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Biblical Languages, Texts and Translations II

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Question #1:  

What language did Jesus speak?

Response #1: 

In my view, scripture strongly suggests that our Lord was tri-lingual. He spoke 1) Hebrew; because He read the Torah in the synagogue and even at 12 He was discussing it with the elders in Jerusalem and amazing them with His answers; 2) Aramaic; as we know because some of His Aramaic phrases are recorded in the gospels (e.g., on the cross He quotes Ps.22:1 in Aramaic – and that fact that He is misunderstood in so doing at Matt.27:46-47 shows that the population of Judea spoke Hebrew, but since He is understood by them elsewhere He must have been able to speak Hebrew as well); and 3) Greek – growing up in Galilee, it would have been almost impossible not to have known the lingua franca of the eastern Roman empire; His disciples from the same area surely knew it (epistles of Peter and John; gospel of John), and John 7:35 suggests that it was known even in Judea He also spoke Greek (which was in truth not at all unusual). Peter and John and Paul spoke and wrote in Greek, and it is very clear from their writings that this was not a talent they developed only later in life. Jesus discourse with the Syro-Phoenician woman (and probably with the centurion who most likely did not know Aramaic) also argue for His proficiency in Greek. There is also the issue of so many Jews who spoke Greek who would have been present at the festivals in Jerusalem where many of the recorded words of Jesus took place – we don't imagine that there was a translator for any of these discourses of His, and this argues for many of His teaching sessions occurring in Greek.

Generally speaking, most people in the larger populations centers of Judea and Galilee at this time doubtless spoke Greek at this time, since it was the language of diplomacy, law, culture, commerce, and communication with the Jews of the western diaspora. Aramaic for important for commerce and communication with the Jews of the north and eastern diaspora. Hebrew was the language of the synagogue and what was spoken in Judea and Jerusalem (as is made clear by the fact Peter is recognized on the night before the crucifixion as being from Galilee because of his speech). The Aramaic of that day was not very much different from Hebrew, moreover, so that being adept at Hebrew and Aramaic both was not as difficult as may be imagined. It was important for our Lord and His closest followers to speak all three of these languages, not only for the mission of evangelizing Israel upon which He had been sent, but also for the training and evangelizing of the gentiles by His apostles. It was important for the 11/12 that they be conversant with all three languages in order to reach every necessary audience during those early, formative years of the Church. And since none except Paul were specially educated, this would have to come as a matter of course just from growing up in the day and place they lived – and so it must have done. We conclude then that Jesus and the disciples were tri-lingual – not unusual in the course of world history nor even today in many places on earth (only in the U.S. where most people only speak English, and often only barely so).

Finally, since Greek was more widely used than is often suspected and because in many venues Greek would be the one language that could be counted on to be known and understood by almost everyone, Greek was not only a language which it was important for our Lord and His apostles to know, but also the obvious language of choice for the completion of the Bible. That is the reason why the epistles and gospels are in Greek and not in Aramaic or Hebrew.

In our Lord Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #2:   Hi Dr Luginbill,

Thank you for your help with my previous questions, I know from their helpfulness, that you would be the one to ask this. This one is particularly troublesome for me, because I was brought up SDA, but wasn't saved until many years after having left that religion. This is from an SDA website that a friend quoted regarding another topic, but then I found this article on this same site:



"Extremely well as a highly educated rabbi would. One day he got hold of a book called Patriarchs and Prophets by Ellen G. White. He read it with astonishment and wanted to know who this Ellen White was. That is when I met him. He was asking who is this Ellen G. White and what university did she attend. We told him she only had a 3rd grade education. "Then where did she learn Hebrew?" he asked. We told him that she never knew Hebrew, but was the most prolific female writer in history and that this was only one of her books.

He was amazed at her knowledge, saying that the information in this book (Patriarchs and Prophets) is Mishnaic. The Mishnah is part of the Hebrew scholarship. He said the Mishnah had only been translated into English 30 years ago and that only high-level rabbis knew this information. This is the history of my people and it is very, very accurate. He also said that you have to know Hebrew to be able to write like this because her sentence structure is not English, it's Hebrew. The rhythm the meter, the arrangement of words and expressions are not English. He said it's as if she wrote in Hebrew and it was translated into English."


Is this true, from your understanding of Hebrew, would someone's writings resemble Hebrew like the above says that a rabbi said EG White's writings do? This doesn't sound right to me, and there are very troubling things that I understand about EG White, she would go into trances and give prophecies....sometimes while holding a huge family Bible above her head with one hand sometimes for up to a half hour, and she also did much of her writing of her books by "automatic writing" What do you make of all of this? There are a couple of people that have been pressing on me the importance of the Saturday Sabbath "keeping" and now this, and it troubles me....thank you ahead of time, for always bringing sound reasons back into the picture.

