Jeremiah 17:9 – Further Commentary

Question from a Site Viewer

I would like to start by saying how much I loved what Tim had to say about Jeremiah 17:9. I found it beautiful and well thought out and presented so simply that it was very easy to digest which I appreciate a lot.

My question comes from the same page and is about the word “achov”. I know the article said that Tim studies Hebrew and so I am hopeful that he may be able to tell me where to find a solid reference for that word. When I went to the Strong’s dictionary it sites “aqob” as the word translated into deceitful. Please help. I am struggling with this verse as well and when I came across this page I could have wept for joy with the way it resonates in me. Looking at Strong’s though I just became confused.

Tim’s Answer

Thank you for your email. When dealing with the meaning of the word “achov,” we are not in the same situation as we are in modern English. Today, we have lexicographers who research the usage of a word in a language and tell us what it means. They survey a broad scope of literature to determine how people are using a word, and they record this in dictionaries. Sometimes, the meaning of words change over time and the lexicographers adjust. This is why we need to use up-to-date dictionaries in order to know what meanings words have today.

For the time of Jeremiah, there is no body of literature (outside the sacred Scriptures) that lexicographers can resource to give us the meaning of a word. Rather the lexicographers are limited to the Hebrew Scriptures. They survey those Scriptures and find out how the authors are using the word, and then they write down this meaning. Thus, when Strong’s gives the meaning “deceitful,” Strong’s is looking either directly at the word as it is used in the Bible or he is looking at the meaning other lexicographers have concluded the word has in the Hebrew Scriptures.

The standard Hebrew lexicon for the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Hebrew-English Lexicon (BDB), gives the meaning of “insidious, deceitful” for the word “achov,” in Jeremiah 17:9 but gives the meaning “foot-tracked” for the same word in Hosea 6:8. These are the only two places in Scripture where this word appears in the adjective form. In its noun form, BDB never gives any meaning to the word that comes close to the idea of deceit. In its verb form of the same root word, BDB gives the meaning of “to assail insidiously, circumvent, overreach.” The only place the BDB gives any form of this word as perhaps meaning “deceitful” is in the Jeremiah 17:9 passage. BDB is not infallible, and it seems to me to be valid to ask the question, why only in Jeremiah 17:9? We have no other more definitive lexicons for the use of this word in the Hebrew Scriptures.

If you look at Strong’s, Strong’s gives the meaning for the word “achov,” Strong’s number 6121, as “crooked, deceitful, polluted.” If you look in the main part of Strong’s concordance under the word “crooked,” you will find number 6121 listed only once, in Isaiah 40:4 where it references a crooked path. If you look up the word “deceitful,” you will find that this word is so translated only one place in Scripture, and that is in Jeremiah 17:9. If you look up the word “polluted,” you will find again there is only one place in the Scriptures where this word is so translated, Hosea 6:8. Thus, though Strong’s gives the meaning of “deceitful” for the word, it lists only one place in Scripture where the word is so translated. Given that Strong’s list no other place in Scripture where the word is translated “deceitful” helps put into perspective the fragility of this particular interpretation.

As pointed out in the article, I think that the translation of the Hebrew text into the Greek language before the time of Christ (what we now call the Septuagint) provides a much stronger evidence for the meaning of the word. Hebrew scholars translated the Hebrew word “achov” with the Greek word “Batheia,” meaning “deep.” I continue to believe that this is the best understanding of the word.

But I acknowledge that the many English translations of this verse nearly universally use the idea of “deceit” to translate this verse. I humbly submit that they may have got it wrong, given the scarcity of evidence in other passages for providing this meaning to this word and given the meaning given in the Greek Septuagint.

I hope this helps.

In His service,

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