Jesus didn’t speak English (Part 4)

Bible verse used in the podcast

  • John 21:15-17 ESV 
  • Acts 2:1-4 
  • John 2:19-23
  • 1 corinthians 12:4 
  • Genealogy: Genesis 5 
  • Verses about Enoch 
    • Genesis 5, 1 Chronicles 1:3, Luke 3:37, Hebrew 11:5-6, Jude 1:14-16  

Interesting resources

Why care about manuscripts?

Let’s talk about the following Paradox that occurs in the new testament. When did the disciples receive the holy spirit? Often people will point to the day of Pentecost sighting the following passage:

1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Act 2:1-4 ESV

This is a perfectly reasonable answer; but what happens if you start cross referencing the Bible? Was there any other time that it seemed this happened? You end up coming to a passage in John 20 that causes a lot of problems:

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. 23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.

John 2:19-23 ESV

So which is true? Did they receive the holy spirit in Acts or in John? There are several thoughts on this. Some think what Jesus gave in John was some gift of the spirit and in acts he gave others. This is problematic because the text doesn’t say that and it goes against 1 Corinthians 12:4, Now there are diversities of gifts*, but the same Spirit. Others would say that this event is just symbolic and Jesus is just teaching them a lesson in a dramatic way. Again the text doesn’t say this and personal interpretation if being placed over the Bible. Some say this was a temporary gift of the spirit. 

What can we say for sure? This is where I said it is a paradox, where it seems like a contradiction but it can be explained how it is not. The word used in John 20:22 for recieve is Λαμβάνω (lambanō), the root word means to receive, take, have or catch so there is no new insight here. The insight is understanding that greek grammar is not like english grammar. The word is in the Aorist tense, there is no definition of the kind of action, the emphasis is upon the fact of the action rather than the duration of the action.We do not have this tense in english so when translating it, either you translate it in a way that doesn’t indicate what it really means using proper english tenses, or you find a way to add notes to indicat what is happening.  Now when looking at this, Jesus is not indicating that this is when they receive it, but rather stating a fact of some kind. The main point is that it did not happen in John grammatically so there is no contradiction. 

In other languages, every name has a meaning. Do you translate this name as meaning, or do you transliterate it so people can pronounce it because it is a name. For instance Adam (אָדָם) means man. For the context of Genesis, translating it, man is not a bad idea, but you lose the context that this is an actual person and it becomes more general rather than personal.

 In Genesis 5:1, The word Adam appears two times, once as transliterated as Adam and the other translated as man in the same verse. In a context that is perfect and makes sense in English. If you take the next person Seth (שֵׁת) which means appointed, translating it doesn’t really make since and it is only used as a proper name. So they transliterate it only as a proper name. But what happens if you translate all the names found in Genesis chapter 5. When you go though there are ten names of people in hewbew:

  • Adam – Man
  • Seth – Appointed
  • Enos – mortal (from the root anash: “to be incurable”)
  • Cainan – Sorrow
  • Mahalalel- blessed God
  • Jared- shall come down
  • Enoch- teaching
    • He is only mentioned in genesis 5, 1 Chronicles 1:3 and Luke 3:37 as part of a genealogy, in Hebrew 11:5-6 and Jude 1:14-16
  • Methuselah- his death shall bring
    • He has the longest life span if the Bible, when you check the life spans of the people, the year he died was the day Noah went into the ark
  • Lamech – despairing
  • Noah- comfort

When you take just the names as translated, they seem to say a sentence:

 man [is] appointed mortal (or incurable) sorrow, [but the] blessed God shall come down teaching his death shall bring the despairing comfort. 

When you step back, this is the christian gospel within a genealogy in the first book of the Bible. When looking at the original text in their original language, you find interesting situations like this. The question then becomes, is this a coincidence?

Now overall the issue is, how accurate should a translation be? Is the thought of the idea more important than the words being used? Ideally we would want to know what God said and not people’s interpretation of what God said. If God gave you a command about how to keep your family alive you think you would use each detail God would give; just like Noah. You are allowed to decide where the animals of the ark are, but you really shouldn’t change the wood of the boat. You might be able to know where you will sleep but you can’t change the size of the boat. Interpreting the scripture can be done using every detail that God gives but you can’t change what God said. Once you let personal bias enter, you no longer are listening to God but rather imposing what you thought God meant to say. Often the big decision between Christian denominations, are not the literal words of the Bible, but rather what people think the Bible says. If we all have the exact words, we can’t argue what God said, you can only argue what it means.

