Christianity’s effect on mankind throughout the ages has had a major impact: culturally, socially, as well as politically, sometimes for the better but has not always been the case. Although its theology is primarily based off virtue and good moral behavior, if it is not received by the reader in the way it was written, then major contradictory issues can arise from such theologies. Where do Christianity’s teachings come from and what is its major claim? Does it align itself with its predecessor, the Pentateuch, or is it a new religion? For those who don’t already know, Christianity is rooted in the writings of texts that are not written in English, but rather Hebrew. With this fact known, it is clear, that a proper understanding can only be fully gained when tapping into the root language of the Bible. When studying the Bible for academic or theological purposes, the Hebrew language is the only appropriate and accurate script to be considered in the deciphering of pronunciations and definitions of words as well as providing an understanding of historical, cultural context and linguistic syntax.
The Hebrew language has a long and complicated history, there are many who believe it was the original language of mankind, and that all other languages exist only because mankind ceased to obey God and therefore was punished at the legendary Tower of Babel with the curse of confusion and many tongues, contrary to the popular views of contemporary scholars. For the purposes of this essay the Hebrew being discussed will be that of the Classical Hebrew, the script of the writings that composed most of the text commonly known in the English language as, “The Holy Bible”. Classical, or Biblical Hebrew, arose as a literary language around the 3rd century BC. The basis of its written form is found as three letter roots of words that can have different pronunciations and meanings based on the conjugation of the root word and/or its infinitive.
The main source of text that was used to create the English Bible, to the surprise of most, is not that of a Hebrew language, the original source language of the text of Christian religious dogma, but of Latin. The English Bible’s various translations most common ancestor is the Latin Vulgate, translated by Jerome, the confidential secretary of Pope Damascus I, in the late-4th-century. A clever man can quickly take notice that something is wrong here; how is it that an English version of text, originating in Hebrew, can be derived from the Latin language? The truth is that Jerome translated, what is commonly referred to as the “Old Testament” in English, from an ancient Hebrew text, but translated, what is commonly referred to as the “New Testament” in English, from a Greek text of the Gospels referred to as the “Septuagint [LXX]”. Therefore, it can be said that Christian theology, formed from English interpretations, are made by a reader who is reading from a text written in Hebrew, transliterated into Greek, translated into Latin and interpreted in English. If this does not make you uncomfortable when approaching theology, then you simply do not understand the importance of accuracy within the scope of translation, nor the differences between translation, transliteration, or interpretation.
The New Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary of the English language defines Translate as: to put (a word, text or language) into another language retaining the sense. This is what Jerome accomplished from the Hebrew source into the Latin for the Old Testament. Accurate translations require that a recognition of the original language of a text in its original context be considered, and seriously. Transliterate is to replace (letters of one alphabet) by letters of another with the same phonetic sound. This is what was accomplished with the Greek Septuagint, which took the Hebrew writings of the Bible and transliterated them, accounting for unused phonetic sounds and letters, into the Greek language, sometimes having to create new words entirely. One common example, in the words of Daniel Gruber, is the name of Jesus. Gruber states that, “Iesou, is not a Greek name. It is not a Greek word. It doesn’t mean anything in Greek. Iesou, or Iesous, which is the nominative case of the same word, is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew name, “Yeshua,” which is a shortened form of Yehoshua, which means “YeHoVaH saves…. A translation that takes the Greek transliteration and then transliterates that into English, or some other language, fails to serve the reader…” (Gruber). Interpret is to explain the meaning of (a work of art, dream etc.). Interpreting is subjective, and based solely on the interpreter’s knowledge, training, and point of view. With this evidence presented, it is clear to see how confusion can be created if a translator of a text is not accurate and true to the original source text meaning and the dangerous outcomes that can be created, especially if this text is going on to shape the minds of kings, politicians, and cultures alike, throughout the entire globe, which history can confirm as being true.
Among the most common and popular translations for biblical enthusiasts are the Greek Septuagint [LXX], the Latin Vulgate, and the English King James Version. Some might argue that these are viewed by biblical scholars as the “go to” sources for confirmation of theology, religious practices, and biblical accuracy. These sources couldn’t possibly be contested in their eyes and are the divine words of God Himself, though the evidence suggests otherwise. If you ask any forensic analyst they will tell you that the truth always lies within the evidence provided. In J.A.L Lee’s, A Lexical Study of the Septuagint Version of the Pentateuch, he states, “It is evident that the Greek in which the books of the LXX are composed contains many features that cannot be normal Greek. It is clear moreover that these features are due principally to the influence of Hebrew…. It is beyond question that the majority of the books of the LXX exhibit, to a greater or lesser extent, features that are abnormal for Greek and must be due to the influence of a Semitic language. On this there is general agreement” (Lee). If you are to understand the Bible from its intended frame you must understand that this translation was written for a Greek-speaking Jewish audience. Theologians of Christianity often make the attractive claims that the Greek of the Christian “New Testament” is absolutely koine Greek, when in fact, it is not. This is confirmed by Isidore of Palasium, who was a 5th century Christian writer, commenting on the perception of the Greek-speaking people of his time and their thoughts on the Greek transliterated LXX, who claimed that the grammar, syntax, and vocabulary were not koine Greek (Maloney). The Latin Vulgate is only a transliteration of this text, particularly the “New Testament”, therefore can only be considered a watered-down version of the original language and its meaning. The argument for this text as a substantive reference is severely lacking, at best. As far as the English King James Version is concerned it is even more watered-down then the former, replacing words such as the Holy name of “YeHoVaH” with titles equivalent to LORD. This is a direct incompetence on the translator’s part to correctly convey the accurate meaning behind the words written in the original Hebrew language. How can a personal name equivocate to a majestic title, or any title for that matter? The thought is ludicrous. It does not. One could argue that it is in direct violation of the fourth commandment spoken of in Exodus 20:7, “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain…” (Bible) absolutely making wrongful use of His name within the same sentence it specifically commands not to. If this isn’t a clear enough example of contradictory evidence created directly by the ignorance of proper translation practices, then you are asleep. This is one of the dangers of improper translations as it can have a great effect on theological views if it is not noted or corrected by the reader. It does not echo the truth that the original content purveys.
