Job 19:26: A Resurrection Passage?

Hello Friends,

 

Thanks for the the invitation to participate on this fantastic site.   I’m also grateful for the warm reception.  For my first contribution, I would like to share some ideas regarding an important biblical passage for LDS students of the Old Testament.

 

Recently I had an individual seek my opinion regarding the legitimacy of the use of Job 19:26 as a biblical reference to physical resurrection.  This issue is an interesting one for LDS religious educators, since this specific verse appears as one of the scripture mastery passages assigned to seminary students to commit to memory. 

 

As a reminder, the KJV translates the passage as “and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.”

 

Unfortunately, this translation is highly problematic.   Aside from the fact that I freely acknowledge that I have no idea what is going on contextually in this portion of Job, from a strict grammatical perspective, it is impossible to justifying the KJ translation, “in my flesh shall I see God.”

 

The Hebrew construct rendered as “in my flesh” derives from the preposition min, followed by the masculine singular noun basar “flesh” with the first person common singular pronominal suffix.  So, “my flesh” is clearly correct. The challenge derives from a proper interpretation of the preposition min, which the KJV renders as “in.”

 

This preposition can function locational, meaning a description of the place where something originates, as in the English word, “from” however, the more basic sense appears as an ablative nuance which refers to a movement away from a specified beginning point, for example Exodus 12:42: “bring them out of (min) the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:42).

 

In the Bible, the Hebrew expression min plus basar appears 17 times (with or without a pronominal suffix): Gen. 2:23; Ex. 29:34; Lev. 7:17; Lev. 7:18; Lev. 7:21; Lev. 11:8; Lev. 11:11; Lev. 15:2; Deut. 14:8; Deut. 28:55; Is. 58:7; Ezek. 11:19; Ezek. 36:26; Job 19:22; Job 19:26; Job 31:31; Eccl. 11:10.

 

From these passages, one of the closest linguistic parallels to Job 19:26 is Ezekiel 36:26.  In accordance with the KJV, it is clear from context that we should render the expression min (out of) plus basar (flesh) in this passage as “I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh.”

 

One could hardly take away the stony heart from your flesh, and besides, the beginning of the verse establishes the fact that God is working within the human body.  Hence, Ezekiel 36:26 provides an important example of the most basic grammatical sense of the preposition min as an ablative grammatical form, i.e. “out of.”

 

As a reflection of the primary meaning connected with the preposition min, Job appears in 19:26 describing the fact that his flesh/skin will be removed and then, when he is out of his flesh, he will see God.  Any effort to interpret the meaning of this passage as something beyond its most basic sense is going to require some serious justification and textual manipulation.

 

The implications for this observation are important for LDS students of the Bible and should not in my opinion be obscured.  As Latter-day Saints, we should recognize that any attempt on our part to interpret Job 19:26 as biblical proof for resurrection is going to understandably meet with serious opposition.

 

I simply cannot see anyway to justify an argument that the author intended to suggest that Job will see God when Job is once again in his flesh.

 

Clearly the correct understanding does not present any challenges for LDS theology.  Job’s statement that he will see God after death when Job no longer possesses his flesh may simply reflect an older theological view that is more consistent with the somewhat limited understanding concerning this issue given Alma in the BofM:

 

“As soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life” (Alma 40:11).

 

As Latter-day Saints, the Restoration has clearly provided us with a more detailed understanding of the doctrine of physical resurrection than what appears in antiquity. 

 

I would not petition for Job 19:26 to be removed from the scripture mastery list assigned to LDS seminary students (and even if I did, I’m fully aware that no one in a position of authority would possibly care or even pay attention to my suggestion). I simply maintain that in this day of information accessibility, inevitably some believing members will encounter how fundamentally at odds the standard LDS interpretation of Job 19:26 is from the passage’s actual, literal meaning.

 

From what I’ve witnessed, it’s far better to acknowledge these issues, rather than to attempt to cover them up with weak arguments. Especially something like the literal meaning of Job 19:26, which presents absolutely no challenges whatsoever for LDS theology and in fact works well with the perspective witnessed in Alma 40:11.

  • Julie M. Smith

    I don’t know how you can call it the “standard LDS interpretation” when the Institute manual says this:

    “In the King James Version, this verse affirms Job’s faith in a physical resurrection. In many other versions of the Bible, however, this verse does not affirm such a belief; in fact, in these versions Job says he will see God but not in his flesh. How is it possible that two completely contradictory translations could come from the same text? Meservy explained:

    “We might note parenthetically that the great testimony of Job in 19:26 has been interpreted in two ways: ‘Yet in my flesh shall I see God’ (King James Version) and ‘Then without my flesh shall I see God.’ (Jewish Publication Society Version, 1917). The first of these implies the literal resurrection, the other does not. The Hebrew text says, ‘from my flesh,’ and this can be interpreted in either sense. The same ambiguity applies to English usage. If I say, ‘from the house I saw him coming,’ I could have been inside the house or just outside the house when I saw him coming. Thus, one’s theology determines how one translates this passage.”

