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Why was the Hebrew "possessed" translated into Greek as "created" in Proverbs 8:22?

Proverbs 8:22 English Standard Version “The LORD possessed me (קָ֭נָנִי) at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old.

NET Bible The LORD created me (εκτισεν) as the beginning of his works, before his deeds of long ago.

To possess and to create are two entirely different things. Why would a Greek translator understood possessing as creating? What had influenced the translator to view God's wisdom as created, instead of something God already possessed?

I am seeking an answer with a scholarly source (an ancient Jewish commentary on the verse perhaps).

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The operative verb in Prov 8:22 is קָ֭נָנִי whose root is קָנָה (qanah) meaning "get" or "acquire". BDB lists several related meanings for this word (reproduced below in Appendix). The first of these is "of God creating", eg:

  • Gen 14:19, 22 - And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor/Creator of heaven and earth; ... But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Possessor/Creator of heaven and earth, [Here also the LXX translates this as "creator".]
  • Deut 32:6 - Do you thus repay the LORD, you foolish and senseless people? Is not he your father, who created you, who made you and established you? [Again, the LXX translates this word as "created" or "made".]
  • Ps 139:13 - For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. {Again the LXX has "created".]

This clearly the way the ancients understood this word.

Personally, I prefer in Prov 8:22 the translation "possessed"; but let us not press the very linguistically flexible Hebrew poetry too hard here. The Hebrew poets often took liberties with the language.

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APPENDIX: BDB entry for קָנָה

1 get, acquire (all poetry) :

a. of God as originating, creating, קֹנֵה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ Genesis 14:19,22; Deuteronomy 32:6 (Israel), Psalm 139:13 (כִּלְֹיתָ֑י); Proverbs 8:22 ( חכמה q. v.).

b. of God as victoriously redeeming his people Exodus 15:16; Isaiah 11:11; Psalm 74:2 ("" גָּאַל) object הַרוֶֿה Psalm 78:54.

c. of Eve, acquiring קַיִן, ׳אֶתיֿ (i.e. with the help of), Genesis 4:1 (J).

d. of acquiring wisdom, knowledge (only Proverbs): Proverbs 1:5; Proverbs 4:5 (twice in verse); Proverbs 4:7 (twice in verse); Proverbs 15:32; Proverbs 16:16 (twice in verse); Proverbs 17:16; Proverbs 18:15; Proverbs 19:8; Proverbs 23:23.

2 elsewhere buy Exodus 21:2 (E), Genesis 47:22 (J), Genesis 50:13 (P), Leviticus 27:24(H), Deuteronomy 28:68; Isaiah 24:2; Jeremiah 13:1; Ezekiel 7:12; Proverbs 20:14 +; קֹנֶה owner, as purchaser Leviticus 25:30 (P) Isaiah 1:3; Zechariah 11:5 +.

Niph`al be bought: Perfect3masculine singular נִקְנָה Jeremiah 32:43; Imperfect3masculine plural יִקָּנוּ Jeremiah 32:15.

Hiph`il Perfect3masculine singular suffix אָדָם חִקְנַנִי Zechariah 13:5; AV makes denominative of מִקְנֶה cattle; Thes RV MartiKau Buhl caused (one) to purchase me, i.e. made me a bondman; < We Now GASm read אֲרָמָה קִנְיָנִי — Participle מַקְנֶה see קנא.

