Hebrews 11.6 – Translating God as Present

Translating the Bible is often times viewed  as the evil enterprise of heretics, but a constant looking to the original language offers benefits. Granted, this is not the calling of everyone, but is indeed open to all.

Hebrews 11 is generally called the ‘Hall of Fame’ of Faith, and for good cause. It does, after all, list biblical heroes and apply their stature in the Kingdom to the faith that they held. After a short discourse on faith, the writer of Hebrews, generally assumed to be Paul, launches into these heroes with some vigor. It was Abel, first, then Enoch in the roll call. Upon Enoch’s name, and the fact that Enoch pleased God, the writer states,

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6 NKJV)

I want to examine the ‘He is’ of this verse in a finer detail. The Greek εστιν translates as ‘he is’ easily, but in dealing with translations, I have learned that it is best to figure out what the writer was thinking as he or she wrote the original text. It is not always necessary, nor does it change the translation all that much, but sometimes, it is worth the exercise to hold the same pen as the translator.

ἐστί is a third person singular indicative of εἰμι. ἐστί means, depending on the pronoun, ‘he/she/it is’. It is a noun of existence. εἰμι is the first person singular – I am. In the Septuagint, we find this used in Exodus 3.14:

καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεὸς πρὸς Μωυσῆν Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν· καὶ εἶπεν Οὕτως ἐρεῖς τοῖς υἱοῖς Ισραηλ Ὁ ὢν ἀπέσταλκέν με πρὸς ὑμᾶς. Exodus 3:14 (LXX)

And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.”‘ (Exodus 3:14 NKJV)

This statment by the one true God of Israel, along with the Shema in Deuteronomy 6.4, is a key text for Jews and monotheism. Christ used it of Himself several times, notably,

Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”  (John 8:58 NKJV)

The Psalmist said,

God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. (Psalms 46:1 NKJV)

Stay with me for just a second – let’s place ourself in the mind of the writer of Hebrews. Can we, if we strip away our translations, if we apply the great ‘I Am’ statements from both written Covenants – if we understand that the sacred writer used the third person for ‘I Am’, could we not see that perhaps a translation highlighting the first person read something like this:

But with faith, it is impossible to please him, for it necessary for the one that approaches God to believe that he is the I AM, and that he becomes a rewarder to those who craves for him.  (Hebrews 11:6 CTV-NT)

Like I said, exercises are good, at times, if nothing else for the individual. In my reading, I see the writer of Hebrews fully understanding that God is always declaring himself  ‘I AM.’

What do you think? Am I far off?

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6 Replies to “Hebrews 11.6 – Translating God as Present”

  1. I think you have the right idea. I would agree the writer of Hebrews views Christ Jesus as God, but I’m not sure the CTV-NT has the right translation. I say this because the “is” in Hebrews 11:6, transliterated Esti, is third person ( http://www.biblestudytools.net/InterlinearBible/bible.cgi?word=Hebrews+11%3A6&section=0&version=kjv&new=1&oq=&NavBook=heb&NavGo=11&NavCurrentChapter=11 ).

    While the “am” is first person, as we see in John 18:6, where Jesus said, “I AM” (transliterated Eimi) and the men fell backwards ( http://bible.crosswalk.com/InterlinearBible/bible.cgi?word=John+18%3A6&section=0&version=kjv&new=1&oq=&NavBook=joh&NavGo=18&NavCurrentChapter=18 ). Our translations all seem to add the word “he” to this particular passage.

    Even so, as I said, I think the idea is sound. Just not sure that is the verse for it.

    I find it interesting, in Hebrews 10:15-17, that the Holy Spirit is referred to as being the one who said He would put His laws into our hearts and minds, and our sins He would remember no more.

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