Questions From Readers
◼ Why does the New World Translation render the Hebrew word ʽa·rumʹ at Genesis 3:1 as “cautious” since other Bible translations say “cunning” or “clever”?
That scripture reads: “Now the serpent proved to be the most cautious of all the wild beasts of the field that Jehovah God had made. So it began to say to the woman: ‘Is it really so that God said you must not eat from every tree of the garden?’”
At Proverbs 12:23 and other places, the New World Translation renders the Hebrew word ʽa·rumʹ as “shrewd,” which is one basic meaning of the word when applied to humans. But as is the case with so many words, ʽa·rumʹ has various shades of meaning. For instance, Benjamin Davidson defines ʽa·rumʹ as follows: “I. crafty, cunning, subtle.—II. prudent, cautious.”—The Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon.
Why, then, does the New World Translation select the secondary meaning of “cautious” at Genesis 3:1? That choice is in harmony with other translations. For instance, when Genesis 3:1 was translated into Greek in the Septuagint version of the third century B.C.E., the word phroʹni·mos was used—the same word later used at Matthew 10:16: “You must be as cautious as snakes and as gentle as doves.”—Today’s English Version.
Hebrew scholar Ludwig Koehler commented back in 1945: “The serpent is shy. This can be very well expressed in Greek with phronimos, for by this shyness or caution the serpent manifests possession and practice of phrenes.” Phreʹnes here means a kind of instinctive wisdom that other animals also manifest.—Compare Proverbs 30:24.
There is, however, a more important reason for the use of the word “cautious” instead of “shrewd” or “clever” at Genesis 3:1. To call the serpent clever here, right before it is described as seducing Eve into sin, might lead many readers to conclude that the Bible depicts a mere snake as working out this scheme by dint of its own unusual cleverness. Such an interpretation would reduce the account to the status of myth—and a rather silly myth at that.
On the contrary, the Bible teaches that there was much more than some clever snake at work there in the garden of Eden. Revelation 12:9 clearly identifies Satan the Devil with that “original serpent.” He was the unseen, superhuman power manipulating the simple reptile the way a master ventriloquist works his dummy. The natural caution of the serpent made it an ideal choice for the ruse. When it did not shy away cautiously as was its nature but instead boldly opened its mouth and began to speak to Eve, it caught Eve’s attention all the more effectively.
God’s inspired Word is free of myths, and by accurate rendering, the New World Translation helps us to appreciate this fact.—2 Timothy 3:16.
◼ Since Jehovah’s Witnesses know that the dead are unconscious, why do they still feel it is important to attend funerals of fellow believers?
Accurate knowledge from the Bible about the condition of the dead protects Jehovah’s Witnesses from mistaken attitudes and resulting unwise conduct at funerals. It also gives them reason to attend Christian funerals.
God’s Word shows clearly that when a person dies, he does not live on as an immortal soul. (Ecclesiastes 9:5) After death, the body returns to dust, either by natural decomposition or through cremation. The deceased is no longer alive; he will live again only if God resurrects him in the future.—John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15.
Hence, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not follow funeral practices that are based on the belief that a dead person had an immortal soul, which lives on somewhere. They do not share in wakes, with loud chants or moans to frighten “the spirits,” nor in all-night vigils or extreme grieving intended to appease the dead.
This does not mean, however, that God’s people do not mourn. The death of a relative or close friend is a saddening experience, even to true worshipers who have accurate knowledge about the dead. For example, when Jacob thought that a wild animal had killed Joseph, the patriarch “carried on mourning over his son for many days.” We read that “all his sons and all his daughters kept rising up to comfort him.” (Genesis 37:33-35) When faithful Jacob died, Joseph “commanded his servants, the physicians, to embalm his father,” and “the Egyptians continued to shed tears for him seventy days.” While Jacob’s family did not hold to the Egyptians’ false views about the dead, they clearly were moved by Jacob’s death. “All of Joseph’s household and his brothers” wanted Jacob to be properly buried, and even outsiders could note that they were mourning.—Genesis 50:1-11.
