Linguistics of Jesus on Adam and Eve

Continuing the discussion from Ken Keathley: How High Are The Stakes?:

Good question from @AJRoberts.

I’m curious if the scholars here could help us out (@deuteroKJ, @Philosurfer, @AllenWitmerMiller).

This doesn’t satisfy the request for quotes from Jesus, but I find it one of the more troublesome:

1Ki 12:28
"After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, “… Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

Exo 32:4
"He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

It is certainly noticeable that Exodus uses the identical phrase we find in Kings, even to the extent of putting the one calf into a PLURAL syntax.

This is parallel to the Genesis verse where the physical union of man and woman is compared to marriage, even before marriage as a New Testament author would recognize marriage, has been established or mentioned.

The Romans 5 reference to “death” might be considered a similar example by some: these references (certainly according to the Eastern Orthodox) are not as obvious in their meaning as some would like.

And there is also the notorious verse in the Old Testament (especially derived in the LXX) where the birth of a child some 800 years prior to the birth of Jesus is interpreted to refer to not only a child expected within a generation of the time of the writing, but also a reference to the birth of Jesus during the time of Imperial Rome!

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I’m recovering from a surgery and have limited use of my hands so this will be brief for now:

I’m not following you on this, so I’m probably misunderstanding. The noun for calf in Exodus 32:4 (and the OTOW referring to the image formed from the gold) is in the singular. In 1King 12:28 there are two calves because one was placed in northern Israel and one in southern Israel (perhaps also not so far from Jerusalem so as to supplant Jerusalem as the place of worship.) Geography and travel practicalities made two calves necessary for “national worship”.

Why would that be relevant? (We wouldn’t usually apply that standard in English or in most other modern languages—unless we had solid textbook reasons to think that the basic grammar of the language couldn’t function that way. But I certainly can’t see that standard applied to Greek or Aramaic of the first century. However, it is possible that I’m not following Dr. Roberts on her argument.)

Moreover, why would we apply that standard to the Aramaic syntactical construction which Jesus would have used—which has not been verifiably recorded in any ancient document which we can examine today and is therefore unknown—or to the Greek translations of Jesus’ words appearing in the Synoptic Gospels? [Yes, we can consult the Peshitta New Testament but (1) we don’t know that those are Jesus’ actual words, and (2) I don’t know of any evangelicals who claim the Peshitta is inspired and inerrant in the same sense as the Greek NT.]

To be clear, I’m not trying to deny anyone’s inerrancy views. I’m simply saying that the Greek of the NT has preserved Jesus’ teachings in terms of ideas–as expressed by the writers of the Gospels–but NOT in the exact Aramaic words Jesus used in his preaching. (Unfortunately, there are still some evangelical commentators who forget this basic fact. I will certainly admit that. But the best commentators don’t make that mistake.) Yes, there are a few rare instances where the actual words of Jesus–or some might say a paraphrase—are transliterated into Greek (e.g., “My God. My God. Why have you forsaken me?”; also when Jesus said “TALITHA KUM” to the little girl) but those are occasions few and far between.

Are you sure that that would be important? Even if we weren’t dealing with the complications of Jesus’ preaching in Aramaic but our having the New Testament in Koine Greek as our standard, is the Greek NT a sufficiently large corpus (even while containing multiple genre by a variety of authors) such that that would that be more important or relevant than finding such a usage in other Koine literature of the period?

In any case, I have no doubt that I could find analogous Greek contexts if I went looking for them—but whether or not they were associated with Jesus would be largely irrelevant.

It would be great if we had Jesus’ exact words (and, thereby, the exact syntactical construction Jesus employed) for such passages, but we do not. So this strikes me as largely irrelevant. Translation from Aramaic to Koine Greek does not necessarily mean that sentence divisions and syntactical structures are somehow preserved in the target language in such a way as to help make a weighty argument.

My apologies if I am misunderstanding the aforementioned. I hope to return to these topics when I have more clarity of mind (and dexterity of hands.)