Response #2: 

Good to hear from you. Let me start with the Mishnah. This is essentially a Hebrew commentary on the first five books of the Bible dating from before Jesus' time. Later commentaries on the Mishnah in Aramaic are known as Gemara (together the two are known as "Talmud"). The Mishnah is of very little use to conservative biblical scholars (or students of the Bible generally) since it deals almost exclusively with Rabbinical questions of interpretation far removed from what the scriptures actually say. In terms of its language, it is close to the Hebrew of the Bible, although since it is at the very least six centuries later than the last of the minor prophets, there are differences – most in vocabulary and in simplification of syntax.

The statements in the piece you quote are the sorts of things one is apt to find in all manner of attempts, formal and informal, to entice those who would otherwise not be interested into giving cult organizations a "fair hearing". For example, Scientology et al. makes use of the same sorts of protreptika (as they are called in classical philosophy); that is, testimonies from impressed skeptics and the like. It is always difficult to vet the truthfulness of the more outrageous statements made in these sorts of pieces. Just as when people e-mail me and tell me they have been to some service and seen numerous crippled people who have never walked before be healed, get up, and walk around – not being present, all we can do is express prudent skepticism. I can say that the bit about the Mishnah "not being translated into English" is entirely wrong. I don't know the date of writing of this piece you quote, but you can go to the Library of Congress catalog (or Google books) and find many English translations dating back to the 19th century.

As to English written like Hebrew, I would say that to the extent this might possibly be true, that would be no more difficult than writing a book in the style of the King James (or any other fairly literal translation of the Old Testament). I think it is telling that there are no examples given in this piece. Quite frankly, I can't think of any tell-tale signs that would make someone jump to the very odd conclusion that any English style would "necessarily" reflect a knowledge of Hebrew. The New Testament, for example, was written entirely by men whose first language was Hebrew (along with Aramaic) but who also knew Greek very well. Their Greek is certainly influenced by Hebrew, so that writing in the style of the New Testament in English should also yield this sort of result – to the extent that one could really pin something like this down. There are of course some Hebrew idioms which are pretty easy to reproduce. For example, to advance a narrative biblical Hebrew (followed by many of the NT writers) has the habit of saying veyehi', "and it came to pass / happened that/when". I.e., rather than just saying "Men began to multiply on the face of the earth and . . .", BH says in keeping with this idiomatic tendency "And it came to pass that when men began to multiply on the earth . . ." (Genesis 6:1). There are other unique Hebrew idioms, all of which are evident from "King James-ese", which would be very easy to reproduce wholly apart from any knowledge of Hebrew. The book of Mormon takes advantage of this same archaic register of sanctified sounding phrases to "seem biblical". So I would have to say that to the extent that this story is not entirely made up or exaggerated to the point of being as good as made up, it probably reflects someone being impressed by this phony use of biblical-sounding language (with which we Christians are all very well familiar).

As to the problem of Sabbath observance generally, my own view of what the New Testament teaches is that the setting aside of a particular day – any day – has been abrogated by the sanctification of every moment for our step by step walk with the Lord Jesus (the following link will lead you others as well: Sabbath Questions). We Christians who have the Holy Spirit are a new priesthood serving a New High Priest whose sacrifice was real, not shadow, and who has entered the actual temple in heaven to await the day of His return. This fundamentally changed the Law in this regard (and a large part of the book of Hebrews is dedicated to explaining this; cf. esp. chap. 7), and that has changed everything in respect (Heb.7:12: "For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also" NIV). On this subject it is helpful to remember that our Lord deliberately did many of His most noteworthy miracles on the Sabbath to make precisely this point. It seems to me that anyone who teaches careful observance of a separate day of the week, any day of the week, is not only going against very clear pronouncements in the epistles (see esp. Col.2:16-17), but also the teachings of our Lord and siding with the Pharisees who opposed Him (e.g., Mk.2:23 - 3:6).

Any time people focus in on rituals of any sort, it is almost always counterproductive to true spirituality. It also often has an ulterior agenda, namely, to draw the person into the web of the cult in question. This is a particularly common and effective technique, because ritual is a kind of works, and once a person buys into works, grace and faith begin to fade away (along with the truth), making the person more malleable in the hands of the cult organization. Please see the link: "Read your Bible: Protection against Cults".

