Let My People Think

roman-scourge

Let’s consider the oft-quoted passage from Hebrews that seems to lend support to the idea that God inflicts physical pain or even sickness / disease on his children:

Hebrews 12:5-6 (NKJV)

5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:
“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
6 For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.”

This passage is actually quoting from Proverbs 3:11-12, which we will turn to shortly.

The verb usually translated “to discipline” is really “to child”. That’s all it is. No other connotations there. The specifics as to precisely what aspect of “childing” is in view must be established from the rest of the context.

Now, the Greek verb “to scourge” – “mastigoo” (G3146 – μαστιγόω) used in the passage is of particular interest. This Hebrews passage is quoting from a Septuagint translation of Proverbs (which was done in 3rd century BC). In Septuagint, the verb “mastigoo” is used in a general sense of whipping, and even in a sense of “smiting”, or inflicting pain in general (e.g., Job 30:21, where Job is speaking of God “whipping” him with his hand, according to Job’s perception).

Now, the Hebrews 12:5-6 is quoting from here (I am using the most literal established translation):

Proverbs 3:11-12 Young’s Literal Translation (YLT)

11 Chastisement of Jehovah, my son, despise not, And be not vexed with His reproof,
12 For whom Jehovah loveth He reproveth, Even as a father the son He is pleased with.

Every modern translation translates the second part of v. 12 in this way (“Even as a father the son He is pleased with”). The verse makes perfect sense, and semantically stands on its own (as a proverb should).

But now you will probably say – how can this be?! How do we turn from “Even as a father the son He is pleased with” to “scourges every son whom He receives”?! That’s flipping the verse on its head. Well, keep reading.

Contradiction resolved

Fortunately, others researched this inconsistency, as well. For instance, Adam Clarke in his commentary sheds light on the translation process. I don’t agree with his conclusions (Mr. Clarke seems to think that God purposely inflicts pain on his children), and I will tell you why I don’t in a couple of paragraphs, but I will quote his linguistic “detective work” here. Keep in mind that ancient Hebrew writings didn’t consistently use spaces as separator characters (some researchers say that they didn’t use spaces at all), and a lot of texts were written in “continuous writing”, with no word breaks.

The Hebrew text is as follows: וכאב את־בן ירצה uchab eth-ben yirtseh. Now, וכאב may be a noun, compounded of the conjunction ו vau, “and,” the comparative particle כ ke, “as” or “like;” and אב ab, “a father:” or it may be the third person preterite kal of כאב caab, “he spoiled, wasted, marred, ulcerated,” compounded with the conjunction ו vau, “and.” And in this sense the Septuagint most evidently understood it.

However, all (as far as I checked) modern translations, guided by much more advanced modern scholarship, specifically in the area of textual criticism, and a much wider manuscript base (the only counter-argument is that it relies on later texts, rather than the much earlier manuscripts that Septuagint translators were using), understand the verse in the first sense presented by Clarke, which is opposite of what Septuagint translators chose.

My Analysis

If we take the Septuagint rendering, it attempts to translate the Hebrew verb which is in third person preterite Qal. That Hebrew tense should have been rendered using a tense denoting a simple past action (i.e., aorist tense), which we would then translate as “whipped”. In my Septuagint, the verb is in present active indicative (“is whipping”), which is erroneous. Clarke offers a correct translation in his notes, but surprisingly he doesn’t remark that most translations get the tense wrong.

With the past tense, that would have then been a perfect prophetic passage – you can only be accepted by God through Jesus, he’s the only son accepted on his own merits, he was whipped (more specifically, scourged), and since we are accepted through Jesus (we are accepted IN the beloved), we are partakers of his scourging. By the way – since he obtained our healing by his stripe which resulted from that scourging, and “by his scourge-stripe I am healed” through my vital identification with Christ, that actually reads as a healing passage for anyone in Christ.

You may say: “I don’t want to hear all of that. The verse itself says none of that. All it’s talking about is a literal whipping”. OK, then I would like to see you show me one person that God personally literally whipped with a literal whip. Survey your believing friends, post a message on a facebook, and see if you get a testimony. I really doubt that (unless it’s coming from someone who believes himself to be a literal Napoleon Bonaparte).

Second, if that were the meaning, the verse is talking about a literal whipping in the past, not in the present, so any whipping, whatever that may have been, is literally over.

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