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This is a follow up question to a question i've asked a few months ago.

In the linked question (and until recently) i have assumed that Exodus 31:17 is to be taken as a complete sentence,

It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever that in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.

Seen in this light the subject of the first clause, the “sign”, remains the subject in the second clause that follows. additionally, the hebrew word כי is to be translated into "that". According to this understanding the bible is saying that the sabbath is a sign that god created the world.

However recently i have come to doubt this approach as it raises a many difficulties which i won't go into detail right now. While doing some research i found that others interpret this passage differently. They translate the word כי into “for”, thus what follows thereafter is a new clause predicated on a different subject--Sabbath and not the "sign" mentioned in the beginning of this verse. Seen in this light, the beginning part of the verse is totally unrelated to the second part of the verse. This is how it is rendered:

"It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever." period. The nature of this sign has already been revealed in the beginning of the code (verse 13) and needs not be repeated,

This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy.

The bible is continuing with the theme it has started with, namely that the sabbath signifies Israel's consecration unto god.

Then the verse moves on to give the etiological basis for the sabbath, "For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed." The same rationale is provided in the Genesis creation account, and the bible is repeating the same theme here as the language is very similar to the other. According to this understanding the second part is not addressing the "sign" mentioned before in the first part of the verse, rather it is about the sabbath and its basis in god's actions during creation. If this is correct then we have got no evidence that the sabbath is a sign that god created the world in six days as i have previously assumed.

My question is, from a hermeneutical and scholarly point of view which interpretation is more likely?

  • Perhaps the ambiguity is intentional to reflect the reality there is a single Creator who alone can make people holy. – Revelation Lad Mar 7 '18 at 14:18
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You are right that כי more often introduces an adverbial clause than a relative clause. However, it is still a dependent clause meaning it cannot be the main clause. Thus I would propose translating:

It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.

The adverbial force of כי is indicated with for and the dependency with the comma. As Perry Webb noted in the comments, this is the way many translations have taken the verse (e.g., JPS85, HCSB, NIV, NASB).

כי can be used to introduce a consecutive clause, often after a question, as noted by Joüon-Muraoka 2006, §169e, which can be translated with "that", e.g. Ps. 8:5 מה־אנושׁ כי־תזכרנו "what is man that you should remember him" (J-M give more examples). J-M notes, "for a fuller list of examples, see BDB, s.v. כי‎, 1, f (p. 472b). The כי clause establishes a surprising fact, and the preceding question asks why that should be so or should happen in such a way." Thus this meaning cannot really be applied here, but it may explain the translation because in English "that" is used for both relative and consecutive clauses. Also note that אשׁר, which does introduce a relative clause, can be used in consecutive clauses as well but with a slightly different nuance (J-M §169f). J-M do not mention כי in their treatment of relative clauses (§158) as far as I can see.

I'm not a native speaker, but I also always considered English main clauses starting with "For" in the adverbial sense odd (and no main clause following), and avoid it in written English. See Can a sentence start with “Because”? on the English.SE.

  • 17it shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and was refreshed. Jewish Publication Society. (1985). Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures (Ex 31:17). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society. – Perry Webb Mar 7 '18 at 9:57
  • It is a sign forever between Me and the Israelites, for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, but on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.” The Holy Bible: Holman Christian standard version. (2009). (Ex 31:17). Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers. – Perry Webb Mar 7 '18 at 9:58
  • It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested.’ ” The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Ex 31:17). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. – Perry Webb Mar 7 '18 at 9:59
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    @PerryWebb thanks... I think you mean to say with these quotes that several translations do the same as I propose? That's great! But perhaps your comment would more readable for future readers if it would just say that and list the abbreviated translations: "Several translations actually translate the verse this way, e.g. JPS85, HCSB, NIV, NASB." :-) – user2672 Mar 7 '18 at 10:04
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    good point Keelan. I got carried away with that period. All i meant really was that in this reading the word כי does not define the subject that preceded it, but as you point out there still wouldn't be a period as it is still a dependent clause. – Bach Mar 7 '18 at 14:47
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I think that an important consideration would be to note Exodus 20:9, which similarly states "כי ששת ימים עשה..." for in 6 days [God] created..." about keeping the Sabbath, yet, there is no reference to any sign at all, and it must mean "for" as opposed to "that". This is especially significant given that verse 13 does state a sign, as you noted. Therefore, I would favor the latter reading (i.e. כי means for).

(It is worth noting an earlier interesting source on this: Ibn Ezra himself concludes that כי should be translated as "that" (perhaps religiously motivated), however, he quotes "others" saying that the word לעולם refers to the world, as opposed to forever (see here). He goes on to refute that position. However, if accepted as a translation here, this would indicate a strong connection to the second half of the verse.)

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    good point. I was thinking the same thing, but i wanted to hear the view of others as well. – Bach Mar 7 '18 at 13:45

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