In the One who died to free us from all sin, and who set us free by means of the truth, our dear Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #3:  


I have been enjoying your Satanic Rebellion series. Thanks for posting it. One question – what translation(s) are the various Bible quotes from? Usually there is no cite for a passage. Some of them look like the Amplified Version, but they are very different from my copy of the Amplified Version. These are not from NIV or NASB either.

Response #3: 

Wherever there is no attribution (like KJV, NIV, or NASB), the translations are my original work. You can find out more about this and the various sigla used therein at the following links:

FAQ #12: Translations: Where do the translations of scripture that appear at Ichthys come from?

FAQ #20: Would you explain the abbreviations and symbols used in the translations at Ichthys?

Yours in our Lord Jesus Christ,

Bob Luginbill

Question #4:  

So you translated them from the original manuscripts (Hebrew O.T. and Greek N.T.)? That is very interesting, and something that I didn't realize that someone might have done, but certainly anyone who knows the original languages is entitled to do that. Other than German in high school, I haven't studied any language other than English. Nevertheless, that bit of German study demonstrated that language translation is not a precise science, and is open to some interpretation. Any reader is welcome to read a passage in as many other translations as they want, and compare all of them.


Response #4: 

I would certainly agree with your observation about translation. As the Romans said, translatores tradiutores, or "all translators are traitors". That's a bit strong, but it is true that since all languages are different, there is no such thing as a perfect translation. In order even to be good, a translation has to come from correctly understanding the full meaning of the original (and that is where many English translations fail in many places, often on account of faulty theological assumptions). Next, a good translation has to then render that meaning into the target language without changing the sense or the emphasis or the tone. This is a near impossible task, and explains why I usually feel the need to employ many parenthetical explanations and expansions. My task is made somewhat easier in that I translate in the process of teaching/explaining, so that the translation is not offered up in a vacuum (as is inevitable the case with a "whole Bible" translation), and since I am publishing electronically for the purpose of spiritual edification, I can err on the side of translations which really explain what is being said, even if they are often literarily deficient.

Yours in Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #5:  

Hi Bob,

In regard to a previous response of your on Deuteronomy 6:5 and the name "Jesus", the Deut. 6:5 text is restated in 3 of the gospels, but it seems to be 2 occasions not one. The thing I find so amazing is that this legalistic scribe to whom He was speaking did not jump up and down and say to Yahshuah, "you quoted it wrong, you can't possibly be the Messiah". The verse Yahshuah quoted was at the very heart of every day life to the Hebrews. The great Sh'mah is recited multiple times a day and is inside of the Mezuzah that is found on the door post of each Hebrew home. It just seems odd that Yahshuah would say that YHWH should not be loved with all your might, your being, all that you are, and all that you do, thought, word and deed, but now you should love Him in your mind but not your actions.

I think that there are many cases where the Hebrewness was translated out of Yahshuah and a more worldly palatable Yahshuah of the Greek culture has been placed before us. It is no wonder the Jewish people have such a hard time accepting Yahshuah as Messiah, since the Messiah presented or interpreted by most churches is Greek and not Hebrew. The only Hebrewness is just seen as who His mother was. Seeing Yahshuah for the Hebrew that He is does not make the Bible wrong, it draws me closer to Him and reveals the fact that man is constantly trying to get his way, instead of doing things Yahshuah's way which is YHWH's way. Always has been, always will be.

Response #5: 

That the gospels are referring to multiple occasions rather than all referring to the precise same one is certainly a possibility. In the e-mail response quoted one of the points I tried to make was precisely that we only have a small sliver of what Jesus actually said. I am certain that some of these conversations occurred in Greek, some in Hebrew, some in Aramaic. In multilingual places it is not uncommon to find conversations shifting in and out of several languages depending upon changes in participants, subject matter, situation, geography, etc. I think your point about misquoting is important at least in one respect. It seems unlikely to me that this could have been an issue in terms of the actual facts of our Lord's ministry – He must have had that facet of His ministry completely thought out in the thirty years before it began (especially given the fact that His approach was found acceptable in formal terms to the scribes and scholars in Jerusalem who were amazed at Him and His understanding of the Word even at the age of twelve). It also seems unlikely, given that we have many objections launched at Him recorded in scripture and that His enemies were constantly looking for any device they could use against Him, that the translation issue could have been a serious one in terms of the actually facts of His historical ministry and yet still not have been recorded for us in some way. So I think that we can safely conclude at the very least that however it was that our Lord approached this issue, He did it in a perfect way that removed this particular issue of the language used to quote the Old Testament as a possible bone of contention.