Numerous other Bible examples can be cited wherein Jehovah’s servants were truly moved by the death of a fellow worshiper or relative and so gave way to proper mourning.* When Jesus was with Lazarus’ grieving relatives, Jesus was not impassively unmoved or inappropriately jolly. Though having confidence in the power of the resurrection, Jesus wept. (John 11:33-35) After Jesus himself died, his disciples mourned, even though he had told them that he would be killed and raised again to life.—Matthew 16:21, 28; John 16:17-20; 20:11.
God’s servants today can and do feel the sadness that death brings. Yet, their Biblical understanding helps to temper or balance their mourning, in line with 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14: “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant concerning those who are sleeping in death; that you may not sorrow just as the rest also do who have no hope. For if our faith is that Jesus died and rose again, so, too, those who have fallen asleep in death through Jesus God will bring with him.”
What, then, about attending a Christian funeral (or a memorial talk concerning a believer)? There are Biblical reasons why Witnesses feel it is beneficial to have and attend such.
Recall that when it seemed that Jacob had lost his son, “all his sons and all his daughters kept rising up to comfort him.” (Genesis 37:35) In many lands it is customary for relatives to gather for a funeral. That provides an occasion for others, who may not have been as close and so are not as affected emotionally, to offer words of sympathy and consolation. After Lazarus died ‘many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary in order to console them concerning their brother.’ (John 11:19) This also involves Christians who want to “be able to comfort those in any sort of tribulation.”—2 Corinthians 1:4.
Christian overseers, even though they may be very busy, should take the lead in providing comfort to the flock. They bear in mind that their exemplar Jesus, the Fine Shepherd, was commissioned ‘to bind up the brokenhearted and to comfort all the mourning ones.’ (Isaiah 61:1, 2; John 10:14) Jesus did not offer such comfort only when it was convenient. He was willing to go out of his way to be with Lazarus’ bereaved relatives—to share their sorrow.—John 11:11, 17, 33.
Even Christians who may be unable to say much to the bereaved at a funeral can do good simply by their presence. Mourning family members may draw considerable solace from the sympathetic presence of many—young and old—from the Christian congregation. Remember the reaction of some Jews when Jesus came to Lazarus’ grieving sisters: “See, what affection he used to have for him!” (John 11:36) Unbelieving relatives, neighbors, or business associates attending the funeral of a Christian have been favorably impressed by the large number of Witnesses present and thus have been more receptive to the Biblical truths presented.
The conduct of Witnesses attending should befit the situation. Though knowing that the deceased is not suffering, and confident that a resurrection awaits all loyal ones, they take to heart the counsel: ‘There is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to wail and a time to skip about.’ (Ecclesiastes 3:4) A funeral or a memorial service is not a time for loud, jocular talking. It is an occasion for empathy, consistent with the advice: “Rejoice with people who rejoice; weep with people who weep.”—Romans 12:15.
There is another reason why Jehovah’s Witnesses attend funerals. God’s Word says: “Better is it to go to the house of mourning than to go to the banquet house, because that is the end of all mankind; and the one alive should take it to his heart. . . . The heart of the wise ones is in the house of mourning, but the heart of the stupid ones is in the house of rejoicing.”—Ecclesiastes 7:2-4.
While Jehovah’s Witnesses have reason for hope, those words were inspired and put in the Bible for our benefit. A funeral might be compared to “a house of mourning.” As we attend, our thoughts can turn from our normal concerns or activities and focus on the brevity of life. Whether through sickness or some “unforeseen occurrence,” death can strike any of us and quickly bring us to nothingness, for “man also does not know his time.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11, 12) Parents who have their children with them at a Christian funeral may find that this can lead to discussing the reality of death, our need for the ransom, and the wisdom of serving “the God who raises up the dead.”—2 Corinthians 1:9; Ecclesiastes 12:1, 13.
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not regard funerals as sacraments, but they do recognize that these sad events offer occasion for giving consolation. By attending them, Christians can give evidence of the love and respect that they had for their fellow Christian. And they may be moved to think more seriously on the meaning of life, about how they should be using their own life before God.
Genesis 23:2, 19; Numbers 20:29; Deuteronomy 34:7, 8; 2 Samuel 1:11, 12; 3:31-34; 13:32-37; 18:33; 2 Chronicles 35:24, 25; Job 1:18-20; Psalm 35:14; Jeremiah 9:1; Luke 7:12, 13; 8:49-52; Acts 8:2; 9:39.