Genesis 15:6, in Masoretic text and JPS 1917, reads as follows:

וְהֶאֱמִ֖ן בַּֽיהוָ֑ה וַיַּחְשְׁבֶ֥הָ לּ֖וֹ צְדָקָֽה׃
And he believed in the LORD; and He counted it to him for righteousness.

The capital "H" on the second "He" suggests the traditional understanding of this verse. But do the words and grammar allow for a different interpretation since pronouns are never capitalized in the original Hebrew text?

And there is no second 'he' in the Hebrew verse, so it should read:

"And he believed in the LORD and counted it to him for righteousness."

Please note the 3rd footnote.

[3] http://www.jesuswordsonly.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=169%3Achapter-26-7jwo-genesis-156&catid=2%3Ajwos&Itemid=32

  • This is a much more to the point version of your other question, but it heavily depends on what translation you are using as different traditions will print the male pronouns with "H" or "h" differently with respect to their doctrinal beliefs. I think most of the time that this is intended to make clear that the pronoun is referring to the LORD and not some other male referent as opposed to an interpretive slant done in translation. – Alex Durbin Aug 11 '16 at 17:58
  • Alex, Yes it does depend on the translation. Some translations reveal a bias to one interpretation or another. But the salient point is that the original Hebrew does not use capitals for pronouns. – Wolfgang Aug 11 '16 at 18:24

Gen 15:6 is completely ambiguous in masoretic manuscript. Any translation that does not preserve this ambiguity is in fact an interpretation.

The verse has two third person verbs, "he believed" and "he accounted", the second with a direct object pronoun "he accounted it/him", and one proposition phrase with the explicit third person pronoun "him", "righteousness for him".

If we assume that there are only two possible referents for the third person for the declensions and pronoun, God and Abram, and the object of "accounted" is "it", referring to the faith rather than either God or Abram, then there are only eight possible readings for this verse, including such readings as "God believed in God and God accounted it to God for righteousness" and Abram believed in God and Abram accounted it to Abram for righteousness.

Eliminating the obviously silly readings, we are left with two:

  1. Abram believed in God and God accounted it to Abram for righteousness
  2. Abram believed in God and Abram accounted it (God's promise) as righteousness

In context, the first reading is the simplest. God made Abram an outlandish promise and Abram believed it and therefore God counted this belief as righteousness on the part of Abram.

The objection to this reading raised by the RAMBAN and the Jewish rationalist school influenced by Aristotle is that the simple reading presents us with an unacceptable anthropomorphism - God is represented as thinking and keeping tabs on Abram, checking up to see if Abram is going to swallow the promise. Or maybe that God was pleasantly surprised by Abram's belief. However, the alternative reading leaves open the possibility that without having received the promise, maybe Abram wouldn't have though God to be righteous, i.e. "I'll believe in You if I get what I want".

Apropos the OP link, I think that trying to either justify or negate a major religious doctrine using a single verse of this type is asking for trouble.

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Good question. First I would suggest not going by a fringe, unorthodox source like Jesuswordsonly.com.

Secondly, I claim no Hebrew expertise, but point out that the normal understanding of this verse — that God counted Abram's faith as righteousness — has been agreed upon by both Jews and Christians for eons. This is evidenced by the Septuagint — the 2nd-3rd-century BC translation produced by Jews themselves — which renders 15:6 as:

“Abram believed in God, and it was imputed to him for/unto righteousness.” καὶ ἐπίστευσεν Αβραμ τῷ θεῷ καὶ ἐλογίσθη αὐτῷ εἰς δικαιοσύνην

That rendering necessitates the Pauline understanding in the New Testament.

Perhaps the Jews altered the text of that verse after the Apostolic era.

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  • Thank you Andy for showing that the LXX agreed with Paul. We do know that the LXX that is extant is significantly older than the Masoretic. Have you checked the Dead Sea Scrolls? That might break the "tie". – Ruminator Jan 16 '19 at 1:33
  • Never mind - it doesn't seem to be in the scrolls. – Ruminator Jan 16 '19 at 1:42

I think the answer is almost certainly yes, but it would render a rather nonsensical meaning; I.e. Abraham believed in the Lord and then immediately congratulated himself for his belief.

Any number of other verses in the Old Testament could be similarly construed. For example, one might interpret Genesis 2:21 as meaning that Adam took one of his own ribs and formed a woman while God slept:

Thus God brought a trance upon Adam, and He slept; and he took one of his ribs ...


Thus God brought a trance upon Adam and he slept; and He took one of his ribs ...

I think this points to a weakness in a purely literal hermeneutical method. In the end, one might still need a rabbi to whack some sense into the interpreter.

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  • 1
    I think the "sense" of the alternative (which I am not endorsing! just clarifying) is not so much Abraham congratulating himself as it is Abraham considering (ḥšb) it (the contents of v. 5) to be [evidence of] the ṣĕdāqá (righteousness? justice?) of Yhwh. – Susan Aug 11 '16 at 21:26
  • @Wolfgang If you think an answer is wrong, please posit an answer of your own. The comment tool is not to debate the subject matter of a question. – Caleb Aug 15 '16 at 15:00

"But do the words and grammar allow for a different interpretation since pronouns are never capitalized in the original Hebrew text?" Certainly, and the reason for the many versions that there are. The spiritual concept and the context of the narration are a more robust approach in undoing these kinds of 'kinks' in scriputures.

Joshua 24:2

Joshua said to all the people,
2 "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'From ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River, namely, Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods.
3 'Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River, and led him through all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants and gave him Isaac.…

Ask this question; Who didn't have a 'righteousness' before the point that it was reckoned to "H/him"?
Genesis 12:1

1 Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father's house, To the land which I will show you;

Righteousness is basically obedience to God's laws in any form, which from the verses above, Abraham had to come into as he had been an idolator. Therefore your verse cannot permit another interpretation than what the concept and the context provide.

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  • @Wolfgang Please do not use the comment tool to carry on topical discussions. If you need to ask for clarification or suggest an improvement to a post that is fine, but comments should result in an edit to the post to fix the issue and then the comment will be obsolete. Comments that just go on about your thoughts on related matters are noise and will be removed. – Caleb Aug 15 '16 at 14:59

Yes, because the Hebrew text does not specify the subject and the object of the sentence. Either Abraham considered it righteous, or God did.

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