That is, of course, a far cry from saying that we know for sure what He actually did do in each and every circumstance. As I have already said probably a number of times, my view of it is that He used all three languages at various times, and did so within the conventions of the day (yet without any violation of the truth of the Word). This would probably mean mostly Greek, a fair amount of Aramaic, and some Hebrew (depending upon the audience, place, and situation). It had long been the case by the time of Christ that many Jews, even those living in Palestine, were not as conversant with Hebrew as they were with one or both of the other languages in question (if they were conversant with it at all), so that there was (and we know from the evidence of the LXX et al. that there was) a de facto convention as to how to quote/translate/utilize scripture in languages other than Hebrew – and our Lord is never called out for violating that convention (whatever its particulars may have been).

I do have to say that on the issue of Jesus being foreign to contemporary Jewish audiences that this has things a bit the wrong way round in my view. Scripture in my opinion is very clear that Jewish disaffection with the true Messiah is based predominately upon two factors: 1) desiring the "crown in place of the cross"; that is, being unwilling to accept even the idea of a suffering Messiah because of their willful fixation upon a conquering deliverer (e.g., Rom.9:33; 1Cor.1:22-25); but also significantly 2) jealousy over the inclusion of the gentiles directly into the family of God apart from the Law (e.g., Matt.27:18; Acts 13:43-45; 17:5; 22:21-22; Rom.10:2; cf. Lk.15:25-32). While I do understand your application here of the scriptural principle of being "all things to all people in order to save some", I believe that it is also true that if our presentation of Jesus comports well with the presentation of the Word of God, then it is correct and need not be (and in fact should not be) significantly amended. That doesn't mean I have a problem with your emphasizing the Jewishness of Jesus (calling Him Yahshuah et al.). That is all to the good. But it is also good to remember that He and virtually everything He did and said caused offense to those who were then and still are today practicing a type of traditional Judaism that long ago strayed far from the truth of Abraham, Isaiah and Daniel, and so far so that our Lord's contemporaries rejected their Messiah come in the flesh while the majority of their descendants still do so today. I am, however, not insensitive to the issues here, and am on record that in my opinion it is precisely for this reason (i.e., the inability of gentiles to ever really get on the right Jewish "wavelength") that during the Tribulation the ministry of the 144,000 Jewish evangelists will have as its primary objective the conversion of Jews to the truth exclusive of gentiles. Note that even these unique evangelists will not be anywhere near 100% effective – a fact that speaks to the prudent circumspection on this issue that all believing gentiles should likewise deploy in all our evangelistic efforts to Israel today. Only God knows the heart. We should make it our business to speak the truth with respect and understanding – but without compromise.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #6:  

In Daniel 9:27 we read the partial phrase:

"...and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease."

In J.P. Green's Interlinear the word for word original Hebrew Texts reads as follows:

"...And in half the week he shall make cease sacrifice and offering..."

The Hebrew word 'cease' comes from the base Hebrew word (Strong's Hebrew #7673 – shabath) and after the implementation of the Masoretic vowels consists of the 4 'Interpreted' Hebrew words Strong's #7673 – 7676. If we look at Strong's Hebrew word #7676 (shabbath) we find that this word means – Intermission or Sabbath.

Therefore, would it be grammatically feasible to translate the above passage as follows?

"...And in the midst of the week he shall cause Intermission of the sacrifice and offering..."

Response #6: 

I don't have any problem with your particular translation. In fact, it has the benefit of making clear that the sacrifices and offerings are not stopped forever. They will, of course, be re-instituted as part of the Messiah's memorial reign. The only quibble I would have with this rendering is that it might perhaps sound to the reader that since the subject (antichrist) has "caused intermission", it is therefore the subject's plan or purpose all along for the cessation to be only a temporary intermission (when of course the true plan is to stop legitimate sacrifices forever).

One other small point on the language. The form here is the imperfect of the verb shabath rather than the noun, shabbath. As is often the case in Hebrew and other Semitic languages the central idea of the root predominates in both places but that does not mean that there are not differences. For example, while I could live with your present translation, based upon your method one might equally feel justified in rendering the phrase "he shall cause a Shabbath of the sacrifice . . .", and that really would be misleading (believe it or not I have seen this sort of thing more often than I would prefer!).

In Jesus.

Bob L.