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And yet the Hebrew for Exodus is the same Hebrew for that part of Kings: “plural calves”.
Not a very good demonstration of perfection…

Oh… @swamidass, I neglected to point out that there is an almost endless list of dual references to the same event that do not agree … when you take Chronicles and compare it to Genesis, Samuel or Kings… and when
you compare Ezra to Nehemiah…

I’m still confused. Where is there a “plural calves” in Exodus 32:4?

I’ve not yet read both of the associated threads but I’m not sure what this “good demonstration of perfection” is about. What is the perfection demonstration? (I’m not trying to be obstinate. I’m just trying to catch up and understand everyone.)

By the way, I have corrected some typos and possible ambiguities in my previous post so readers may want to re-read before scratching their heads too much.


My apologies… I meant to say plural “gods”.
There is something peculiar going on in this part of Exodus …
one calf has been made… and the text inserted into the narrative
is identical to the one made by a king hundreds of years later…
Something is wafting in from Denmark…

I’m not sure why it would be “peculiar”. I would expect the same language to be applied because the purpose of the new calves was to tell Israel that their “current gods” were the same as the alleged gods which had led them out of Egypt. Why wouldn’t we expect the “propaganda argument” to use the same language?

Call me slow but I’m not following the Denmark problem at all.


I didn’t make this one up… I read it in some of our finer books.

A text that clearly comes from the establishment of 2 calf idols has
been insinuated into Exodus where there is ONE calf.

Pointing to a calf idol and having someone declare: “there are your Gods”
is pretty peculiar in MY book of truthes.

But your mileage may vary.

Google the text… and you will get some text critical summaries I’m quite sure.

So is your singular-plural “conflict” argument based on the fact that Exodus 32:4 speaks of just ONE golden calf but also mentions multiple “gods of Egypt”? If so, I would say that it was not at all unusual in the Ancient Near East to talk about multiple gods but have a single idol that emphasized the superior or most relevant god of a pantheon. We see this in the tombs of Egypt and in the Philistine pantheon.

Baal worshipers placed idols in many groves and high places—but that doesn’t mean that there was more than one Baal deity. Likewise, two golden calves in Israel (one in the north and one in the south) was just a geographical practicality. It’s not about singular or plural gods per se. And that’s why I still think I’m not following correctly what you are describing.

Perhaps you could post a link to one of those “text critical summaries” you mentioned and that will resolve what I’m not understanding about your argument. Thanks.

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Why would anyone point to one calf and say… “there are your gods”? It’s clearly a sardonic comment from a different story … inserted to make some weird point.

Google the text critical commentary. Don’t take it up with me… take it up with my betters.

Yes. Extremely common. I would be surprised if anyone found this surprising. Speakers/writers do this all the time.

Feel free to direct my attention to specific arguments—if I’m missing the ball bounced my way in the tag, @swamidass.

Can you provide examples in Scripture? Can you provide examples of Jesus doing this? Those are the two focused questions here.

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Thanks for the clarification. I wasn’t sure if I was reading you right.

My response: For the same reason that someone talking about the Founding Fathers and standing in front of the Jefferson Memorial might point in that direction of the monument when mentioning those Founding Fathers. (There are many Founding Fathers but just one memorialized in that particular structure. But that’s not any sort of conflict.) Likewise, I can think of Norse literature where someone refers to “the gods” [plural] while grasping the Thor’s Hammer amulet they are wearing—which is something they sometimes did for emphasis. Likewise, Zeus as chief among the gods was sometimes the reference (and “symbolic” of the entire pantheon) when “by the gods” was said in an oath.

This is not an area of specialization for me. I’m also not denying that some scholars hold to the position you are describing. I’m also not declaring your wrong. (Indeed, that is exactly why I asked for a link—so I could learn more about the specific view you were expositing.) I’m just saying that at this point, based on parallels in other religious traditions, I don’t see the singular vs. plural “conflict” as any sort of conflict at all. Call me stubborn. (I’m certainly that.)

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I didn’t notice your specific request for a link… here is a good discussion… including points I was not aware of …

The golden calf is mentioned in Nehemiah 9:16–21.

