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Most English translations say something like:

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you are free to eat;

The Hebrew says:

ויצו יהוה אלהים על־האדם לאמר מכל עץ־הגן אכל תאכל

It seems that וַיְצַו֙ should be translated as "gave charge over" as in Adam was given responsibility to choose whatever he wanted to do. According to NAS Exhaustive Concordance, צָוָה means:

Word Origin: a prim. root

Definition: to lay charge (upon), give charge (to), command, order

NASB Translationç appoint (1), appointed (4), appoints (1), charge (5), charged (17), charging (1), command (56), commanded (332), commander (1), commanding (18), commands (6), commission (3), commissioned (4), commit (1), gave a command (1), gave them a charge (1), gave command (2), gave commandment (2), gave orders (2), give his charge (1), give you in commandment (1), give you charge (1), give orders (3), given (1), given a command (1), given it an order (1), given command (1), given commandment (1), giving (1), instructed (1), issued a command (2), laid (1), laid down (1), ordained (4), order (4), ordered (5), put (1), sent (1), set his in order (1), set your in order (2).

This would mean the charge to "not eat of" was actually a warning rather than a commandment.

YLT says:

"And Jehovah God layeth a charge on the man, saying, 'Of every tree of the garden eating thou dost eat;"

And the NLT goes even further to say:

But the LORD God warned him, "You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden--

According to Merriam-Webster's dictionary, the verb charge means:

to give a job or responsibility to (a person or group): to make (a person or group) responsible for something

This would mean Genesis 3:17 says:

And to Adam He said, Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten from the tree concerning which I put you in charge of, saying, eat not from, cursed is the ground for your sake (benefit)

וּלְאָדָ֣ם אָמַ֗ר כִּֽי־שָׁמַעְתָּ֮ לְקֹ֣ול אִשְׁתֶּךָ֒ וַתֹּ֙אכַל֙ מִן־הָעֵ֔ץ אֲשֶׁ֤ר צִוִּיתִ֙יךָ֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר לֹ֥א תֹאכַ֖ל מִמֶּ֑נּוּ אֲרוּרָ֤ה הָֽאֲדָמָה֙ בַּֽעֲבוּרֶ֔ךָ בְּעִצָּבֹון֙ תֹּֽאכֲלֶ֔נָּה כֹּ֖ל יְמֵ֥י חַיֶּֽיךָ

And Genesis 3:11 says:

And He said, Who said to you that naked you [are]? From the tree, concerning which I gave to you charge/responsibility that you should not eat, have you thereof eaten?

וַיֹּ֕אמֶר מִ֚י הִגִּ֣יד לְךָ֔ כִּ֥י עֵירֹ֖ם אָ֑תָּה הֲמִן־הָעֵ֗ץ אֲשֶׁ֧ר צִוִּיתִ֛יךָ לְבִלְתִּ֥י אֲכָל־מִמֶּ֖נּוּ אָכָֽלְתָּ

There are several instances where צָוָה cannot possibly mean "command" because no command is given. In Deuteronomy, the exact same form is used:

"And he gave Joshua the son of Nun a charge (responsibility), and said, Be strong and of a good courage: for thou shalt bring the children of Israel into the land which I sware unto them: and I will be with thee." Deuteronomy 31:23

וַיְצַ֞ו אֶת־יְהֹושֻׁ֣עַ בִּן־נ֗וּן וַיֹּאמֶר֮ חֲזַ֣ק וֶֽאֱמָץ֒ כִּ֣י אַתָּ֗ה תָּבִיא֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־נִשְׁבַּ֣עְתִּי לָהֶ֑ם וְאָנֹכִ֖י אֶֽהְיֶ֥ה עִמָּֽךְ

(Please see Numbers 27:19-23, Nehemiah 7:2, and 2 Samuel 6:21 for a few more examples)

Is it possible that צָוָה means "gave charge" in Genesis 2:16, 3:11, and 3:17?

