Gods, God, or Judges
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This comparative study is directed particularly to persons who are in at least one of the following categories:

The Hebrew word Elohim is translated to different words in the versions listed below. Which one, if any, is correct?


Versions Compared

 

AB Amplified Bible
IV Inspired Version
KJV King James Version
LBP Lamsa Bible
LXX The Septuagint
NAB New American Bible
NBV New Berkeley Version
NIV New International Version
NJPS New JPS Version
SNB Restoration of Original Sacred Name Bible
TEV Today's English Version
YLR Young's Literal Translation, Revised Edition


Exodus 22: 28
AB You shall not revile God [the judges His agents], or esteem lightly or curse a ruler of your people.
IV Thou shalt not revile against God, nor curse the ruler of thy people.
KJV Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people.
LBP You shall not revile the judge nor curse the ruler of your people.
LXX Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor speak ill of the ruler of thy people.
NAB You shall not revile God, nor curse a prince of your people.
Footnote: or perhaps "the gods," in the sense of "the judges," as the parallel with a prince of your people suggests.
NBV Heap no abuse upon judges and do not curse a ruler of your people.
Footnote: Again the name Elohim is used, which usually stands for God, but balanced, Hebrew fashion, with "rulers" in the next clause, it must denote judges as it did previously.
NIV Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people.
Footnote: Or Do not revile the judges.
NJPS You shall not revile God, nor put a curse upon a chieftain among your people.
SNB Elohim shalt thou not revile, and a prince among thy people shalt thou not curse.
Footnote: Thou shalt not revile the judges, nor curse the ruler of thy people.
TEV Do not speak evil of God, and do not curse a leader of your people.
Footnote: God; or the judges.
YLR God thou dost not revile, and a prince among thy people thou dost not cause.

To the average believer in the Bible, translating "Elohim" as "the gods" should create wonder as to why such a statement is made. Can a literal translation be adequate? Most versions, including a few in this list, translate "Elohim" as "God." This should suggest that there is more to be understood, but an acceptable translation. One version does not translate "Elohim" as it uses this name elsewhere. There is, however, an alternate translation in the footnote. Two of the versions use "judge" or "judges." Some other footnotes give alternate translations.

The footnotes can be helpful or confusing. What is the relationship among "gods," "God," and "judges?" For some people, the use of several versions will not be helpful. For others, it will cause them to do some investigation in Biblical reference books. First, however, it is necessary to check other references to "Elohim" in chapter 22 .


Exodus 22: 8, 9
AB ..., the house owner shall appear before God [the judges as His agents], to find whether he stole his neighbor's goods.
..., the cause of both parties shall come before God [the judges]. Whomever [they] shall condemn ... .
IV ..., then the master of the house shall be brought unto the judges, to see whether he have put his hand unto his neighbor's goods.
..., the cause of both parties shall come before the judges; and whom the judges shall condemn, ... .
KJV ..., then the master of the house shall be brought unto the judges, to see whether he have put his hand unto his neighbor's goods.
..., the cause of both parties shall come before the judges; and whom the judges shall condemn, ... .
LBP ..., then the master of the house shall be brought to the judges to see whether he had a hand in the theft of his neighbor's goods.
..., the case of both parties shall come before the judges; and whomever the judges shall convict, ... .
LXX ..., the master of the house shall come forward before God, and shall swear that surely he has not wrought wickedly in regard of any part of his neighbour's deposit,
..., -- the judgment of both shall proceed before God, and he that is convicted by God ... .
NAB ... the owner of the house shall be brought to God, to swear that he himself did not lay hands on his neighbor's property. (verse 7)
..., both parties shall present their case before God: the one whom God convicts ... .
NBV ... the householder shall be brought before the judges to inquire whether or not he has laid his hand on his neighbor's goods.
..., the case of both parties shall come before the judges. Whom the judges pronounce guilty, ... .
Footnote: The name Elohim, regularly translated God, is used here. It is almost always used in the plural and our Lord so quotes it, but with "judges" in mind, as God's representatives. We therefore use the word "judges."
NIV ..., the owner of the house must appear before the judges to determine whether he has laid his hands on the other man's property.
..., both parties are to bring their cases before the judges. The one whom the judges declare guilty ... .
Footnote: Or before God; also in verse 9.
Footnote: Or
whom God declares.
NJPS ..., the owner of the house shall depose before God that he has not laid hands on the other's property. (verse 7)
... -- the case of both parties shall come before God: he whom God declares guilty ... . (verse 8)
Footnote: Others "to the judges."
SNB ... then the owner of the house be brought near unto Elohim to swear that he hath not laid his hand on the property of his neighbour.
..., This is it, unto Elohim shall come the affair of them both, he whom Elohim shall condemn ... .
TEV ..., the man who was keeping the valuables is to be brought to the place of worship and there he must take an oath that he has not stolen the other man's property.
... the two men claiming the property shall be taken to the place of worship. The one whom God declares to be guilty ... .
YLR ..., then the master of the house hath been brought near unto God, whether he hath not put forth his hand against the work of his neighbour;
..., unto God cometh the matter of them both; he whom God doth condemn, ... .

