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I am reading through Genesis in the ESV for the first time and was struck by some unfamiliar wording in Genesis 6:3. It reads: "My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years."

I checked about half a dozen or so other translations, and they all use strive with, contend with, or some similar variant rather than "abide in," except the RSV which agrees with the ESV.

I think the ESV/RSV reading is interesting and wonder if anyone can tell me anything about it's accuracy or the possible reasoning behind the choice?

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Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics—Stack Exchange! Related, but not identical: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/q/1261/68 Interesting question. By the time we're done, we'll have analysed every word in Genesis 6! –  Jon Ericson Mar 12 '12 at 23:37
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1 Answer

The verse:

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, לֹא-יָדוֹן רוּחִי בָאָדָם לְעֹלָם, בְּשַׁגַּם, הוּא בָשָׂר; וְהָיוּ יָמָיו, מֵאָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה.

The word translated "abide in" is יָדוֹן . The root dalet-vav-nun concerns judgment or discussion, according to 501 Hebrew Verbs. This use is passive. I think the translator means "abide (in)" in the sense of "I can't abide this situation", not the sense of "dwell" that you might otherwise infer (and that I think I've seen in some translations). A better root if "dwell" were meant would be yud-shin-vet.

Another way to translate this might be "tolerate" -- "I will not tolerate My spirit (which gives life) being in man forever".

I don't think "strive" or "contend" is quite right; a better word to convey that sense would be neged (nun-gimel-dalet).


Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of a religious belief or doctrine.

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Interesting-- thanks for helping to clarify this for me. :) –  Leah Mar 13 '12 at 19:00
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