7.3 Hebrew Verb Tenses

27Nov09

Some have suggested that the Hebrew verb tense used when referring to instances where God is said to be responsible for sickness is permissive rather than causative.  They argue that this means God is not directly responsible for the sickness inflicted but is allowing other events and beings to cause the sickness.

It is said that Dr Robert Young, author of Young’s Analytical Concordance and Hints To Bible Interpretation, points out that in the original Hebrew (the Old Testament was written in Hebrew), the verb is in the permissive rather than causative sense.  (I have spent some time trying to identify the source of this statement but have been unable to do so.  If you know where it comes from please let me know in a comment below.)

According to those who hold this view, Deuteronomy 28:27 should have been translated something like, “The Lord will allow/permit these plagues to be brought upon you…”   The original Hebrew of these scriptures was in the permissive tense, but because the English language has no corresponding permissive tense, the verbs were translated in the causative tense (http://www.blueletterbible.org/help/verbtense.html)

The reference made to the Hebrew tenses seems to be incorrect.  This can be determined fairly easily through the use of the online Bible tool http://www.blueletterbible.org/help/verbtense.html

It is true that there is an Active and Passive (not really permissive I dont think) tense to the Hebrew verbs.  But in all instances I have checked the active form of the verb is used.  This is the reason the translators have unanimously translated the verses as ‘he struck’ rather than ‘he allowed to be struck’.

The ‘Causative’ form of the verb has both active and passive tenses.  The active form can be rendered “he caused to kill”.  The passive form can be rendered “he was caused to kill”.  All the references in De 28.22-35 use the active/causative form of the verb.  Thus, the translation “God caused to strike you with boils” is essentially the same as the NKJV rendering of “the Lord will strike you”.

But even if we were to eliminate the causative (Hiphil) verses, there are still many verses in both the Simple and the Intensive form that can be used to demonstrate that God directly inflicts sickness upon people.

The following verses use an active verb (he killed / he caused to kill) and so attribute the sickness directly to the action of God.

Exo 9:14 NKJV  for at this time I will send all My plagues to your very heart, and on your servants and on your people, that you may know that there is none like Me in all the earth.

Deu 24:9 NKJV  Remember what the LORD your God did to Miriam on the way when you came out of Egypt!

2Ch 21:14 NKJV  behold, the LORD will strike your people with a serious affliction–your children, your wives, and all your possessions;

2Ch 21:18 NKJV  After all this the LORD struck him in his intestines with an incurable disease.

Lev 26:16 NKJV  I also will do this to you: I will even appoint terror over you, wasting disease and fever which shall consume the eyes and cause sorrow of heart. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it.

Deu 28:27 NKJV  The LORD will strike you with the boils of Egypt, with tumors, with the scab, and with the itch, from which you cannot be healed.

Verb Tense Usage:

Passive (Niphal, Pual, Hophal)Niphal: He was killed

Pual: He was killed indeed!

Hophal: he was caused to kill

Active (Qal, Piel, Hiphil, Reflexive)Qal: he killed

Piel: he killed indeed!

Hiphil: he caused to kill

Ex 9.14: “send” – Qal

 

Ex 12.23: “to smite” – Qal

Lev 14.34: “and I put” – Qal

2 Ch 21.14: “smite” – Qal

2 Sam 12.15: “struck” – Qal

2 Sam 24.15: “sent” – Qal

Zec 14.12: “will smite” – Qal

Lev 26.16: “I will appoint over you” – Hiphil

Lev 26.25: “I will send” – Piel

De 24.9: “did” unto Miriam – Qal

De 28.1: “will set” – Qal

De 28.7: “shall cause” – Qal

De 28.8 “shall command” – Piel

De 28.9: “shall establish” – Hiphil

De 28.11: “shall make thee plenteous” – Hiphil

De 28.12: “shall open” – Qal

De 28.13: “shall make” – Qal

De 28.20: “shall send on you” curses – Piel

De 28.21: “cleave” – Hiphil

De 28.22: “shall smite” – Hiphil

De 28.27: “will smite” – Hiphil

De 28.28: “shall smite” – Hiphil

De 28.35: “shall smite” – Hiphil

Jer 29.17: “”I will send” – Piel

Simple

  • Qal (active) – he killed
  • Niphal (passive) – he was killed

Intensive – giving force or emphasis; emphasizing
[very in the very same man is an intensive adverb]

  • Piel (active) – he killed indeed! / he slaughtered
  • Pual (passive) – he was killed indeed! / he was slaughtered
  • Hithpael (reflexive) – he killed himself

Causative – expressing causation, as certain verbs
[fell is a causative verb meaning to cause to fall]

  • Hiphil (active) – he caused to kill
  • Hophal (passive) – he was caused to kill
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4 Responses to “7.3 Hebrew Verb Tenses”

  1. I have recently been looking for the book by Dr. Young which you referred to, and have thus far had little success. However, I have found several significant scholarly sources further supporting the concept of the permissive or occasional case of active Hebrew verbs, including Dr. Young himself.

