One of our favorite topics is the scriptures – and we often get asked about the different translations that are available. There are older versions, such as the King James with its more formal English, as well as modern printings such as New Revised Standard Version (1989) and The One New Man Bible (2011). Each new translation or interpretation comes with its explanations of why it is the most accurate or best version available for studying Yahweh’s Word.
In our own home library, we have several versions to reference and each has served its purpose in our studies and in ministry. Each has specific elements that help us in very different ways – we have a parallel bible, the 1611 King James Version, New King James, and many more.
Recently, I was asked several different questions about translations and I felt that many could benefit from our answers we shared with this person. Here are some of their statements or questions.
1) “Some teachers claim that the Hebrew does not translate very well into English.”
If we are using modern English as an example, I would have to say this statement can be true. Over the last 150+ years, especially in America, the English language has changed dramatically. We have words that today mean something completely different than what they meant 100+ years ago. One that is easy to use as an example is the word “gay” – if you go to the 1828 Online Webster’s Dictionary, you can find that the definition used to mean “Merry; airy; jovial; sportive; frolicksome. It denotes more life and animation than cheerful.” That is not the modern definition of the term in our current dictionaries.
Let’s illustrate this from a scriptural perspective. The word Torah is a great example – many translate it to mean “law” – which from our more modern mind-set gives the impression of a civil rule with a legal and binding consequence. We tend to interpret it as a statute or regulation recognized and enforced by a judicial decision. We also conclude that not following this “law” is equal to a “crime.”
That is not what Torah means, though. Studying the Hebrew word Torah will reveal that it means “teaching, directions, instructions.” The Torah is Yahweh's teachings which help us to hit the target or the mark. Getting that bulls eye helps our individual character to be more like Yeshua, so we can exemplify Him.
The definition of teaching or instruction is much different in our modern mindset than the word LAW.
Teaching is related more to educating, and has less negativity attached to it than the word law. It is beneficial for you to put it in this perspective and to remove the stigma, anxiety and intimidation attached to not following the Torah.
We have been actively encouraging people lately that they must understand WHAT Torah means, and that we do not follow the teachings in the Torah for our SALVATION - we have salvation through Yeshua alone.
2) Can we only get the true translation from the Hebrew and Greek?”
I have to disagree with this claim. With all the scholarly resources that we have available to study through the internet and libraries, we can easily get an accurate definition and translation very quickly by searching things out. BUT we must be WILLING to study and not take things at a quick glance or face value. We need to be cautious about not applying our modern mindset to the scriptures.
I can demonstrate this modern mindset dilemma by sharing situations shared with me about Shabbat. Some sisters of faith get very hyper-literal when they read the scriptures about Sabbaths: “Thou shalt not work.”
Sadly, I see these sisters go to an extreme with “no work” because they see every single daily task as their “work” – they refuse to do anything during Shabbat or have their family do anything, including simple tasks of cleaning up after oneself. Then at Sundown, they are overburdened by the massive amounts of dishes, trash, and toys left all over the house. I had one sister contact me so upset by the stress that she was willing to give up Shabbat because it took her until the wee hours of the next night to clean up all the mess! After one particular Shabbat, she was up until almost 5 am doing dishes!!! My heart ached for her dilemma.
When I told her that it could be as simple as having each child who is able, AND EACH ADULT, simply wash their own dish after using it, then reuse it for the next meal. Plus have the children simply put away what they had played with before taking out something new, she was horribly offended! I tried to explain to her about what scripture meant by “work,” I have not heard from her since. I guess she was offended by the idea that Shabbat was created for us and our rest and we weren’t created to suffer and be a slave to Shabbat.
We need to be willing to study beyond what we know, beyond what we perceive – sometimes that means delving into the historical details of the era, the lifestyles of people that are similar to how they would have lived during the Exodus – in this case, and even archaeology can help. I tried to share with this sweet sister that people during Exodus often did not even own individual dishes. Many families would make a large pot of soup, stew or porridge, then dip breads into the communal pot to eat – no utensils. Archaeologists have discovered many ancient households in the mid-East deserts who evidenced this kind of lifestyle.
So, you see, Torah is not as difficult as we often make it. We just need to be willing to look at it from many different sources to see the bigger picture.
3) “There are many translation errors in the Bible especially the NJKV.”
Are there discrepancies in translations? Yes, there are some verses in different translations that are not quite the same as in older texts such as the Septuagint. This can be especially true with a few of the more modern translations. We have seen some errors ourselves in a couple of versions that we have in print here at home. We have also seen some modern Hebrew Roots translations of scripture that have serious errors.
Some of these differences are easy to pick out. Like recently, when I saw a verse in the Young's Literal Translation bible that made me giggle. The literal way it was translated into English made it sound like Yoda from Star Wars was reading scripture!!!
We do need to point out that there are also a few versions that are easier to understand because of how they are written. One example of this would be the NLT – it may not use a word for word Hebrew to English translation, and yet it carries forward the literal concept from the Hebrew to the English. Often this makes the content and context easier for people to understand.
