children are to be born who will bodily
sum up the parents because many couples are childless and yet are
so united as to fulfill the real conditions of "oneness" which is to be
the hallmark of a true marriage. In (6) a man shall become in
effect a stone, the stone which is the key to the stability and com-
pleteness of the rest of the building; meaning surely that the Lord
will analogously be a corner stone - not in actual fact: and in (16)
a table is to become a snare, but only in a manner of speaking. And
in (23): "I will become, as it were, Father to Him" is a very signif-
icant statement for it implies that there is a special meaning to this
Father-Son relationship, and that this relationship cannot be precise-
ly spelled out in reference to the merely human situation. No
human son exists until he is begotten of his father, whereas the Lord's
relationship to His Father was something far more than this.
Thus, in each of these cases, there would seem to be an important
reason for using the verb followed by . In each case, more-
over, there is a change involved. In many instances in the Old
Testament there is a change of state, and in many there is a change
of status. Stars are to become time-setters, a woman is to become
a man's wife (cf. Gen. 20.12), a river is to become blood.... , and so
on. The rule here, then, seems to be that is required when the
change is more analogous than real. The stars remained stars, the
woman a woman, the river a river: each achieved a new significance.
RULE NO.2. In three cases, (10), (15), and (19), the Old
Testament uses without the and one must therefore assume that
analogy is not in view, but a real "conversion" into something diff-
in (10), a habitation will literally become a desolation.
in (15), Abram's seed (singular) literally becomes a great
in (19), God the Creator will become a Destroyer, of Death.
sistently implies a change of state (or status), the addition of adds
a distinct nuance to the sense in which the "becoming" takes place.
That is, it takes place only in an analogous sense, whereas without
the following the verb may still be properly rendered "become" but
it is "becoming" in a more literal sense, a transformation of one
thing into another, not "as it were" but absolutely.
We have now accounted for 8 out of the 9 occurrences marked off
for consideration. The ninth case (28) is readily disposed of, the
clear intent of the text being to indicate a command and the verb in
both the Hebrew and the Greek being required to make the Imperative
Thus it seems reasonably certain that whenever the simple cop-
ulative use of the verb "to be" is involved, the Hebrew omits ,
though the Greek does not always follow the same rule. However,
the Greek does show that if appears in the Old Testament in any
of the passages quoted in the New Testament, some specific method
must be adopted to convey a precise meaning which is always more
than the mere copula. We may observe that either a future is
involved, or a command, or the sense of "becoming", which thus
demands the use of the verb . These conclusions are
borne out even in those indirect quotations so far examined. Thus
in Rom. 9.29 for example: "(Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left
us a seed) we also had become ( ), as Sod-
om...." The original, Isa.1.9, has: ie.,
"We would have become as Gomorrah (as to) our likeness".
In summary, then, on the basis of this admittedly meagre sample,
it appears that wherever in the Old Testament no change of state or
status is intended or implied or commanded or predicted, the verb
is entirely absent. But whenever a change is intended or
implied or commanded or predicted, the verb is expressed by some
form of - either with or without lamedh following, depending
upon whether the transformation is viewed as analogous or real.
The New Testament in rendering the Old Testament quotations into
Greek seems to have followed this rule. It is also clear that in the
20 cases where the verb omitted, the meaning is purely cop-
ulative, a fact borne out by the New Testament Greek which either
follows suite and omits any verb or uses the simple present tense
of the verb "to be", ie. always but never . When
the present tense is not used but some other tense or mood is called
for, the future involving a real change from the present, as for
example in (2), (15), (17), and (23), or the imperative as in (28), the
ed. It is, in short, a rule according to the testimony of these 29
quotations that Hebrew does not employ the verb copulatively:
and that whenever it does employ it, it is to convey the future, a
command, or the sense of "becoming".
Finally, we may turn to one further form of evidence, namely, the
translations which have been made of the New Testament into Hebrew.