    The general argument presented by these scholars tends to follow this form: The Hebrew language does not have the necessary faculties by which to convey the idea of granting permission or the idea of giving occasion to another party on which to act. Instead, an active verb tense is used, and the reader is meant to understand from context or “known nature of things, or the known character of persons” (i.e., the revealed character of God) that permission or occasion is being implied (Emphasized Bible, p. 919). Rotherham (in his appendix to the Old Testament of his Emphasized Bible) offers several examples, including this one:

    “[And] [s]o with regard to hayah, ‘to live'; in piel, ‘to cause to live.’ The historian [presumably Dr. Benjamin Davies] says that the midwives (literally) ’caused the male children to live’ (Exo. i. 17)–plainly, ‘permitted them,’ ‘refrained from putting them to death.'”

    Here Rotherham conveys the idea that in some circumstances the subject of the verb should not be understood to be the active agent. In this specific example, it does not make sense to interpret the verb in the causative. The midwives did not have it within their power to “make” or “cause” the children to live. However, their action of ignoring the Pharaoh did provide the occasion for the children to live, so it could be said more accurately that they “permitted” or “suffered” the children to live.

    See The Rotherham Emphasized Bible, p. 919 for the full article. Additionally, the footnote on p. 87, referencing Exodus 4:21. The full text of The Emphasized Bible (1902 edition) can be found online:

    http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0837018870&id=W6sMAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA1&lpg=PA1#v=onepage&q&f=false

    In this same vein, Thomas Jackson cites three well-regarded scholars in his support of the permissive case: John Howe, Dr. Thomas Pierce and Richard Hooker. See The Providence of God in the Light of the Holy Scripture, beginning at the bottom paragraph of p. 294. The full text (1862 edition) can be found online:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=GsECAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA294#v=onepage&q&f=false

    Regardless of the difficulty of obtaining Dr. Young’s Hints to Bible Interpretation, Young’s Analytical Concordance is commonly available and contains in the introductory matter (of the original editions) an article entitled “Hints and Helps to Bible Interpretation.” Some have proposed that those referencing Hints to Bible Interpretation were in fact referencing this work, while others insist that this introductory article is merely an outline or a distilled version of the elusive larger work. (It should be noted that the article in Young’s Concordance does not contain the specific reference to Deut. 28 which is so commonly found as a “quote” from the larger work.) Whichever may be the case, Young’s “Hints and Helps” does specifically record the respected translator’s position on the permissive case:

    “70. (b) Active verbs frequently express a permission of [the action], e.g.–[see text for list of example scripture references]
    ….
    (d) Active verbs frequently express giving an occasion for [the action], e.g.–[see text for list of example scripture references]
    ….
    (h) Active verbs frequently express what is done by a deputy, e.g.–Gen. 16.13, &c.”

    Note that Young indicates that all three cases are frequent. The entire text of Young’s Concordance can be found online, with the specific page referenced being here:

    http://www.archive.org/stream/analyticalconcor00younuoft#page/n13/mode/1up

    The active can clearly be seen to indicate both a deputy and the granting of permission in the account of the tenth plague in Exodus 12:23. At first, this verse (in fact, the entire account of the final plague) would seem to suggest that God himself was actively smiting the Egyptians, but it is shown in the second half of the verse that the smiting actually occurred through the agency of “the destroyer” who could only act if God would “permit” it. In further support of this point, Psalm 78:49 indicates that the plagues were carried out by “evil angels”, and Isaiah 54:16 refers to a “waster” whose job is “to destroy.”

    Several people have erroneously argued that Dr. Young could not have favored permissive renderings, as his Literal Translation of the Holy Bible offers only causative renderings. It should be noted that all of the sources thus far cited agree that the literal rendering of the original languages is always causative, and that the permissive is always inferred. Since Young set out to offer a literal translation, it should be expected that he would take no license to render the inferred meaning in lieu of the direct translation. Dr. Young himself makes it very clear that he intended to take no such license in the “Preface to the Revised Edition” of his Literal Translation.

