8

Here we have two passages, where in translation, and in translation only the word Elohim is substituted for judges, despite the fact that over 2,500+ times Elohim refers to heavenly beings exclusively, here the same word is translated as judges

“then his master shall bring him to Elohim, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.” ‭‭Exodus‬ ‭21:6‬ ‭

“If the thief is not found, the owner of the house shall come near to God to show whether or not he has put his hand to his neighbor’s property. For every breach of trust, whether it is for an ox, for a donkey, for a sheep, for a cloak, or for any kind of lost thing, of which one says, ‘This is it,’ the case of both parties shall come before Elohim. The one whom Elohim condemns shall pay double to his neighbor.” ‭‭Exodus‬ ‭22:8-9‬ ‭

The word for judges shaphat exists in the Hebrew, the word paliyl is used in this very chapter as means to judge

““When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine.” ‭‭Exodus‬ ‭21:22‬ ‭

When people needed help they would go to the priest or the judge, so what overwhelming evident is there to overturn the 2,500+ occurrences Elohim means heavenly being/s that in these two verses it mean judges, human judges, when the word is never used in this way anywhere else?

The one time Moses in Exodus 4:16 is said to be AS god the word Elohim has a preposition לאלהים that indicates in the Hebrew that he is like/as an Elohim but not an Elohim.

So what would justify these two occurrences of Elohim to be translated as judges?

8
  • Jesus also called judges "gods" "elohim" in John 10 :34. Sep 2, 2022 at 6:18
  • 2
    "Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?" ʼelo·himʹ is used of men, human judges in Israel. Jesus quoted from Psalm 82:6 at John 10:34, 35. They were gods/elohim in their capacity as representatives of and spokesmen for the Father /Jesus' God. What did Jesus call them? "gods" /elohim. Sep 2, 2022 at 12:16
  • 1
    @NihilSineDeo - I think you have a typo in your question. In the last line do you mean "occurrences" rather than "occupancies"? Sep 2, 2022 at 15:09
  • 1
    There is no word in Hebrew in Exodus 4:16 that says that Moses was “like” God. This is added by translations to acentúate that Moses is not God. He represented God before Pharaoh. Sep 2, 2022 at 21:48
  • 1
    @NihilSineDeo I apologize. You are correct that in Hebrew Moses is "as God" in Exodus 4:16. There is a preposition as you stated. I got mixed up with Exodus 7:1 where translators added the word "like" that is not found in Hebrew. Sep 10, 2022 at 15:52

3 Answers 3

7

The justification for "judges" in Ex. 21:7 is contextual. Those who translate it that way believe that a dispute between a master and his Hebrew slave would be taken to judicial authorities rather than God. However, it cannot be denied that bringing the matter to "God" is another possibility. For example:

Therefore Saul said, “O Lord God of Israel, why hast thou not answered thy servant this day? If this guilt is in me or in Jonathan my son, O Lord, God of Israel, give Urim; but if this guilt is in thy people Israel, give Thummim.” - 1 Samuel 14:41

A formal of judicial proceeding involving God as the decider can also be found in Numbers 5:11-31, where a man is directed to bring a possibly unfaithful wife to "stand before the Lord" and be tested.

Instances of leaders and people alike seeking to "inquire of the Lord" for his judgment are mentioned frequently in the biblical text. But translators apparently feel that this particular case doesn't rise to that level of magnitude.

However RSV and others agree with @Nihil:

When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. 3 If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s and he shall go out alone. 5 But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ 6 then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him for life.

The same holds for Ex. 22. Translators believe that a matter of simple theft would be decided by local authorities, not taken to God through divination, oracles etc. But once again RSV sides with @Nihil.

If the thief is not found, the owner of the house shall come near to God, to show whether or not he has put his hand to his neighbor’s goods.

The reason translators want to use "judges" rather than "God" for elohim may also be related to their theological agenda. Psalm 82 is perhaps the best example. It is a complicated issue because in the first verse, elohim appears twice, and el appears once. In that case translators reject "the gods" for elohim, because it implies that other deities than Yahweh actually existed. The variety of translations for Ps. 82:1 is impressive. "Elohim" becomes both God and "the gods" as well as "judges." Two versions will suffice to illustrate the issue:

RSV God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment.

ICB God is in charge of the great meeting of his people. He judges the judges.

