The Messianic Expectation of Gen. 4:1 (Part 4)

REASONING IN THE TRANSLATION OF אח IN GEN. 4:1

Translation seemingly hinges on the attribution of the Hebrew word אח (ʾeth). The word can be used in two ways: 1) as the preposition ‘with,’ or 2) as an untranslatable objective marker of the accusative sense.[1] The former indicates the typical translation of most English Bibles – ‘I have gotten a man with the Lord’ or ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.’ The latter connotes the literal translation given by Fruchtenbaum and Kaiser – ‘I have gotten a man: Yahweh’ or ‘I have gotten a man, even the Lord.’

Prepositional Use

Those who hold to the prepositional use of ʾeth in Gen. 4:1 normally construct several linguistic and theological reasons to support their translation. Yet, there will be an obvious common reasoning that runs underneath each of the proceeding commentators’ translations. C. John Collins states it perfectly; he admits “from a purely syntactical point of view, the interpretation of [ʾeth-Yhwh] as appositional is unexceptionable,” but he clarifies his prepositional rendering by stating that the resulting content of such an appositional translation is “jarring, to say the least.”[2] Therefore, in the consequential bewilderment of the correct syntactical translation, Collins settles his translation by inserting ‘with the help of’ as to generate a proper interpretation. Further commentators conduct a similar scheme.

Gordon J. Wenham notes in his work done in the Word Biblical Commentary series:

The majority of commentators have argued that since it is a regular feature of the promise to the patriarchs that God will be with them, implicitly to help them, it is justified here to translate אח ‘with the help of’ (cf. 21:20; 26:3, 24; 28:15; 31:3; 39:2). For these reasons it seems more likely that Eve meant ‘I have gained a man with the Lord’s help.’[3]

Despite the appeal to context, Wenham dismisses the very construction of the sentence in his translation. Interpretation should incorporate context and theme, but translation depends on the Hebrew text itself and its precise grammar.

Westermann and Casutto understand Eve’s pronouncement as a declaration of achievement, placing herself equal with God as creator. Thus the translation is rendered ‘I have created a man equally with the Lord.’ Still, even “Westermann admits…that if this was Eve’s meaning, she would have said ‘as [כ] the Lord.’”[4] Such commentators are attempting to fit the terminology of the text into their interpretation.

Hamilton, appealing more to the etymology of the sentence’s language, suggests a translation corresponding to Akkadian and Ugaritic. “Supporting evidence for ʾeth meaning ‘from’ is now found in [a] Akkadian phrase” which may be “compared with [a] Ugaritic clause.”[5] If this is the case, then what is the proper translation of Gen. 1:1, where it states ‘In the beginning God created [ʾeth] the heaven and [ʾeth] the earth’? Would it be accurate to assert that God created from the heaven and from the earth? There would require some fancy reconstruction if the signification of ʾeth signified ‘from’ in all its uses; and if Hamilton would respond that it only means ‘from’ in some cases, what within the text determines the alternative translation? Again, the text itself must point to its required translation, and in the case of Gen. 4:1, ʾeth is preceded by a mark of the accusative. The same issue presents itself to others who have recommended reappointing “it ‘sign of’ and translating ‘I have gained a man the sign of the Lord’” based on Akkadian correspondence.[6]

Kenneth A. Matthews accentuates Eve’s recognition of her divinely designated position. “Eve the woman…with divine help produced the ‘man’…She sees in creating Cain the realization of her divinely assigned role.”[7] The verse then aims in teaching the theology of the divine consignment of authority: “procreation is the divine-human means whereby the man and woman might achieve the dominion that God has envisioned for them (1:28).”[8] The contextual and theological attribution is admirable, yet ‘help’ is the key to this understanding, and that insertion was solely based on a prepositional rendering of ʾeth. As mentioned, revised version translators only inserted ‘help’ as to accommodate the lacking of the previous insertion ‘from’ made by authorized version translators. Matthews only builds thematic support retrospectively and therefore draws inadequate conclusions.

Other scholars affirm a prepositional translation because they view Eve as shaking her fist at God for throwing her out of the garden. John C. L. Gibson states, “Her cry at her son’s birth is intended to be exultant and arrogant rather than pious. She will show God!”[9] Interestingly, this interpretation does not require ʾeth to be translated as a preposition; the same interpretation can be asserted if ʾeth signified an appositional objective marker. Therefore, even the retrospective method of translation in light of a desired interpretation fails to solidify a prepositional rendering of ʾeth. In regards to the interpretive claim, there is nothing in the text itself to necessitate this arrogance by Eve.[10]