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    This feels like a rather pointless goose chase. Even if you couch this fragment in the softest possible language, the inevitable conclusion from the context of the passage doesn't really change. It also seems to me you don't grasp the implications of the English "to charge" somebody with something. In no possible rendering (even if you used 'charged with' or 'warned') is Adam left as a free agent to define his own version of right and wrong in the case of eating/not eating from the tree. What could possibly be said about this particular word that would change meaning of the passage to you? – Caleb Oct 31 '16 at 5:54
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    Neither the YLT or NLT mean what you want them to mean. The YLT still means God commanded him. The NLT softens it to a warning for reasons I don't know, but neither mean that God gave charge to Adam. – curiousdannii Oct 31 '16 at 9:07
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    @anonymouswho What do you think "warning" would mean in this context? It feels like you're trying to weasel out of something that is patently obvious from the context. You can use the word warning if you want but Adam still disobeyed God. A "warning no to eat something" vs. "a charge not to eat something", vs. "a command not to eat something" are not materially different and trying to give them different implications is clearly contradicted by the context. Any attempt to make Adam's actions not a sin given the immediate context of the passage would be fruitless. – Caleb Oct 31 '16 at 12:03
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    @anonymouswho "Don't touch the fire" is an imperative, and considered functionally much more similar to a command than a suggestion or warning. But I don't think either of us is going to convince the other. – curiousdannii Oct 31 '16 at 13:40
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    You cite Merriam Webster's 2nd simple definition of charge, but ignore the full 2nd definition right below it: (2a) to impose a task or responsibility on <charge him with the job of finding a new meeting place>; (2b) to command, instruct, or exhort with authority <I charge you not to go>; (2c) of a judge -- to give a charge to (a jury). – Bʀɪᴀɴ Oct 31 '16 at 18:47
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The root צוה appears 221See comments below times in the OT in 109 different chapters. Roughly 70 percent are in the Pentateuch. The root appears in several different grammatical constructs, in both noun and verb forms and as part of idioms.

In all instances the meaning of the word is the same, "command" (as a noun or verb) or "commandment". The sense of the meaning in all cases is imperative.

In Genesis 2:16, ויצו is the Biblical "future past" tense (עתיד מהופך) used as transitive verb, with the preposition "on" (על) before the object "the man" (האדם).

The use of "appointed" or "charged" is justifiable as a translation in contexts where a Hebrew idiom uses the language of "command [someone] on [something]" (צו..על) or "[someone] is commanded on [something]" sounds odd to the English ear, or could confuse, as in Nehemiah 7:2, and 2 Samuel 6:21. These are probably the best choices for the English translation in these cases but they lose the clear sense of "command" that you get from the Hebrew.

In Genesis 2:16, the language is "commanded on the man saying...", followed by the content of the command, not "commanded the man on the garden", so the meaning is clear, God is giving an order, not making an appointment. The intended meaning becomes even more clear in the continuation, when the man transgresses.

It is a mistake to use the interpretive license that translators need to take when giving slightly different translations of a given word for a particular idiom, in order to re-read those different translations back into another, different, context. For example, in Numbers 27:19-23, the http://biblehub.com translation of יִשְׁמְע֔וּ, "they will listen to" (in the sense of "listen to and take to heart") in verse 20 is translated as "be obedient". That's a excellent, economic, figurative translation, but far from the literal sense. You can't then use "obedient" in other places where you find ישמעו unless the idiom is the same.