In sum, the justification for "judges" in the verses mentioned is the context of a relatively mundane judicial proceeding. But since judicial decisions are known to have involved taking the matter to God in other passages, "God" is probably the better translation here.

0
5

I would dispute the idea that the word אלהים (H430) "refers to heavenly beings exclusively" as you say at the start of your question. I think it's less likely to indicate "heavenly" or divine nature, and more likely to be an indication of devotion, often used as a formal title for the singular God whose name is יהוה, but also sometimes referring to "other gods" (i.e. alternative objects of devotion). For more on this, see my recent answer here to this related question).

However, that is not the main point of your question, so I won't spend further time on it in this answer. The main point of your question is whether these other occurrences of the same word can justifiably translated as something very different, like "judges".

I can't find any coherent textual reason to understand these occurrences as anything other than the typical translation of "God" or "gods". In the case of Exodus 21:6 I think it's pretty clear that this refers to "God" (i.e. the one named יהוה)

Translating as "judges" seems to be a mistake, and again, I can find no textual basis for it. And many translators seem to agree. Of all the translations shown on this BibleHub parallel page for Exodus 21:6, 15 of the 27 listed translations do translate this word as "God". One of them (Douay-Rheims Bible) translates it as "the gods".

Exodus 22:8 seems to be the same story. Again, there is no textual/contextual basis for a "judges" translation, and again, many translators have made the same determination, as seen on this BibleHub parallel page for Exodus 22:8, in which 12 of the 27 listed translations do translate this word as "God". And again Douay-Rheims Bible translates it as "the gods".

Both passages make coherent sense if you use "God" as the denotation rather than "judges", and as your question states, these two verses are stark anomalies compared to how every other occurrence of this word is translated.

Occam's razor suggests that we go with the simplest assumption (in good company with the other translators who did the same) - that the word in these two verses should be translated as "God" rather than "judges".

12
  • I appreciate you didn’t get distracted with the first paragraph. We might have the opportunity to delve into your view another time, at a minimum the vast majority of the time the word is used it is designated to a non earthly being. Otherwise thank you for your response Sep 2, 2022 at 10:36
  • 1
    @retrace, I really don't understand object of devotion vs divine person claim. The Bible makes clear that objects of devotion like idols are not gods and there are classes of gods like in Psalms 82 that exist but are not to be worshiped.
    – Austin
    Sep 2, 2022 at 21:01
  • 1
    Again, this point (about what I think the term "God/gods" referred to by the word אלהים denotes in general) is not central to this question nor my answer, so I recommend further questions about my position or further clarification of my position to take place in my answer to the other question (which I have linked to twice above).
    – retrace
    Sep 4, 2022 at 2:38
  • 2
    @Nihil Sine Deo (II) Gen 31:30 ("why did you [Jacob] steal my אלהי?) Exo 20:23 ("You shall not make אלהי of silver to be with me, nor shall you make for yourselves אלהי of gold"), ESV. Exo 32:1 ("make us אלהים that shall go before us") Exo 32:31 ("have made for themselves a אלהי"). Sep 6, 2022 at 8:59
  • 1
    @Nihil Sine Deo (III) The concept of 'god = object of devotion/worship' is clearly revealed in the Bible (since this site in named Bible Hermeneutics is fully apt to let speak also the New Covenant's books of the Bible to explain some concepts). In fact, apostle Paul wrote about "every so-called god [Θεὸν] or [ἢ] object of worship [σέβασμα]" (2 The 2:4, ESV). And, in another place he well explained how among the "many gods" (1 Cor 8:5) existing, can be included our "belly" (Php 3:19), too! Sep 6, 2022 at 8:59
1

I think it is useful to clear the minds of some about the meaning of אלהי/אלהים/אל, along with the omologous Greek term Θεὸς/Θεὸι (see how the LXX translates these Hebrew terms).

The concept of 'god = object of devotion/worship' is clearly revealed in the Bible (since this site in named Bible Hermeneutics is fully apt to let speak also the New Covenant's books of the Bible to explain some concepts). In fact, apostle Paul wrote about "every so-called god [Θεὸν] or [ἢ] object of worship [σέβασμα]" (2 The 2:4, ESV). And, in another place he well explained how among the "many gods" (1 Cor 8:5) existing, can be included our "belly" (Php 3:19), too!

