Exodus 22:8-9 “God” or “Judges”?

I think this will really bug some people as it bugs me.  It seems that Exodus 22:8-9 is clearly referring to judges but some translations like the NLT,  ESV, NRSV rendered elohim as “God“; but TNIV and CSB rendered elohim as “judges“.  Yes, technically, “God” is correct; but it seems clear to me that elohim (in the sense of a small “g” gods) which can be translated as judges, was what the writers/scribes intended.

Should we go with what we know as technically correct? Or should we go with what we know the writer/scribe/editor intended?

_________________________  Exodus 22:8-9 _________________________

NLT But if the thief is not caught, the neighbor must appear before God, who will determine if he stole the property. 9 “Suppose there is a dispute between two people who both claim to own a particular ox, donkey, sheep, article of clothing, or any lost property. Both parties must come before God, and the person whom God declares guilty must pay double compensation to the other.

ESV If the thief is not found, the owner of the house shall come near to God to show whether or not he has put his hand to his neighbor’s property. 9 For every breach of trust, whether it is for an ox, for a donkey, for a sheep, for a cloak, or for any kind of lost thing, of which one says, ‘This is it,’ the case of both parties shall come before God. The one whom God condemns shall pay double to his neighbor.

TNIV But if the thief is not found, the owner of the house must appear before the judges, and they must determine whether the owner of the house has laid hands on the other person’s property. 9 In all cases of illegal possession of an ox, a donkey, a sheep, a garment, or any other lost property about which somebody says, ‘This is mine,’ both parties are to bring their cases before the judges. The one whom the judges declare guilty must pay back double to the other.

CSB If the thief is not caught, the owner of the house must present himself to the judges to determine whether or not he has taken his neighbor’s property. 9 In any case of wrongdoing involving an ox, a donkey, a sheep, a garment, or anything else lost, and someone claims: That’s mine, the case between the two parties is to come before the judges. The one the judges condemn must repay double to his neighbor.

6 thoughts on “Exodus 22:8-9 “God” or “Judges”?

  1. @Peter, I think “God” is technically correct but prefer “judges”. With the help of Urim and Thummin, I wonder how much human involvement was a factor in making judgements? It makes me feel so homeocentric when I say this.

    On a side note, it is so hard to escape this homeocentricism because, as humans, we think and talk with the human, rather than God, in the centre of our discussions. Hence, we see scripture moving to a more homeocentric terminology, e.g., “judges”.


  2. I would suggest a real possibility that the reference is to God, i.e. the parties are to appear before God at the entrance to the tabernacle, and God is to decide the matter, presumably with the help of the Urim and Thummim. Yes, a case where both versions need to be visible to the reader, one in the text and the other in a footnote. And I don’t think the NET note is suitable as it doesn’t allow for my interpretation.


  3. @Darrell, I’m with you on the HCSB, NIV/TNIV, and NASB. The NET bible also handles it pretty well too. I love its footnote on this verse.

    2 tn Here again the word used is “the gods,” meaning the judges who made the assessments and decisions. In addition to other works, see J. R. Vannoy, “The Use of the Word ha’elohim in Exodus 21:6 and 22:7,8,” The Law and the Prophets, 225-41.


  4. I think the general rule of thumb needs to be to stick to the technical unless the text clearly (as the one cited above) seems to point to something else. Either way, however, a footnote should be added. In the example you cited, I think the HCSB, NIV/TNIV, and NASB handle it the best.


  5. Jonathan, I agree. Footnoting makes a translation more honest. I looked up the RSV (ESV’s predecessor) and it also failed to footnote this. Compared to other translations, the ESV seems to overlook its lack of proper footnoting in many places. The NRSV, however, did have a footnote. The NRSV seems to have put a lot more work into updating the RSV than what the ESV translators did.


  6. In cases such as this, regardless of which decision the translators make, the alternative rendering should be footnoted.

    I note that all of the versions which you have cited do this (except for the ESV).


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