4) “The Old Testament, or Tanakh, was originally written in Hebrew, then translated into Greek and Latin.”
This is partially correct – it was written in Hebrew and Aramaic, not solely Hebrew. The Hebrew/Aramaic text found in our Bibles today was written around 1000 – 1100 AD (Masoretic text). Jewish scholars also translated an earlier Hebrew text into Greek around 300-200 BC, called the Septuagint. Then we have the Dead Sea scrolls Old Testament written in Hebrew and Aramaic. All three of these are pretty much in agreement with each other, proving the accuracy of the Old Testament. The Septuagint has other extra biblical books added for history and commentary, but they are not scripture. The Catholic church claims them as scripture, but they are not. Even the Jews don’t count them as scripture. These books are called the Apocrypha. A good version of the Septuagint which we often use is the Apostolic Bible Polyglot available online at studybible.info.
5) “I automatically thought that the whole bible was originally written in Hebrew and then again translated into the Greek and Latin, THEN into English.”
A lot of people believe this, but it is not true. In fact, there are thousands of Greek texts of the New Testament that are much older than any that are claimed to exist in Hebrew. The oldest so far discovered or revealed in Hebrew is supposedly around 750-900 AD. Greek texts out-date these by quite a few centuries. Most of the so-called Hebrew texts of the New Testament are known by scholars and are likely just Hebrew translations of Latin or Greek texts. You may hear some people tell you the Peshitta (Syriac) New Testament is the original New Testament text, but that text is nothing more than a translation of the Greek text.
6) “I am surprised the New Testament was written in Greek. Why was it not written in the language of the authors who were all Jewish and must have spoken Hebrew at the time?”
Yes, people did speak Hebrew, but they also spoke Greek – in fact, the most prominent language of the two would have been Greek. The areas where Yeshua travelled, where the apostles lived, and Paul taught were very Hellenized at this time. Let’s take Paul, for example. He was raised a Hebrew, a trained Pharisee and the son of a Pharisee, a Roman citizen, yet he was also very Greek. He talks in scripture of things like wrestling and racing, as well as other details which were very much a part of Greek influence in society.
Many of the towns the disciples went into after Yeshua’s death, places where they brought His teachings, were Greek communities. Many converts were Greek or spoke Greek. Many Jews lived in Greek influenced countries and spoke Greek. So, you see, the influence was very strong on the culture. Paul, Timothy and Titus were addressing issues and influences mentioned in the epistles that were creeping into the churches – these issues were leftovers of the Greek religions and cults that were prominent in those areas at the time.
7) “So, the New Testament, Brit Hadasha, was written only in Greek?”
There are some Hebrew texts that people claim they discovered, but many of these are flawed. One example we are familiar with is a Hebrew text which describes Yeshua having been hung by a noose on a rope, and not crucified. This is clearly not what happened based on the countless examples of evidence for crucifixion. That is just one example of the falsehood hidden amongst these Herbew writings.
Not many people are aware that there are enough New Testament scripture quotes from the early church writings (discussions, early historians, leaders, and theologians before 400 AD) that if someone took those extra-biblical writings and put them all together, an entire and complete copy of the New Testament could be easily constructed just from those early writings alone. This is a second witness to prove the accuracy of the Greek New Testament text.
A lot of people are making a big fuss over one Hebrew scholars claim of discovering “over 1000” alleged copies of Hebrew manuscripts with Yehovah written mostly during the middle ages or supposed New Testament text written in Hebrew. These “texts” are NOT an entire New Testament, but merely small sections which appear to be translated into Hebrew by rabbis.
In comparison, there are about 6,000 Greek New testament copies written by the early church, as early as 200 AD - pre-dating the Hebrew-text claims. If you count very early copies of the Greek texts translated into Syriac, Coptic, Latin and other languages then you have about 24,000 early texts. This is evidence that’s far superior than writings written by rabbis. These small pieces, partial pieces, or small segments of Hebrew writings from around 700 – 1,000 AD were used to attack believers in Yeshua and not written by believers in Yeshua.
Just so you know, we don’t actually have any originals written by the hand of the apostles, prophets, etc. However, we know the Bible is accurate because we have so many copies of biblical texts and witnesses that we can sort through variations of texts and come up with a consensus that verifies the truth.
Another note: There are times when you can’t use the biblical Hebrew OR Greek to help you understand a word because there is a term called a hapax legomenon: a term only used once in context. When these appear in the scriptures, finding an accurate interpretation or translation into English (or any other language) can be challenging. We need to research these words using other sources. Sometimes you can find them in literature from the period. When you see it in context like that, you can often get an idea of what is meant in English in the bible.
These are the many reasons why we try to teach how very important it is to study things out with credible resources.
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Lead Author (Bio)
Jim, (Judi's husband), has Sephardi Jewish ancestry and is a minister and head of Shofar Productions. Jim was a denominational pastor, hospital chaplain, and former director of a non-profit community organization.
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