Sunday, January 19, 2014
Is “In the Image of God” an Inaccurate Translation?
And God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:27)
This is one of the most famous verses in the Bible because it contains one of the most powerful memes in the history of mankind – humans are created in the image of God.
Memetics, a very new discipline, is transforming the way we view information, its transmission and influence on human behavior. It has important implications for understanding the Bible and the religious institutions that base their authority upon it. The following will provide you with an overview of the meaning of “meme:”
(1) the unit of cultural heredity analogous to the gene
(2) the internal representation of knowledge
(3) the complex idea that forms itself into a distinct memorable unit
(4) it is spread by vehicles that are physical manifestations of the meme
(5) a unit of information in a mind whose existence influences events
(6) a unit of information that causes copies of itself to be created in other minds.[i]
Memes are idea complexes and meme vehicles are their tangible expressions.[ii] If we use the example of a computer, genes are like the hardware and memes are like the software.
The original meme in the above verse was written in Hebrew. If you haven’t downloaded and learned how to use our FREE Hebrew-English Transliterator CLICK HERE for Part 1 & CLICK HERE for Part 2. These are very short exercises that teach you how to use the BHC Hebrew-English Transliterator. It will transform the way you study your Bible. So, get your BHC Transliterator and use it as we examine the Hebrew word that was translated “in the image of” in Genesis 1:27 above:
In order to understand how to translate it, we must learn how Hebrew words are constructed.
Now let’s take another look at the Hebrew word above using this information:
In order to determine the meanings, we must look up the meanings of the prefix and the root word separately in our lexicon. The Hebrew Lexicon we use and recommend is A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament by William L. Holladay. For more information about it, or how to order your copy -- CLICK HERE.
Now let’s look at the prefix using the BHC Hebrew-English Transliteration:
It is letter #3 that is called “Vet.” It is a form of letter #2, Bet. A Vet is transliterated “V” and a Bet “B.” Look beneath the name “Bet” on the Transliterator and you will find “32,” which is the number of the page this letter first appears in the Holladay lexicon. In our studies, I refer to the location of words by page and column (a = left column; b = right column). The prefix above is found on page 32a where we find the following options for translating it:
6. on the
8. according to
12. (together) with
14. more than
15. with an; through (by)
18. because of, for the sake of
It is absolutely essential for you to understand that when you read any translation of the Bible you are only aware of the choice the translators chose from a number of other options. In other words, the choice made by the translators for the “Vet” prefix was “in,” but readers of their translation are completely unaware of the other nineteen (19) options they could have chosen. The more you learn to work with the Hebrew and Greek words of your Bible, the more you will realize exactly how often the theologies of the translators influence the choices they make. Anyway, glance over the above options for this prefix again and consider how different choices would have changed the translation.
Now let’s turn our attention to the root word:
It is found in Holladay’s on page 306b. There are two separate entries for this word -- I & II. I will use the transliteration of the root word TzELEM to indicate the two options:
a. 2 Kings 11:18a – “And all the people of the land went to the temple of Baal, and tore it down. They thoroughly broke in pieces its altars and images . . .”
b. Numbers 33:52 – “then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, destroy all their engraved stones, destroy all their molded images, and demolish all their high places.”
2. image, model
a. 1 Samuel 6:5a – “Therefore you shall make images of your tumors and images of your rats that ravage the land, and you shall give glory to the God of Israel. . .”
b. Ezekiel 23:14 -- “But she increased her harlotry; she looked at men portrayed on the wall, images of Chaldeans portrayed in vermilion.”
3. image (Genesis 1:26a) – “God said, “Let Us make man in Our image . . .”
1. Shadow, something shadowy, form without substance.
a. Psalm 39:6 (7) – “Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro . . .”
b. Psalm 73:20 – “As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O Lord, you will despise them as fantasies.”
Traditionally, all translators that I am aware of chose option #1 for the translation for the prefix “in” and option #I “image” for the translation of the root word.
But, there is a factor that I believe translators failed to fully consider when choosing their options – context.
Context is defined as that which precedes and/or follows any part of a discourse and can throw light on the meaning.
There are no references in the context to the physical description of God. But there are two verses that provide information we need to make a more informed decision about which option to choose:
(1) Genesis 1:2b – “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”
(2) Genesis 2:7 -- “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
Two different Hebrew words are used in the above verses for Spirit and breath, but they share the meaning of “form without substance.” They are the best description of God in the context before and after Genesis 1:27. Based on the linguistic principles that we call the BHC Linguistic Method, “Spirit” is the most contextually accurate option for the root word. When we use the same principles to determine the best option for the prefix, our choice is “with.” Now let’s use this information to update our translation of Genesis 1:27:
And God created mankind with His own Spirit, with the Spirit of God He created them; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:27)
In many ancient cultures, their meme for the creation of humans transmitted the idea that humans are created to serve gods and goddesses, and are lower in value than animals. The traditional meme from the verse above – humans are created in the image of God – produced a very different view about humans – they were created in God’s image. Humans are created a little lower than God, but above all other creatures.
I believe that our more contextually accurate translation of the meme will have an even more powerful impact – especially when people either look in the mirror at themselves or when they interact with others and see every human as a creature “with His Spirit” – male and female, regardless of race, tribe or religion.
Of course, every human also has an Earth-soul – and it affects the choices we make -- but we will have to discuss that in a future blog.
Consider the content of this study and the way I provide you with as much factual information as possible, so you can learn how to acquire and use new skills and tools that allow you to understand how the words that appear in your Bibles were chosen. I believe this prepares you much better than simply telling you what choices I would make. Being chained to one translation of the Bible keeps you from growing and maturing spiritually.
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SHALOM & Be Empowered!