My New Tanakh
As many of you know, I work this summer in the warehouse of the Nebraska Book Company. Because of this, I have been buying books for very cheap prices this summer, which, of course, is a mixed blessing--on one hand, I get cheap books; but on the other hand, I use that as an excuse to buy too many!Today, though, I purchased a Tanakh, or a Hebrew Bible. The right side of every page is the Bible in Hebrew, and on the left side is the Bible in English. Of course, since Hebrew reads right to left, Genesis begins at the "end" of the Bible and the rest of the Bible works its way to the "beginning" with 2 Chronicles (the books in the Hebrew Bible are arranged differently from the books in our English Bibles).This is perhaps the coolest book that I have ever received. I can't really read any of it yet (although I have figured out what YHWH looks like in Hebrew), but there is something awe-inspiring to be able to see the Scriptures in the language that they were written.Still, as I have been reading a book on the history of biblical interpretation within the Church by one of my future Beeson professors (also purchased at NBC), I am beginning to wonder whether reading the Bible in the original languages is quite as important as I once thought. (Stay with me for a second here!) Gerald Bray (the author of my book) points out that New Testament writers frequently used the Septuagint or even variant texts to prove their points.For example, examine the difference from Psalm 8:4-5 to Hebrews 2:5-9, where that verse is quoted to bolster the argument that Jesus is unique from any other. The first reads that God has made the son of man "a little lower than the heavenly beings" while the second reads that God has made the Son of Man "for a little while lower than the angels." The first could easily be you or me or anyone else on whom God has compassion; the second seems much more explicitly about Christ.What gives the writer the authority here to use something other than the original text? I would say that this is clearly a prerogative extended only to those writing until the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. So, what does that mean for an aspiring seminarian? I have two thoughts (neither of which are extremely well worked-out, so forgive me):
- The Scriptures translated into English, French, German, Arabic, Sanskrit, Ukrainian, Celtic, etc..., are still Scriptures. It seems to me that, because the New Testament writers did not feel absolutely compelled to use the original versions of what they were quoting, we can infer that the Church is free to use translations of the Scriptures for the instruction, training, reproof, etc.., of her members.
- That said, no one today is writing/reading/meditating/translating under the inspiration of the Scriptures as the NT writers were. So, while they might be able to have absolute authority when they use texts that don't read exactly the same as the autographs do, you and I do not. Therefore, we (especially the "we" who are going to be preaching and teaching) should do everything within our power to understand as much of what the originals say as we possibly can. So, if we have opportunities to study Hebrew and Greek, we should take those opportunities and throw ourselves into our studies.
- The reason for our need to get as close as we can to the original meaning is that we have no opportunity to sit down with the author and say, "What exactly did you mean by...?" The only way to get at the meaning is to try to understand the writing as well as possible. Obviously, this cannot be completely done when a translation of a passage either distorts the meaning or fails to bring the fullness of its meaning to light.