What did Paul mean by “may it never be!” ?

When Paul said in Scripture ‘may it never be” (me genoito / μένα genoito is the Greek equivalent) he was using a very common Hebrew expression as many other Jews of his day would have — not surprising considering Paul was Jew.

This common expression in Hebrew is “הל’לה” also spelled “הללה” (pronounced “chalilah” —  guttural ‘ch’) is found 21 times in the Tenakh (Old Testament).  The Strong’s word is H2490 and literally means “to be profane, and thus forbidden“.  It is used (interjectionally) in the KJV as “God forbid”, “far be it” (4x), “Lord forbid” (3x) and in other translations as “by no means”, “absolutely not”, “let it not be”, “certainly not”, “far be the thought”.

The first occurrence of this phrase is in Genesis 18 where Abraham is pleading with God in the form of a man on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah (incidentally yes, the tetragrammaton YHVH (יהוה) is used twice to describe the Man) :

“You could not possibly do such a thing: to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. You could not possibly do that! Won’t the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

Genesis 18:25

The last occurrence of the 21 passages in the Tenakh where this word is used is in Job 34, where Job says:

“Therefore listen to me, you men of understanding. It is impossible for God to do wrong, and for the Almighty to act unjustly.”

Job 34:10

The Greek phrase me genoito / μένα genoito  occurs 15 times in the New Testament and is translated at “may it never be” and means the same as הל’לה (also spelled הללה) — “God forbid that such a thought should be allowed in any one’s mind”, “let the thought be abhorred”)

When Paul speaks of God never rejecting the Jewish people, he uses this SAME phrase; “may it never be“.

For example;

“Did God forsake His people? May it never be! “

Romans 11:1

“I ask, then, have they stumbled in order to fall? Absolutely not!”

Romans 11:11

When Paul speaks in Romans 9 – 11 of God never forsaking the Jewish people, he meant the phrase just as strongly as Abraham and Job; God could never possibly do that! It is impossible for God to do wrong or act unjustly. Won’t the Judge of all the earth do what is just?

“What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.”

Romans 9:14