It is noted that some of the verses are not consistent here with verse 22 in the interpretation of Elohim. However, it appears that the best choice of words is either God or judges. The New Berkeley Version seems to have the best explanation for its choice.


Exodus 18: 13-16

Read this passage. Moses was advised by his father-in-law to choose capable men from among the people to act as judges in ordinary cases while leaving the special cases to Moses. This would mean less wear and tear on Moses and allow him to do other important tasks in being leader. Previously, Moses had judged all cases himself according to the rules and directions of God. Thus, in the ordinary cases now, the judges took the place of Moses, who was the representative of God. It would be to these judges that references are made in chapter 22.


The Meaning of the Word Elohim

 

This word appears in Strong's Exhaustive Concordance as #430. It means gods in the ordinary sense, but it is specifically used of the supreme God. Occasionally it is applied by way of deference to magistrates, and sometimes to angels.

In Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, there is a long discussion on this word in both plural and singular. In the plural sense, it means gods or deities in general, whether true or false. Sometimes, Jehovah and idols are understood under this common name. Elsewhere it is attributed to Jehovah alone. Numerous interpreters, both ancient and modern, have interpreted it to mean angels and judges. Dr. Gesenius refutes the latter two interpretations.


Commentary

 

This is an example of the problems that face translators of the Bible. What does a word in one language mean when it is carried over to another language? What are the possible meanings in the first language? What concept best fits the context of the term? What concept is best understood in the second language? The idea has to be transferred from one culture and time to another culture and time. There may or may not be a literal translation from the first to the second language.

In the case of the term Elohim in Exodus 22: 28. the translators of the various versions have used gods, God, judges, or simply have carried the Hebrew term over as is. Technically, each translation is correct. However, which one is the best in this passage?

The term gods carries the idea of something other than the true God of heaven. Why would the people be told not to revile the gods? They were to have nothing to do with them. Because of its connotation, this is not a good translation here.

When Exodus 22: 8 and 9 are considered, the term God has definite meaning for the time when this commandment was given. The people were being led by God. He had just issued the Ten Commandments. Whatever the people did or said was considered to be before God. Thus, all judgments were considered to be made by God.

The judges were considered to be knowledgeable men who represented God. It was they who made decisions when there was a dispute. As a guide, they used the laws that God had given to them through Moses. Because of their position and the authority given to them by Moses, going before them with a case to be decided was as if they were going before God.

At first glance, the use of several versions for understanding in this example will cause confusion. However, with a knowledge of the background, one can see why the versions use different words in translation. Now, the reader can choose the rendering that he can best comprehend. The person who uses one version only can be at a disadvantage. If there is a poor translation in his version, he may obtain a misunderstanding of the concept.

In conclusion, I would suggest that either God or judges can be used. However, the reader must read the whole chapter to avoid interpreting this verse out of context. Here is a lesson for not using one verse by itself to formulate a belief.