Of those made by Ginsberg and Delitzsch, Heward observed:
"It is important to see that the Kal or simple conjugation
of the verb does have the force of 'become'. In the
standard Hebrew translations of the New Testament the Kal
is employed by the Greek (to become) in more than
half the occurrences in Ephesians and Colossians - and no
Such modern versions of the New Testament do not, of course,
carry the weight of inspiration, so that the usage in each particular
instance has been determined purely by human judgment. Yet it is
important to see that here, too, has in the majority of cases been
taken as a proper verb for the sense of "becoming". To attach this
meaning to it most assuredly does not impose a strain upon it. It is
its most common, not its least common, sense. I do not have a
Ginsberg or a Delitzsch rendering into Hebrew of the New Testament.
The version in my possession was published by the Trinitarian Bible
Society (London) with no specific authorship ascribed to it. However,
it is most probably based on Ginsberg. Almost all English versions
stem ultimately from the Authorized Version which formed their
starting point, although the "Modern English" versions owe perhaps
least in this regard - and a paraphrase such as Phillips' or The
Amplified Version owe even less, of course.
But assuming that the New Testament I have is the work of Hebrew
scholars, we may examine it with benefit in order to see to what
extent the Greek "became" is rendered back into Hebrew by use of
the verb . For this purpose, I began with the Student's Con-
cordance to the Revised Version (not the Revised Standard Version,
note) and from it was led to the following passages, in all of which
the Hebrew translation has where both the Greek and the English
Matt. 18.3; "Except ye be converted and become as little
children....." Of which the Greek is "....
...."which is rendered into Hebrew "to become as (little).
children", ie., .
John 1.12: "To them gave He power to become the sons of
God.....", ".... .....", which in
Hebrew is rendered: , ie., "to become sons
with respect to God".
John 9.39: ".... the seeing shall become blind, and the blind
shall become seeing....", which appears in the Greek as
", that is to
say, "those not seeing, seeing, and those seeing becoming blind".
The verb is perhaps intended to serve both clauses though
being introduced but once at the end of the sentence. The Hebrew
translation is: , ie., "the
blind shall become see-ers and the see-ers shall become blind". It
is quite true that if the present thesis is incorrect, this could just
as well have been rendered, "the blind shall be see-ers and the
see-ers be blind", but we have the New Testament as a guide here -
indicating that what is intended is "shall become" not merely "shall
be". And it is therefore to be noted that Hebrew simply has no
other way of expressing the sense of "becoming" - nor is it required
that the verb be followed by in order to convey this meaning, as
is so often argued. On the other hand, when a change of status IS
involved, is followed by : as in Acts 1.22 when a believer
becomes also an apostle. "One must be ordained to become a
witness....", is in the Greek,
literally, "a witness of the resurrection of Him
with us to become"). In the Hebrew this has been rendered thus:
..... ie., "He was taken
from among us, one who shall become with us a witness...." Thus
was Matthias ordained and numbered among the twelve.
In the sense of "happening to" someone, the verb is used in
the Hebrew New Testament in Acts 7.40, "We know not what has
become of him....", ie., , ie., "We do not
know what has happened to him".
In Acts 7.52 there is an interesting illustration of the difference
between the merely copulative use of the verb "to be" and that use
which signifies a changed status. The English reads: "Of whom
ye have been now the betrayers and murderers". The Hebrew
translation omits the verb before the word "betrayers" but inserts
it before "murderers": ie.,
"Whom you (are) the betrayers and have become, with respect to
Him, as murderers". It may be that the verb is intended to serve
for both clauses.... but it may also be that a mere betrayer remains
for his status has definitely changed. At any rate, the associated
lamedh ( ) appears only before the word "murderers" as though to
signify the special sense in which they had become murderers - not
by them selves laying hands on Him but by having others perform the
deed with their authorization.
In Acts 12.18 we have an excellent example of the pluperfect use, in
which the subject precedes the verb. The English reads: "As soon
as it was day, then a great stir was there among the soldiers to see
what was become of Peter". In Hebrew this passage becomes:
which, rendered literally, would be: "(Came) the morning light and
a great stir had there come about among the men of war saying,
What has become of (ie., happened to) Peter?". The dramatic
effect of this sentence is evident enough. Certainly the sense here
is "to happen" or "come about", and by paying attention to the word
order one observes the use of the pluperfect which adds to the vivid-
ness of the whole situation.
