Bible Notation (e.g., What does Gen 13:7b mean?)

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Steve Brannon | Forum Activity | Posted: Sat, Mar 12 2011 7:53 PM

I can't seem to find a good rule for the meaning of letters at the end of a Bible verse reference.  Can anyone point me to a guide, or explain this specific example?

I made up the Gen 13:7b reference, but I see this format all the time.  I used to think it meant "the second sentence" but that rule is violated frequently.  I just don't get it.

Thanks,

Steve

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Denise | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Mar 12 2011 9:01 PM

Typically it means the second portion of the verse. If the verse were lengthy, it's conceivable there might even be a 'c'. Of course an 'a' means the first portion.

"I didn't know God made honky tonk angels."

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Kevin Becker | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Mar 13 2011 4:45 AM

Steve Brannon:
 Can anyone point me to a guide, or explain this specific example?

There is no guide as far as I know. It seems to depend on the judgment of whoever added b (or any other letter) to the reference. Make your best guess based on context. Looking at the reference it looks like that might be affixed to a sentence making a claim about the people groups in the land.

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Vincent Setterholm | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Mar 13 2011 11:38 AM

There are some cases when letters are used in very specific ways. I can think of the following:

  1. When there is a verse in the LXX (or certain other traditions) that is not found in the Hebrew Bible, sometimes that additional material is given a letter to set it off from the Hebrew material.
  2. Mostly in lexicons, if the word under discussion appears twice (or more) in one verse, letters (Roman or Greek) can be used to indicate which specific instance is under discussion.
  3. Most Hebrew verses can be divided into two parts on the basis of the strong disjunctive accent Athnach. Some can be divided into three parts with the help of another very strong disjunctive accent. Some of the more technical materials will consciously follow these breaks. But since these breaks are quite often logical, even when a commentator isn't fastidiously following the division of the text, often their use of letters will line up anyway.
  4. Some commentaries have their own translation of the text presented in an outline form. In these cases, the letters may precisely correspond with their own translation.
  5. There are certain verses that have a strong tradition of being broken into pieces in translation, even occasioning the start of a new paragraph in the middle of the verse. Gen 2:4 comes to mind as the classic example (though that is also an example of #3 above). So someone might use Gen 2:4a and b and assume the reader can figure out that a is the part that ends the previous paragraph and b the part the starts a new one.
  6. Some translations will make use of letters in the text to show when they are rearranging parts of verses to make them more intelligible in the target language. You might get a sequence of verses like 27a, 28b, 27b, 28a that correspond to 27-28 in the source text, rearranged.
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George Somsel | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Mar 13 2011 12:23 PM

Steve Brannon:

I can't seem to find a good rule for the meaning of letters at the end of a Bible verse reference.  Can anyone point me to a guide, or explain this specific example?

I made up the Gen 13:7b reference, but I see this format all the time.  I used to think it meant "the second sentence" but that rule is violated frequently.  I just don't get it.

Thanks,

Steve

Your question isn't very clear.  Looking at Gen 13.7 the only "letter" which I see (though it isn't really a letter) is thee sof pasuq (׃), and it does indicate the end of the verse.  There are actual letters sometimes found after verses such as פ which indicate the end of a reading in the Jewish lectionary cycle (known as a parashah or parasha).  There are also sedarim (ס) which appear to mark a triennial reading cycle.  The only "letter" in 13.7, however, (and it really isn't a letter) is the sof pasuq unless you are speaking of the cantillation marks.  These are such as ֿ, ְ, and ‌‌֑, but again, these are not letters but aids in reciting in the synagogue.

george
gfsomsel

יְמֵי־שְׁנוֹתֵינוּ בָהֶם שִׁבְעִים שָׁנָה וְאִם בִּגְבוּרֹת שְׁמוֹנִים שָׁנָה וְרָהְבָּם עָמָל וָאָוֶן

Posts 80
Steve Brannon | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Mar 13 2011 1:21 PM

My apologies for not being clear, and for making up the example.  When I had time to post the question, and it was on my mind, I simply did not have a valid example in front of me.

I do now.

I read the following two references in a book:  Ezekiel 38:18-19a, and Ezekiel 38:22b.

So, I am left wondering... What rules did the author use to determine what portion of 38:19 is "a" and how does he know to use 38:22 "b" as a specific reference?

