I know that my Redeemer liveth

Anyone who has listened to Handel’s Messiah will be familiar with this commonly used prooftext of a physical resurrection from Job 19:25-26:

[25] For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
[26] And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:

Jeff Lindsay tells the story of being familiar with these verses from the KJV and trying to use them on his mission. But as he read from his German Bible, he found that the translation in front of him did not support a physical resurrection at all. He learned for himself that this is actually a passage fraught with difficulty for the translator. To wit:

1. The word Redeemer carries a lot of Christian baggage. The Hebrew go’el is the active participle from ga’al, and refers to the role of the near-kinsman (attested in the Book of Ruth), the one who will pay off one’s debts, defend the family honor, avenge a killing, and so forth. To avoid the implications in English “Redeemer,” let’s render “Vindicator” instead.

2. Hebrew ‘acharon is an adjectival formation, suggesting that the Vindciator *is* the last. This same form is used ten verses later in Job 19:35. Many translators altar the form to make it adverbial, “at last,” much as the KJV takes it.

3. The end of the verse literally says “he will arise upon [the] dust.” The word for “dust” here could be simply the earth as the KJV takes it, or it could be an allusion to the dust of Job’s own decomposed body.

4. The next clause literally reads “And after my skin they flay/strike off this,” which is very difficult. The verb to flay/strike off is a third person in the active voice, but there is no subject indicated. So the KJV tries to do something rather ingenious: they make “my skin” part of the subject by adding [worms], and since “this” is undefined they simply add the word [body]. Clever, but most likely wrong. The sense appears to be that “my skin” is the subject and the verb should be construed in a passive sense: “And after my skin has been flayed/struck off/destroyed.”

5. Now we come to the biggie. The inseparable preposition m means “from,” and so the last line should read “yet from my flesh I will see God.” That still leaves the question what that means; it is ambiguous, and can mean “from” in the sense of separation (IE apart from my flesh, without my flesh), or it can mean “from” in the sense of vantage point, in which case “in my flesh” is the appropriate translation.

So will Job’s vindication occur in this life, or is he resigned to die first and await his vindication in the next? And if the latter, will he be physically resurrected or not?

Good questions.


  1. Great. Just great.

    Next thing you know, we’ll find out we shouldn’t be celebrating Christmas in December, and that we’re holding the Sabbath on the wrong day, and even more songs will be ruined.

  2. Mark Brown says:

    Thanks for illuminating this, Kevin.

    This verse confused me as a missionary. I had heard Joseph Smith’s statement to the effect that the Luther bible was a proper translation, so it was jarring to read something that appeared to directly oppose my English KJV.

  3. Yep. Happened to me with my French Louis Segond on my mission too.

    I taught this lesson to the youth on Sunday, and we ended up talking about the problem of evil and why God didn’t stop Hitler, for example.

  4. I don’t think we need to fear the world crashing down around our heads if the passage in Job doesn’t mean exactly what we thought the KJV translators meant. And, most important, we don’t need to stop performing that lovely aria from Handel’s Messiah.

    Whatever the writer of Job meant, we are free to give the words whatever meaning we want when we say or sing them–so long as we don’t try to make Job (character in a parable though he may be) into a proto-Mormon.

  5. “…we ended up talking about the problem of evil and why God didn’t stop Hitler, for example.”

    In GD, we talked about what a swell guy Job was. Yep, completely free of any theology or any interesting discussion at all.

  6. Mark B,

    Our teacher emphasized that since the Lord referred to Job in revelation in the D&C that the story was literally true. My wife told me that I cannot be snarky about the lesson…out loud…until we have been in the ward at least a month.

  7. living in zion says:

    Our ward did the same as #5. It was great to hear about how outstanding Job was for a whole hour. I entertained myself with reading parts from the rest of the book.

  8. (5) + (7) Funny stuff. Same.

  9. Our Ward had a lively discussion of whether Job was real or not, concluded it didn’t matter, as it was inspired in either case and just like the Samaritan didn’t need to be real. The ultimate thrust of our lesson was about the importance of withholding judgement on others, as we can not know why they are in whatever situation they are in. We also spent a lot of time talking about how Satan here falls outside of the normative mormon type and about Job’s persistent ability to persevere through hardships.

    All in all, I really liked it.

  10. And Chris, you take your wife’s advice. It’s quite proper.

  11. Oooh! Oooh! Next do “almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian,” which means exactly the opposite of the KJV translation (and the correlated lesson manual)!

