Exodus 16:15 “It is MANNA” or “WHAT IS IT?”
Exodus 16:15 “It is MANNA” or “WHAT IS IT?”
“And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, IT IS MANNA: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the LORD hath given you to eat.” Exodus 16:15
“And the house of Israel called the name thereof MANNA: and it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.” Exodus 16:31.
NKJV, NASB, NIV, ESV, RSV, ASV, Holman, Jehovah Witness NWT, Catholic St. Joseph NAB - “ So when the children of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “WHAT IS IT?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “This is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat.”
Bible Commentaries like bible versions are all over the board on this verse and how it should be translated. What one affirms, another denies. Some of them criticize the King James Bible and say that it doesn’t make sense or is a contradiction.
For example, Adam Clarke comments: “They said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was - This is a most unfortunate translation, because it not only gives no sense, but it contradicts itself. The Hebrew הוא מן man hu, literally signifies, What is this? for, says the text, they wist not what it was, and therefore they could not give it a name. Moses immediately answers the question, and says, This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat.”
But is it really a contradiction and are Bible critics like Adam Clark right?
A whole lot depends on what the word “manna” actually means, and on this there is a great variety of different opinions.
The Coffman Commentary completely disagrees with Adam Clarke. He says: “Nevertheless, we shall use the word in its ordinarily accepted sense. Fields pointed out that the usual Hebrew word for "What" is [~mah], NOT [~man], as here”
Again we see the utter confusion that exists among the “scholars”, each of whom seems to have a different opinion.
In The Old Testament Commentary by Keil and Deilitzsch we read: “the divine bread received the name of man (Exodus 16:31) or manna. Kimchi, however, explains it as meaning donum et portio. Luther follows him, and says, “Mann in Hebrew means ready money, a present or a gift;” whilst Gesenius and others trace the word to מנה, to divide, to apportion, and render הוּא מן “what is apportioned, a gift or present.”
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia tells us that the Hebrew word “man” is probably derived from the Egyptian word “menu” which means “food”.
The New Jerusalem bible 1985 footnotes: “Hebrew - man ha: popular etymology of the word ‘manna’. The exact meaning of which is not known.”
Even the RSV 1946-1971 and the NRSV 1989, which have “What is it?” in their text, footnote: “Or “IT IS MANNA” (Heb man hu, see verse 31)”
The Catholic Connection
The Catholic Douay-Rheims bible of 1610 reads: “And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another: Manhu! WHICH SIGNIFIETH: WHAT IS THIS! for they knew not what it was. And Moses said to them: This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat.”
It should be noted that the words “which signifieth: What is this!” are NOT found in any Hebrew text. They just ADDED their own interpretation and opinion to the TEXT. It is not there. They had to add to the inspired words of God in order to come up with this meaning.
“It is a portion”.
Jamieson, Faussett and Brown’s Unabridged Critical and Explanatory Commentary says: “They said one to another, It is manna (margin, 'It is a portion'): for they wist not what it was”
John Calvin says: “The Israelites manifested some appearance of gratitude in calling the food given them from heaven, Man, (178) which name means “SOMETHING PREPARED”; but if any prefer their opinion who expound it, “A PART OR PORTION,” I do not debate the matter, although the former is more correct.”
Here the idea is that the Hebrews gave this bread from heaven a vague and generalized name, meaning “IT IS A PORTION” or “IT IS SOMETHING PREPARED”, rather than asking “What is it?” as the NKJV, ESV, NIV and Jehovah Witness NWT and others have it.
Albert Barnes gives a very different explanation, saying: “Man” or “man-hut,” i. e. white manna, was the name under which the substance was known to the Egyptians, and therefore to the Israelites. “
John Gill does not agree with Barnes, but leans more toward the correct idea found in the KJB of “manna” being a generalized name for something prepared to eat.
He comments: “they said one to another, it is manna; not such as is known by that name now, which is only used in medicine; nor anything that was then known by any such name; but so they called it, because it was, as Jarchi says, A PREPARATION OF FOOD, or food ready prepared for them, from מנה, "manah", which signifies to appoint, prepare, and distribute”
The Geneva Study Bible Notes comments: “And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is (f) manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This [is] the bread which the LORD hath given you to eat.
(f) Which SIGNIFIES A PART, PORTION, OR GIFT; ALSO MEAT PREPARED.”
The Complete Jewish Bible 1998 with commentary by Rashi has: “When the children of Israel saw it, they said to one another, IT IS MANNA, because they did not know what it was, and Moses said to them, It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”
Then Rashi comments: “It is manna: Hebrew - IT IS A PREPARATION OF FOOD.”
Those who claim there is a contradiction in the KJB are simply wrong. They think that the children of Israel as asking “What is it?” and that Moses then answers their question by saying “This is the bread which the LORD hath given you to eat?”
But in fact, this would be obvious if that were the case. God had already told them in 16:12 “and in the morning ye shall be filled with BREAD; and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God.”