I always assumed (like some have replied): Use your best judgment, look at context, you can figure it out.  Usually this works.  However, I have also seen example (I don't have an example to share) where I have looked at the reference and thought, "How did they determine that THAT portion is "b", i would have thought it was another portion of the verse."

So, in the future if I need to specify a Scripture reference I want to get it right.  I also want to know specifically what an author is talking about when he says something like Ezekiel 38:22b.

This is not simply an OT thing, I see similar letter suffixes affixed to NT text.

I hope this clarifies the question.

Steve

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George Somsel | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Mar 13 2011 2:06 PM

Steve Brannon:

My apologies for not being clear, and for making up the example.  When I had time to post the question, and it was on my mind, I simply did not have a valid example in front of me.

I do now.

I read the following two references in a book:  Ezekiel 38:18-19a, and Ezekiel 38:22b.

So, I am left wondering... What rules did the author use to determine what portion of 38:19 is "a" and how does he know to use 38:22 "b" as a specific reference?

22 וְנִשְׁפַּטְתִּ֥י אִתּ֖וֹ בְּדֶ֣בֶר וּבְדָ֑ם וְגֶ֣שֶׁם שׁוֹטֵף֩ וְאַבְנֵ֨י אֶלְגָּבִ֜ישׁ אֵ֣שׁ וְגָפְרִ֗ית אַמְטִ֤יר עָלָיו֙ וְעַל־אֲגַפָּ֔יו וְעַל־עַמִּ֥ים רַבִּ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר אִתּֽוֹ׃

 

 

Note under the word וּבְדָ֑ם in this verse there is a ֑ (the circle represents a letter).  This is called an ˒atnāḥ.  Here is what Waltke & O'Conner say

A word that occurs at the end of a verse or section of a verse is pronounced with particular emphasis on the accented syllable. Consequently short vowels in this syllable may lengthen and long vowels that have been reduced may return to their original form. (Cf. §7.3.) These forms are known as pausal forms and occur particularly with the zāqēf qātôn, ˒atnāḥ and sillûq.

So, the 'atnach marks off a section of a verse and may be used to determine which is a and which is b.

george
gfsomsel

יְמֵי־שְׁנוֹתֵינוּ בָהֶם שִׁבְעִים שָׁנָה וְאִם בִּגְבוּרֹת שְׁמוֹנִים שָׁנָה וְרָהְבָּם עָמָל וָאָוֶן

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Mike Binks | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Mar 13 2011 2:51 PM

 I used to think it meant "the second sentence" but that rule is violated frequently.  I just don't get it.

4 John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: 

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spiritsa before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. 

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. 

 7      Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him;  and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. 

When this reading comes up in the Revised Common Lectionary (Proper 29 Year B) it is referred to as Revelation 1 : 4b - 8

What be is is not specified but from the context it becomes clear that because the passage under consideration is John' s greeting rather than the message to the seven churches the first phrase of the verse 1 is superfluous to the question in hand. These types of verse division occur in similar places in the bible where the subject changes mid verse and you might reasonably only want to include half a verse at either the beginning or the end.

It is left to the preacher or student to use their judgement as to where the 'obvious' break should be made.

 

 

The Holy Bible: New International Version. 1996 (electronic ed.) (Re 1:4–7). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

 

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George Somsel | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Mar 13 2011 3:10 PM

Mike Binks:

I used to think it meant "the second sentence" but that rule is violated frequently.  I just don't get it.

 

4 John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: ...

When this reading comes up in the Revised Common Lectionary (Proper 29 Year B) it is referred to as Revelation 1 : 4b - 8

What be is is not specified but from the context it becomes clear that because the passage under consideration is John' s greeting rather than the message to the seven churches the first phrase of the verse 1 is superfluous to the question in hand. These types of verse division occur in similar places in the bible where the subject changes mid verse and you might reasonably only want to include half a verse at either the beginning or the end.

It is left to the preacher or student to use their judgement as to where the 'obvious' break should be made.