In Rom. 2.25 the verb appears in the niphal or passive voice
and has the meaning of "be made into" or "turned into", followed by
and the sense is thus: "thy circumcision is made into no circum-
cision at all", ie., "thy circumcision is converted into un-circum-
cision in reality". This is a meaning found in the Old Testament
also, as in Exod.38.24, for example.
In I Cor. 9.22 and 23 the Greek has
..... : ie., "to the weak I became weak.... to all I became
all things.... in order that I might become a partaker of it". In
Hebrew, is here consistently replaced by : the verbal
forms appearing as " twice, and once.
In I Cor. 13.11, "when I became a man", ie., ,
in Hebrew appears as , ie., "and when I became
as a man" and thus achieved the status of manhood, again being
followed by signifying this change of status.
In II Cor. 5.21, speaking of "achieving" the righteousness of God
in Christ Jesus, the Hebrew is ,
meaning "In order that we might become in Him as the righteousness
of God". The lamedh signifies a change of status once again. The
Hebrew is for the Greek .
In Gal. 3.13: "(Christ) hath redeemed us from the curse of the
law) becoming on our behalf a curse...." appears in the Greek as
. In the Hebrew translation this is
our behalf a cursed thing". Lamedh follows since this was
indeed a change of status for the Holy One of God.
In Rev. 11.15 appear the words, ".... saying, The kingdoms of
this world have become (the kingdoms) of our Lord". Here the Greek
and the Hebrew has: or literally,
"saying, The kingdoms of the earth have become, our Lord's".
Now in the light of Thayer's conclusion that is never
to be confused with in Greek since its proper meaning is
"becoming", not "being", it is a little surprising to discover that in
the Authorized Version (as indexed by Young's Concordance) the
Greek verb is translated "to be" some 250 times and "to
become" only 42 times. However, an examination of those instances
where the sense "to be" has been given to this verb in the Authorized
Version will soon reveal that the rendering "become" would be equally
valid, if not to be preferred, in the great majority of cases. Indeed
at the heading of this list, Young himself gives the true meaning of
the Greek verb as "to become"! A few random cases will reveal
the validity of the above observation.
Matt. 5.45 (Young's first entry) is given as "That ye may be the
children of your Father", which is clearly more correctly to be read
as, "That ye may become the children of your Father....", a state-
ment exactly in accord with Jon. 1.12. In Mark 6.26, "the king was
exceedingly sorry", means in point of fact that he became exceeding-
ly sorry", for this is what we really mean in such a context since it
was a consequence of what preceded.
Luke 2.13, "Suddenly there was with the angel...." is clearly a
change, more expressively, "suddenly there came to be with the
angel...." John 4.14, ".... shall be in him a well of water...."
is clearly, ".... shall always be in him a well of water...." And
so forth. I do not say that it must always be so rendered, for
sometimes the sense involves an imperative, for example. But in
the majority of cases it should be. In a number of instances the
range of meanings of the Hebrew verb is found here in this Greek
verb by much the same processes of idea-extension. It
may mean "to happen", "to come about", "to live" or "exist" (as in
I Cor. 2.3 for example), and so forth. It has occasionally the mean-
ing of "counting for" or "amounting to". But it is very, very seldom
indeed that is employed as a mere copulative. I think
it possible that it is so employed more frequently than the Hebrew
is since the latter almost certainly never is, but its normal
is "to be".
This is quite clearly borne out by the lexicographers. Thus
Thayer gives its meanings as: (1) "to become", "to come into exist-
ence", "to begin to be", "to receive being"; (2) "to become", ie., "to
come to pass", "to happen"; (3) "to arise" in the sense of "appearing
in History"; (4) "to be made", "to be done", "to be finished"; and
(5) "to become" or "to be made" in situations where a new rank, or
character, etc. , is involved. This last is analogous to the force
of where a change of status is in view, as when a woman becomes
It will be observed that Thayer does not list in his five classes of
meanings the simple copulative idea -is, was, shall be, etc. On
the other hand, he expressly states that this is the prime significance
of the Greek verb ,"to be". It would seem, therefore, that
the scholars who translated the New Testament of the Authorized
Version either were not aware of the true distinction between
and OR did not themselves distinguish between "being" and
"becoming" in English. If one examines Young's list of occurr-
ences under the word "to be" as an English translation of the verb
(the 3rd column of page 73 in my edition of that Concord-
ance) one finds that almost always the verb is rendered
in the Hebrew version of the New Testament by and the sense is
strictly "became". There are occasional exceptions. In Matt. 9.2 9
an entirely different Hebrew verb is used ( ) which means "let it
be established for you....", which is surely most appropriate.