Question #7:  

Dear Dr. Luginbill,

I have three quick questions for you. First, remember that discussion we had earlier about how the Jehovah's Witnesses bible calls baby Jesus, in Matthew 2, an "it"? I can't remember if you told me, if it is a Greek idiom (ONLY in the Greek) to call all children "its" even when the gender is known. This JW I know keeps insisting that it is okay to refer to Jesus as an "it" in their Bible, since it is a Greek idiom. I told him it was translated into English, not from English into Greek, and in English, it is NOT acceptable to call a born baby, whose gender is known, an "it," that it is bizarre, not to mention, rather revolting. And the whole idea, when translating from the Greek into English, in the NT, is to translated into good, vernacular, idiomatic English. Which "it" is not. I just want to know if it is a Greek idiom or not. I think you told me no Greek would have referred to a baby boy as an "it."

Secondly, I wanted to ask you if scholars in Biblical languages can translate fairly well from English into Greek or Hebrew. I know my husband had to translate from English into Greek or Hebrew, sometimes, when he was at seminary. He also told me he thought Hebrew was much easier to learn than Greek, as the grammar and sentence structure are more like English. I don't know if you had to do that, when you were learning, or if you teach your students that.

Now, that being said, could you look at Genesis 2:4, and see if it is a particularly complex or difficult passage to translate into Hebrew, fromthe English? Is it a particular complex passage, to translate from Hebrewinto English, for that matter? Fred Franz, the head "translator" of the NWT, the JW's bible (he only went to college for 2 years, studied Classical Greek for 2 semesters, but was ONLY self taught in Hebrew) said, under oath in a court of law (long story), when asked if he could translate Gen. 2:4 into Hebrew, he said, "No, I wouldn't begin to do that." Or something like that. He said later it was because he thought the lawyer had an agenda, and wasn't going to play along with him, that no answer he gave them would have satisfied them.

Oh, one more question: Is it possible to reach scholarship level in the Biblical languages studying on one's own? Teaching oneself, using grammars, even if the self-help books have tests one can give oneself, in the back?

Take care and God bless.

Response #7: 

On "it", I agree completely with everything you said, especially about the really critical point here, to wit, that when translating into English the end result ought to be "English" rather than, say, a version of "Old High Martian" that may seem to resemble English but in truth is incomprehensible. My sense of our mother tongue on this issue is that while it is not impossible to refer to a child as "it", nowadays that would be at the very least a stilted and odd translation – and unnecessarily so since Jesus' gender is not in any doubt. Simply put, nothing in the Greek or the meaning or the sense or the "rules" of translation necessitates such an oddity, so why do it?

To clarify on the Greek, the word used here for our Lord is paidion ("little child"). That noun is technically neuter, not because of any "statement" it's trying to make, but rather because the diminutive ending -ion is a neuter ending (i.e., we have to do here with grammatical gender rather than anatomical sex, and there is big difference). The word translated "its [mother]" or, alternatively "His [mother]" is the form autou, the possessive genitive of the third person pronoun. This particular form does not differentiate between the neuter and the masculine, so that from a purely grammatical point of view the translations "its" and "His" are equally defensible. It might be argued that since the noun is neuter, one should translate as "it", but that is to misread the situation. Since the gender is known, to understand here the use not of a technically acceptable though bizarre neuter but a sense and grammar-correct masculine is not only acceptable but in my view preferential in every way.

Either way, as I say, surely no one is disputing Jesus' gender. Reading the words which are actually present in Greek, moreover, does not produce the same shock that reading "it" in an English version does (since in English 'it' does seem to be making some odd point about the gender). So it is safe to say that "it" nowadays is "wrong" in the sense that it produces an effect and an impression that would never have been produced by someone reading the original at the time. In other words, this is exactly the opposite of what a good, responsible translator who knows his/her stuff would ever seek to do, namely to create an impression that is not present in the original (i.e., everything you said is correct).