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    +1 for excelllent answer on the Hebrew meaning encapsulating both meanings of to create and to possess. I have no problems with the Hebrew having the meaning of "create" but in Proverbs 8:22 the context seemed to have it as "possessed" (not create) since I assume that God was eternally wise and thus, God had always wisdom, not that he created it. Perhaps, i should ask a new question as to how it is theologically accepted by the Jews at the time to have God who created his wisdom, instead of merely possessing it from eternity.
    – R. Brown
    Dec 2, 2020 at 9:10
  • @RadzMatthewC.Brown - As stated above - I would not press the poetic Hebrew too literally.
    – Dottard
    Dec 2, 2020 at 9:49
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A commentary in the JPS Tanakh (Jewish Study Bible version, p. 1488) states the following regarding the interpretation of קנה (qnh), vocalized as קָנָה (qānāh) in the Masoretic Text

Since ancient times, interpreters have disputed whether the verb “kanah” means “created” or “acquired.” The latter allows for the possibility that wisdom existed from eternity and was coeval with God. Some Christian groups preferred this, since they identified wisdom with the Logos, which was in turn identified with the Christ. v. 23 implies that wisdom is a created being, and the verb “kanah” refers to acquisition by any means, including creation, as here.

There is no consensus in the Talmud as to whether קָנָה should be understood as created or made, or acquired. For example:

Rabbi Yosei HaGelili says: An “elder [zaken]” means nothing other than one who has acquired wisdom. He interprets the word zaken as a contraction of the phrase zeh kanna, meaning: This one has acquired. Elsewhere the word kanna is used in reference to wisdom, as it is stated that wisdom says: The Lord acquired me [kanani] at the beginning of His way (Kiddushin 32b:8)

Torah was created before the world was created, as it is written: The Lord made me as the beginning of His way, the first of His works of old (Nedarim 39b:5; also Pesachim 54a:9)


The Septuagint is a more ancient Jewish source than the Talmud, wherein קנה was translated with κτίζω (ktizō), which is usually translated in English as create or make, but given the context of verse 23 was understood to be synonymous with establish:*

κύριος ἔκτισέν με ἀρχὴν ὁδῶν αὐτοῦ εἰς ἔργα αὐτοῦ
The Lord made me the beginning of his ways for his works

πρὸ τοῦ αἰῶνος ἐθεμελίωσέν με ἐν ἀρχῇ
He established me before time was in the beginning


* The exact meaning of this verse was debated during the Arian controversy, given the implication of whether the Son was created or uncreated. A synopsis of the Orthodox interpretation is in the Orthodox Study Bible (based on the Septuagint): "The Lord is the Father, and created in this statement means that the Father established Wisdom over His works; for the Father made all things through Wisdom (Athanasius). 'Created' as used here does not mean that the Father made Wisdom Himself, for the next clause shows that the Father established Wisdom over His works in the beginning of time. Therefore, 'created' is used in this verse as a synonym of established, for Wisdom, who is the Word and Son of the Father, is not a creature. He is 'begotten from the Father before all time' (Creed)".

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A good study on Proverbs 8:22

It's meant as a type (see typology), which could be applied to Jesus Christ, but cannot be literally identified with Him. First of all, Proverbs is a wisdom book, that's how it shall be interpreted. This biblical verse caused much controversy during the Arian controversy in AD. in the 4th century.

Arius' view was summarized in their phrase "there was a time when the Son was not." As you've noted, they interpreted Proverbs 8:22, and specifically the verb ἔκτισέ με in the ancient Greek translation (Septuagint), to support this view. Orthodox Christianity, on the other hand, rejected this interpretation and maintained that the Son is of the same substance as the Father and is co-eternal with the Father.

It should be highlighted the complexity of Greek and Hebrew words that are often translated into English as "created." In the original languages of the Bible, these words often carried a range of meanings, and their interpretation can greatly influence one's understanding of the nature of Jesus.

Even ancient Jewish Bible translators (Philo of Alexandria, Aquila, Theodotion, Symmachus) preferred to translate the verb in Proverbs 8:22 as ἐκτήσατο, meaning "acquired" or "possessed." ἐκτήσᾰτο (ektḗsato) is the third-person singular aorist middle indicative of κτάομαι (ktáomai), meaning:

  1. (transitive) to get, obtain, acquire, gain, win
  2. (transitive, of consequences) to bring on oneself, incur
  3. (transitive, perfect and pluperfect) to have acquired, have, own, possess

In the Book of Proverbs, the Hebrew verb qānāh (קָנָה) is often translated as 'get', 'acquire', or 'gain' in many English translations, in the Book of Proverbs in all instances, qānāh denotes the act of obtaining or acquiring wisdom or knowledge.

