The Yetzer HaRa and Yetzer HaTov

In Uriel Ben Mordechai’s new translation of Romans (principally from the earliest extant version we have, Papyrus 46 – circa 170 CE), we see the use of the Hebraic understanding of our nature consisting of two ‘hearts’, that is, of a fleshly heart and a spiritual heart; an evil inclination (the Yetzer haRa), and a good inclination, (the Yester HaTov).

For much more on this and other Hebraic principles or Hebraisms, please see my articles on the Hebraic Mindset as as well as my book ‘Doctrinal Pitfalls of Hellenism’.

Uriel essentially translates the Greek back into its Hebraic underpinning and perspective, and then into English (à la, Prof. David Flusser) so that the Yetzer haRa and Yetzer haTov are seen and explicitly referred to in Romans 2:17; 7:5; 8:4, 5, 6, 11,12,13, and in 8:26.
 Judaism understands from the Tanakh that man has two hearts, and two inclinations, an inclination to do good and an inclination to do bad. This Hebraic concept of ‘Yetzer HaRa’ and ‘Yetzer HaTov’ (the evil inclination and the good inclination) relates to the choice of the will to be faithful to God rather than follow the natural ‘lusts of the flesh’.
The origin of this understanding is that in Hebrew the singular for ‘heart’ (pronounced ‘lev’) is לב and the plural ‘hearts’ is sometimes spelt in more than one way such as לבבך or ֵלבבם or לבבות. If you look at the Sh’ma (starting at Deut 6:4) in a Hebrew Bible such as Hebrew-English Tanakh (Varda Books 2009) you will see the plural, לבבך in both verses 6 and 7.
This literally translates into English as: “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all your hearts, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your hearts …”
So some debate occurred within Israel religious scholars over the centuries about why the plural? The Talmud relates that their conclusion is that we have two hearts, a yetzer hatov and a yetzer hara (essentially a ‘fleshly heart’ and a ‘spiritual heart’). This is also clearly seen in the ‘Al Chet’ Prayer that is recited every Yom Kippur, where the 19th prayer is to pray for forgiveness “For the mistakes we committed before You with the Yetzer HaRa”.

Romans 8:4

Thus all who seek HaShem need to make the choice to follow the good heart rather than the fleshly heart. All who have ‘circumcised hearts’ are then aligning their ‘fleshly heart’ with their ‘spiritual heart’, and will inherit the Olam HaBah, the Kingdom of God.
The Apostle Paul calls the Torah spiritual in a number of places such as 1 Cor 10:3 and Romans 7:14. So for example, when Paul writes in 1 Cor 15:44 “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” he is speaking primarily on an individual basis of this choice that we all have – whether to be ‘born from above’, that is to follow our good inclination, to circumcise our hearts and have the ‘faith of Yeshua’ which is the ‘faith/faithfulness of Abraham’, or to remain alienated from God in allowing our ‘fleshly heart’ or evil inclination to lead us astray.
Mussar (Jewish ethics – see this short post for an introduction) teaches though that the ‘evil inclination’ is really also for our good because when recognized and alerted to, it can help us to recognize where our character falls short and what we need to correct to synchronize our ‘fleshly heart’ with our ‘spiritual heart’ so as to fully turn our whole being to HaShem.
So here is just two of the many references in Uriel’s translation:
Romans 8:4
“…so that the righteous verdict of the Torah can be satisfied in us who walk not in a manner conforming to “yetzer ha’rah,” but conforming to “yetzer ha’tov”.
Romans 8:
“6 The truth is that the perspective of the “yetzer ha’rah” is death, while the perspective of the “yetzer ha’tov” is life and shalom,
7 precisely because the mind bent on the tendency towards evil opposes G‑d with hostility. …”
Again, I strongly recommend Uriel’s version which can be purchased as a pdf from here – 

I discuss Flusser’s approach unique and revolutionary approach in my book ‘The New Testament: The Hebrew Behind the Greek’. This excerpt summaries his approach:

… A significant part of Flusser’s approach as a linguist fluent in over 9 languages including Greek and Hebrew, was to translate the Greek versions of Luke, for example, back into Hebrew. When he did this, he was able to show how good a fit such ‘reverse-translations’ were, as well as highlight small but significant portions where this does not work.