  12. WVS: What is proper? The one month grace period? No worries, I am generally quite pleasant in person.

  13. I was chatting this afternoon with one of my law partners who is evangelical Christian and who is taking a class from a seminary about the writings in the Hebrew Bible, including Job. I asked him whether he thought Job was real. He used an LDS proof text argument, except it was an evangelical proof text. He said that since Jesus referred to Job in the New Testament, that was strong evidence that Job was real. (LDS would disagree with him, because the New Testament may be mistranslated, but we agree with his methodology, and say that Joseph Smith’s revelations would not have referred to Job unless Job were real.) My partner, though, was familiar with the counter arguments, and acknowledged (but doubted) that Jesus might have been referring to Job the same way we might refer to Hamlet. He did concede that ultimately, it would destroy his trust of the Bible if it turned out Job was just a story, and Job was not a real person.

  14. Kevin, a fascinating topic. I discuss similar ideas in my recent post Rethinking the Book of Job.

    Some scholars argue, persuasively in my view, that Job has both desires. He has a conviction that his go’el will take up his case postmortem and vindicate him. This seems fitting because Job wants a record of his case to be preserved for posterity. However, Job still holds out for the opportunity to meet God face to face in the divine court. There is a good argument to be made that the reason Job wants to present himself in the flesh is so he can use his cursed body as evidence of what God has done to him unjustly. Thus, rather than being a hope of a resurrection, Job’s obsession with his flesh is to support his mounting case against God.

  15. I once wrote the following about this passage. Six years on, it rings a little naive perhaps, but it was important to me at the time:

    I live in two often mutually incompatible worlds. In the one, I pursue a scholarly approach to the ancient Near East, using the tools of history, archaeology and philology in an attempt to arrive at considered conclusions regarding the past. I do all of this at a prestigious East Coast university. In the other, I follow a religious faith and accept as true things that I have neither seen nor can empirically prove.

    I have been reading this semester the book of Job in Hebrew. It has been an exciting but challenging adventure.

    This week we read Job 19:25: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth”. We spent perhaps an hour discussing this one verse: what does Job mean? A Christian reading is clear—he is appealing to the intercession of the future Messiah, Jesus Christ. But such an interpretation will not do for a secular biblical program [for reasons Kevin has explained].

    As a scholar pursuing a PhD in Near Eastern Studies, I am bound by certain rules. Objective, secular scholarship demands that I reject the notion that this passage refers to Jesus. I would not write it or suggest it, and if I were teaching a class on it I would criticise any student who raised the idea. Why? Because the only way to make this passage refer to Christ requires an injection of religious faith, which cannot be allowed to color our judgements of history, theology or literature. This is the creed of secular scholars, whose number, whilst I am being paid by a secular university, I am among. In short, I am required to see the Bible as a completely different book than the Bible I read on Sunday.

    But in my other world, this passage clearly refers to Christ! Even as I sat in class I felt a strong, personal feeling towards the Saviour. Job’s trial is immense and his hope is gone, so he appeals for a redeemer, a “go’el”, who in Hebrew law was often the kinsmen who bailed you out of trouble. Is this not Jesus, our own brother who satisfies justice on our behalf? Indeed it is. But is it exactly what Job is referring to here? I don’t know and frankly, I don’t care. Jewish rabbis realised long ago that the greatest boon of the Hebrew Bible is that it lent itself to contemporary interpretation i.e. we can “liken the scriptures to ourselves.” Which is what I do as I try to balance the demands of scholarship (of which I am an an advocate) and the mysteries of religious faith (of which I am a believer). I’m not Job and I didn’t write his book, but “I know that my Redeemer lives”.

  16. Ronan, perhaps, this demonstrates my naivety, but your comment/post really resonated with me. Thank you for sharing.

  17. Great post Kevin and great comments aquinas and Ronan.

  18. Aquinas, do you think that John intentionally drew upon Job’s hope in describing the injustice inflicted upon Jesus in discussing His scarred resurrected body when the 12 see Christ with Thomas?

  19. Kevin Barney says:

    I like it, Ronan! My approach is very similar.