We were discussing Hebrew texts.  Greek is somewhat different.  It would almost seem that "everyone punctuates as seems right in his own eyes."  I would simply advise checking some versions to see whether they agree.  If they don't, DO SOMETHING WILD AND CRAZY.  Devil

george
gfsomsel

יְמֵי־שְׁנוֹתֵינוּ בָהֶם שִׁבְעִים שָׁנָה וְאִם בִּגְבוּרֹת שְׁמוֹנִים שָׁנָה וְרָהְבָּם עָמָל וָאָוֶן

Posts 2
Jonnie von Hellens | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Aug 26 2017 10:37 AM

I know this was posted some time ago, but I too have long wondered about the letter designations given to Bible verses and how they arrived at them. I emailed my pastor, who also teaches at seminary, some time ago with that question and here is what he said:

"As for the divisions within verses, this is usually done by eyeballing the grammar.  A clause (but not a complete sentence) usually constitutes an a, b, or even a c in a verse.  But there is no real science or definitive formula for it.  This part of textual criticism is more art than science.  ;-)"

I'm still left with wondering, what grammar makes a change in clause, so that one part is a, another b, and possibly another c? Anybody know this?

Posts 2
chelsey | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Dec 10 2019 11:19 AM

The General Letters

The seven letters following Hebrews – James; 1,2 Peter; 1,2,3 John; Jude – have often been designated as the General Letters. This term goes back to the early church historian Eusebius (c. AD 265 – 340), who in his Ecclesiastical History (2:23 – 25) first referred to these seven ltters as the Catholic Letters, using the word “catholic” in the sense of “universal.”

The letters so designated may be said to be, for the most part, addressed to general audiences rather than to specific persons or localized groups. The only exceptions are 2 and 3 John, which are written to individuals or a specific church. In contrast to these general letters, Paul addresses his letters to individual churches (such as Phillippians), small groups of churches (such as Galatians) or individuals (such as Timothy or Titus).

As Eusebius noted long ago, one interesting fact connected with the General Letters is that most of them were at one time among the disputed books of the NT. James, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John and Jude were all questioned extensively before being admitted to the canon of Scripture.

https://www.biblica.com/resources/scholar-notes/niv-study-bible/the-general-letters/

Posts 2
Jonnie von Hellens | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Dec 13 2019 1:13 PM

Given you posted this question in 2011, I'm wondering if you have been able to find any guidelines (since there doesn't seem to be definitive rules) to this form of Bible book, chapter, verse and subverse notation? In the examples you gave, I "feel" that the phrasing in these verses might place the letter divisions to be before the first comma in verse 19. Therefore "Ezekiel 38:18-19a would be

18 But on that day, the day that Gog shall come against the land of Israel, declares the Lord Godmy wrath will be roused in my anger. 19 For in my jealousy and in my blazing wrath I declare,".

In the second example, I feel the division for Ezekiel 38:22b would be after the first comma:

and I will rain upon him and his hordes and the many peoples who are with him torrential rains and hailstones, fire and sulfur.

I would really like to know more about this, but any searches I've ever done hasn't produced results that answer this question, and as I previously posted, my pastor couldn't give a good answer either.

Praying for a good answer,

Jonnie

 

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Dec 13 2019 1:30 PM

Jonnie von Hellens:
my pastor couldn't give a good answer either.

Your pastor gave a very accurate and completely true answer. You are looking for formal rules where there are none. The "eyeballing" is looking for phrase, clause, or sentence boundaries. A reasonable definition of phrase:

A phrase is a syntactic structure that consists of more than one word but lacks the subject -predicate organization of a clause .

International Linguistics Department, Glossary of Linguistic Terms (SIL International, 1996–).

Rather than requiring a linguistic dependency tree be created to prove that a group of word is a phrase, "eyeballing" allows you to simply use your innate sense of language.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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SineNomine | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Dec 19 2019 10:04 AM

People do not use the lettering system in a remotely consistent fashion. As such, in actual practice:

  • "1:1b" means that some portion of 1:1 consisting of the first word (of the ms or even translation the author is using) and (usually) more words thereafter is not being referenced (or quoted).
  • "1:1a" means that some portion of 1:1 consisting of the last word (of the ms or even translation the author is using) and (usually) more words immediately preceding is not being referenced (or quoted).
  • "1:1b,d" means means both that some portion of 1:1 consisting of the first word (of the ms or even translation the author is using) and (usually) more words thereafter is not being referenced and that one or more words located between the first word(s) being referenced (or quoted) and the last word(s) of the verse are also not being referenced (or quoted).

From the above three examples, all other possible combinations should be decipherable.

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