Biblical Languages,  Old Testament

A Proposal for a New Translation of Deuteronomy 4:29

This month an article that I have been working on for awhile was finally published in the journal The Bible Translator. The article is entitled, “Towards a New Proposal for Translating the Conjunction כי in Deuteronomy 4.29.” Although I am not allowed to post the published PDF, I have uploaded the prepublication version of the paper here.

It is a fairly technical paper, discussing some of the intricacies of Hebrew grammar. The paper will likely not be very enjoyable for those who do not know Hebrew. However, in addition to drawing attention to it, I wanted to summarize the argument in layman’s terms.

The Typical Translations of Deuteronomy 4:29

Deuteronomy 4:29 does not typically have much variation in translation. The only outlier is the CSB. Observe the following translations.

But from there, you will search for the Lord your God, and you will find Him when you seek Him with all your heart and all your soul. (CSB)
But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. (ESV)
But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul. (KJV)
But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. (NASB)
But if you seek the Lord your God from there, you will find him, if, indeed, you seek him with all your heart and soul. (NET)
But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. (NIV)
From there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find him if you search after him with all your heart and soul. (NRSV)

However, it is my contention that Deuteronomy 4:29 should be translated as follows: “But from there you will search for the LORD your God, and you will find Him, for you will search for him with all your heart and all your soul.”

The Evidence from Deuteronomy 4:25-30

One of the main arguments in my article is from the near context of vv. 25-30. The context of these verses clearly matches with what we would normally determine as prophetic certainty. This seems further evidenced by the conclusion in verse 30, where Moses writes, “When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the Lord your God and obey his voice.” Note the absence of conditionality in that statement. It is written with the full expectation of future occurrence.

If the previous verse should also be read in that same light, then the verse could easily be explaining the reason Israel would turn to God—the full commitment of heart and soul.

The Evidence from Deuteronomy as a Whole

Many scholars have pointed out the intricate connection between the beginning and latter parts of Deuteronomy. If the theology of Deuteronomy is similar at the beginning and end, then it is clear that Moses expects Israel to fall away and be sent into exile (Deut 4:27-28; 30:1). But that will not be the end of the story. Israel will certainly return to the Lord and be obedient (Deut 4:29-30; 30:2-6). Thus, the parallel between Deuteronomy 4:25-30 and 30:1-10 argues for seeing Deuteronomy 4:29 not as conditional per se, but as prophetic.

The Evidence from Hebrew Grammar

In perhaps the most esoteric portion of the article, I argue that the use of כי clauses in Hebrew function according to specific expectations. Although a כי clause can be translated as conditional (“if”), it can also be translated as causal (“for/because”). I base much of my observations on a dissertation by Barry Bandstra as well as some of my own syntax searches in Logos. My conclusion is that when a כי clause follows a main clause, it almost always is to be interpreted causally (“for/because”).

The Evidence from the LXX

To show that my proposal is not completely out in left field, I draw a parallel with Jeremiah 29:13 (36:13 in the LXX), which is almost a verbatim quote of Deuteronomy 4:29. The LXX translator of 29:13 (36:13 LXX) utilizes a causal translation in the Greek, which at least demonstrates that it is natural to view the grammatical structure as causal. Although someone might argue the contexts of Deuteronomy 4:29 and Jeremiah 29:13 are different, I would argue they are both in prophetic contexts, and should be understood in a similar light.

Conclusion and Application

Assuming the convincing nature of my arguments, then Deuteronomy 4:29 should be translated with a sense of certainty, not conditionality. This section of Scripture would then be a very early prophetic proclamation of Israel’s exile, along with a future hope of ultimate restoration and salvation which would accord with places like Deuteronomy 30, Zechariah 12, and Romans 11.

If you are interesting in working through the arguments in more detail, feel free to look through the prepublished copy of the article.

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He is a husband, father, and sports enthusiast.

One Comment

  • S.A. Top

    Here is prophecy to the contrary.

    (Deuteronomium 31:16)
    And the LORD said unto Moses, Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers; and this people will rise up, and go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land, whither they go to be among them, and will forsake me, and break my covenant which I have made with them.

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