Paniym: ~ynp

My friend Alan wrote the following concerning the word “face” expressed in Hebrew and used in the Old Testament:

Paniym, as you well know, is the Hebrew word we most often translate as ‘face’.  The word, in all of its other forms, comes from an unused root ‘panan’,  !np

which is unused in scripture, and therefore Strong’s Concordance did not give it a number, or description, at least that I can find.  Gesenius’ Lexicon lists this primary root ‘panan’, and describes the word as “…to separate; to divide”.  However, that itself is a very misleading description of the activity of this word; in my opinion.  For the primary function of this word is to indicate a ‘change’ in personal focus, and/or a change in direction of pursuit.  I hope that doesn’t sound too confusing.  The simpler verb form of this word ‘panan’ is as ‘panah’, or ‘paneh’, both spelled in Hebrew as  hnp.  This word ‘panah’, Strong’s #6437, and its’ brother’ #6438, have a more distinct definition as being “…a change of direction”.  Many times, this word ‘panah’ is used to refer to a corner; a place where two diverging directions intersect.  A right angle is the most visible understanding of this idea, but it is not limited to that.  This word is also used to indicate a change of understanding, or of taking action based on a different thought process; hence, a change of mind.  Many times in scripture the word ‘panah’ is used to indicate where a person had a change of conviction, or of thought, or of dedication to, or desirous of a specific idea, or ‘god’.  Sometimes it is translated as “…turn away” (Deut. 29:18), or “…turned unto” (Deut. 31:18).  Sometimes ‘panah’ is translated as “…turn unto me”.  From this, you can see that the verb is indicating a change of focus, or attention.

As you have seen, this word is most often spelled in the plural form, ‘paniym’, and translated many times as referring to the ‘face’ (or faces) of God, or of individuals or of self.  From this idea it is often used to refer to something or someone being in front of your face.  But as a noun, as in ‘face’, the word doesn’t necessarily refer to a specific portion of our head, like our face, but rather is more referring to “…the part that changes”.  In Gen. 4: 5-6, we see the word panah, and in this case the plural form of ‘paniym’, translated as ‘countenance’.  “Cain, why has your countenance (your faces) fallen?”  How many times have I said or done something very stupid or cruel, and watched my wife’s ‘face’ change?  Her countenance fell because of my harshness.  Consequently, I can do something very loving, or pleasing, and it shows in her countenance; on her face.  Many have relegated the ‘face’ (panah, paniym)) to the part that turns, as in turning your head, or turning a corner.  However, I believe it is much more visible to understand that the face is the part that reveals ‘change’.  And the letter ‘peh’, the first letter in ‘panah’, is representative of the mouth.  While ‘panah’ is accurately describing a ‘corner’, as far as ‘turning’ is concerned, I believe it is more descriptive to understand this idea of ‘corner’ as more of a change of direction, focus or attention.

This concept, at least to me, dramatically affects our traditional understanding of certain important scriptures.  One of the more obvious, to me, is the impact this word/thought has on Psalm 118:22, where the coming Messiah is referred to as “…head stone (in italics because this word doesn’t appear in this verse in Hebrew) of the corner. KJV.  And in NKJ, “…the chief cornerstone”.  The Messiah, in these western thinking translations, is prophesied as being the chief cornerstone; or the head of the corner.  But I believe the more accurate translation of this idea is that The Messiah is described as being “…to head the turning”.  And in this verse, as in many others, ‘head’ is not referring as much as a noun, but as a verb.  To Head the body would be to lead, guide, inform, and give example to the body, all activities.  The Messiah is where we find the right and ability to change; direction, thought, focus and attention.  It is to Christ as the Head that we are encouraged to ‘turn’ our attention.  Our ‘face’ (paniym, faces) would then be ‘face to face with God’. (Gen. 32:30)  Or more literally, God on your Face(s).   My theology, of course, but I am hooked on it.  Michael Kelly Blanchard has a marvelous song which has a line that says this:  “The Love of The Father, as seen on the Face of His Son”.  As ‘Son of God’, Father is seen on your face.  Sometimes, however, our ‘countenance’ falls, and we forget to be the Face of God to others.

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