3

For in the day that you eat of it, dying you shall die. - Gen 2:17

I understand that the Hebrew words translated "you shall surely die" in most English translations would be transliterated "dying you shall die."

Is "dying you shall die" a legitimate translation as well as a transliteration or is "you shall surely die" the only valid option for translation?

I.e., in Hebrew texts from the time Genesis was written, does the construction "gerund + future tense of the same verb" only ever mean that the verb spoken of is a certainty or was it also used to refer to a process that led to a final event?

(And is it actually a gerund, 'dying you shall die', or is it actually an infinitive, 'to die you shall die'?)

6
  • 1
    That is exactly the wording of Robert Young's Literal Translation (YLT). dying thou dost die.' See Textus Receptus Bibles. Up-voted +1,
    – Nigel J
    Jul 4, 2023 at 20:18
  • Consider that some animals never die of age. Planarians being the surest example but maybe even crocodiles. So the intrinsic death program is not the same as just dying of any (external) cause.
    – grammaplow
    Jul 5, 2023 at 9:19
  • "Dying you shall die" is an extremely clumsy way of saying "You're gonna die." It also leads to all kinds of interpretative nonsense about "spiritual death", whatever that is.
    – moron
    Jul 5, 2023 at 22:11
  • 1
    Realised I've used "transliterate" wrongly. By transliterate, I meant to say word for word translation rather than translating the meaning.
    – user8669
    Jul 5, 2023 at 23:05
  • 1
    @user8669: 'Translation' and 'transliteration' are very different stuffs. A 'translation' is related to the semantics (meanings) of a text. 'Transliteration' - instead - is related with phonetics (and subsequent graphic symbologies). In other words to transliterate is the attempt to reproduce the same sounds of the language A with the sounds of the language B (where A and B represent two different languages). This operation can modify also the graphemes (namely, the letter symbols) utilized. For an (Hebrew-English) example : 'Ab' is the transliteration of אב . 'Father' is its translation. Sep 30, 2023 at 9:16

4 Answers 4

2

Before answering this question, let me emphasize that Hebrew verbs do not have tense. Thus, there is no past present and future tense. Hebrew verbs have aspect - continuous and perfect. This represents a major problem for translators.

The operative phrase in Gen 2:17 consists of just two words in Hebrew - both slightly different forms of the same verb, "to die", namely

מֹ֥ות תָּמֽוּת = mowt tamut

The two words in the Hebrew are:

  • מ֥וֹת = verb qal infinitive absolute
  • תָּמֽוּת = 2nd verb qal imperfect 2nd person masculine singular

Thus, it is literally, "die die"; or "dying die". Thus, Young's translation is syntactically correct but is not semantically correct - it does not correctly convey the meaning.

A repeated verb simply adds emphasis to the certainty of the outcome. Thus, almost all modern translations correctly render this phrase as something similar to:

"you will certainly/surely die."

2

The usage of the repeated word root in Hebrew demonstrated in Genesis 2:17 is common throughout the Hebrew Bible and is used for emphasis. To underscore something's importance, the Hebrew will use an "infinitive absolute" in addition to another (conjugated) verb employing the same Hebrew root.

An infinitive absolute has no gender, number, or time associated with it. It cannot accept pronominal suffixes, and it does not accept prepositional prefixes.

Quoting from HERE:

The infinitive absolute is an extremely flexible non-finite verbal form and can function as an adverb, a finite verb, a verbal complement, or a noun. Its most common use is to express intensity or certainty of verbal action.

Because it is expressing intensity, the English translation of "surely" is one manner of representing its meaning.

1

I have also learned that 'dying you will die' is a legitimate translation. It makes sense not only grammatically but theologically, and even just plain logically: On the day Adam ate the fruit he died a spiritual death (disobedience to God is sin, sin separates us from God, separation from God is spiritual death), but he did not die physically until many (hundreds) of years later. Physical death was a result of the spiritual death, so the phrase 'מֹ֥ות תָּמֽוּת / dying you will die' is the most accurate way that the Lord could convey the relation between eating the fruit, spiritual death, and physical death.

1
  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others. I also recommend going through the Help Center's sections on both asking and answering questions.
    – agarza
    Sep 27, 2023 at 13:35
0

וַיֹּ֥אמֶר הַנָּחָ֖שׁ אֶל־הָֽאִשָּׁ֑ה לֹֽא־מ֖וֹת תְּמֻתֽוּן׃ (Gen. 3:4, MT)

Note this is normal Hebrew syntax. A word for word translation does not convey the literal meaning of the expression. "You will not actually die."

“You are not going to die,..." (Genesis 3:4, Jewish Publication Society, Tanakh 1985)

And the serpent said to the woman: You will not die at all. Instead God knows that on the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God and know what good and evil is. -- Bonhoeffer, D. (2004). Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1–3 (M. Rüter, I. Tödt, & J. W. de Gruchy, Eds.; D. S. Bax, Trans.; Vol. 3, p. 111). Fortress Press.

„Ihr werdet nicht alsobald sterben. Gott weiß es recht wohl, an dem Tage, an welchem ihr davon esset, werden euch die Augen aufgehen, werdet ihr gleich Gott sein, wissend, was gut ist und böse ist.“ -- Kroeker, J. (1926). Die erste Schöpfung, ihr Fall und ihre Wiederherstellung: Genesis 1–3 (Vol. 1, p. 279). Missionsverlag „Licht im Osten“.

§ 86. Use along with its own verb. — (a) When before its verb the kind of emphasis given by inf. abs. may be of various kinds, e.g. that of strong asseveration in promises or threats; that of antithesis in adversative statements; the emphasis natural in a supposition or concession; and that of interrogation, particularly when the speaker is animated, and throws into the question an intonation of surprise, scorn, dislike, &c. Such shades cannot be reproduced in translation. Occasionally such a word as indeed, surely (Gen. 2:17), forsooth (37:8), of course (43:7), at all (Hos. 1:6), &c., may bring out the sense, but oftenest the kind of emphasis is best expressed by an intonation of the voice. -- Davidson, A. B. (1902). Introductory Hebrew grammar Hebrew syntax (3d ed., p. 117). T&T Clark.

(b) In negative sent. inf. abs. precedes the neg. Is. 30:19 בָּכוֹ לֹא־תִבְכֶּה thou shalt not weep. Jud. 15:13 above, Ex. 8:24; 34:7, Deu. 21:14, Jud. 1:28, 1 K. 3:27; Am. 3:5; Jer. 6:15; 13:12. With אַל, 1 K. 3:26, Mic. 1:10. Exceptions occur mostly when a denial is given to previous words, Gen. 3:4, Am. 9:8, Ps. 49:8. -- Ibid., p. 118.

1
  • "You will not actually die." ??? If you're saying this is the correct translation of Genesis 2:17, some further explanation would help. Jul 5, 2023 at 12:28

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.