“But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not obey your commands. They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them, even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, ‘This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt’, or when they committed awful blasphemies.”

“Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness. By day the pillar of cloud did not fail to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take. You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst. For forty years you sustained them in the wilderness; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen.”

The language suggests that there are some inconsistencies in the other accounts of the Israelites and their use of the calf. As the version in Exodus and 1 Kings are written by Deuteronomistic historians based in the southern kingdom of Judah, there is a proclivity to expose the Israelites as unfaithful. The inconsistency is primarily located in Exodus 32:4 where “gods” is plural despite the construction of a single calf."

When Ezra retells the story, he uses the single, capitalized God.[2] Conversely, a more biblically conservative view offers a tenable explanation accounting for the discrepancy between “gods” in Exodus 32 and “God” in Nehemiah 9:18. In both instances, the Hebrew elohim is used. Since ancient Hebrew failed to distinguish elohim God (known as the majestic plural) from elohim gods, Biblical translations are either determined by (a) context or (b) adjacent verb(s). In the original account in Exodus 32, the verb is in the 3rd person plural.

In Nehemiah 9, the verb connected to elohim is singular. For the JEDP (i.e. Deuteronomistic) theorist, this inconsistency is confirmatory since the theory maintains a roughly equivalent date for the composition of Exodus and Nehemiah. More conservative scholarship would argue that these two texts were composed about 1000 years apart: Exodus (by Moses) circa 1500 BCE, and Nehemiah circa 500 BCE. The biblically conservative framework would therefore account for the verbal inconsistency from Exodus to Nehemiah as an evolution in the use of language over the approximate millennium separating the two books.

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Probably. But I’m not at my usual location and I have none of my usual tools available to me. Moreover, again, we are dealing purely hypothetically with the actual words of Jesus in Aramaic (which we do not have), and we have no reason to assume that one sentence in Aramaic would be be rendered as one sentence in Greek. So I just don’t see how this linguistic tangent will take us anywhere.

If someone wrote in English, “I earned both my bachelor’s degree and my master’s degree at the same university”, they are choosing to combine in one sentence somewhat related events which probably occurred in different years, though it might be possible that there was some sort of chronological overlap in the two. (I can think of a rare instance of such.) But a speaker/writer in most any language can use the copulative (whether English “and” or Greek “KAI”) —or various other linking words—to combine any two thoughts which the speaker wishes to connect. Trying to dissect the syntax of such an English sentence to settle some interpretive argument is not likely to go anywhere.

In the case of Genesis, I wonder if we have a cultural bias getting in the way. That is, in our Western culture we put a lot of emphasis on timelines and chronology. We insist on time-sequencing everything, if at all possible. But not all cultures work that way. The ancient Hebrews probably “inherited” two different oral traditions from prior cultures which eventually got written down as Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 respectively. (That inheritance from prior cultures does NOT at all make them any less relevant or inspired or truthful or anything else. God can choose to reveal truths using various genres and may choose to weave multiple oral traditions into one textual revelation.) We tend to see differences between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 but I think Jesus’ audience in first century Israel saw them as “compounding” explanations of God’s role in the history of the world which lead up to Abraham and the story of Israel. When we try to pull chronologies out of them (and “harmonies”), we are probably failing to appreciate the genres as they did.

Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 have many contrasting features within them—which helped produce the JEDP Documentary Hypothesis. And even though I was glad to see the JEDP dogma lose favor, it is still a good reminder that we shouldn’t read the Genesis text on our terms. We should try to understand it according to it original context(s) and culture(s). I doubt that the original author(s) of Genesis saw any need to harmonize them into a single chronology or genre. Nevertheless, I do understand why we today find that idea frustrating.


So are you suggesting that Jesus wasn’t quoting OT texts at all? And that the similarity in the English translations between the NT and OT wording is bizarrely coincidental and of no significance?