  • Kevin Barney

    This is funny; I was actually thinking of blogging on this a couple of months ago, but I put it off. I’m glad you took this one on.

    I think the most important thing is to fully disclose both points of view before arguing for whichever one you favor, as both you and the Institute Manual do.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com The Yellow Dart

    David B.,

    Welcome again to FPR! Thanks for the post. I think this statement was great:

    “Aside from the fact that I freely acknowledge that I have no idea what is going on contextually in this portion of Job…”

    Job is difficult on so many levels. I shake a fist in its general direction.

    As for your post, I agree that it seems most likely that this passage has nothing to do with physical resurrection. I also agree that that poses no issue for LDS theology.

    Have a great night!

    Best wishes,

    TYD

  • http://www.keepapitchinin.org Ardis E. Parshall

    I think this is the first time I’ve heard this argument, but I clearly remember seminary and other discussions of the passage as being evidence of Job’s faith in a physical resurrection. I think it’s fair to say that it has been the standard LDS use of the verse, although the institute manual suggests that may be changing. In any case, I agree that it’s always a good idea to acknowledge a growing understanding of any gospel point at home before it is encountered abroad.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    I should note that I am not aware of any early Christians using this passage as a proof text for the resurrection. I could have overlooked it, so I’ll have to double check what the LXX has.

  • David B.

    Hi Julie,

    The question of what qualifies as the “standard” will always present a challenge in terms of defining LDS orthodoxy. However, even a brief perusal of the way LDS scholars and General Authorities have used this passage throughout the years should illustrate my point.

    best

  • David B.

    I should also add that I disagree with Brother Meservy’s suggestion that the preposition “min” in this instance is “ambiguous.” As I’ve illustrated, the fundamental meaning of the preposition is ablative rather than locational. Hence, not “from,” but rather, “out of.” Having had some exposure to the process of writing Institute curriculum, I suspect that Brother Meservy’s comments were designed to reinforce the standard LDS interpretation.

  • http://www.newcoolthang.com Jacob J

    At this point my working assumption is that any proof-text I learned in seminary is wrong until proven otherwise. I didn’t know about this verse (so thanks David B for a great post) but I already assumed it didn’t lend support to the physical resurrection.

  • http://www.newcoolthang.com/ Geoff J

    Hey David! Good to see you here in the bloggernacle finally. You aren’t the only Poway stake alum in these parts but you may our first Ramonan (Ramona-ite?) to post. I hope the FPR crew talks you into staying.

  • http://www.newcoolthang.com/ Geoff J

    Oops. Wrong thread. I’ll post where I meant this to go…

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com David Clark

    David,

    Thanks for the analysis of Job. When I still a contributor to FPR I kicked around the idea of analyzing every Old Testament scripture mastery verse as it is presented to seminary students. My basic point for a large number of them would have been that there was something fundamentally wrong with how they were presented to the students. Ultimately, I decided that I didn’t want to make upwards of 25 posts saying “The message the scripture mastery cards want you to take away have problems because of x, y, z etc.”

    Anyway, my rambling point is thanks for the post, it was interesting to see the focus on the grammatical aspects of seeing in flesh.

    Another point is that these verses are usually marshalled to support evidence for 1) physical resurrection and 2) Redemption through a Redeemer, always assumed to be Jesus Christ. What is your take on the second point? I say this because when I was kicking around the idea of writing a post on the Job scripture mastery I was going to emphasise point #2. Basically whoever “Job” is referring to as his Redeemer is not Jesus Christ, it doesn’t fit the social or the theological context for whoever wrote Job. What is your opinion on this issue?

    In the end I have concluded that scripture master is fundamentally broken because of the overwhelming temptation to both teach and use scripture mastery as a series of proof texts. I really tried to avoid that when I taught, and I am sure I was a complete failure at that. I think it would be far better if the students learned and were tested on where scripture stories are located and/or be able to give a brief synposis of what happens in different scripture books.

  • David B.

    Hello David Clark,

    Thanks for presenting a fascinating question worth pondering. Unfortunately, I do not have a satisfactory answer.

    The book of Job is by far the most difficult scriptural text to translate and interpret. I love the prose section of the book, despite the fact that so many interpreters mistakenly associate the adversary with Satan.