Jerome argues that the correct translation of "קנני" (qānānî) in Proverbs 8:22 is "possessed" rather than "created." He bases his argument on the distinction between the Hebrew words for "create" (ברא, bārā) and "possess" (קנה, qānāh). The verb bārā (בָּרָא), which means 'create' in Hebrew, is indeed used throughout the Bible to denote the divine act of creating. This verb is exclusively used for divine creation in the Hebrew Bible. It conveys a sense of the initiation of something new, bringing something into existence that was not there before.

But even the translation of the LXX is not suitable to justify Arianism. For instance, the Greek word ἔκτισέ (ektise) does indeed have nuances. While it often means "created," it can also be understood in the sense of "established" or "ordained." ἔκτισέ in the context of Proverbs 8:22 doesn't mean that Wisdom (interpreted as the Son or Christ) was created, in the sense of being brought into existence, but rather that the Son was appointed or established as The Beginning (principle, archē) of God's ways. Furthermore, discussing the nature of biblical language, especially focusing on the meaning of the term ἔκτισέν (ektisen) which is often translated as "created", it can be argued that in the context of passages such as Proverbs 8:22, this term does not denote creation out of nothing, but rather a form of making or establishing.

The Arians used the ἔκτισέν με (He "created" me...) as a proof of their doctrine of the filius non genitus, sed factus (the Son is not begotten, but made), i.e., of His existence before the world began indeed, but yet not from eternity, but originating in time; while, on the contrary, the orthodox preferred the translation ἐκτήσατο (He acquired me...), and understood it of the co-eternal existence of the Son with the Father, and agreed with the ἔκτισέν (He "created"...) of the LXX by referring it not to the actual existence, but to the position, place of the Son (Athanasius: Deus me creavit regem or caput operum suorum [=God created me as king or head of his works]; Cyrill.: non condidit secundum substantiam, sed constituit me totius universi principium et fundamentum [=He did not create me according to substance, but established me as The Beginning and foundation of the whole universe]). Thus, the Son is not a created being, but rather eternally begotten, sharing the same divine essence with the Father.

This is further supported by differentiating between the concepts of "made" and "begotten." In Christian belief, "made" implies creation from nothing or from pre-existing materials, while "begotten" suggests an eternal relationship, with no beginning, between the Father and the Son. So, Christ is considered "begotten, not made", which means he shares the same divine nature with the Father and wasn't created at a certain point in time.

Should the LXX version of Proverbs 8:22 be understood as the Arians understood it, or as a double accusative like Athanasius and the orthodox church fathers? The verb κτίζω in Greek can take a double accusative to mean "to make somebody (into) something", for example: "I make you king", "I set you free". If the translators of the Septuagint had interpreted Qānānî rēʾšît̲ darkōw as an adverbial usage, according to which it is interpreted as an adverbial phrase indicating when the action took place, they would have translated it like this:

κύριος ἔκτισέν με εν ἀρχ ὁδῶν αὐτοῦ ("The LORD created/made me at/in the beginning of his ways...")

But it was not translated that way, there is no preposition 'en' (in/at) before the word archē (as in Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1: "Ἐν ἀρχῇ...", "in the beginning..."), and the archē is in accusative (ἀρχὴν), and instad of that, the text was rendered as:

κύριος ἔκτισέν με ἀρχὴν ὁδῶν αὐτοῦ ("The LORD made me (into/as/to be) the 'arkhe' of his ways...")

So the translators of the LXX did not understand the Hebrew text of this verse to mean that 'chokmah' is the first creature that was created "in/at the beginning", rather, that through the act described by the verb qānāh, the Lady Wisdom became the archē (first principle) or rēʾšît̲ of the the (creative) ways of Yahweh.

