Is the heart “deep,” or “deceitful”?

by Marcelo Souza

Bible translation question of the day:

My good friend messaged me asking, how come my Protestant Bible says in Jeremiah 17:9 that the “heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked,” and my Orthodox Bible says that “the heart is deep beyond all things, and it is the man, and who can know him?”

A good question!

This is what I answered him:

Several things here. First, the word עָקֹב (akov) means crooked, rough, or deceitful (that’s where the name Jacob comes from). That’s the word used in the Masoretic text, put together many centuries after Christ.

Second, the word used in the Septuagint, written before Christ, is βαθεῖα, deep.

Third, the word translated there as “desperately wicked’ is אָנֻשׁ (anush) in the Masoretic, which can be translated “weak.” But the original text did not have the vowel marks, and without them, it can be read as anosh, “man.”

Fourth, evidently the Septuagint translated from Hebrew texts that used perhaps a different word than עָקֹב, or perhaps with a different sense, as it was associated with heel, foot, low (cf. Jacob). Plus the Septuagint probably used anosh as man.

That makes sense in the context, since the next verse did not expand on a wicked heart, but a deep heart that needs to be searched by the Lord to separate those who clung to him from those who did not (in the context of Jeremiah).

Fifth, the text Jesus and the apostles used was the Greek Septuagint the vast majority of the time.

Sixth, the text that the Church canonized is the Septuagint.

Seventh, and finally, we don’t really create doctrine out of isolated verses. The Bible and the Church teach that the heart can be desperately wicked; and it can be deep as well. Both things are true!

Hope this helps!

Author: Father Silouan Thompson

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