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I was recently reading an interlinear of this verse and realized that the Hebrew doesn't refer to any "us" as we see in the English versions. It appears to read:

and make man in image and likeness.

Is there anything in the grammar that suggests that we add "us" or is this merely a translational issue because of Christian belief in trinity?

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    The "let us...." issue is discussed here: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/19110/… – fdb Dec 26 '16 at 0:41
  • @Fdb wow I didn't see this question. Thanks. But I do have one question regarding your answer. How do you know this is figurative? Is there anything in the text that supports this? – user14172 Dec 26 '16 at 4:29
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    As much as this is a duplicate, I'm surprised there is not a solid answer addressing the divine council on the other question. Without such a worldview, verses such as Genesis 1:26; 11:7; and Psalm 82 make little sense. – Dan Dec 26 '16 at 5:46
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The Hebrew word for 'make' is נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה, from the root עשׂה. The word has the following morphological parsing:

  • Qal stem (also called the paˈʕal): this is the basic Hebrew active stem
  • 1st person plural
  • Imperfect conjugation: this is the normal future conjugation, but it also marks imperatives, especially for first or third person verbs. The ן (Nun) prefix is the distinctive marker of Imperfect 1pl verbs

Non-second person imperatives are a little odd, and not very common in English. The conventional way to express them is through a "let ..." phrase.

Prefixes and suffixes are extremely important in Hebrew (as they are in English) and they cannot be ignored. This is especially the case because most subject pronouns are marked as suffixes rather than independent words. It is not enough to just look at the meanings of the roots of the words. If your interlinear does not communicate to you the meaning of the prefixes and suffixes then unfortunately you probably need to look for another one.

  • It did have the English "let us", but when i looked in the lexicon i didnt see reference for us. I am new to Hebrew and didn't realize that subject pronouns were added to verbs as suffixes. Thanks – user14172 Dec 25 '16 at 9:54
  • @user14172 Both prefixes and suffixes actually - they work together in a somewhat complex way. I cheat and use software which parses it for me :P – curiousdannii Dec 25 '16 at 15:24
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I sympathize with your unease, but unfortunately we simply must translate it this way because of the limits of the English language. This has to do with the fact that English simply does not have the grammatical mood used in the Biblical Hebrew.

Languages signal the modality of a given verb based on the mood it is placed in (for instance, the indicative, subjunctive, conditional, etc.). In Biblical Hebrew, there is a mood not found in English, the cohortative. This mood is to be contrasted with the imperative. Generally speaking, the cohortative mood expresses the speaker's will, desires, or intentions, whereas the imperative mood is used to expresses the speaker's commands to another. In Gen 1:26, we have:

וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵנוּ

In this case, we have the Divine speaking in the 1st person common plural cohortative for the verb 'עשׂה'. This reading is reinforced when we consider the pronominal suffix 'נו-' ("our") appended to the word 'צלם' ("image"), once again indicating a plural subject (i.e. "we desire to make humanity in our image").

Therefore, since the verb in this verse is conjugated in the 1st person plural, the most faithful renderings into English will invariably indicate this by using "us" at this point.

As should be clear, the English rendering is simply a faithful translation of the Hebrew, and not at all contingent on doctrinal suppositions concerning a Trinity.

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    Does the cohortative mood actually contrast with the imperative? I'm pretty sure it's just another name for the 1st person imperative, used by those who restrict the true imperative to 2nd person verbs (and use jussive for third person verbs). I'm happy to call them all the imperative and to just specify the person. – curiousdannii Dec 25 '16 at 8:54
  • I suppose the cohortative functions on that level in some respect (of commanding oneself), but at least in the Hebrew Bible the cohortative has the function of reflectively delivering the speaker's intentions or desires to the reader before the character acts, so that the reader has some context for the action. At least grammatically, I cannot say I have ever heard of someone saying a Hebrew verb was conjugated in the 1st person imperative. The imperative mood references another, whereas the cohortative mood references the speaker. – Scripture Page Dec 25 '16 at 9:13
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    @ScripturePage - That explanation seems a little confused (and confusing) to me, and I'm with curiousdannii on this one. Perhaps worth reviewing Joüon-Muraoka; I've lifted out some relevant bits for you. Hope that helps. – Dɑvïd Dec 25 '16 at 12:57
  • @David - The picture you just linked to is an excellent resource, which reiterates my point: imperative is the volitive mode of the second person. The verb here 'נַעֲשֶׂה' is in the first person plural; therefore it could not possibly be in the imperative. Please let me know which parts of my explanation are confusing and I will try my best to clarify. – Scripture Page Dec 25 '16 at 16:14
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    The point is, as curiousd pointed out, that cohortative and imperative are not contrasting: as you say above, "impv" is 2nd person volitive, and "cohortative" is 1st person volitive: they're both "volitive"/modal; they both express wish/intention. My purpose in highlighting the paragogic he was to note the potential for morphological overlap between coh. and impv. forms. – Dɑvïd Dec 25 '16 at 22:41

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