On the issue of translating back into Hebrew and Greek, this is an acquired skill and necessarily an artificial one at present. Hebrew, Greek, and Latin are generally not taught as oral languages (although there has been a movement afoot in Latin to change this somewhat). This is largely because to do so would be inexact of necessity. There are no living native speakers, and in language acquisition only a native speaker or someone who has acquired native speaker ability through contact with the same can act as a true and fair "referee" for whether a person's idiomatic constructions are really correct or not. We can certainly produce grammatically correct translations, but in the absence of native speakers we can only rely on our experience with the fragments remaining of these languages to try and approach idiomatic correctness. This is no small issue, since when it comes to matters of precision in interpretation our decisions more often than not rely not on basic points of grammar (although these definitely come into play), but more so on our sense of what is or is not possible is the idiomatic use of vocabulary, and what would or would not be said in such and such a way at the time of writing. We have relatively little material that survives from antiquity and almost all that we do have is literary rather than popular in nature (reading all of Plato is good for your Greek, but, since the language in his dialogues is highly artificial, will most definitely not give you a precise understanding of the Athenian-in-the-street spoke in his time). Also, even in Greek where the corpus is by far the largest of the three languages in question the material spans around 13 centuries, many dialects, and numerous genres (all of which occasion and reflect change in the language, most of which material is literary and therefore somewhat artificial). Additionally we have to contend with a manuscript tradition where scribes "corrected" things that didn't seem to be put right or spelled correctly (along other corruptions as well – and these are much more serious in most Classical Greek texts than in the case of the NT). In Greek, we even have to deal with the "Atticizing" movement of the second sophistic and following wherein people tried to write "like the 5th century Athenians" and often got both grammar and idiom wrong as even we can tell in many instances. So when my students say "how do you say ____ in ancient Greek?", I always have to put a caveat with the answer.

Composition, that is, written versus oral translation, is a very useful exercise in that it forces a person to look at the language in an active rather than a passive way and continually to be asking the "how would you say that?" question. We have courses in this at UofL in both Greek and Latin, and perhaps someday we shall have one in BH as well. It is, however, merely a pedagogical tool, not really a serious attempt to achieve native speaker status, something which as I say in my view is impossible and was never achieved even by the greatest minds of the 19th century when people really knew their stuff (as is evident from the fact that we are still having philological arguments about the text and meaning of many passages in all major authors). I might allow as how Hebrew is easier in some respects and for some people than Greek is, but as far as sentence structure and grammar being like English, in my view that is true only of Modern Hebrew. Biblical Hebrew, and especially the poetic books, can have just as much hyperbaton (strained word order) as Greek, and presents a number of difficulties one doesn't run into in Greek (e.g., many more hapax legomena; lit., "word said only once"). But I think there is no question but that translating into BH presents far more of a challenge than translating into NT Greek for a variety of reasons I'll omit here except to mention that the vowel points present a level of difficulty not found in Greek or Latin.

As to Genesis 2:4, I find myself perplexed to think that I would be at all sympathetic to this person you describe, but the question asked by this lawyer is a ridiculous one. Of course one can "translate" anything one pleases from any language into any other language (provided the person knows both languages), but what is the point of that? The famous computer axiom "GIGO" (garbage in, garbage out) applies here: if the text you are translating is wrong, then it doesn't matter how good you are; you are not going to come up with a "good" translation. Secondly, it is in the nature of language that to translate from language "A" into language "B" and then have someone else who is unaware of the original text translate back into language "A" would never, could never produce the original again if there is any level of complexity whatsoever, even in a very short text. Clearly, Hebrews 2:4 is complex in the sense that it takes quite a lot of theological as well as linguistic ability and experience to understand, and no one can do a good job translating if he/she doesn't really understand the text he/she is translating. Here is the translation of that passage which I have done and posted at my site:

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth in their creation, throughout the entire period that the Lord God fashioned them.
Genesis 2:4

One has to deal with the issue of the creation/construction verbs bar'ah and 'asah, as well as understand the "Genesis Gap" in order to have a prayer of properly coming to terms with this verse (see part 2 of Satan's Rebellion: The Genesis Gap). Even in certain mainline versions (NIV in particular) this passage is badly bollixed, precisely because of a failure to understand the passage, i.e., that it is a global summing up of both 1) original creation in Gen.1:1 ["in their creation"], and 2) the seven day re-creation in Gen.1:2ff. ["fashioned" etc.].

Finally, while I would not say that it is impossible to reach a high level of language ability with self-study, it is practically impossible. Only "super-geniuses" have ever done so. John Stuart Mill and Gilbert Murray both were universe-class in Greek before any university study, but even so Mill had his brilliant father and Murray had English 'public [[i.e., private] school' to rely on, both better resources than most present day colleges. I certainly was not able to gain any serious traction in my language studies while on active duty in the USMC (although I had many of the books), and I believe for the vast majority of people a certain amount of feedback, accountability and competition such as only the academic system can provide is capable of really developing linguistic talent to any serious degree. As it says in Proverbs 27:17, "as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another".

Apologies for the rambling. Hope you find some of this helpful in any case.

In our Lord.

Bob L.

