“I know that my redeemer lives…”

Job 19:25–27 contains what are perhaps the most famous words of Job. They are included in Handel’s Messiah and found in other Christian music as well. For many, these words by Job are understood as an indication that Job’s faith continues despite all that has happened to him: Job’s redeemer is God and Job, fundamentally, maintains a profound faith in God. For some these verses are understood even to reflect Job’s hope in life after death.

Yet this common understanding of these verses is almost certainly wrong. Let me explain.

First, it’s worth noting that just because an interpretation or reading of a text makes for some profound message, or great sermon fodder, or supports one’s theological position, does not make it right. I’ve heard that sort of argument for the Comma Johanneum — it must be true because it supports the doctrine of the Trinity. Forget the overwhelming textual evidence against it, the dubious circumstances surrounding its authenticity, and so forth. If it sounds good then that’s enough for some people, and removing it is tantamount to heresy.

That seems to be the thinking behind the argument in some of the commentaries that I’ve seen which then go on to claim that any other interpretation is clearly inferior. Yet this is not a sound exegetical argument. Close inspection reveals problems with this view and the alternative view, espoused below, is free from these difficulties.

The most apparent difficulty is recognised by some proponents of the traditional view (if I may call it this). John Hartley, for example, notes that:

This magnificent verse then means that Job is beseeching the God in whom he has faith to help him against the God who is punishing him.

J. E. Hartley, Job, 295.

The point is, nothing in the context prepares us to identify Job’s redeemer as God, and everything in the context urges us not to make this identification.

So how do we best make sense of this passage? Let me make a few observations:

  1. The ‘redeemer’ (גאל) was a defined role in ancient Israel (see Num 35:12, 19–27; Lev 25:25–34), sometimes called the ‘kinsman-redeemer’. They sought justice when a family member was murdered, they ensured that widows within the family were cared for, they redeemed property sold through economic circumstances. They were real people who were members of the extended family. Obviously the most famous example is Boaz in the story of Ruth (see Ruth 2:20).¹
  2. Job has, for some time by this point, made it clear that he does not expect to live for long. He feels his death is imminent (e.g. Job 7:21). He will leave a widow, he will leave an estate which needs to be apportioned as inheritance within his broader family. In short, he expects to need the services of his kinsman-redeemer in the near future!
  3. In Job 19:25, when Job refers to a time that is “in the end” (אחרון), this redeemer will stand on dust (על–עפר). ‘Dust’ is used in reference to death, for example, in Gen 3:19; Job 7:21. It is likely a reference to Job’s death, possibly even his own grave. Job ties the arrival of this redeemer with his demise, precisely what we’d expect of a ‘kinsman-redeemer’.
  4. The opening of verse 26 parallels the close of verse 25, again referring to Job’s death. The mistake in many translations is tying this clause with what follows rather than that which precedes it. In the first three lines (Job 19:25–26a), Job has poetically stated that his death is coming, it is certain, and he has made arrangements (he is confident that his kinsman-redeemer is ready).
  5. This portion, v. 26a, is difficult no matter which view is adopted, and some commentators consider it to be corrupt (which it may be). The problems, in particular, are that the singular ‘skin’ (עור) seems to be the subject of the plural piel verb, and whether the piel verb can have a passive meaning, as would seem to be necessary. The LXX offers no help in understanding the Hebrew.
  6. The remainder of verse 26 and first two-thirds of 27 now express Job’s wishes for before he dies — before his skin is gone, while still in his flesh. Furthermore, the yiqtol verbs should be read modally — unlike the way most English translations render them. “But in my flesh I want to see God.” That this is so is made explicit by the final clause (see below). He emphasises this by asserting that he wants to see God with his own eyes and not leave this encounter to another (after he has died).
  7. The final clause makes it clear that Job is desperate for this to happen, but that it is by no means a certainty. The verb here, כלה, usually means “to stop, come to an end,” but is used in the sense of “yearning, longing” in places such as 2Sam 13:39; Ps 84:3[2]; 119:81. Job has elsewhere expressed a desire to confront God (see, for example, Job 13:1–12).

This leads to the following translation of this passage:

I know that my kinsman-redeemer lives,
and after (me) he will stand on the dust
after they have stripped this — my skin

Yet from my flesh I want to see God,
I want to see him for myself,
and my eyes see, not a stranger’s!

My innards yearn within me.

Job 19:25–27

So in the end, Job is reiterating his expectation that his death is nearing. He is ready for it, indeed he has in places been longing for it. But before that happens, before the end comes, he wants the opportunity to meet with God so that he might register his complaint and, perhaps, get some sort of explanation for what has happened to him. And while he doesn’t know it at this point in the story, he is going to get his wish!

