In the New International Version, Ecclesiastes 3:11 reads:

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

But the bible in m language, Amharic, reads:

ነገርን ሁሉ በጊዜው ውብ አድርጎ ሠራው፤ እግዚአብሔርም ከጥንት ጀምሮ እስከ ፍጻሜ ድረስ የሠራውን ሥራ ሰው መርምሮ እንዳያገኝ ዘላለምነትን በልቡ ሰጠው።

This translates to:

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has put everything he has done from the beginning to the end so that nobody can understand it.

The difference might not be obvious but it is vital. The English version means that even though God put eternity in people's hearts, they cannot understand it. The Amharic version says that God has put eternity in the hearts of men so that they cannot understand it. This means that people cannot understand the work of God by their minds, but only by their hearts. The Amharic version seems like the right one to me, but I do not know the original languages. Which one is the correct one?

  • Which Amharic Bible are you using?
    – user33515
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 12:30
  • @user33515 old translation Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 12:32
  • Does it include any of the deuterocanonical books - e.g. Maccabbees, Sirach, Tobit?
    – user33515
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 13:03
  • 2
    Possible duplicate of: "What did God put into the human heart according to the Hebrew text of Ecclesiastes 3:11?"
    – Dɑvïd
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 14:20
  • 4
    @Dɑvïd - I disagree with that close vote, as the other question is focused on the word 'eternity' in Ecclesiastes 3:11, whilst this question's locus is the merit of the 'so that they cannot understand it' phraseology present in the Amharic but not the NIV.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 14:42

2 Answers 2


Comparing Translations

"Which one is the correct one?"

One of the challenges in interpreting the scriptures is that we cannot always be 100% confident of what the original authors intended when they wrote down the words in front of us. Longman and Shields have both called this verse "one of the most difficult verses to interpret in Ecclesiastes", so be wary of anybody who gives you an easy answer to this.

If you look at a comparison of different English translations, you'll see a wide variety of approaches. The Amharic translation seems very close to that of the King James:

He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.

Similarly, the New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS) follows this reading too:

He made everything fine in its right time; indeed he granted eternity in their heart so that they should not find the work that God has done from the beginning even to the end.

So there is certainly a strong historical tradition aligning with how the Ahmaric translation has rendered it, though obviously modern translators are still split on how best to render this verse.


Although the "so that" looks like it could be right enough, I think there may be a different issue with the Amharic rendering, because it seems to be missing the concept of having "eternity in the human heart", which is common to the vast majority of English translations. I'm not sure if perhaps your translators have moved this to before or after the verse you've quoted, or whether they've left it out completely for some reason.

To me this is the key to the causation - that God placed eternity in men's hearts so that they would not be able to fathom his works. Missiologists have talked about this as an inner mystery or hope which all people inherit at birth, which causes them to seek after God.


From this and some of your other questions, I am wondering if perhaps you are alarmed to discover that some translations render some verses quite differently to others, and that does create a real question of "when I teach from the scriptures, what should I trust?"

If you consider Ecclesiastes scripture, I would suggest that this should not become a scary idea, because this can drive you deeper in how you read and interpret the text. By questioning and checking the translations in front of you, you will continue to become better equipped to study and understand every word. Where we see things which we think are "vital" differences, this should remind us of the importance of not creating teachings based solely on one verse, and why we must understand and teach from the whole of the scriptures, to prevent minor mis-understandings from impacting our understanding of the whole.

  • Fine answer. I so appreciate your last paragraph. The analogy of Scripture seems to me to be missing in so many answers, even in answers by folks who ought to know better. As good as a micro-focus can be at times with some scriptures, a macro-focus is always good and always appropriate. The best interpreter of Scripture is Scripture. A corollary to that is: interpret an unclear verse with the help of related verses which are clearer. Don Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 12:56
  • @rhetorician - Thank you. Normally on BH.SE there is a particular care taken to avoid references to the text as scriptures, since we know this is not a Christian site, and it's important for new users to understand the core principles of hermeneutics. To be honest, I think it's often an issue of language more than anything - if more users were equipped and comfortable in using the right language, declaring hermeneutic principles and biases up-front when answering, then we would get a wider variety of on-topic answers.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 13:33
  • At the moment we usually default to emphasising the need to examine individual texts in their own isolated contexts, because that's where the majority of lay-users really struggle. And we do have the aim of maintaining academic-level discourse when approaching these texts together. So sometimes that push towards educating newer users can cause us to neglect other hermeneutics when we're answering, which is somewhat of a shame when so many users really are seeking to apply mainline Christian principles in developing their own hermeneutic approaches.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 13:38

We will have to defer to your translation of the Amharic to English, but if you take "so that" to mean "in such a way that", then I think the translations agree.

One Jewish scholarly translation of the verse reads1:

He brings everything to pass precisely at its time; He also puts eternity in their mind, but without man ever guessing, from first to last, all the things that God brings to pass.

The idea here is that man is continually seeking to discover the times of future events, but cannot. The verse is related to Ecclesiastes 8:17:

And I have observed all that God brings to pass. Indeed, man cannot guess the events that occur under the sun. For man tries strenuously, but fails to guess them; and even if a sage should think to discover them he would not be able to guess them.

The meanings found in the Septuagint (in case your Amharic version is drawing from that) are similar:

He made everything beautiful in its time, and He indeed put eternity in their hearts in such a way that man may not find out the work God made from the beginning to the end (3:11)2

Then I saw all the works of God, that a man cannot discover how He does His work under the sun. No matter how much a man labors to discover it, yet he will not find it out. And no matter how much a wise man may speak of knowing it, he will not be able to find it out (8:17).

1 JPS Tanakh
2 Orthodox Study Bible

  • The JPS Tanakh is not necessarily "a Jewish translation" in the sense of reflecting the most commonly accepted opinion. In this verse as in many others the JPS translation is at odds with Rashi, who says "גם את חכמת העולם אשר נתן בלב הבריות", Although He put worldly knowledge in their hearts.... That is, Rashi reads עלם as העולם "world" rather than "eternity", as if it were לעולם, as the JPS reads. The KJV is consistently closer to Rashi throughout the OT than the JPS Tanakh.
    – user17080
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 14:55
  • Noted. I qualified the phrase as "one Jewish scholarly translation"
    – user33515
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 14:56
  • It is more "scholarly" than "Jewish". The two are at odds in reading the OT to the extent that "Jewish scholarly" is close to being an oxymoron.
    – user17080
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 15:07
  • 1
    Ok. Well, the translators are Jewish and they are scholars - or at least university professors; so I don't know how else to qualify it further.
    – user33515
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 15:22
  • It's not an issue really. Leave it as is. +1. ;-)
    – user17080
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 15:52

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