The history of Christianity is formed by many contradictory theological views brought about by errors in translations, inventions in transliterations, and distorted by interpretations of them both. From the origins of its religion and practices, mistake after mistake, backed by good intentions have plagued this beautiful dogma since its inception. What started out as local communities (not churches) reading original Hebrew texts and revering it as truth, evolved into the writings of new texts and a new religion that separates itself from its life-giving root. This separation, or evolution some might say, prompted the persecution of many and ignited a fuse in the long line of history that saw Christianity (as it came to be called) rise and fall in popularity throughout the ages, pushing and pulling at its own theology like so many waves of the ocean tides. Indecisively, Christianity has changed its creeds and rules over the centuries from the Council of Nicaea confirming and establishing its most basic beliefs, contradictory to many of the Hebrew traditions and scriptures, to the East-West Schism of the church separating and forming two new branches of the same supposed beliefs with opposing dogmas, unable to commune as it were in the beginning. All of this being brought about simply by the refusal to see the epic importance of relying on the original source text to mold the views and guide the hearts of the congregations. The Council of Chalcedon, in which it is established that, Jesus, a man, is a God (which in the original source language could never have been possible as the words for spirit in the Hebrew are not indicative of any physical substance as is the word for spirit in the Greek of the LXX), is yet another unequivocal example of the importance of the meaning conveyed through translation. These errors brought about the justifications in the reasonings of men that changes can be made and advantages had at a political level, and that they are God inspired, thus prompting more tragic outcomes in its history and that of the world. With the involvement of politicians and kings the Spanish Inquisition, under the premise of conversion, saw so many suffer based on the idea that their old beliefs needed to conform and adjust to the modern ways of the church, which had conveniently adopted new translations that fit their agenda. Martin Luther and his 95 Thesis and the Protestant Reformation prompted John Calvin to join and contribute by writing The Instruction of the Christian Religion (more commonly known as Institute of the Christian Religion). This composition prompted a great uproar for the Catholics who oversaw 25 sessions in the Council of Trent as a counter-Reformation move against their rising adversaries. Persecutions spread throughout the globe on an international scale to the point where some Puritans could take it no more and, to escape the vicious religious attacks aimed towards their families and beliefs, they set sail on the Mayflower across the Atlantic Ocean and formed a colony known as Plymouth. Here they could practice the traditions of the scriptures that held true to a more ancient, accurate idea of the original biblical contents and its intended meaning. This set the stage for the United States Constitution and the wonderful nation of freedom we enjoy today. A group of a select few, a people who sought to get back to the origins of the text, known as Puritans, were the foundation of the greatest and most free country that has existed in the world, in any age, ever.
It is without prejudice that this evidence be presented as confirmation of a fact, a fact known to a people who have never lost their identity nor changed their belief in God since antiquity, the children of Israel. The Hebrew language is without a shadow of a doubt the only language that can fully explain the true meaning of the scriptures known in English as The Holy Bible. If it is assumed that one can read the English translation formed from a Greek or Latin transliteration of the Hebrew scriptures and then relay its supposed subjective interpretation to a multitude of citizens based on solely that text alone, then it could just as easily be assumed that the man/woman doing so is selling snake oil. It is abundantly clear that throughout history, the theology of the Hebrew scriptures, which gave birth to the Christian doctrine, can only be accurately conveyed when remaining true to the source text. The meanings of words and ideas are lost in various transliterations and interpretations if one cannot gather an accurate understanding of historical culture, the context in which the source text was written in, and the view of the writers who wrote it in the manner they wished it to be received. This can only be achieved in the study of the Hebrew language. Whether it be for academic, theological, or spiritual purposes, an understanding of Hebrew grammar, syntax and Hebraisms (Hebrew expressions or idioms) are the only accurate methods of study to be considered in concluding a viable truth from such a text. One can only pray that everyone takes his/her own journey navigating these scriptures seriously, that they do not leave their supposed salvation up to anyone other than themselves and the inspired words written centuries ago in a language that has known death and resurrection, Hebrew, the voice of truth.
-The NorthWest Hebrew