About Hebrew and Greek in the Bible

thePsalmist on March 8th, 2009

Shock news: The Bible wasn’t originally written in English! I know, it’s amazing news isn’t it! *rolleyes*

The Old Testament was by and large written in Hebrew, the language of the Jews and of Israel. The New Testament was primarily written in Greek, the language of, er, well Greeks!

However, in both cases the forms of Hebrew and Greek used are more akin to our Shakespearean English than the modern day versions of either language. So if you were to learn how to speak Biblical Hebrew or Biblical Greek and went on holiday to either Israel or Greece, and tried out your new found linguistic skill, you might get a few funny looks.

I’m not a great linguistic scholar. In fact I’m not even really a mediocre one. I’m just a beginner, although I have been beginning for about 12 years now! However, the original languages of the Bible for me are something wonderful and beautiful – and also for serious Bible study something quite necessary. If all we use is our English translations then mostly that’s fine, but if you want to make absolutely sure that you’re thinking clearly about God’s word then it is often necessary to check back with the ancient languages a particular verse or passage was written in. It’s not something every Christian needs to do, but for some of us it is a joyful pursuit.

On this blog I will occassionally quote a Hebrew or Greek word or phrase if there’s something important there for us to think about. I’m not going to chuck Hebrew and Greek around willy nilly to impress you with my vast brilliance, for it would take you very little time to see right through that game. No, I will use them simply because I love the ancient languages and want to remind us all of the heritage of the Bible if nothing else. We do need to remember that God’s word is without error in the original language it was first written down in, not necessarily in the english translations which have since been created.

So what do Hebrew and Greek look like? Well, here’s the first verse of Psalm 19 in it’s original form. You read Hebrew from right to left (in other words, you start at the far end of the line and read backwards along the sentence to the left hand side of the page).

Psalm 19:1:

הַשָּׁמַיִם מְסַפְּרִים כְּבוֹד־אֵל וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדָיו מַגִּיד הָרָקִיעַ:

And for greek I’ve chosen John 3:16. Greek you read in the same way as you read English, left to right:

John 3:16: Οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον, ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν, ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλʼ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.

Anyway, a quick note to give credit to those who make this possible. I use Logos Bible software for all my Bible study work. In Logos I can quickly switch to a Hebrew or Greek version of the Bible and simply copy and paste from there. It makes life very easy for me and happily WordPress (the software I use for this blog) appears to accept the foreign language texts perfectly well.
So there’s very little magic involved, and I hope that you enjoy the inclusion of these ancient and beautiful languages throughout this blog. Don’t worry if you can’t read the text itself. I’ll always explain alongside, or provide a pop up link for an english translation (as on this page) courtesy of Logos Bible Software’s Reftagger plugin.
May God bless you as you read His word!

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6 yoms of creation

thePsalmist on March 5th, 2009

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1)

These words have sparked endless and often needless arguments, not just between theists (those who believe in God) and atheists (those who don’t), but even amongst different generations of Christians. You might wonder how Christians manage to argue over the issue of whether God created the heavens and the earth or not… but believe me they do!

My belief is that the controversy has been wholly pointless and comes down to a misunderstanding over three little letters, well actually in the original hebrew it was just 2 little letters! It’s amazing just how many books can be written as a result of 2 little letters being misinterpreted and misunderstood.

The opening chapter of the Bible tells the story of how God made everything. It goes something like this:

Gen 1:1-5 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and He called the darkness “night.” Evening came, and then morning: the first day.

The Hebrew word for ‘day’ is yom. Throughout the Old Testament you see the same word used in a multitude of ways. In some places a ‘day’ or ‘yom’ as it is in the original Hebrew, is translated as ‘age’, in other places ‘years’ in other places ‘day’ in the sense of a 24 hour period.

At some point in the history of english translations, many hundreds of years ago, the translators came to this first section of the Bible and decided the best way to translate ‘yom’ was with the word ‘day’. It fitted in with the pattern of there being six days of creation and one day of rest making up one full week.

The only problem with this, for those of us who want to read God’s word literally, is that it just doesn’t work very well. The first hurdle to cross is that you don’t even have a sun for the first three days. It’s not until day four that God creates the great lights in the sky to govern the seasons:

Gen 1:14-19 14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night. They will serve as signs  for festivals and for days and years.  15 They will be lights in the expanse of the sky to provide light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made the two great lights—the greater light to have dominion over the day and the lesser light to have dominion over the night—as well as the stars.  17 God placed them in the expanse of the sky to provide light on the earth, 18 to dominate the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness.  And God saw that it was good. 19 Evening came, and then morning: the fourth day.

So on day 4 we get the sun in the sky, which then begs the question “Just what was the writer talking about when he talks about “there was evening and there was morning, the first day”? By what means were evening and morning determined if there was no sun rising and setting in the sky? It would have been dark all the time, and there was no tradition to go on because at this point in earths history there had never been a sun to rise and set.

My belief is that in reading the Genesis account literally and taking it word for word we can not translate ‘yom’ as a 24-hour day. I think it is far better to translate it as ‘age’ for there is no means by which to measure time, and I think the Bible itself is making that clear for us.

But if you remove this issue of the 24 hour time periods, then you also in one sweep of the pen remove the last 150 years of argument over whether faith or science is correct about the creation of the word. You remove all the arguments about a short creationist account of creation, or a long evolutionary account of creation.

Well in truth, you don’t remove all the arguments against an eveolutionary account, as I’ll show in a later blog post about the difference between evolution between the species and evolution within a species. But that’s for another day.

For now, I just want to affirm that my God, the creator of the Universe is more than capable of creation the universe in 6 earth seconds, or 6 fractions of one second if He so desired. As it happens, the account He’s given us of His creation speaks to me of a God who works outside of time and through six aeons or ages, in a clearly defined pattern he carefully sculpts and brings into being everything we now see around us (and plenty that we have yet to discover even). He is a great God and beyond our understanding. But He is a God of love, whose greatest work was not just to create all this, but in so doing, to show His love for us.