For Christian readers this might be somewhat disappointing. Desperate to find deeper meaning in the Old Testament, we can forget that Job’s original readers knew nothing of Jesus, knew nothing of the nature of post-mortem existence, had no inkling of a final judgment or eternal life.


  1. See, for example, Matthew J. Suriano, “Death, Disinheritance, and Job’s Kinsman-Redeemer.” JBL 129.1 (2010): 49–66.

be there dragons in isaiah 6?

Isaiah 6 is a magnificent account of Isaiah’s encounter with the true king. The scene features supernatural creatures, the שרפים (śĕrāphîm). Most translations going back as far as the Greek simply transliterate the Hebrew and so call the creatures “seraphim” (the Greek has σεραφιν). But I think there may be a viable alternative.

  • Seraph is the Hebrew word for serpent/snake. The word also means “burning” and it is supposed that the association comes about because the bite of a serpent produces a burning sensation.
  • These serpents have legs (they cover the legs with one set of wings) and hands (used to pick up the burning coal).
  • They have wings!
  • The Greek word drakōn means “dragon, serpent,” so a dragon is meant to be serpent like! The Greek word is used in Rev 12–13 and often translated as “dragon” in English versions.
  • These creatures are supernatural, so not something you’d expect to see every day.
  • They’re impressively sized and loud enough to cause the temple, built from heavy stone, to tremble.

So perhaps “dragon,” as popularly conceived, actually does fit quite well. Here, then, is a quick translation of the first verses of Isaiah 6:

In the year king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and exalted. The bottom of his robe filled the temple. Dragons with six wings were stationed above him – each had six wings: with two it covered its face, with two it covered its feet, and with two it flew.

They called to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is General Yahweh! The whole earth is filled with his glory!”

The stone frames of the doorways shook at the sound of their calls, and the temple filled with smoke.

Then I said, “Woe to me for I am destroyed, for I am a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the king, General Yahweh.”

Then one of the dragons flew to me and in its hand was a burning coal which it had taken from the altar with tongs. It touched my mouth and said, “Now this has touched your lips your guilt has been removed and your sin dealt with.”

Perhaps the only downside is that “dragon” is used in Revelation in reference to Satan. Yet perhaps like angels there can be good and evil dragons!

job’s wife

February 8th is International Septuagint Day.

In celebration, this year I thought I’d post one of the two major differences between the LXX and MT in the Book of Job, the details of Job’s wife. For those unfamiliar with her, this is all we hear of and from Job’s wife in the MT:

ותאמר לו אשתו עדך מחזיק בתמתך ברך אלהים ומת

Then his wife said to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!”

Sounds pretty harsh, right? Well the LXX of Job tends to tone things down quite a bit throughout. When it comes to Job’s wife, however, we get quite a lot more information! The LXX has this:

Χρόνου δὲ πολλοῦ προβεβηκότος εἶπεν αὐτῷ ἡ γυνὴ αὐτοῦ
Μέχρι τίνος καρτερήσεις λέγων
ΔΙδοὺ ἀναμένω χρόνον ἔτι μικρὸν
προσδεχόμενος τὴν ἐλπίδα τῆς σωτηρίας μου;
iοὺ γὰρ ἠφάνισταί σου τὸ μνημόσυνον ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς,
υἱοὶ καὶ θυγατέρες, ἐμῆς κοιλίας ὠδῖνες καὶ πόνοι,
οὓς εἰς τὸ κενὸν ἐκοπίασα μετὰ μόχθων.
sύ τε αὐτὸς ἐν σαπρίᾳ σκωλήκων κάθησαι διανυκτερεύων αἴθριος·
kἀγὼ πλανῆτις καὶ λάτρις
τόπον ἐκ τόπου περιερχομένη καὶ οἰκίαν ἐξ οἰκίας
προσδεχομένη τὸν ἥλιον πότε δύσεται,
ἵνα ἀναπαύσωμαι τῶν μόχθων καὶ τῶν ὀδυνῶν, αἵ με νῦν συνέχουσιν.
ἀλλὰ εἰπόν τι ῥῆμα εἰς κύριον καὶ τελεύτα.

The NETS translation of this is:

Then after a long time had passed, his wife said to him, “How long will you persist and say, ‘Look, I will hang on a little longer, while I wait for the hope of my deliverance?’ For look, your legacy has vanished from the earth—sons and daughters, my womb’s birth pangs and labors, for whom I wearied myself with hardships in vain. And you? You sit in the refuse of worms as you spend the night in the open air. As for me, I am one that wanders about and a hired servant—from place to place and house to house, waiting for when the sun will set, so I can rest from the distresses and griefs that now beset me. Now say some word to the Lord and die!”

