Friday, April 26, 2013

Ezekiel 37: 1-14 - The Valley of Dry Bones



I welcome Justin Ivatts as guest blogger today! This post is part of a project he's doing in Digital Media for Ministry and Old Testament.

A Word Study on the Hebrew Word ר֫וּחַ.

I recently taught an online class at Virginia Theological Seminary exegeting the Valley of Dry Bones narrative from Ezekiel 37: 1-14.  My argument was that Ezekiel was foretelling the Christian doctrine of the Resurrection of the Dead.  You can view an archived recording of this class by clicking on the link at the end of this post.  One of the hooks that my argument hinged on was the use of the Hebrew word ר֫וּחַ, and thus I wanted to conduct a more in depth word study here than I had time to do in a 45 minute class where I also had a lot of other ground to cover.

ר֫וּחַ is a noun which can literally be translated as wind, breath or spirit.  We find all three of these translations in all the English translations that I consulted (NRSV, ESV, NIV, REB and Message).  ר֫וּחַ appears in total 378 times in the Old Testament and Ezekiel makes use of some of these meanings.  For example we see ר֫וּחַ used in the same context in Ezekiel 37:5 as in the creation narrative in Genesis 2:7.  Both verses use ר֫וּחַ as something that brings life, in the case of Genesis new life, in the case of Ezekiel returned, redeemed life. 

The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament describes ר֫וּחַ as having the conceptual effect of “air in motion.” (Payne 1980, 836)  This matches up well with Ezekiel’s use in 37:9, where he speaks of “the four winds” which he uses to denote the four corners of the earth.

Interestingly the corresponding Greek word for ר֫וּחַ is πνεῦμα (Pneuma), which has exactly the same literal translation, i.e. it can mean, breath, wind or spirit.  Therefore, πνεῦμα appears everywhere in the Septuagint translation of Ezekiel 37: 1-14 that ר֫וּחַ does.  In the New Testament πνεῦμα is only used to denote spirit in the Gospels, the first appearance of its use as breath is not until the Acts of the Apostles.  I found that finding particularly useful in proving my point in the class, since I was able to argue that ר֫וּחַ as spirit is a direct reference to the Holy Spirit, even if Jewish theology did refer to the Holy Spirit.  According to the Payne article A.F.Kirkpatrick asserted that “the [ר֫וּחַ] YHWH [of the Old Testament] is the Holy Spirit ‘in the fullest Christian sense.’” (Payne 1980, 837) 

The last point I want to raise about this word is one which might be of interest to feminist theologians.  There has been a move in recent years among our feminist friends to talk about the Holy Spirit as “she.”  Interestingly neither the Greek nor the Hebrew is of a masculine gender.  πνεῦμα is neuter but ר֫וּחַ is actually feminine.  Therefore, perhaps it is right that we should talk about the Holy Spirit as she or else give “it” no gender at all.

Please do attend an archived version of the class that I taught at here

Sources:

Accordance Bible Software

Payne, J. B. (1980). Ruah. wind, breath, mind, spirit. In R. L. Harris, G. l. Archer & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological wordbook of the old testament (pp. 836-837). Chicago, IL: The Moody Bible Institute.

1 Comments:

Blogger Kyle Matthew Oliver said...

You can read Justin's pedagogical reflections on the Center for the Ministry of Teaching's Digital Mission blog. Great work, Justin!

Fri May 03, 02:31:00 PM GMT-5  

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