There are ancient Jewish evidences for prepositional renderings. The Midrash Rabbah translates the phrase ‘with the help of the Lord.’ The Targum Onkelos translates it ‘from before the Lord.’[11] The Peshitta reads, ‘I have gotten a man to the Lord.’ Regarding Rabbis in the medieval era, Rashi rendered it ‘with the Lord’ and Nachmanides translated it as ‘unto the Lord for the service of the Lord.’ Fruchtenbaum claims that these translations are all attempts by the Jewish community to “get around the obvious” and preserve their desired interpretation.[12] He quotes Rabbi Akiba who claims that this is inconsistent with the traditional teaching that “every ʾeth and gam is an extension.”[13] Delitzsch summarizes translation history by stating, “Ancient translators… have all understood אח of God as helper and giver.”[14]

Additionally, commentators who translate ʾeth as a prepositional usage in Gen. 4:1 consistently reveal their opposition’s lack of contemporary scholastic prevalence. Hamilton notes that in all of his research, Walt Kaiser Jr. is the only modern writer to seriously consider the literal translation. Though Hamilton’s statement was too early to have come across Arnold Fruchtenbaum, James Montgomery Boice, or John Phillip’s work, his point is true concerning the overwhelming commonness of modern commentators who prefer the prepositional translation of ʾeth. Their preference, however, is one that is influenced less by the syntactical structure of the sentence and more by the anticipated interpretation.

The next portion will underline some of the reasoning behind the alternative translation – ʾeth as an appositional objective marker – and determine which translation is best.


[1] Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries : Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998), 853; Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, electronic ed. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 2000), 84; Victor P. Hamilton, “186 אֵת,” in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr. and Bruce K. Waltke, electronic ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 83.

[2] C. John Collins, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2006) 197. Delitzsch and Keil state an identical claim, “So far as the grammar is concerned, the expression might be rendered as in apposition to שּאי, ‘a man, the Lord’ (Luther), but the sense would not allow it.” Franz Delitzsch and C. F. Keil, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament: Vol. 1 Pentateuch, trans. James Martin (Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1951), 108.

[3] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 102. Roop does not allude to contextual support, but claims a similar idea of the child as a ‘blessing’ or ‘gift’ of God: “The speech could be understood as Eve saying that she obtained this baby boy by God’s gift of fertility.” Eugene F. Roop, Genesis (Scottdale, PA: Herald Pr, 1987), 50.

[4] Wenham, Genesis 1-115, 101-102. Stigers asserts a similar interpretation: “The preposition ʾeth here expresses her community in creativity.” Harold G. Stigers, A Commentary On Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 86.

[5] Hamilton, Genesis: Chapters 1-17, 221.

[6] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 102; e.g., P. A. H. de Boer, NedTT, 31 [1942] 197-212. Chaldaism and the corresponding word ʾâth gesture this conclusion.

[7] Mathews, Genesis 1-11, 265. My emphasis added.

[8] Ibid., 265

[9] John C. L. Gibson, Genesis (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster John Knox Press, 1981), 143. John Sailhamer prefers this understanding as well, “Eve’s words are a boast that just as the Lord created man, so now she had created a man.” John H. Sailhmaer, The Pentateuch as Narrative: a Biblical-Theological Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), 111. Bruce Vawter agrees, but with an additional correspondence to myth: “But we hear also, perhaps, a bit of the old arrogance that led to the eating of the forbidden fruit, the lusting after autonomy and equality with the gods.” Bruce Vawter, On Genesis: A New Reading (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1977), 92. The Faithlife Bible Study asserts a similar claim: “Eve’s statement that she “produced a man with the help of Yahweh” reflects her pride and joy in the birth of her firstborn (compare Jer 20:15).” John D. Barry, Michael R. Grigoni, Michael S. Heiser et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012), Ge 4:1.

[10] Some commentators take the opposite approach, claiming that this was an expression of Eve’s thanksgiving. Robert Jamieson claims that Eve expresses her “pious gratitude” in her statement; Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), Gen 4:1. Matthew Henry asserts a similar “gratitude” in Eve’s expression, teaching that children are a blessing from God; Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), Gen 4:1–2. James E. Smith also affirms Eve’s thanksgiving; James E. Smith, The Pentateuch, 2nd ed., Old Testament Survey Series (Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., 1993), Ge 4:1–2. And John Wesley states, “For Eve when [s]he bare him [s]aid with joy and thankfulne[s]s and great expectation, I have gotten a man from the Lord.” John Wesley, Explanatory Notes Upon the Old Testament, Vol. 1 (Salem, OH: Schmul Publishers, 1975), 20.

[11] Martin McNamara, Targum Onkelos to Genesis (Aramaic Bible, Vol 6) (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1988), 48.

[12] Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Christology, 16.

[13] Ibid., 16.

[14] Franz Delitzsch, A New Commentary on Genesis, trans. Sophia Taylor (Minneapolis, MI: Klock & Klock Christian Publishers, 1978), 1:178. Emphasis added.

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