Symmachus' translation managed to capture the idea of the Hebrew text the best:

Κύριος έκτήσατό με ἀρχὴν όδών αύτοΰ (“The LORD acquired me as the first principle (archē) of his ways...”).

So Symmachus interprets qānānî as "acquired" too, and notices that it is a double accusative.

The double accusative construction in Hebrew is somewhat limited and doesn't have as wide a range as in some other languages like Greek. However, it is indeed possible to use certain verbs with what appear to be two direct objects in Hebrew.

The structure of the Hebrew text of Proverbs 8:22 isn't a classic example of the double accusative as seen in languages like Greek, where one verb governs two direct objects without a preposition, but in the context of this verse, the structure indeed does allow for an interpretation akin to the accusative of result seen in some languages.

Qānānî rēʾšît̲ darkōw in principle could be understood as an adverbial usage ("in/at the beginning of His way"), but also as a quasi-accusative of result: "The LORD made/acquired me as The Beginning (archē, first principle) of His way." In this interpretation, rēʾšît̲ functions similarly to an accusative of result, indicating what the subject becomes or is made as a result of the verb. This interpretation is close to the double accusative construction in languages like Greek.

Thus you can interpret rēʾšît̲ in a way that mirrors the accusative of result, where the action of the verb brings about a certain state or transformation for the object. In this reading, God's act of acquiring/creating results in Wisdom being "The Beginning (principle, archē) of His way."

I see absolutely no reason for temporality here: rēʾšît̲ darkōw (ראשיט דרקו, rey-SHEET dahr-KOHV) rather means "as The Beginning of his ways", than "at/in the beginning of his ways".

The term rēʾšît̲ comes from the word 'rosh', which means head, so rēʾšît̲ can also mean chief, similar to the Greek archē.

In Aquila's Greek translation of the Hebrew text, the word "κεφάλαιον" (kephalaion) is used to render the Hebrew word rēʾšît̲. "Kephalaion" in Greek can be understood to mean "chief", "head" or "principal." In the context of this translation, it emphasizes the speaker as the "chief", "head" or "principal" of God's ways or works, highlighting their central and foundational role in God's creative process.

The Vulgate translates rēʾšît̲ as 'initium', meaning "beginning" or "origin."

Someone can become something (in this case, Wisdom is made the Beginning [archē] of all things, as Eusebius explains, following Psalm 50:12 LXX — where the heart is made clean — and 1 Peter 2:13, where people become — or are invested as — kings and rulers).

So even translating qānānî as "created" does not cause problem theologically, because the use of a double accusative with the verb "create" can change the nuance of the verb's meaning. In this context, the double accusative could imply a more specific role or function rather than the act of bringing something into existence by the divine act of creation "ex nihilo".

In many languages, including Hebrew, double accusatives can bring about a shift in meaning, especially when used with certain verbs. The direct object becomes the recipient of the action, and the secondary object becomes the result or product of the action. So, in the case of Proverbs 8:22, if we read the verb "create" with a double accusative, it could indeed suggest that Wisdom was not so much "created" in the sense of being brought into existence, but rather "ordained", "constituted", "installed" or "appointed" to a specific role or function as the "archē" of God's (creative) works.

Thus, the translation "The Lord ordained/appointed me as (to be) The Beginning (archē, principle) of his works" would capture this nuance, emphasizing Wisdom's unique and foundational role in God's actions, without necessarily implying that Wisdom was created in the sense of coming into existence. This rendering maintains the primacy and importance of Wisdom without delving into the theological intricacies of its eternity versus created nature.

While the Hebrew verb qānāh itself might imply "creation", the double accusative structure nuances that creation towards a more specific role, designation, or function. This can provide a safeguard against any theological implications that Wisdom (often equated with Christ in Christian interpretations) was a creation in the traditional sense. Symmachus' translation does seem to capture this nuance very well, indicating a specialized role or function rather than just existence.