Another exception is in Matt .16.2 where the translator of the Hebrew
version must have considered the word is in this verse ("when it is
evening") as purely copulative, for he has decided to omit the verb
entirely. This could possibly be a case where is used
copulatively. But certainly such occasions do not seem very
frequent. Indeed, even in Greek, the simple copulative verb is apt
to be omitted where one might expect to find it according to English
modes of expression. When it is omitted, the Hebrew version
follows suite - as in Matt. 24.32 for example, "Ye know that summer
is nigh....", or in Matt. 24.37, "But as the days of Noah were...."
In Matt.26.5 and 27.45 the Hebrew translator took the sense as simply
copulative and omitted the verb , though appears in
One must clearly bear in mind that the Hebrew version of the New
Testament is not an inspired one. It constantly involved human
judgment. And although perhaps the translator worked prayerfully
expect to find in the original Scriptures. I think we must either
assume that in such seemingly copulative uses in the New Testament
Greek we have in reality something more than appears to the casual
reader (in which case the Hebrew version is not accurately interpret-
ing the text) or we have some cases where the normal verb "to
become" is for some reason being used exceptionally. It is possible
of course, that our Greek New Testament is itself a version, a
translation of an original Aramaic, at least where the Gospels are
concerned, as Lamsda would argue.
From such examples* it would appear that whereas in moving from
Greek to Hebrew the Greek may be viewed as copulative and will not
be represented by any corresponding verb, in moving from Hebrew
to any other language it is safe to interpret the absence of the verb
as prima facie evidence that the sense of the original is cop-
ulative. In short, in so far as arguments have validity when based
on a study of an uninspired Hebrew version of the Greek New Test-
ament, there is evidence enough that the verb is virtually always
employed in Hebrew when the meaning is something other than the
simple one of "being". Thus is not the normal word for "being"
even in the minds of modern translators, but it is the normal word
for "becoming" and there is, in fact, no other way in which a Hebrew
writer can express the idea of becoming except by its use.
Thus, in considering the meaning of Gen. 1.2, we have two factors
to take note of. If the verb is merely copulative, the writer could
have made this quite clear by omitting it entirely. Then there would
have be en no doubt about it. But he did NOT omit the verb. On the
contrary, there was no other way in which he could have expressed
the idea of "becoming" and the presence of the verb should therefore
be taken as having this significance. It is no longer sufficient to
appeal to the old clich that means "become" only when followed
by lamedh. The many versions in English do not support this argu-
ment at all. A quite cursory examination of the Authorized Version
shows 30 or more passages in which without the lamedh is rend-
ered "became" or "become". Indeed, in more than one third of the
occurrences of in the original text, this is the case. A similar
examination of the Revised Standard Version shows about the same
number of occasions, actually about 25% of all occurrences of
* Further examples will be found in Appendix XVII.
ten cases in Genesis alone.* Such lists do not include the numerous
occasions where is followed, not by lamedh, but by some other
preposition, such as , etc. ,# where it is still rendered as 'became'
in the English versions. Nor do these lists include numerous
occasions where the meaning is clearly "became" in spite of the fact
that no English version currently available has indicated the fact:
such passages, for example, as Exod.23.29, "Lest the land become
desolate......", or Ezek.26.5, "It shall become a place for the
spreading of nets...."
Thus, no special pleading is required to establish the fact that
the verb in Gen. 1.2 is most unlikely to be a mere copula. Those
who decline to adopt this principle of rendering as became rather
than was are surely far more in danger of attempting to "explain
away" the original text than are those of us who do accept it, for we
are being guided by what certainly seems from the evidence to be the
rule rather than the exception.
* See Appendix XVIII for lists of references to these
# See Appendix X for references.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved