The Content Of Hebrew “Yôm” -- By: H. W. Magoun

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 086:343 (Jul 1929)
Article: The Content Of Hebrew “Yôm”
Author: H. W. Magoun


The Content Of Hebrew “Yôm”

H. W. Magoun

In all the discussions that have taken place concerning the first chapter of Genesis, one thing has been persistently forgotten. Words have content as well as form, and no two words in different languages are ever true synonyms. That is a truism to linguists; and yet it has been quietly assumed that yôm is an exact equivalent of English day. The opposite is nearer the truth.

Men have a habit of putting into words what they would mean by them without ever stopping to ask, What did their user mean by what he said? That leads at once to serious misunderstandings, and the “Ananias Club” obtains recruits. No book or statement is immune, and even the Bible suffers in consequence. Words drift, and that has its influence, and to some extent the “liberalist” is right in his insistence that we need new forms to replace “outworn categories.”

Wherever a deeper study shows that we have not accurately translated the Bible, it is in order to correct the inaccuracy. For example, nowhere in the New Testament is the Greek word bios correctly rendered. It does not mean “life” but a “way of living.” If a soldier who goes to war does not entangle himself with affairs of this life, it is hard to tell what he does do. What is meant by Paul’s statement is this: No man that warreth entangleth himself with his own private affairs—his “way of living.” He conforms to camp discipline. The “cares of this life” do not choke the word. If they did, we would all have a slim chance of salvation. It is the “cares of their way of living” that do the mischief. They live a kind of life that is fatal to salvation.

Similarly, the sixth commandment does not forbid killing but murder. Meat eaters would all have to turn Buddhists, if the command forbade killing, and no one could “swat a fly.” Mosquitoes also would be safe, and so would rats and mice and bugs of every sort. Men strangely overlook that side of things.

Yôm comes into this class, if we only knew it; for it has its own limitations and its own peculiarities. It is not an exact equivalent of English “day,” although it agrees in some things with that word. “Day” has seven well defined meanings: (1) daytime; (2) light; (3) twenty-four hours; (4) some special day (bill day); (5) time (in six different senses); (6) space time (day’s journey); (7) event, or issue, time (won the day). All of these can be found well illustrated in the Century Dictionary. Can they all be matched in the Old Testament writings? Hardly. A day’s journey is there, as is a three days’ journey and a seven days’ journey...

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