  • Thank you for the answer. Please let me make sure I understand you correctly. Are you saying that in rare instances, צָוָה can mean "appointed responsibility to" or "gave charge", but only if "command" does not make any sense within the context? – Cannabijoy Nov 1 '16 at 2:08
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    @anonymouswho [There is an inaccuracy in my post in that the actual Hebrew root of צו is actually צוה.] The meaning is "command" in all cases. The problem is in how to translate idioms such as "to command [someone] on [some institution]" that aren't clear in English when translated literally, and how to distinguish these from the idiom "command [someone] on [some subject], which often indicates a prohibition. The sense of "command" remains, but it might not be possible to confer this in the term that is most appropriate for a translation. Your OP really made me think about this carefully. – Abu Munir Ibn Ibrahim Nov 1 '16 at 3:42
  • Thank you for clarifying. How would you interpret Nehemiah 7:2? I'm having trouble seeing how "command [someone] on [some subject]" can apply to this verse. – Cannabijoy Nov 1 '16 at 4:37
  • @anonymouswho Preserving the masoretic text word order, Nehemiah 7:2 reads "And I commanded Hanani, my brother, and Hananyah (the commander of the citadel) on Jerusalem...". In polite English this means "I appointed my brother Hanani and the commander of the citadel, Hananyah, to be responsible for Jerusalem...". The Hebrew sounds a little more direct, like a military governor giving a command. – Abu Munir Ibn Ibrahim Nov 1 '16 at 9:29
  • I'm sorry, I'm having trouble understanding what "command [someone] on [something]" means. It seems Nehemiah 7:2 should say "And I appointed responsibility to Hanan and Hananyah over Jerusalem..". So Genesis 2:16 should say "And commanded, YHVH God, on the man" or "And appointed responsibility, YHVH God, over the man, saying...". Could you please clarify what "command on" means, and how it's different than "appointed responsibility over"? – Cannabijoy Nov 1 '16 at 12:55
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Is it possible that צָוָה means "gave charge" in Genesis 2:16, 3:11, and 3:17?

Well, of course, it's possible. After all, in the words of Francis Bacon, "A man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true"

If a person were to believe that "Adam did not break a commandment from God", then it would plainly be his/her preferred position, and we would be witness to him/her expending effort in gathering evidence and opinion to support it.

Here's the thing, though: a charge, or a commandment, or a warning, or an instruction to do, or not to do something, is merely an expression of a sovereign's pleasure. Parents are sovereign over their young children, teachers over pupils, employers over employees, governments over citizens, God over man, to name but a few examples of such sovereigns.

Now, when an expression of the sovereign's pleasure (a charge/commandment/warning/instruction/etc) is issued, then each member of the sovereign domain (home/classroom/workplace/community/creation/etc), must weigh up whether it is their pleasure to pursue the sovereign's pleasure or their own. It is pretty clear from the narrative that the Serpent, and Eve, and Adam were pursuing their own pleasure, contrary God's.

The very first use of the word sin in the KJV (Strong's H2403), occurs in a conversation between God and Cain. Here is my rendering of it:

enter image description here

"if you do not do well, sin crouches at the door. Its desire is for you, and it will rule you by it."

So, what is sin's desire? The answer is as clear as crystal: that you pursue your own pleasure, contrary to the sovereign's.

This brought Cain undone, and before him, Eve and Adam.

Conclusion

Adam sinned when he decided to act in accord with his own pleasure, contrary to God's, regardless of how God's pleasure was expressed.

So, choose any English word you like for צָוָה, it does nothing to diminish Adam's culpability.

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    Where does "by it you will be ruled" come from? You're re-vocalizing the qal to an (otherwise attested) nifal? – Susan Nov 1 '16 at 8:35
  • It literally says, "and you / rule she will / by it" or "by it she will rule you" or "by it you will be ruled" I painted the text so you could see the agreement. – enegue Nov 1 '16 at 8:38
  • Thank you for the answer. I think you're saying "Yes", but doing so in a way that still indicates Adam sinned. I have to disagree that a "warning" is automatically "an expression of a sovereign's pleasure". In the context of this story, I believe the "expression of sovereign pleasure" was revealed when God said "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness (1:26). Then it says "So God created man in His image (1:27)" Notice God prepares man in His image, but it doesn't say anything about His "likeness". After Adam eats, God says "Behold, the man has become like one of us (3:22)". – Cannabijoy Nov 1 '16 at 8:44
  • Concerning Cain, I think it's very relevant that the first use of "sin" is associated with him. After Cain sinned, God said "And now art thou cursed". After Adam ate, God said "cursed is the ground for your sake". – Cannabijoy Nov 1 '16 at 8:44
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    @enegue -- Nope, that's not what it says (literally or otherwise). – Susan Nov 1 '16 at 8:50

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