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A different take on Isaiah 9:6

This prophecy is one, which is extremely well known within Christendom, or more accurately, it is very often quoted and preached on by Pastors and preachers in the mainstream Christian churches. For example, I have attended Christmas Day services where this was the main Scripture quoted and discussed.

One of these occasions some years ago led me to write to the Pastor of a large Pentecostal church here in Brisbane, and try to share with him my understanding of the many ways in which he was mis-interpreting this passage.

Now, in looking back over what I wrote, while I still believe I was pointing him in the right direction, I now believe that if I had better understood this passage in Hebrew, I would have been much more able to show him how very far his understanding was from the truth. I am fairly sure though, that I would still not have influenced him in any significant way to change his cherished Hellenistic doctrines and lens through which he read this passage.

Here though is the utterly remarkable way in which the Hebrew of this passage can be fairly and accurately translated into English that sheds an amazing light on what this passage was really revealing.

Let me first share his translation and then try to explain how this comes about and what it means:

“… For unto use a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be on his shoulders.
A Wonder, a Counselor, Mighty G-d, my Father in perpetuity, shall call him … “Prince of Peace”’
– translation by Uriel ben Mordechai

There are many Christian ‘Hebrew scholars’ who have translated this phrase differently, but very few of those ‘Hebrew scholars’ have been native speakers of Hebrew like Uriel.

As Uriel points out in much detail, his translation is much closer to how a native Hebrew speaker who knows his/her Tanakh would pronounce it, in particular because they would know how to read the ‘nikud’ (a system of diacritical signs used to represent vowels and distinguish between alternative pronunciations and determine the intended grammatical structure).

Many Hebrew versions of the text also have ‘cantillation marks’ (a system of marks to help with chanting the text which are very much like todays commas and colons, but which dates back to the time of Ezra – circa 510 BCE). This clearly establish where breaks occur in the text and thus establishes that the first 4 ‘nicknames’ belong to the ‘caller’ and only the last nickname, ‘Prince of Peace’ belongs to the one being ‘called’ by the ‘caller’.

Further evidence that these first four nicknames; Wonder, Counselor, Mighty G-d and ‘my Father in perpetuity’ all are labels/names for the Creator and King of the Universe; the God of Israel, is seen in these verses from the Tanakh, where each of this ‘nicknames’ are applied to the Almighty:

פֶּ֫לֶא – ‘Peleh’, a noun meaning a ‘Wonder’ – see Ex 15:11 “Who is like you, Adonai, among the gods? 
Awesome in praise, doing a wonder (peleh)?”

יוֹעֵץ (Yo-etz) – a noun meaning ‘a counselor’ – see Psalm 16:7 “I will bless Adonai, my counselor.”

(el Gibor גִּבּוֹר אֵל – Hebrew back to front sorry) – meaning ‘mighty or powerful God’ – see Deut 10:17 “For the LORD your God, He is God of gods, and Lord of lords, the great God (Ha’El – הָאֵל), the mighty (ha-Gibor הַגִּבֹּר), and the awful, who regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward.”

אֲבִי-עַד – (Avi-ad) – meaning ‘my Father for eternity’ or ‘my Father for perpetuity’ – see 1 Chronicles 29:10b “…Blessed be Thou, O L-RD, the God of Israel our father for eternity”

So we can see that al these ‘nicknames’ have been used elsewhere in the Tanakh to refer to the Almighty. It is true that ‘El Gibor’ can also refer to great leaders of men, but in the grammatical structure of this verse, Uriel shows very clearly, that here it is referring to YHWH Himself.

Lastly שַׂר-שָׁלוֹם (sar Shalom) refers to a Prince or Ruler of peace (see Psalms 2 for example). In could well be that Isaiah had Hezekiah in mind when he penned this, but we can also see how this verse may apply to the end-times Mashiach when he comes to rule the Earth and bring the Peace of God to this world.

This is all articulated in great detail in ‘If: The End of the Messianic Lie’ – get it at