    As a final note, another scholarly source is cited in a discussion forum in support of active verbs connoting the permissive, but my online searches for the source document were in vain. Hebrew Notes by Bob R. Ellis (a contributing author to the Holman Bible Dictionary) and Harry B. Hunt is said to contain on page 14 some explanation of the permissive and the potential in Hebrew. The reference to this text along with the details of the permissive and potential is found in post 4 at the following link:

    http://www.baptistboard.com/showthread.php?t=22262

    While the references and research presented here do seem to contradict some of the points you have made in your article, it should be rather clear at this point that many respected Hebrew scholars, including Dr. Young, were in favor of permissive renderings of active tenses in certain circumstances. Since this does allow for the possibility of rendering each active verb tense in the permissive case (depending on context clues) it is my hope that you are open to reconsidering the rigidity of your stance.

  2. One thing to note is that Hebrew verbs are often so broad that that they simply don’t contain information about God’s mental state or specifically how he is acting. In Genesis 8:1, it says that God “remembered” Noah and dried up the waters. But we know that God didn’t forget about him. Here the verb “remember” refers to acting in accordance with a promise made earlier. It really isn’t telling you anything about God’s mental state – it’s describing God’s actions. English speakers think that they can read into Hebrew verbs meanings finer than what they actually have.

  3. 3 Gary Wayne Roman

    No offense to anyone commenting or disrespect for the translators mentioned, however to assume a permissive tense when YHWH himself didn’t create one in the original language He chose to give the bible in is to do as many denominations do when reading into the scriptures. Begin with an assumption as to the nature of YHWH and interpret scripture based on that assumption. I know it is hard to imagine a loving God doing things like flooding a whole world and killing possibly a billion people because it grieved Him that He made them. Or ordering the annihilation of seven whole nations when the Israelites entered the promised land. Or in the N.T. when Ananias and Sapphira dropped dead for lying to the Holy Spirit. Or the Angel of the Lord that struck Herod for taking glory from Elohim. But that doesn’t change God. He is still the same. It is man’s faulty assumption of what good and evil are and the idea that God would never do anything we would deem evil. This is the error of “you thought I was altogether like you”. No it is apparent from Genesis to Revelation, that YHWH is a God of judgement and mercy,, and His judgement has many times included sickness, disease, plagues and pestilence. While there is mercy for those He will have mercy on, there is judgement to those He will not and it says in Romans that He is the one who hardens and He is the one who has mercy on whomever He chooses. I was never of this belief while I was a health and wealth preacher. However I started reading the Tanach and the words of Yahshua and discovered my error. I was interpreting the bible by a preconceived notion of what God has to be like to fit my doctrine. After learning the fear of YHWH as we are commanded to do I also learned to form my doctrine by the plain interpretation of the scriptures. Yahshua told us to fear Him who after he has destroyed the body can cast the soul into hell. This coming from the representative of the Godhead in bodily form. Even in the letters of Paul which are so misinterpreted we now have a do nothing greasy grace message of mental assent instead of a sell all and follow me message that Yahshua preached, we see a man turned over to Satan for the destruction of the fless so that in the end his spirit might(subjunctive verb tense) be saved. Two others were turned over to Satan to learn not to blaspheme. And in Rev 2:23 Yahshua will be killing with death the children of Jezebel(Future Active Indicative(fact) first person singular). Now that is pretty plain that Yashua is doing the killing for their sinfulness. So my suggestion is that we read it like it is and not assume to change the tense. There are many ways Elohim could have written the sentences to make them permissive if He had wanted to protect His reputation as a “Good” God. That being said. I believe He is Good, and loving and merciful and He wants His children healthy with every need met but at the same time Joseph spent years in slavery as did Daniel, Hannaniah, Azariah and Mishael, Esther was taken from her home to be tried out by the king, Paul and others went to jail and all of the early Apostles except John were martyred. And the church in other countries of the world is being persecuted and many are put to death and suffer lack as we speak. So lets let God be God and interpret the bible by the bible and not by our favorite guru or commentator. Or study help. I am in the process of learning Hebrew and Greek. I hope to go to Israel in 2016 to study the Hebrew language and the Tanach with real Hebrews. I have found that for the most part the american people are so gentilized and think from a greek mindset instead of Hebrew. Remember God is a God of the Hebrews and Yahshua is still the Lion of the tribe of Judah, making Him a Jew. The New covenant is a covenant with Israel and the gentiles are grafted in. The writers of the NT were all Jews and that is the reason it is said the NT is terrible greek sentence for but very good Hebrew. It was either written in Hebrew or it was written in Greek with good Hebrew sentence structure. To try to understand the NT without a very good knowledge of the customs, language and Elohim of the Hebrews is almost a futile effort which will actually leave a person with a false image of YHWH. I hope this helps. I am no scholar but the study of the scriptures has been my life work for the last 27yrs. I hope some day to really know something about them. Till then I will endeavor, by the grace of Elohim to give my life to “comtinuing in His Word” that I may be a true disciple. May YHWH bless you as you give yourselves totally to Him and His will.


  1. 1 God and Sickness « A Wild Voice

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