January 27, 2021

The Council

Proclaiming the truth to the world.

A Life-Giving Tree

Dr. Peter J. Williams once wrote a masterful thread on the topic of the change of the meaning of the word “tree” over time. It is worth the read and I don’t wish to lose it. So, I’m sharing it here:


‘Tree’ is a significant word in the Bible, occurring at its beginning & end.

But the meaning of the word ‘tree’ is not as obvious as it seems.

Consult a modern printing of the King James Version (or any recent translation) & you’ll find something like this in Galatians 3:13: ‘Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree’.

But the KJV was not always like that…

Here’s the first edition from 1611. It says ‘that hangeth on tree’, not ‘that hangeth on a tree’. The ‘a’ was only added in printings from 1629. But is the omission a typo? …
No, because it’s already in the Geneva Bible of 1560…
And in the Matthew’s Bible of 1537…
You can see it elsewhere in these translations. Here’s Deuteronomy 21:22 in the Matthew’s Bible.
It’s already in William Tyndale’s version of 1526.
Go further back to Wycliffe’s version and the situation is reversed: ‘the’ (written somewhat like ‘ye’) rather than ‘a’.
To understand what’s going on we need to remember that ‘tree’ in English used to have a broader meaning than now.

Now it’s one of those thingummies that generally sticks out of the ground.

Earlier it meant that *and* the substance ‘wood’.

According to #grimmslaw en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grimm%27s… a Proto-Indo-European /d/ is liable to change to /t/ in English and other languages of the Germanic group.

That’s why the ‘tr’ of ‘tree’ is the same as the ‘dr’ in Greek dendron ‘tree’ or doru ‘spear’ or drus ‘oak’.

Earlier English ‘tree’ had a breadth which closely corresponds to both the Greek word in Galatians 3:13 (xylon) and the Hebrew behind that (‘ēts).

In other words, the cross is not just metaphorically described as ‘tree’. It is ‘tree’.

The gallows of Esther 7:9 on which Haman is hanged is not merely analogous to the cross. It is the same thing. It is ‘tree’.

Using this broader, older understanding of ‘tree’ we’re able to link a wider array of biblical passages symbolically to the cross.

Obviously this broader meaning of ‘tree’ was already becoming odd in 1611, hence the need to add ‘a’ in 1629 & in translations since then.

However, it’s the broader meaning which we need to remember. To paraphrase Galatians 3:13:

‘Cursed is anyone who hangs on wood or a tree.’

In love, Christ took the curse upon himself, to save those who deserves the curse for their lawbreaking.

The cross is a symbol of death, but also a tree of life.