Posted by: splat | March 21, 2012

Is the past tense really past in scripture?

Have you encountered this scripture which I think everyone agrees is talking about Jesus:

Isaiah 53:4-5 KJV Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. (5) But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

“Surely he hath” is past tense.  Also “carried our sorrows” is also past tense.  However, at the time that Isaiah wrote this, it was some time before Jesus earthly ministry. However, no body would say that Isaiah was talking about an event prior to his writing this.  I have heard this termed “the prophetic past tense” in some quarters.  In English, we would normally use the future tense by wording it as “Surely he will carry our sorrows”.  Remember, this was written from Isaiah’s point in time and he lived sometime before Jesus came.

However, upon closer investigation, it seems as though there is no future tense verb for biblical hebrew.  I am told that the tense is always decided from context.  This makes me wonder how many other old testament scriptures should be “adjusted” to be correctly understood.

Let me give another example from a verse I have been thinking about:

Psalms 1:1-3 KJV Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. (2) But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. (3) And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

Some translations translate “blessed” as “happy“. We know not all Christians are happy.  It also said “He will be like a tree planted by streams of water”.  Now is the believer happy before he is like a tree planted by streams of water?  That would be like the person receiving the reward or punishment before the deed which merited it.  No, rather, I believe the man who does these things, will be happy.  This resolves an apparent contradiction in scripture.

Therefore, seeing there is no actual tenses, in the old testament, it is often inferred by the translator.  Sometimes they do this accurately but in many places not.  I think it is best to not take the translators wording for granted but try other tenses to see if they make more sense.

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