Revelation 1:6 (in the Greek New Testament) features a construction similar to what we were discussing.

καὶ ἐποίησεν ἡμᾶς βασιλείαν, ἱερεῖς τῷ θεῷ καὶ πατρὶ αὐτοῦ ("And He has made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father..."

In this verse, the verb ἐποίησεν (epoiēsen) can be translated as "created", "made" or "constituted". The direct object is "us" (ἡμᾶς) and the resultative secondary objects are "a kingdom" (βασιλείαν) and "priests" (ἱερεῖς). The function of these believers is defined by their relationship "to His God and Father" (τῷ θεῷ καὶ πατρὶ αὐτοῦ).

This structure, similar to the double accusative in Hebrew, indicates that believers are made both a "kingdom" and "priests". It isn't just that they were created, but they were appointed or designated for a specific role or function, which is in line with the nuance of "ordain" or "appoint" that we discussed earlier.

Therefore, the construction in Revelation 1:6 is not merely about existence, but about designation to a specific role or status in relation to God.

In summary, even if we apply this literally to Christ, it cannot be applied to support Arian Christology.

In the Hebrew text, the construct rē’šît darkô from Proverbs 8:22 does present some challenges in interpretation. Let's analyze the potential justification for the double accusative interpretation:

The Nature of the Verb: The qānāh primarily means "to get, acquire," but in some contexts, it can have the meaning "to create." When it comes to transitive verbs like qānāh, it is possible for the verb to take two direct objects. This is especially true if one object specifies what is acquired/created, and the other provides additional information about the acquisition/creation.

Absence of a Preposition: In Hebrew, if rēʾšît̲ darkōw were serving purely as a temporal adverbial modifier, one might expect a preposition like ב (b-, "in/at") to be present, making it "ברֵאשִׁית דַּרְכֹּו" (b-rē’šît darkô) which would clearly indicate "AT/IN the beginning of his ways." The absence of such a preposition implies a double accusative reading.

Parallelism in Hebrew Poetry: Hebrew poetry, such as that found in Proverbs, often uses parallel structures. Later in the chapter, there are other references to Wisdom's primacy or precedence, such as in Proverbs 8:23, where Wisdom is described as being established "from everlasting, from the beginning, before the earth was." This primacy could support reading rēʾšît̲ darkōw as a description of Wisdom's chief or primary role, rather than merely a temporal starting point.

Resonance with rēʾšît̲ (רֵאשִׁית) in Other Texts: The term rēʾšît̲ also appears at the very beginning of the Hebrew Bible in Genesis 1:1, "ברֵאשִׁית" (B-rē’šît, "In the beginning"). While in Genesis, it is more clearly temporal due to the preposition, its prominence as the first word of the Torah might influence readings in other texts. Its use in Proverbs 8:22 could evoke not just the idea of temporality but also primacy or precedence.

Contextual Flow: Proverbs 8 is a personification of Wisdom speaking about her origins and significance. Given the context of the whole chapter, which underscores Wisdom's foundational role in creation and her intimate relationship with the Creator, the double accusative reading "as The Beginning/Chief of his ways" emphasizes Wisdom's inherent value and role in the divine order.

Given these factors, while both interpretations have their merits, the arguments for a double accusative reading in the Hebrew are compelling. Still, as with many ancient texts, certainty is elusive, and interpretations may vary based on theological, linguistic, or contextual considerations.

Overall, I would translate it like this:

"The LORD acquired me as his (first) principle..."

or

"The LORD brought me forth (or gave me birth) as his (first) principle..."

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    – agarza
    Jul 1, 2023 at 13:14
  • The subject in the whole 8 is female Sofia: 8:12 έγω η Σοφία. So I’m afraid all the details about the begotten son are irrelevant here.
    – grammaplow
    Jul 2, 2023 at 18:47

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