Elijah is not the only person in the Bible who does not die. Enoch was a very early figure. In fact, he was Noah’s great-grandfather. Enocho walked in righteousness before God, and he was apparently taken somewhere by God while he still lived. (Genesis 5:21-24) The King James Version called this action “translation”: “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him.” (Hebrews 11:5)
The Greek word used in Hebrews, “metatithemi”, is like many Greek words unfortunately capable of more than one translation, as the preposition “meta” and thus the prefix “meta-” support a variety of meanings. BDAG gives both definitions: 1) “to convey from one place to another”, and 2) “to effect a change in state or condition”. (3d ed. at 642)
The KJV and others take the view that Enoch was somehow changed or altered when God removed him, and the syntax supports their view. On the other hand, some modern translations say simply that Enoch was “transported”, also a defensible translation and much less laden with theological implication. God simply put Enoch somewhere else, one can reasonably claim, and this is all we know.
What is not defensible is the decision by the most illustrious recent translations to refer back to Genesis and say that God “took” Enoch. This is, indeed, what Genesis says. But the author of Hebrews was inspired, and if he added meaning by choosing to add some information about Enoch, anyone crediting the New Testament with inspired status must honor the Greek of Hebrews as a verse different from the Hebrew of Genesis 5:21-24. One cannot call the verse in Hebrews a “misquotation” of Genesis, consistent with a claim of inspiration for the New Testament.
Moreover, the simple denotative verb in Genesis does not support the enormous connotations of “was taken by God” in modern English, set in the context of the New Testament. Do we not have enough nonsense about heaven without the editors of the ESV, NIV, and – of all people! – the NASB, intentionally mistranslating “metatithemi”?
This post is meant as additional information to the Commentary for the Daily Devotion of August 11, 2014.