“So Was This People”: Translating Haggai 2:14 In The Past Tense -- By: Gregory Goswell

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 24:3 (NA 2014)
Article: “So Was This People”: Translating Haggai 2:14 In The Past Tense
Author: Gregory Goswell


“So Was This People”:
Translating Haggai 2:14 In The Past Tense

Gregory Goswell

Christ College

The theme of temple building dominates the prophecy of Haggai. The neglected option of translating the prophetic application of the priestly ruling found in Hag 2:14 as past tense is shown to be syntactically viable and the best solution to a number of interpretive issues related to the meaning of Haggai 2. The usual practice of translating the verse in the present tense is shown to be problematic, for none of the common explanations of the people’s (supposedly) present defilement is convincing. A past-tense translation of Hag 2:14 relieves the interpreter of the need to work out the source of the people’s state of uncleanness, for it was their earlier neglect of the ruined temple that caused God to reject their sacrifices (a fault exposed by the prophet in chapter 1) and this has been remedied with the commencement of temple-rebuilding.

Key Words: Haggai, temple, unclean, foundation

The book of Haggai continues to attract scholarly interest, and the focus of this article is the meaning and translation of Hag 2:14. As noted many years ago by Herbert G. May, Hag 2:10-14 is “a passage crucial to the understanding of the message of Haggai,”1 and on this basis it could be claimed that the interpretation of 2:14 is a major exegetical crux for the entire prophecy. I argue that it is best to translate Hag 2:14 in the past tense (“So was this people [until recently]”). To my knowledge, this suggestion has only been made twice before,2 and it has not been taken up by subsequent scholars. This understanding of the verse clarifies a number of difficulties with the subsequent verses. It also relieves the interpreter of the need to try to uncover what is the fault for which God’s people are condemned in 2:14, for, on my interpretation, it refers to a past fault, which has already been remedied with the commencement of temple rebuilding. In the wider context of the prophecy of Haggai, their previous neglect of

the ruined temple was the reason that they had been under God’s disapproval and viewed by him as unclean (

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