Nowhere near as harsh! The LXX gives Job’s wife a more human face, referring to her own loss and sufferings. Furthermore, it removes the lexical link to the words of the Satan by simply exhorting Job to say some word to God, rather than explicitly ask him to “bless” God.

genesis 1 is not poetry

What can I say? Genesis 1 is not poetry, nor is it some weird hybrid of poetry and prose. Genesis 1:27 alone is poetry, but the rest of the chapter is pretty much stock-standard biblical Hebrew narrative in regards to its syntax. It is not poetry!

Why is this an issue? It’s an issue because debates about Genesis 1 seem to align figurative reading (of some sort) with poetry and literal reading with prose. This is a manifestly false disjunction. It is perfectly possible to have “literal” poetry, and it is quite common to have figurative prose. In other words, the whole argument is daft!
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the origins of the use of κυριος for יהוה

All extant manuscripts of the NT consistently use the Greek word κυριος (kyrios, ‘lord’) when translating the name of God in the OT, יהוה (Yhwh). The background to this is not entirely clear nor uncontested, but it is worth noting a few points about what is and isn’t known, and what is and isn’t likely.
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should ‘christ’ be removed from english bibles?

Yes, in the tradition of tabloid journalism my heading for this post sounds controversial, but hear me out. We’re all used to seeing the word ‘Christ’ in English Bible translations. The only exceptions are the few which use the term ‘Messiah’ in its place (such as the HCSB).

‘Christ’ is, of course, a transliteration of the Greek work Χριστός while ‘Messiah’ transliterates the Hebrew משיח (māšîaḥ). The question is, however, why are these transliterated and not translated in English versions of the Bible?

The failure to translate these terms is odd for a number of reasons:

  1. The NT translates the Hebrew with the Greek term and doesn’t attempt to transliterate it (e.g. Acts 4:26 quoting Ps 2:1–2).
  2. The LXX also translates the Hebrew with the Greek equivalent.
  3. English translations do translate these terms when they’re not used of Jesus (e.g. Ps 2:2).

The practice appears to begin in the Vulgate which uses Christus to transliterate Χριστός. Nonetheless, the term is not a name and it is used in the NT because of the word’s meaning. The way in which modern translations choose to transliterate this gives readers the impression the ‘Christ’ is Jesus’ last name. Even aside from this, there’s a lot of baggage associated with readers’ understanding of the terms ‘Christ’ and ‘Messiah’ that could do with revision (to be sure, there was a lot of baggage associated with these terms in the first century as well, but the baggage probably differs and could do with some revision).

Translating these terms rather than transliterating them means readers would be forced to come to grips with the actual significance of the title, and that could well be a good thing!

Thus we would translate Mark 1:1:

Ἀρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ υἱοῦ θεοῦ

as something like:

The beginning of the good news of Anointed Jesus, son of God…

Of course this would raise the question of precisely how to best translate the term Χριστός. Yet it would provide a refreshing translation that makes the reader think again about the words they’re reading, and that can only be a good thing!

why all is not fleeting in qohelet/ecclesiastes

Translators and scholars have long debated the best translation for the term הבל (hebel, traditionally “vanity”) in Qohelet (Ecclesiastes). The term refers to vapour, something intangible, but is almost always used metaphorically in the Hebrew Bible.

Now rather than discuss all possible meanings, in this post I’d like to examine one particular proposal: that הבל means ‘fleeting’.1 I’ve come across this a couple of times recently, first at The Briefing, and second from Gary Millar who’s recently taken up the post of Principal at Queensland Theological College and who spoke at Katoomba Men’s Convention.

For why “fleeting” isn’t an adequate translation of הבל, read on…
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is agape (ἀγάπη) love specially divine?

This last weekend I heard a talk in which it was claimed that the word ἀγάπη (agapē) was little used prior to the New Testament in Greek and was infused with new and special meaning by the writers of the NT, a meaning that reflects a divine, selfless, love. This is not a new claim, and any search for the term “agape” across the internet will uncover many making exactly this claim. Indeed, if you venture to view the Wikipedia entry on the term agape you will find some similar claims.

From what I can tell, however, the special divine meaning for the term ἀγάπη (agapē) is spurious.
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biblical pronouncements

There’s a new app for iOS called “Biblical Audio Pronunciations” (also available in “Lite” version) which aims to offer “correct” pronunciation of biblical terms. The web page claims:

We carefully researched and recorded the pronunciations of important terms, names, and places, to help you embrace the Word of God more easily.

Does it live up to its claims?
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