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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Knowing God, in Proverbs and Hosea

A reader asked about the word "knowledge" in Proverbs 9:10. This is the same word da`at whose use in Hosea I mentioned in my previous post here, and which Claude Mariottini looked at in more detail.

This word da`at is in Hebrew simply the infinitive of the verb yada` "know". Claude explains well the meaning of the Hebrew phrase da`at 'elohim, traditionally translated "knowledge of God":
an expression used to describe the special relationship between God and Israel that comes out of the covenant relationship.
As such he is right to reject the rendering "acknowledgement of God", found at Hosea 4:1, 6:6 in NIV and TNIV. Similarly wrong is the NET Bible rendering at Proverbs 9:10 "acknowledging the Holy One" (and similarly in Hosea). This phrasing means to me no more than affirming the existence of God or perhaps his activity in some situation.

The problem is that "knowledge of God", or "knowledge of the Holy One", is just as misleading, and as so has been rightly discarded by the NET Bible translators, and in part by the NIV and TNIV translators. For to me this phrase implies knowing facts about God, i.e. theology. But this is not the meaning of the Hebrew phrase either.

Even worse is "the knowledge of God", as in Hosea 6:6 KJV and RSV, which implies to me the knowledge which God has.

What is needed is a phrase which clearly expresses relational knowledge, not that we know about God but that we know him and have a relationship with him. To find a better phrase, I take a tip from NET Bible's use of a verbal gerund rather than a noun, and suggest "knowing God".

This is of course the title of JI Packer's classic book. Sadly the book concentrates on knowing about God rather than having a relationship with him. But its title is an excellent one, and deserves to find its way into the Bible.


At Tue Aug 28, 07:58:00 AM, Blogger Iris Godfrey said...

Thank you. This is the stuff I read your blog to gain. You are a blessing!

At Tue Aug 28, 08:26:00 AM, Blogger Mike said...

thanks Peter for this post.

Bruce Waltke comes to the same conclusion in his proverbs commentary.

he translates yada in Proverbs 3.6 as "in all your ways desire his presence."

uniquely, the TNIV translate yada in the same verse with

"in all your ways submit to him."

At Tue Aug 28, 10:32:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

You're welcome, Iris and Mike. And thanks, Mike, for the reference to Proverbs 3:6. I'm not quite sure about the TNIV rendering and Waltke's, which seem to me to go a little beyond the meaning of yada`. But they are definitely more in the right ball park than the traditional "acknowledge him" here. The point is not that wherever we choose to go we make some kind of acknowledgement of his existence, but rather that we need to maintain our close relationship with him, and as we do so he will guide us.

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At Tue Aug 28, 01:35:00 PM, Blogger Charity said...

I'm wondering whether "acknowledge" isn't one of those words that has shifted in meaning since it was used in the KJV. When I was growing up I certainly didn't understand the Proverbs 3 passage as "some kind of acknowledgement of his existence" but more acknowledge in the sense of recognise who he is and what he is doing in everything that is happening, attributing that to him.

At Tue Aug 28, 03:01:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Charity, you may be right about a subtle shift of meaning, and so I don't condemn the KJV reading. But even if "in all your ways acknowledge him" (Proverbs 3:6 NIV) did carry the meaning "recognise who he is and what he is doing in everything that is happening", I don't think that would be an accurate translation here. For the word is fundamentally a relational one, and needs to be translated as such.

At Tue Aug 28, 10:34:00 PM, Blogger Charity said...

Peter, maybe you're understanding something different by relational than I am (I'm completely confused about the whole thing). For me "acknowledging" in the sense that I've understood it involves relationship. However I agree that it doesn't give the right meaning in present day English, and that something better should be found.


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