    While I feel I that have a strong handle on the prose, I honestly have no clue what to make of most of the poetic portion of the book, including what was originally meant by the notion of a redeemer.

    Of course as a Latter-day Saint, I enjoy reading these statements as references to the Savior Jesus Christ whom I recognize as my redeemer, however, I don’t for a second assume that the original author likewise had Jesus Christ in mind when he presented Job expressing faith in a redeemer.

    I haven’t read anything too recent on the issue, however in 1979, Michael L. Barré wrote an interesting article concerning Job’s redeemer in Vetus Testamentum 29 pages 107-110.

    In the study, Barré presented two possible interpretations concerning Job’s redeemer, based upon formulaic word pairs in ancient Semitic poetry. From Barré’s perspective, Job 19: 25-26 could express Job’s belief in the power of a redeemer to either heal him or to raise Job from the dead, since the formulaic pair can sustain either meaning.

    According to Barré, the statements throughout the book of Job which appear to reject the notion of an afterlife suggest that most likely, Job 19 simply presents an expression concerning Job’s conviction that whomever his ‘redeemer’ is, this entity will restore Job’s health.

    The notion of a redeemer would therefore connect theologically with the view witnessed in the biblical psalms of Individual Lament which typically present a petition directed to deity asking for a healing and/or restoration of health, followed by a motivation for answering the supplicant’s request.

    Hence, drawing upon the biblical psalms as an analogy, the redeemer whom Job believes will restore his health could be God himself, but I don’t know.

    I’m afraid that I really don’t have a good answer.

  • Clark

    As Latter-day Saints, we should recognize that any attempt on our part to interpret Job 19:26 as biblical proof for resurrection is going to understandably meet with serious opposition.

    It seems to me that the only people who really get into proof-text arguments are Evangelicals who are already open to the notion of the resurrection. (And, contra many Mormon assumptions, tend to accept a literal physical resurrection)

    Admittedly this isn’t going to convince many Jews, but then let’s be honest. They aren’t going to be convinced by the kind of prooftexts 19 year old missionaries are likely to marshal anyway.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com J. Nelson-Seawright

    RE Julie’s Institute Manual quote, I think that’s a good example of the kind of distortion and misrepresentation the post is arguing against. While it is clear that theology is the basis for continued adherence to the “evidence-for-resurrection” reading of this passage, the basis for an opposed reading is essentially not theological. As this post makes clear, the basis for the opposite argument is fundamentally grammatical and based on other available usages of the words in question.

    Meservy’s argument is either confused or intellectually dishonest in the way it presents the “not-evidence-for-resurrection” point of view. How could an LDS reader of the Institute manual not conclude from the quoted text that the only reason to adopt the latter position is on the basis of some apostate theology? This passage is a very unfortunate text indeed…

  • Julie M. Smith

    J,

    I didn’t read it that way at all. I thought it was bold to even mention it. (Believe me when I say that that manual normally completely avoids any sensitive issues or takes completely dogmatic positions.) It isn’t the entry I would have written, but given the tone of the rest of the book, it is a fairly amazing recognition that this can be an eisegetical issue and not strictly an exegetical one.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com J. Nelson-Seawright

    Julie, I agree that the tone of the book in general is dogmatic and generally problematic. I also appreciate the point that the manual acknowledges here that LDS theology drives the traditional LDS reading. Yet the passage still seems bad — it seriously mischaracterizes other arguments and misattributes a theological motive to them. If the best we can do is a passage that describes the best reading of this text as motivated by (implicitly but distinctly, given the tone of the rest of the text) misguided and apostate theological beliefs, that’s a poor shade of progress.

  • Julie M. Smith

    J,

    No doubt. Just a reminder that my purpose in comment #1 was *not* to defend the manual (which I can’t), but rather to point out that the OP went too far in acting as if the issue were unknown to the “traditional LDS interpretation.”

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com J. Nelson-Seawright

    Julie, I can’t speak for the author of the post, but my reading would suggest that the author’s usage of “standard LDS interpretation” applies to the interpretation that reads this text as being about resurrection. The manual quotation you provide seems to be a defense of that interpretation on theological grounds, and hence consistent with viewing the “evidence-of-resurrection” position as standard in LDS discourse.

    I would certainly agree that this isn’t an unknown issue among LDS folks. I’ve known about this since some time in high school, when it was discussed in an English class where we read and talked about Job. To the extent that the post is premised on the idea that basically nobody knows about this problem, I agree that the premise is false. I didn’t read the post that way, but once again I can’t really speak for the author. But I guess the hermeneutics of David B.’s blog post may be a less than fascinating domain of discourse…


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