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Genesis 2:17 translations

New International Version

but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

King James Bible

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

Which one is right? Why do they do so? Do bible translators deliberately try to hide controversy?

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  • in the day of thine eating of it -- dying thou dost die.' Young's Literal Translation
    – Nigel J
    Jul 19, 2023 at 4:18

2 Answers 2

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This is a matter of ancient vs modern idioms and a rather contentious matter depends upon it. Let me illustrate.

In both English and Hebrew the word "day" is used in two distinct senses:

  • describing a literal 24 hour period, eg, "five days ago ...", or, "on the third day ...", etc. See Gen 1:8, 13, etc.
  • a general; undefined period such as "In my parents day ...", or, "in the olden days", etc. See Gen 4:3, 5:4, etc.

The two forms are easy to distinguish - the first always has a numeral and the second does not.

Gen 2:17 בְּי֛וֹם

In Gen 2:17, the word בְּי֛וֹם = "in/on the day". This is the very literal translation. However, modern versions recognize that this might leave the impression that God was predicting that Adam and Eve would die on the same day that they ate the forbidden fruit. However, this is NOT what the text is saying.

The text is simply saying that when Adam and Eve sinned by eating the forbidden fruit, they would begin the process of dying. Thus, it does NOT say that they would die the same day.

Hence some modern translations translate more sensitively and idiomatically and say, "when you eat", or similar.

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They are trying to clarify the text for modern readers. However, it is going too far to say that bible translators are "deliberately trying to hide controversy." Although the Hebrew word בְּי֛וֹם (bə·yō·wm) is usually rendered as "in/on the day" it can sometimes mean "when" or "in the time." For example in Gen. 30:33 even the KJV speaks of "the time to come," although "the day to come" would be the literal translation.

Also, a "day" is not always meant literally. For example, in Gen. 2:4, we have the phrase "on the day that God created the heavens and the earth." Many translate this as "at the time" or "when God created the heavens and the Earth." As most of us are aware, God's "day" is not the same as ours (2 Peter 3:8), so this is not nearly as controversial as as the OP's example.

Bottom line: "on/in the day" is the literal translation and it is better rendered literally in this case. However, since "when" or "in the time" are legitimately used for the Hebrew term even in traditional translations of similar phrases, there is inadequate evidence to convict translators of intentionally obscuring the meaning of the text. No doubt they are trying to clarify the text's meaning for modern readers, whether or not the are consciously trying to hide controversy. But it they are hiding it, on assumes this would be the reason.

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