Question #8:  

In Dan. 9:26 we read the following:

And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off…

Why is the Hebrew word 'Karath' (3722) in the above Passage translated as 'shall be cut off' used as a Hebrew Imperfect denoting an 'incomplete action' if the Crucifixion of the Messiah had been completed by the end of the 69th Week of Daniel? If the Cutting Off had been a completed action would not the word have been a Hebrew Perfect?

Response #8: 

First, here is my translation of Daniel 9:26 in context:

(24) Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to complete the rebellion and consummate sins (i.e., to bring apostasy to the full), to atone for iniquity and bring in everlasting righteousness (i.e., the saving work of Christ), and to seal up vision and prophecy and anoint the holy of holies (i.e., the coming of the Kingdom). (25) So know and understand that from the issuing of a decree to desist [from rebuilding Jerusalem] (in ca. 485 B.C.: Ezra 4:6-23), and for the rebuilding of Jerusalem (decreed forty-two years later in ca. 443 B.C.: cf. Ezra 7:11-28; Neh. chap.1-6; taking a further seven years to fulfill) until Messiah the prince there will be seven weeks (i.e., between the decree and the rebuilding) and sixty-two weeks (i.e., between the rebuilding and the birth of Christ in ca. 2 B.C.). [Jerusalem] will be repopulated and rebuilt with streets (i.e., residential reconstruction) and fortifications (i.e., military reconstruction) [and will remain so] even during difficult times (e.g., the occupation of Antiochus Epiphanes). (26) And after the sixty two weeks, Messiah will be cut off and have nothing (cf. Is.53:8), and the people of the prince who is coming (i.e., antichrist) will destroy both the city and the holy place. And his end will come with a flood (i.e., the "flooding away" of his armies at Armageddon; cf. the same Hebrew word, sheteph, [uw, in Dan.11:22; Nah.1:8), and until that end there will be wars – [appalling] devastation has been decreed. (27) Then he (i.e., antichrist) will confirm an agreement (or "covenant"; Hebrew, tyrb, beriyth) with the powerful [in Israel] during [that] one [remaining] week (i.e., the 70th week, the Tribulation), but in the middle of the week (i.e., just prior to the Tribulation's mid-point) he will put a halt to sacrifice and offering (i.e., eliminating Moses and Elijah and interrupting the temple rites). And on account of the extreme [nature] of [his] abominations, he [will] be causing desolations (i.e., desertion and estrangement from God), even until the end when what has been determined will be poured out upon the one characterized by [this] desolation (i.e., the beast as archetype and cause of the alienation and rebellion from God which he fosters).
Daniel 9:24-27

As you can see from the above, I also translate this form of charath as an English future. The actual form, yicchareth (the imperfect niphal), is used here as an equivalent of the English future passive. In Modern Hebrew, the imperfect is the future. In Biblical Hebrew, everything depends on grammatical sequence. And while the imperfect can mean incomplete action, it may also mean repeated or future action. In this case, I know of no instances of the imperfect=future where such action could be said to be "incomplete" (that is reserved for subordinate clauses, cases of repeated past action, subjunctive equivalents, etc.). The prophetic context and string of future references makes it very clear that we are to take this form as a simple future indicative (with no assumptions about aspect of action). As to the sentence itself, this is a fairly straightforward temporal conditional construction: "after X, Y will happen". It is true that there is also something known as the "prophetic perfect", namely, using the perfect to denote a future; it is also true that in certain sequences, the perfect can "pick up" an imperfect chain and thus represent an imperfect in that way too. However, I do not find BH (Biblical Hebrew) in any way making a hard and fast distinction between repeated or "incomplete" action in the future. In this way, it is rather like contemporary English; we have a future-perfect, and we occasionally use it, but someone translating something from English into another language would be making a mistake to conclude that "because we didn't use the future perfect but rather the simple future, therefore . . . (fill in the blank with just about anything because there is no conclusion of any substance that can reasonable be drawn).

If you are asking specifically "why didn't Daniel use the prophetic perfect", my answer would be that this seems to be more common and more likely in poetry and much less common and less likely in prose, especially in a sequential environment of [prophetic] historical narrative as we have here. My impression is that Daniel, who doesn't write in poetic form, isn't inclined to use the prophetic perfect (maybe for just that reason). For example, in Daniel 11:21, ve'amadh is a perfect translated as a future, but is in sequence, not a stand-alone prophetic perfect.

Hope this helps.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #9:  

As I continue to study your response I briefly ask – regarding the Hebrew Imperfect (Karath) you suggest: while it can mean incomplete action, it may also mean repeated or future action. Is this instance you site an exception or the rule/norm?

