A Critical Note On Ecclesiasticus 44:21’s Commentary On The Abrahamic Covenant -- By: Philip Barton Payne

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 15:3 (Summer 1972)
Article: A Critical Note On Ecclesiasticus 44:21’s Commentary On The Abrahamic Covenant
Author: Philip Barton Payne


A Critical Note On Ecclesiasticus 44:21’s
Commentary On The Abrahamic Covenant

Philip Barton Payne*

The debate over Genesis 12:3 focuses on whether to take wnivrkhu as passive, “they will be blessed,” or reflexive, “will bless themselves.” The presence of the niph’al in Genesis 12:3, and in the parallel expressions in 18:18 and 28:14, would normally suggest the passive idea,1 while similar passages using the hithpa’el (Gen. 22:18 and 26:4) would normally imply the reflexive meaning for these latter. Grammatical studies have it is true, shown that the niph’al can be used for the reflexive voice and the hithpa’el for the passive, at least occasionally.2

The precise contextual sense of the reflexive hithpa’el depends on whether the adverbial phrase vkha, “in you,” is comparative or instrumental. If vkha were comparative it would carry this sense that the nations would congratulate themselves, i.e. would wish for themselves a blessing so as to be “like you,” like Abraham’s.3 If vkha is instrumental, the meaning is that the nations will seek for themselves a blessing through Abraham.4

A significant clue, long noticed, is that the New Testament understands the promise as passive, looking forward to Christ, in whom all the nations of the earth are to be blessed.5 For those who accept the

*Graduate student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois.

consistent authority of Biblical teaching, the passive becomes the natural interpretation.

An earlier testimony, however, to this passive understanding of wnivrkhu in Genesis 12:3 has been provided by the Genizah of the Ezra Synagogue in Cairo, from its fragments of the book of Ecclesiasticus. Ecclesiasticus was probably composed by Ben Sirach about 180 B.C. Its use of BRK provides an early commentary on Genesis 12:3. The Hebrew text of Ecclesiasticus 44:21 reads: ‘L KN...

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