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NET Bible 2nd edition note on Genesis 3:5

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Sep 30th, 2019
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  1. tn Or “like divine beings who know.” It is unclear how the plural participle translated “knowing” is functioning. On the one hand, יֹדְעֵי (yodʿe) could be taken as a substantival participle functioning as a predicative adjective in the sentence. In this case one might translate: “You will be, like God himself, knowers of good and evil.” On the other hand, it could be taken as an attributive adjective modifying אֱלֹהִים (ʾelohim). In this case אֱלֹהִים has to be taken as a numerical plural referring to “gods,” meaning “divine or heavenly beings,” because if the one true God were the intended referent, a singular form of the participle would appear as a modifier. Following this line of interpretation, one could translate, “You will be like divine beings who know good and evil.” The following context may support this translation, for in 3:22 God says to an unidentified group, “Look, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” It is possible that God is addressing his heavenly court (see the note on the word “make” in 1:26), the members of which can be called “gods” or “divine/heavenly beings” from the ancient Israelite perspective (cf. KJV, NAB, JPS). (We know some of these beings as messengers or “angels.”) An examination of parallel constructions shows that a predicative understanding (“you will be, like God himself, knowers of good and evil,”) is possible (see Gen 27:23, where “hairy” is predicative, complementing the verb “to be”). Other evidence suggests that the participle is attributive, modifying “divine/heavenly beings” (see Ps 31:12; Isa 1:30; 13:14; 16:2; 29:5; 58:11; Jer 14:9; 20:9; 23:9; 31:12; 48:41; 49:22; Hos 7:11; Amos 4:11). In all of these texts, where a comparative clause and accompanying adjective/participle follow a copulative (“to be”) verb, the adjective/participle is attributive after the noun in the comparative clause. The translation of “God,” though, is supported by how אֱלֹהִים (ʾelohim) is used in the surrounding context where it always refers to the true God and many translations take it this way (cf. NIV, TNIV, RSV, NRSV, ESV, HCSB, NLT, NASB, REB, and NKJV). In this interpretation the plural participle refers to Adam and Eve.
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