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I'm trying to understand why English translations differ on Isaiah 62:5, and the theological implications of these differences within Christianity. The ESV translates Isaiah 62:5 as:

For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.

Most other English translations (including KJV, RSV, Douay-Rheims, NASB, HCSB, and the Jewish Bible) also say "your sons."

Yet the NIV translates the verse as:

As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.

And Young's Literal Translation seems to split the difference, using the plural of Builder:

For a young man doth marry a virgin, Thy Builders do marry thee, With the joy of a bridegroom over a bride, Rejoice over thee doth thy God.

What are the textual reasons behind these differences? Does the original Hebrew word have two possible meanings, both "sons" and "builders"? How was this word translated to the LXX?

And what are the theological reasons behind these translation differences? The translation "your sons" would seem to imply (within Christian theology) that members of the Church marry the Church, like groom to bride. But this is surprising, as within Christian theological imagery, Christ is the groom who marries the church, while members of the Church are bodily parts/members. Do Catholics believe this idea of a son marrying his mother to be related to their doctrine that Christ and Mary are the New Adam and New Eve?

The Hebrew word "banim" translated as "Builder" in the NIV is plural, so did the NIV make it singular merely to avoid implying polytheism to their readers? Or did they have better reasons? This verse does seem to contain Hebrew poetic parallelism -- was "Builder" preferred as it is more parallel with "God"?

  • There is some commentary on this here but I can't make enough sense of it to craft a good answer. Apparently there is also some commentary somewhere in the Talmud that says that the underlying Hebrew should be read as "builder" and not "sons". The Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate, though - both based on older proto Hebrew texts than the Masoretic - read "sons" here and not "builders". – user33515 May 16 '17 at 14:23
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The MT of Isaiah 62:5 is

כִּי-יִבְעַל בָּחוּר בְּתוּלָה, יִבְעָלוּךְ בָּנָיִךְ; וּמְשׂוֹשׂ חָתָן עַל-כַּלָּה, יָשִׂישׂ עָלַיִךְ אֱלֹהָיִךְ

The translation is (mine)

As a youth masters [copulates with] a virgin, your (feminine singular) sons will master [use, cohabit with] you, and more than a groom delights in a bride, your (feminine singular) God will delight in you (feminine singular)

The imagery is bold and risque to say the least. A pity that the English translations shy away from it as that completely deflates the verse. There is no contextual room to translate יִבְעָל as "marry" and no concordance for this translation in the OT. The punch of this verse is it's promise that the sons of the land will return and enjoy the land with the gusto that a teenager has for a virgin, no less.

The MT Hebrew of this verse has one problem, that the plural "your sons" (בָּנָיִךְ) does not seem to match the apparently singular) "(he) will master you" (יִבְעָלוּךְ).

In order to get from the MT "your sons" to "your builders", which would solve the problem of the number of the verb, you need to change one vowel in the MT, בָּנָיִךְ to בֹּנָיִךְ (כתיב חסר or implied holam) or בּוֹנָיִךְ. That is you are reading against the MT based on some analysis that indicates to you that the MT is בָּנָיִךְ is a corruption of בֹּנָיִךְ.

As there is no capitalization in Hebrew, the "Builder" translation requires a further departure from the MT, changing two vowels and removing a consonant (yod), that is בָּנָיִךְ changes to בֹּנֵךְ, or בּונֵךְ.

Whether or not you read "sons" or "builders" or "Builder", the verb of this subject is שׂוֹשׂ, delight, not "will marry". All of the translations as you have quoted them are doing a disservice to the English reader. You might do better by looking at a linear translation.

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The meaning is laid out in the previous verse 4. Isa. 62:4.

"Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah: for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married."

In prophetical usage, a desolate land was one that had been destroyed by a foreign army, and was without a "husbandman"... widowed. In marrying the land, the "sons" would occupy the land again. It would be "husbanded". It would have care takers, and become fertile, thus married.

The original Hebrew is clear if read in context within the chapter and if taken with the other prophesies of desolated lands being compared to widows (Jer. 15:8; Ezek. 22:24-25; Prov. 15:25; Isa. 47:8-9). If a nation was destroyed by God, when He sent a foreign army to overcome the wicked nation that would not turn back to Him, it was left with fatherless sons, and widows... therefore a widowed nation.

But different translations did not understand or correctly use the scriptures and imputed another meaning than what the Hebrew clearly taught.

The Hebrew does not say Builder...it says "sons". It is speaking of rebuilding Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity and requires the contextual translation of husbandmen to care for the land. The other translations used improper hermeneutics.

  • I should have explained that the original Hebrew is clear if read in context within the chapter and if taken with the other prophesies of desolate lands being compared to widows. But different translations did not understand or correctly use the scriptures and imputed another meaning than what the Hebrew clearly taught. The Hebrew does not say Builder...it says "sons". It is speaking of rebuilding Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity and requires the contextual translation of husbandmen to care for the land. The other translations used improper hermeneutics. – Gina May 21 '17 at 1:12
  • Yes, I noted the points he made. That is why context is key. – Gina May 22 '17 at 1:51

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