And when the children of Israel see this “SMALL ROUND THING” on the ground, they essentially say “IT IS A PROVISION OF FOOD” or “IT IS A PORTION”, not quite knowing what to call it. That is why the verse says: “for they wist not (they didn’t know) what it was.”
They couldn’t give it a specific name but referred to in a purely generic manner - “it is a portion”. And that is what it is called all through the Bible - MANNA. It was the portion of the bread God gave them from heaven.
There were many different grains used in the making of bread, as can be seen in Ezekiel 5:9 where God tells the prophet: “Take thou also unto thee WHEAT, and BARLEY, and BEANS, and LENTILES, and MILLET, and FITCHES, and put them in one vessel, and make thee BREAD thereof”
But this was something they had not seen before and so they simply called it MANNA, meaning “a portion or provision of food.”
Then Moses tells Aaron to take a pot, and “put an omer full of MANNA therein, and lay it up before the LORD, to be kept for your generations.” Exodus 16:33. He does not says “take an omer of WHAT IS IT?”
All Moses is doing in Exodus16:15 is telling the people that this manna IS the bread which God had given them. He is not answering a question. He is just stating a fact.
The other view doesn’t make much sense if you think about it. IF this Hebrew word meant “What is it?” and Moses then tells them that it is the bread from heaven, then why continue to call it “What is it?” all through the rest of the Bible - some 18 times - when Moses had clearly told them that it was the bread from heaven?
Rather, MANNA IS THE NAME OF THIS BREAD God gave them from heaven. We see this confirmed later on in both the Old and in the New Testament.
In Psalm 78:24-25 that God “had rained down MANNA from heaven, and had given them of the CORN of heaven. Man did eat ANGELS' FOOD: he sent them meat to the full.”
Note: Before the typical Bible critic goes into another fit over the word “corn” he would do well to find out what this English word "corn" actually means. See my article “What About The English Word "CORN" in the King James Bible?”
And in John 6:31 the people tell the Lord Jesus: “Our fathers did eat MANNA in the desert; as it is written, He gave them BREAD from heaven to eat.” And the Lord responds: “my Father giveth you the true BREAD from heaven. For the BREAD of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.” John 6:33
He further equates the word MANNA as being synonymous with this particular kind of BREAD when he says: “Your fathers did eat MANNA in the wilderness, and are dead. This is THE BREAD which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.” John 6:49-50
And in the book of Hebrews we read of the things found in the tabernacle and one of them is “the golden pot that had MANNA”, (Not the pot that had “What is it?”) and finally in Revelation 2:17 the Lord Jesus tells his servants “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden MANNA”
MANNA IS the name of this particular kind of supernatural bread God gave them from heaven while they wandered through the wilderness for 40 years. It is not continually called “What is it?”, because they already knew it was some kind of bread.
God had told them even before He gave it to them (See Exodus 16:12 - “and in the morning ye shall be filled with BREAD.”) They just didn’t know what KIND of bread it was because they had never seen it before. So they called it MANNA, meaning “a portion” or “a provision of food” because they didn’t know what it was.
“It is MANNA”
The King James Bible translators were aware of the translation “What is this?” because it was found in Tyndale’s translation of Exodus and in the Matthew’s Bible of 1549. But they rejected it and deliberately chose to go with “It is manna”.
Not only does the King James Bible have the statement “It is manna” in Exodus 16:15 but so too do the following Bible translations - Coverdale 1535 - “This is Ma”, The Great Bible 1540, the Bishops’ Bible 1568 - “It is MANNA”, the Geneva Bible 1587, The Webster Bible 1833, The Lesser Old Testament 1835, The 1936 Hebrew Publishing Company Bible, The Complete Jewish Bible 1998, The Jubilee Bible 2010 and The Hebrew Transliteration Bible 2010 - It is Mana, The Biblos Bible 2013 - “It is MANNA.”, The Far Above All Translation 2014 - “It is MANNA.”
And this online Interlinear Hebrew O.T. - “the children of Israel said one to another, MANNA: It for not they knew…”
The meaning of the word MANNA
Merriam Webster Dictionary - manna = food miraculously supplied to the Israelites in their journey through the wilderness
Oxford Dictionary - manna = (in the Bible) the substance miraculously supplied as food to the Israelites in the wilderness (Exod. 16).
American Heritage Dictionary - manna = In the Bible, the food miraculously provided for the Israelites in the wilderness during their flight from Egypt.
Collins English Dictionary - manna = the miraculous food which sustained the Israelites in the wilderness (Exodus 16:14-36)
Macmillan Dictionary - manna = according to the Bible, the food that God gave to the Israelites in the desert after they escaped from Egypt
Wordsmith English Dictionary - manna = the food miraculously dropped to the Israelites during their exodus from Egypt, according to the account in the Old Testament.
The King James Bible is right, as always. Accept no substitutes.
All of grace, believing the Book.
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