  20. I think that though Jonathan Edwards took it a bit far, there is a certain liberty in his typological readings, which are basically metaphoric readings from the eye of faith. If the image of Jesus of the Messiah derived in part from traditions about the go’el, and Jesus as the Messiah is a distinctively Hebrew image, then what would be wrong with seeing Jesus in the context of a beautiful reference to a go’el? Would exilic Jews have read this as a reference to the Messiah? I’ll defer to the Hebrew Bible people here, but I suspect there were traditions to that effect. After all, Job is a story at least in one reading that is grappling with how it is that YHWH’s people could end up in the bondage of exile. What happened to the mythic power of King David when the Babylonians came? If Job is EveryJew pining for Israel in the exile, then why would this _not_ be about intervention and redemption by the Messiah? And if Jesus was correct in seeing himself (or his followers, or however you want to follow current scholarship) as fulfilling the role of Messiah, then in certain crucial respects, this announcement is a reference to Jesus, even if it’s not Job watching PrescienceTV and saying “that guy.”

  21. In teaching Job in Gospel Doctrine I discussed what a go’el was and how Jewish listeners would have heard the passage differently than Christians do. However, for LDS the concept of Jesus as Elder Brother provides a way of relating to Jesus as go’el. Although obviously one could still object to any christianizing of the passage, the LDS concept of Jesus does offer the possibility of an understanding which connects more closely to the original meaning of the term.

  22. I find it beneficial or fruitful to explore the comparison between the Messiah and Job’s go’el figure. Most commentaries focus exclusively on the term go’el alone. What, however, does a contextual analysis reveal? I’m struck by the fact that the entire book seems to focus on the theme of Job’s innocence and being unjustly cursed by God. Job looks towards his go’el not to redeem him from his sins (he persists in his innocence), but because his go’el has the power to bring Job’s case before the divine court.

    Contrast this with the court room scene in D&C 45:3-5. It is doubtful that any of us will use Job’s argument at the judgment bar (“I’m innocent, and I have witnesses, you’ve condemned me without cause”). Rather, we stand guilty as charged and our hope is that our Advocate intercedes on our behalf, not pointing to our innocence, but pointing away from us to “him who did no sin.” The Book of Job doesn’t seem to point towards a go’el who has performed an atonement (at least in a traditional sense), indeed the structure of the book seems to resist such a reading.

    Aaron, which verse do you have in mind?

  23. Kevin Barney says:

    Wow, you guys brought some great and responsible insight to your lessons. Good on you.

  24. John 20:24-29.

    My thought is that Christ’s scarred body works as a form of advocacy via the injustice inflicted upon it in a way similar, but different to, the way Job hoped his body would, as you describe. However, being an amateur in such issues I will of course defer to authority. I wonder whether John’s vision of redemption and atonement simultaneously utilises and subverts the narrative of Job.

  25. Ronan, thanks for your comment. And Kevin for the OP.

  26. D. Fletcher says:

    That aria from the Messiah might be the single greatest piece of sacred music ever created, and it’s in English.

  27. Should I not be playing (an organ setting of ) the Handel aria as prelude music on Easter Sunday? Seriously. After reading this post, I’m thinking it’s kind of a stretch. (And what about for funerals? It’s a favorite aria for funerals.)

  28. #27: If in doubt, stay with his Water Music.

  29. Kevin Barney says:

    Hunter, yes, of course you should still be playing it!

  30. Actually, Bob, his Fireworks music might be a better fit for Easter Sunday, dontcha think? [grin]

    Kevin Barney, in the sense that the Job passage seems like it’s an a personal reflection of Job, himself, regarding his undetermined stance in relation to God, and less like some declaration regarding a universal and literal physical resurrection, playing the Handel setting on Easter or at a funeral sorta seems like a stretch. No?

  31. Kevin Barney says:

    Hunter, no. Read Ronan’s no. 15. Yes, there’s the original textual context, but the English words of the traditional translation have been transformed into a powerful Christian message in its own right. Please don’t be dissuaded from playing the Handel aria!

  32. Hunter,

    I plan on having Iron Butterfly and Beethoven (the anti-Handel) at my funeral. Will you play at my funeral?


  33. Is that I. Ron Butterfly? As in Reverend Lovejoy of the Simpsons? If so, sure!

  34. #33: I think__ on it’s own___ what music I/We have picked, as our last statement___would be a fun post.

  35. Hmmm, I do not get many requests. I will put something together at FPR…ASAP.

  36. I seem to recall Margaret Blair Young doing a post of that nature–not exactly, but along those lines. I’ll see if I can find it.

  37. Hers was likely more reverent than mine would be.

  38. Ah yes–here it is.

  39. Margaret’s is a good one.

  40. Though not a) particularly reverent or b) specifically on target for what you are working on, so…win-win.

  41. #39: Thanks Scott! It was a fun read. I saved the comment poem from Margaret’s post. I may need one of them too.

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