Most translations seem to agree that "Jealous" is the best translation for this passage. For example:

Exodus 34:14 (NASB)
—for you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God—

However, Young's Literal Translation chooses to use "Zealous", instead:

Exodus 34:14 (YLT)
for ye do not bow yourselves to another god -- for Jehovah, whose name [is] Zealous, is a zealous God.

What is the original word used here and what does it mean? Is "jealous" a good translation of it or does the original word carry a broader meaning than that?

5 Answers 5


The Hebrew word in Exodus 34:14 is קַנָּא, "jealous" (qanna'; Strong's 7067), from קָנָא (qana'; Strong's 7065), "jealous, zealous or envious."

Both times the English word "jealous" appears in Exodus 34:14, this is the Hebrew word. Strong's say of the root word mentioned above,

A primitive root; to be (causatively, make) zealous, i.e. (in a bad sense) jealous or envious:

KJV - (be) envy (-ious), be (move to, provoke to) jealous (-y),  very,
(be) zeal (-ous). 

So there is a sense that the root word looks back to the idea of zealous, but that would require interpretation and not pure translation. It appears that the majority translation of jealousy is the sense that this verse is trying to portray.

  • 1
    "So there is a sense that the root word looks back to the idea of zealous, but that would require interpretation and not pure translation." - I disagree. In Numbers 25:10-15 the root qanaa appears repeatedly, is translated differently in each of the various verses, but unambiguously means zealousness in verse 13.
    – Amichai
    Commented Oct 7, 2011 at 20:57
  • The KJV and NKJV do use Zealous in verse 13, The NASB and ESV use Jealous in the same place. The meaning is a nuance I think and I see your point, perhaps my language was more black and white than I intended it to be. Commented Oct 7, 2011 at 22:10

There is plenty of emphasis on literal meaning already so let's take a slightly different tack and think about what this reveals in a greater depth. If we compare it to its uses in the prophets, the word alone reveals a great deal of both God's character and his values. That, in its turn, gives us a deeper perspective on the word itself and why it is used--why no other word will do.

Many people don't like reading the prophets because they think it's all doom and gloom and God is just being mean and ugly and why can't he just be sweet and kind like we want him to be? Why can't God just live up to our expectations? Why isn't he more who we think he should be? But the answer of course is that he is so much more than we conceive.

"...I am very jealous for Zion; I am burning with jealousy for her." He declares in Zechariah 8:2. This verse uses the primary root, qana, which can more loosely mean zealous and from which the term in Exodus 20:5 (qanna) is taken. The derivative, which is the more specific term,jealousy, is the one God uses in Exodus 34 when he describes himself, and I have to say, I find this highly significant.

God's point of view is not our point of view. We forget that. We judge Him by human standards, but He is not human. He is something completely other and cannot be judged by any standard but the one He sets for Himself. For God, jealousy is a measure of His devotion, his passionate caring; for him it is a fire that consumes His enemies (Deuteronomy 4:24; Zephaniah 1:18) but it also protects and provides (Joel 2:8 and Isaiah 9:7) for those who belong Him.

This quality--something we tend to think of as possessiveness--should probably more accurately be translated "loyalty" in English, for this is the way God uses it. He is absolutely dependably loyal; he keeps his word even when we don't keep ours. His call is irrevocable... This is the loyalty He gives and this is the loyalty He requires for it is the measure of true love and commitment.

We are casual about loyalty. God isn't. We feel slightly guilty at betraying a trust, but it's not the worst thing--it's not like it's murder or something. There is no worse thing in God's lexicon of values: for God everything in the covenant relationship is based on us putting Him and what He requires of us first and foremost in our lives. Everything depends on loyalty and trust.

"In covenant contexts the terms "hate" and "love" (Exodus 20:6) were conventionally used to indicate rejection of or loyalty to the covenant Lord." NIV Study Bible Commentary, pg.115

In Conclusion

The primary characteristic of this term is the quality of loyalty. God keeps his word--and that is a very scary idea--as well as a comforting one.


The Hebrew phrase is:

כִּי יְהוָה קַנָּא שְׁמוֹ, אֵל קַנָּא הוּא

Most literally, the way I read it:

Because Yahweh jealous-es his name, a jealous God is he.

I think the best translation is on Wikisource:

Because you will not bow down to another god, because Yahweh is jealous of his name, he is a jealous god.

The sense is like a wife jealous of her husband spending time with another woman.

It should be noted that Septuagint has the plural "other gods" instead of "another god". I should point out that I just "feel" the reading because my Hebrew is native, not studied, so I might be missing some ancient nuance, but this case is pretty straightforward--- I think it is safe to say that Young is off base.


Jealous in Arabic is Ghayoor, Arabic is the closest relative to Hebrew. The Word Ghayoor come from the verb Ghara which mean dive or immerse , if there are similarities in the semitic languages. I would expect the origin of the Hebrew word be similar. Ghayoor (Jealous) is always a positive word. we say: a father is "Ghayoor-on his children" which mean he is constantly immerced watching over them for protecting them and giving them the best. Also we say a man is Ghayoor on(Jealous on) his career. It means he works hard to improve it with his (Jealousy) So there are two forms of Ghayoor: 1- Ghayoor 3ala = Jealous on (positive constructive) 2- Ghayoor min = Jealous from ( which means descent which points more towards envy but in Arabic envy is mostly used as the word '7hasad'. 7asad = envy comes from the verb 'sadda' = to block and the verb '7hasa' = irate

  • 2
    Are Ghayoor and Kana cognates? It might be Gana, Ganar, Ghayoor, but if the G is a guttaral, like "ayin" I have a hard time imagining the transformation. Is there a proto-semitic reconstruction?
    – Ron Maimon
    Commented Apr 5, 2012 at 18:42
  • 2
    Arabic is NOT the closest language to Hebrew, Aramaic is.
    – user2435
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 1:02

I would interpret the word as meaning "possessive." Some pros and cons of this translation are as follows:

#1) "Possessive" has many of the qualities of "jealous" and "zealous" but is less intense (toned down). When speaking about God perhaps a less intense tone is consistent with God's majesty.

#2) I am well aware that I show leanings to the two-letter root theorists since I am interpreting kuph-nun-aleph as similar in meaning to kuph-nun-hey (buy, purchase, possess). But I would respond that I am not disputing that roots are conjugated triliterally; I am simply asserting that collections of roots with a common two letters (the other letters being weak letters) very often show a commonality of meaning. This point is in fact made by Gesenius and can be checked as a frequent occurrence by examining one's favorite list of biblical roots.

#3) "Possessive" has a nuance of "rights" while both "jealous" and "zealous" have nuances focusing on feelings. In other words "jealous" and "zealous" tell us how God feels but do not directly tell us what he will do. Contrastively, "possessive" is emotionally neutral and tells us what God will do. He will seek the nation he "bought/acquired" from any foreign God that seeks to "steal" them. This is consistent with the passage.

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