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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):

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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You'd best stop posting anything with Bible verses--Grant might stop reading!

What might you mean by "originals" in #2?ăG�n=Anon

By "originals," I mean the original copies. For instance, the actual letter that Paul sent to the Romans or the actual gospel written in Luke's ink. Scribes might have messed some stuff up as time went on, but (1) scholars should do their best to find a manuscript as close to the original as possible; and (2) we should do our best to study that manuscript and try to understand as much from it as we can.

You know, the originals are very good and worthwhile to study, but if they were the end-all, be-all, the Bible would never have been translated into a language readable by the common person, but rather preserved in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. Those who are translators must know the original manuscripts (or rather, their copies, as the ORIGINAL originals are probably in a museum somewhere, or disentegrated)like the back of their hand, as opposed to scholars and students who learn the languages themselves for study and use. Each language has its own unique nuances which sometimes can be lost in translation, but I think it's safe to say that the vast majority of translations are accurate, fastidious translations of the original biblical languages, lest anyone worry that they are missing out on major pieces of understanding in only reading translations.

Do the actual "originals" exist? How can anyone know for certain? Even more in question the writings in the Old Testament???? How certain are you? The actual letter and in Luke's ink? Sounds dubious to me.

I like The Message.

Many people, myself included at points in the past, have used the "flaws have certainly come up in the multitude recopyings and translations of the Scriptures" argument for various reasons. That argument is fairly easily blown out of the water by the counter of "Do you belive God lacks the power to make sure His Word is copied and translated properly?" While the free-will argument does come into play a little bit here, and there are CERTAINLY poor translations and good translations and everything in between, it is hard to argue that God lacks the power and authority to safe-guard His Word.

I do agree with you that teachers of the Word should try to find the original meaning as best they can - as should anyone reading the Word. Most people don't know Hebrew or Greek though, so we have to consult commentaries, Bible Dictionaries and Bible Encyclopedias and the sort.

SOME of the originals do exist, but when I say "originals," I mean ancient manuscripts of Scripture that have been dated back to biblical times--such as the Isaiah manuscript which is part of the Dead Sea Scrolls. If you really want to know more about original biblical manuscripts, I've got a long list of documentaries and such about them that are worth watching. Jesus Christ Superstar is also relevant, seeing as it has some sequences in the desert and all.

I was just thinking about the comments from "lindsay". The pastor in our church (reformed) was talking about putting down all of our Bibles during the publick reading and learning to listen - just listen. Anyways, as i was beginning to think about other questions I noticed that every comment on the screen here says: linesey said... and anonymous said... and jacob said...

I am wondering what JC Superstar said and I question if we know what God said in contrast to what we think the bible 'says'. How to bring it all together is now what I said. thoughts!?

My thoughts:

1. L-i-n-d-s-e-y. I'm a snob about spelling my name. Sorry.
2. The Jesus Christ Superstar comment was very sarcastic, so don't take it seriously. If you've seen the movie, there's no way you can take it seriously.
3. Who ARE you?
4. I'm somewhat confused by your last paragraph. There is no separation between what God said, and what the Bible says. They are one and the same.
5. I'm all for listening to the public readings of Scripture. But if reading it while listening is helpful, then do that too. It's an ancient tradition that I'm sad to say many evangelical churches have dropped.

I'm rather new and unexpcetdly ran across this conversation. and am new to these kinds of things and maybe should not even be here asking questions. I meant no trouble. it's hard to tell what is serius and what is not. And Heath whew, blew right by me. sorry.

I'm rather new and unexpcetdly ran across this conversation. and am new to these kinds of things and maybe should not even be here asking questions. I meant no trouble. it's hard to tell what is serius and what is not. And Heath whew, blew right by me. sorry.

Original language are important for more than just linguistic fidelity and meaning. Cultures are bound up by, revealed within, the words that people express. Even a faithful translation will sometimes miss the nuances of a culture's own understanding. You inevitably learn about a culture and its backgrounds while learning its language, so there is value in learning original languages.

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