The NKJV and YLT differ so widely that I get a very different understanding of Jacob's vow.


Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on,


And Jacob voweth a vow, saying, `Seeing God is with me, and hath kept me in this way which I am going, and hath given to me bread to eat, and a garment to put on

Why are the verbs "to keep,to watch" and "give" translated in most versions as if the actions are not complete but in Young's Literal they are translated as if already completed? How this is translated seems to have a significant effect on understanding Jacob's attitude. The former seems to express doubt while the latter expresses gratitude. Does YTL translate these verbs in this manner because they are in the perfect? I found the following note below from Gesenius:

the fundamental rule is that אִם is used if the condition be regarded either as already fulfilled, or if it, together with its consequence, be thought of as possibly (or probably) occurring in the present or future. In the former case, אִם is followed by the perfect, in the latter (corresponding to the Greek ἐὰν with the present subjunctive) by the imperfect or its equivalent (frequently in the apodosis also).

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    Excellent question +1. Thank you for pointing this out. The answer below has improved my understanding of that particular text, which had always troubled me, somewhat.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 8, 2020 at 10:37
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    Not all popular translations are of equal quality or accuracy. Caveat emptor. Compare the number of scholarly citations of Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius with that of Robert Young (if you can find any that is) and you will begin to get the picture. The former has standing in the academic world to this day. Der Übermensch's answer gives a good explanation that I would accept as the correct answer. Also, note that there is usually an inverse relationship between the strength of adherence to a particular OT translation and the strength of the adherent's knowledge of Hebrew.
    – user17080
    Commented Jul 11, 2020 at 21:13

1 Answer 1


The verbs וּשְׁמָרַנִי (ushmarani) and וְנָתַן (venatan) have the appearance of verbs conjugated in the perfect aspect and would therefore be translated into English in the past tense, i.e., “and he protected me” and “he gave me,” respectively. The reason I say “they have the appearance” is because a verb conjugated in the perfect aspect, and a vav-conversive verb conjugated in the perfect aspect, appear identical.

Pratico and Van Pelt wrote,1

With the Perfect, it is important to observe that there is no difference in spelling between the Waw Consecutive and the regular conjunction.


The spelling of the Perfect verb is not changed by the prefixing of the Waw Consecutive.

However, Robert Young stated,3

The above facts being admitted, the Waw Conversive is consequently Unnecessary. [...] The result of the whole is: That the Waw Conversive does not exist in the Hebrew Bible, and is Unnecessary, Imperfect, and Unexampled.

This belief guided Robert Young’s translation of Hebrew verbs, including those found in Gen. 28:20. He denied the existence of a “conversive-vav” and therefore translated these verbs (which have the appearance of perfect aspect verbs) as though they are, in fact, perfect aspect verbs, and thus, to be translated into English as past tense verbs.

Most English translations assume the validity of the vav-conversive verb and therefore translate them into English as future tense verbs.


        1 Pratico, Van Pent, p. 200
        2 id., p. 201
        3 Young, p. 4 of the Preface (and see pp. 2–5 of the Preface)


Pratico, Gary D.; Van Pelt, Miles V. Basics of Biblical Hebrew Grammar. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007.

Young, Robert. The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Covenants, Literally and Idiomatically Translated out of the Original Languages. Edinburgh: Fullarton, 1863.

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    Excellent. +1.Thank you. Would you want to state, yourself, whether you think Robert Young to be correct in the view he takes regarding the 'waw-conversive' ? My own view is that he is correct and it has significant implications in some passages, for example Genesis 3:22. 'The man was as one of us (YLT).' And your explanation here resolves the above text which had always troubled me in the AV translation..
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 8, 2020 at 10:35
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    @NigelJ—I'm aware of the debate but have never investigated it in-depth. So, I don't have an informed opinion on the validity of the conversive-vav. Commented Jul 8, 2020 at 15:03
  • From a Jewish perspective, Young is not correct. The traditional Jewish explanation of the verse is similar to the NKJV. And numerous concepts of Halacha/Jewish law are discussed in light of Jacob's statement. (The standard of a "If...then..." formation of a vow, and the idea of a vow for tithes.)
    – Binyomin
    Commented Jul 8, 2020 at 22:06
  • Superb answer. (+1), many thanks for this excellent research.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jul 8, 2020 at 22:34
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    I agree that your answer properly addressed the OP. @NigelJ had asked about which translation is correct- a natural comment to arise after a proper analysis of two approaches to translate text. I thus felt is appropriate to point out what the consensus Jewish approach is on this issue since many viewers here may not have access to Jewish sources.
    – Binyomin
    Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 6:51

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