Otherwise, if you’re not saying that, it seems to me that it doesn’t matter if it’s in English, Greek, Aramaic or some other language. If the linguistic device Joshua is referring to as collapsing two texts is taking place, the question as to whether or not Jesus does this elsewhere should be straightforward regardless of the language media. If we can recognize it, and claim, as Joshua did, that he his collapsing two texts and using a linguistic device to do so, then we should be able to detect elsewhere if he uses the device more than once. That’s what I’m asking. And if he’s not or doesn’t then it’s a slightly weaker argument that Joshua is making (imo) b/c he is assuming that Jesus is using a linguistic device and not referring to a single event or referent.

I’m happy to be educated if my question is an ignorant one. It didn’t seem ignorant, and still makes sense to me.


I always appreciate this perspective being brought up. It’s always a very good and helpful reminder.


Before ending my day, I’ll try one more stab at this which may help—even if only a little:

I doubt that most of Jesus’ audience thought of Genesis 1 (actually Gen. 1:1-2:3) and Genesis 2 (2:4-22) as “two different texts”. Of course, the BARASHIT scroll (named after the first word of the Genesis text) was all about “in the beginning”. There were no chapter divisions. The entire scroll was about “the beginning” of their world.

It is possible that in Moses day most people recognized what we roughly call Genesis 1 and 2 as coming from two separate oral traditions. I don’t know. Nobody knows for sure. It is also more than possible that all memory of those pre-Moses oral traditions were lost by the first century. Whatever the case, I think most people in Genesis day would simply recognize the beginnings of the book of beginnings as the story of “the red-soil human one” who established the lineage that eventually produced Abraham, the one God called out.

If we could go back in time and question Jesus’ audience about Genesis, I think they would be as shocked that we scrutinize every minute difference between Genesis 1 and 2 as we are that they might “carelessly” join “two texts that are referring to two different things.” Even our tendency to carefully outline and classify a text into component parts is a reflection of our culture which would seem strange to them.

By the way, as soon as they realize that ERETZ means “land” and not “planet earth” in Hebrew, my students have been far less “jolted” as they make their way from Genesis 1 into Genesis 2. They are less likely to consider Genesis 2 as a “second” creation account and more likely to view it as providing more beginnings but from a different vantage point. (For example, Genesis 1 can be viewed as a rebuttal to Israel’s pantheon-laden neighbors and Genesis 2 as focused on explanations of the human predicament in terms of relating to God and moral choices.)

I do think that the religious scholars of Jesus’ day would have been very much aware of the chiastic structures in Genesis 1 which gave way to a different genre in Genesis 2. But they probably found that no more jarring than our reading a book which begins each chapter with a poem or classical excerpt relevant to the material which follows. (And that brings to mind the Prelude and Fugue structures of each chapter of Douglas Hofstadter’s Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. The prelude and fugue of each chapter are easy to distinguish—but each pairing comprises a single chapter nonetheless. Only the genre changes, while the topic and purpose remains unified.)

I’m confused by these questions. Blame that on me. I’m not following this argument at all. Perhaps others with more experience with the two associated threads can do a better job on this. (I did join the discussion late so I am probably missing or overlooking important elements.)

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I am not an expert, however it’s easier to understand things when we look at the larger context.
Jesus was countering the teaching of Moses on divorce by pointing to an earlier example-
God’s Act of creation (in creating them male and female), and the nature of marriage as a union of a man and women to form one flesh.

This is similar to Paul’s argument in Romans about how Faith is a path to righteousness because Abraham was first justified by faith and not by the law. And hence the covenant of faith being prior to the covenant of the law is valid apart from the law.

The key issue w.r.t timing in Jesus argument is that God instituted marriage before Moses gave his laws.
A Gap between God’s act of creation of human beings Vis a Vis that of Adam and Eve is not indicated in Jesus teaching. But, that cannot really be taken as a negation of such a gap as it was not important to the argument and hence night not have been mentioned even of it is a correct interpretation.

The major challenge to the idea of a big gap between God’s creation of human beings in Genesis 1 and the Creation of Adam and Eve would be the genealogies given throughout the bible. The genealogies don’t refer to any human beings before Adam. And that’s harder to explain away in my opinion.

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All the best for a speedy recovery.