Response #9: 

This is not an exception but it follows the standard pattern entirely. It is correct to say "it can mean incomplete action, but it may also mean repeated or future action", albeit, not at the same time – the actual meaning is limited and determined by the specific context. If we read it as future, it's just a simple future; if it were a past, it would stress the continuing nature of the action; if it were a subjunctive (in a purpose clause of the like), it would be incomplete. In any given case it could only be one of the three, in the context of Daniel 9:26, it is most definitely future.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #10:  

You never make it easy for me – that is a good thing. I had to take English as a second language.

Am I understanding this right? Are you suggesting that the Hebrew verb 'Karath' (shall be cut off) is a Hebrew Imperfect future action yet to occur (After the 69th Week) as opposed to an Hebrew Imperfect incomplete action defined as an action started but not finished. If I am understanding this correctly you are suggesting that the 'Cutting Off' (Crucifixion) was yet to come (future after the completion of the 69th Week) as opposed to having had already started and was unfinished. That would make perfect sense.

Response #10: 

Yes, that is correct. The only thing I would perhaps quibble with is the "as opposed to an Hebrew Imperfect incomplete action defined as an action started but not finished". The imperfect is sometimes used as an equivalent to an English (or Greek or Latin) subjunctive and in such cases is "unfulfilled" (as in "I'll call you when I get home" – i.e., I'm not home yet). It is also used for repeated action as an indicative (i.e., "he was doing it" as opposed to "he did it". However, sometimes the imperfect has the sense of a simple past without any noticeable coloring (and not only in the waw conjunctive/conversive construction). But these are descriptive designations of a very difficult phenomenon to embrace (cf. S.R. Driver's classic A treatise on the use of the tenses in Hebrew and some other syntactical questions). Even in languages where we have much more information and contemporary, conscious theorizing about how the language is used (as is the case in both Greek and Latin, for example), such terminology really only exists to help us explain what is going on rather than being some sort of set of inviolable rules to be used for analysis – and that is doubly true of Biblical Hebrew (since the scholarly grammatical theory of BH is far less successfully developed than the other languages mentioned). The way it works in practice is not using the grammar book to decipher the language. The it works in practice is that the "good translator" 1) reads an awful lot of X language and thereby becomes an expert; 2) understands what Y passage in X language really means in toto; and then 3) uses grammatical terminology for explaining to others what he/she has already understood. It never really works the other way around.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #11: 

You know that we have discussed "again" in John 3:3, where Jesus says, "you must be born again/anew/from above". I know that the semantic range of the word for "again" here, anothen, can include "again", and I know that it also means "anew" and more literally, "from above."

Now, here it is in the Latin Vulgate: "respondit Iesus et dixit ei amen amen dico tibi nisi quis natus fuerit denuo non potest videre regnum Dei ."

I can read a little of it, but the word for "anew,again" is "denuo" isn't it? Can it mean "again"? I don't have a Latin dictionary, so I can't check. Could you check to see what the word means, all its ranges?

This Roman Catholic guy keeps insisting that Jesus never said "born again" but "from above" and that "born again" is something Nicodemus came up with. I even showed him, from the Vatican's own website, where they use "born again" in the exact same way evangelicals and Lutherans (like me) use it--to mean "anew, spiritual rebirth." This guy keeps insisting that again can ONLY mean that the condition existed BEFORE, and that Nic and we couldn't have been born from above twice. I have shown him from a good unabridged English dictionary that "again" ALSO means "anew, from the beginning".

So, anyway, can you show me from a good Latin dictionary all the meanings for "denuo"? And what does "fuerit" mean?

Thanks and God bless.

Response #11: 

On this, denuo means "anew". It does not and cannot mean "from above". That would be desuper or superne. As far as I am aware, Latin does not have a way of making this ambiguous and equally applicable to both possibilities so as reflect the double meaning of anothen in Greek. Thus, Latin translators had to choose (the same way we have to choose in English between "anew" and "from above", though the Greek could mean either or both).

The word fuerit is the perfect, active, subjunctive, 3rd. sing. from the verb "to be" (esse). Translate literally: "is" (as in, "unless a person is/has been born again"). Jerome is mimicking the Greek syntax here where the indefinite relative clause in the Greek regularly has the subjunctive. It's not exactly according to Classical Latin rules.

Of course, the Vulgate is only a translation (and one with a horribly entangled textual tradition at that), but one would think that if the R.C. church felt strongly the other way, well, it would have been easy enough to change it. But then the Bible is about fifth or sixth down their list of authorities.

In our Lord.

Bob L.


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