Someone (as Nihil Sine Deo, or maybe others) may ask if there are some examples to back the idea that אלהי/אלהים/אל sometimes means 'object of devotion' (or alike). Well, here are some of these examples:

Gen 31:30 ("why did you [Jacob] steal my אלהי?) Exo 20:23 ("You shall not make אלהי of silver to be with me, nor shall you make for yourselves אלהי of gold"), ESV. Exo 32:1 ("make us אלהים that shall go before us") Exo 32:31 ("have made for themselves a אלהי").

I know it must be very difficult for some adherents to explain their devotions to the religious images they have in their churches, shrines, altars, or houses, without sliding into idolatry. Regretfully for them, the Bible has no problem about it. It explains clearly - in a lot of passages - how God hates the use of religious images (in this answer of mine, I often use the term 'image' in a broad sense, including statues, carvings, and alike) in the addressed-to-Him worship.

I hope will be not necessary to explain how the artistic representations (cherubs, plants, etc.) inside the tabernacle/temple to Yahweh were not utilized for worship, in the sense Yahweh sees worship (anyway, if someone wants to receive more detailed biblical reasons about the difference, may formulate an apt question and I will glad to answer him).


So, a first related question: What is the viewpoint of Yahweh as regards 'worship' (images-related)?

We read in Exo 20:4-6 (ESV): "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments."

Granted, in a number of instances the idolaters worship an image believing they are some material representations of non-material individuals they believe are their gods.

Nevertheless, from the viewpoint of God, also to bow down before an image was an act of worship. Does the term 'worship' used here bother someone of the adherents I speak above? No problem. We may reformulate the sentence, although, as we will see, this device does not change the concept expressed by God: "From the viewpoint of God, also to bow down before an image was an act of unfaithfulness toward Him."

But Nihil Sine Deo (in a comment of him) points that today... 'No one was so naive to think that an idol was the Elohim. Today we might be naive to think they thought that but back then they knew the difference.'

First of all, this distinction of him about a claimed change of people's forma mentis (from an ancient past to a modern 'today') as regards worship has no basis, from a historical and anthropological viewpoint.

I think is useless to demonstrate with a huge amount of data how, until today, people do believe that 'images' are gods (not only material representations of them). Millions of people have, through the millennia have worshipped 'images' (of a huge amount of kinds).

In what manner they did/do so? Bowing down before them, pray them, touching them, kissing them, walking them in procession (often coming to blows to have the privilege to carry on them [unfrtunately, also here in Italy I've seen this pretty sight]), offering foods, animals, or other items to them, whipping themselves for them, stabbing & bleeding themselves for them, covering their images of living snakes, and I stop here to describe other more horryfying actions people made (and in many cases, they make today) in worshipping their 'images'...


In Isa 44:9-20 God makes a squalid picture of an 'image worshipper':

"All who fashion idols [psl] are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. 10 Who fashions a god [al] or casts an idol [psl] that is profitable for nothing? 11 Behold, all his companions shall be put to shame, and the craftsmen are only human. Let them all assemble, let them stand forth. They shall be terrified; they shall be put to shame together.

12 The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. 13 The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil.b He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. 14 He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. 15 Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god [al] and worships it; he makes it an idol [psl] and falls down before it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” 17 And the rest of it he makes into a god [al], his idol [psl], and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god [al]!”

18 They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. 19 No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, “Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” 20 He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?”"

In this passage - it should deserve an extensive talk - God enhanced some important principles. Here we will mention only three of them.

First, an 'idol' [psl] [the 'image/images' we mention above] can be equivalent to a god [al].

Second, according to God, the image/idol worshipper hasn't got a clue about God's true worship.

Third, God didn't care about the 'fine distinction' many made/make between the material object (the idol/image) and the god (spirit individual) behind it, as it would exists a difference between 'to worship' and 'to adore' ('venerare' in Latin language). Indeed, He said that that guy 'was fall down before a block of wood' (Isa 44:19), aside from the god was (might) lurking in behind that simulacrum.

Do we really have to think that the idol/image worshipper described in Isaiah was so different from all other idol/image worshippers acting so throughout the millennia? I let, of course, anyone to think differently from me, but I don't see any difference between them, nor I think God is pleased to this kind of worship today, whereas blatantly condemned the same kind of worship in ancient times.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.