Why is the Hebrew עת ללדת translation as "A time to be born" generally accepted as the correct translation? It clearly means "A time to give birth" and I have seen that translation in a number of places.

A time to be born would be עת להיוולד - which is a totally different construct.

1 Answer 1


Some translations do have the literal meaning which is to give birth:

a time for giving birth and a time for dying, a time for planting and a time for uprooting what was planted (Ecclesiastes 3:2 CEB)

The NET opts for "to be born" and includes a note explaining the choice:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot what was planted (Ecclesiastes 3:2 NET)

The verb יָלָד (yalad, “to bear”) is used in the active sense of a mother giving birth to a child (HALOT 413 s.v. ילד; BDB 408 s.v. יָלָד). However, in light of its parallelism with “a time to die,” it should be taken as a metonymy of cause (i.e., to give birth to a child) for effect (i.e., to be born).

The literal "to give birth" is rendered "to be born" to preserve the parallelism with "to die."

Additional Considerations
The text in question is part of a larger passage consisting of 14 contrasting pairs. The logic of "to be born" is based on the overall conceptual structure of the passage (contrasting pairs) and understanding the word לָמ֑וּת as "to die."

The basis for disregarding the literal meaning of לָלֶ֖דֶת "to give birth," which can be repeated stems from the belief לָמ֑וּת means "to die" which cannot be repeated. However, when לָמ֑וּת is understood as the unrepeatable "to die," it becomes the only action in the list which cannot be repeated.

Interestingly, the opening text presents two equally valid paths:

  • Consider לָלֶ֖דֶת as the unique event of being born (ignoring the literal meaning of the word)
  • Consider לָמ֑וּת as a repeatable event of dying (ignoring the literal meaning of the word).

The choice of treating לָלֶ֖דֶת as the unrepeatable "to be born" to harmonize with its corresponding partner, creates a "dysfunctional" pair (unrepeatable actions) within the list of repeatable actions. This is further highlighted by the ending:

a time to be born, and a time to die... (3:2 ESV)
...a time for war, and a time for peace. (3:8 ESV)

Making war and making peace are actions which are often repeated.

Therefore, since any interpretation will create an issue, another approach would be to consider how לָמ֑וּת ("to die") can be understood as an action which can be repeated.

This is found in the first use of לָמ֑וּת:

Esau said, “I am about to die (לָמ֑וּת) [of hunger or to my birthright]; of what use is a birthright to me?”
(Genesis 25:32 ESV)

Both dying and giving birth are embodied in Esau's statement. Thus the beginning, ending, and center of the list in Ecclesiastes contain textual echos from the story of Jacob:

A time to bring forth, And a time to die [to my birthright]... (3:2 YLT)

a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; (3:8 ESV)

...a time for war, and a time for peace. (3:8 ESV)

The advantage of choosing to see "to die" as an action which can be repeated is it harmonizes with its partner and creates a couplet in harmony with every other action in the passage. It also suggests the passage is drawn from specific Biblical historical events, not human life "in general."

  • A time for being born and a time for dying, A time for planting and a time for uprooting the planted; Jewish Publication Society. (1985). Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures (Ec 3:2). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society. This translation has a note: Lit. "giving birth"
    – Perry Webb
    Feb 28, 2018 at 0:25

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