God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

Q&A: Isaiah 28:16 and What Happens to Believers

From the About page comes a question about the last verb in Isaiah 28:16:

His [Dietrich Boenhoffer’s] reading said that “he that believes does not flee”. Is that what this says?


The Hebrew verb at the end (yachish) clearly means “hurry,” — compare Isaiah 5:19 and Psalm 119:60 — so the phrase should mean: “believers will not hurry.” The problem is that that doesn’t seem to make any sense.

This particularly poetic line is important in its own context. Isaiah uses it to interrupt his prophecy of doom with a line of consolation.

The verse is even more important in the context of the NT, becuase it’s quoted (inexactly) in Romans 9:33 and I Peter 2:6. However, the NT quotes the LXX, which has “be shamed” (kataisxunthi) instead of “hurry.”

The Hebrew for “be shamed” would be Y.B.W.Sh, while “hurry” is Y.Ch.Y.Sh. Differences between the LXX and the Hebrew frequently come down to confusion between letters. It’s easy to see how a vav and yud could be confused — it’s one of the most common mistakes — but it’s harder to understand how a bet and a chet could be. They look nothing alike and do not sound at all the same.

If the LXX is right, the passage means: “I [the Lord God] have established a stone in Zion … believers will not be ashamed.” At least the meaning is clear.

If the Hebrew is right, the only thing I can think of is that the point is that God will build Zion, so believers should be patient and not hurry to do it themselves. It’s coherent, I suppose, but I’ve yet to see that interpretation in any translation, and it doesn’t sound right to me.

I feel like we’re missing something here. Any ideas?

January 14, 2010 Posted by | Q&A, translation practice | , , , , , | 3 Comments