This is basically the same idea as setting up rules and seeing what happens. If you know God said something, then what does that mean when you apply it to other parts of scripture? What does that mean when you apply it to the real word? If you have theology, and you know how some ideas in the Bible that supposed to work and you come across a scripture seems to contradict what the plan text says, either your interpretation is wrong and it is a paradox because of the rules you set up you can always change your interpretation; or the rules that the Bible gave you truly contradict each other and there is a problem with using the Bible. Ideally when we set up theology we shouldn’t have exceptions. The more you can’t explain something simple means you don’t really have all the pieces needed to describe what is really going on. Everything should be consistent because that is who God is:

7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.

Hebrewa 13:7-9 ESV

17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

James 1:17 ESV

6 “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.

Malachi 3:6 ESV

Just a note for those who do not know, the translation that is used, if not specific is the Modern Literal version. It is not a Jehovah’s witness Bible. Often when you see the word Lord in an English Bible it normally is being translated from the name of God YHVH (this is the English equivalent). The reason why I am using this Bible translation is because it tries to preserve as much of the Greek grammar as English while still being fairly readable. The grammar does not follow normal English at times and feels off but they normally make word with an * to indicate “you plural” or other words in Greek that we don’t have in English. For example the word For has several Greek words that can be translated as For but have slightly different uses in Greek that wouldn’t make a difference in English. Instead of translating it as just for they use For*, or For or *For. It is a non-profit translation that tries to make the translation process as clear as possible in English. They often show what was supplied in English that can’t be found in the Greek clearly and have translation notes explaining why specific features are there. It is also open source so if mistakes are found that have bias towards interpretation rather than plain Greek text, they can be submitted to help revise the text if the mistake found helps render the pure text into English better. 

Jesus didn’t speak English (Part 3)

Bible verse used in the podcast

  • John 21:15-17
  • Acts 2:1-4
  • John 2:19-23
  • Matthew 2:1-2 

So why do we care?

So why do we care about translational stuff; who cares if we have multiple English translated? It turns out, they add some nuance that you wouldn’t notice. It can take a whole sentence to describe one Greek word. For instance take the following passage:

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

John 21:15-17 ESV

Why did Peter cry the third time? Nothing changed because he just said I love you 3 times. You might say it’s because Peter denied him three times and Jesus is restoring him. There is nothing wrong with that interpretation and in a symbolic way, that is what is going on. Well it turns out in Greek, he says two different words for love. The first two times is ἀγαπάω (agapaō) which is which is the general form of love used in the bible, the kind we are all supposed to love one another with. The second time he uses φιλέω (phileō) which is a personal or brotherly love. This second time Jesus took it from a general sense to a more personal level. Now keep in mind, most of these translational differences do not impact the overall meaning of what is being intended but give smaller insights into what was being expressed. Because of this, no English translation is going to be one hundred percent accurate in every place because different translators will have different biases in what they think about emphasis, how readable they are trying to make it or how technical it is. Often Greek word order does not always match up with English, some words we do not have direct translations of and some Greek grammar does not exist in English. 

Let’s talk about the following Paradox that occurs in the new testament. When did the disciples receive the holy spirit? Often people will point to the day of Pentecost sighting the following passage:

1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Act 2:1-4 ESV

This is a perfectly reasonable answer; but what happens if you start cross referencing the bible? Was there any other time that it seemed this happened? You end up coming to a passage in John 20 that causes a lot of problems:

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. 23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.

John 2:19-23 ESV

So which is true? Did they receive the holy spirit in Acts or in John? There are several thoughts on this. Some think what Jesus gave in John was some gifts of the spirit and in acts he gave others. This is problematic because the text doesn’t say that and it goes against 1 Corinthians 12:4, John 3:31-36, 1 Corinthians 12:4, John 14:16, Ephesians 1:13-14, Now there are diversities of gifts*, but the same Spirit. Others would say that this event is just symbolic and Jesus is just teaching them a lesson in a dramatic way. Again the text doesn’t say this and personal interpretation if being placed over the bible. Some say this was a temporary gift of the spirit. 

What can we say for sure? This is where I said it is a paradox, where it seems like a contradiction but it can be explained how it is not. The word used in John 20:22 for recieve is Λαμβάνω (lambanō), the root word means to receive, take, have or catch so there is no new insight here. The insight is understanding that greek grammar is not like english grammar. The word is in the Aorist tense, “ there is no definition of the kind of action, the emphasis is upon the fact of the action rather than the duration of the action.” We do not have this tense in english so when translating it, either you translate it in a way that doesn’t indicate what it really means using proper english tenses, or you find a way to add notes to indicat what is happening.  Now when looking at this, Jesus is not indicating that this is when they receive it, but rather stating a fact of some kind. The main point is that it did not happen in John grammatically so there is no contradiction.

There are some things you should know about translations. Because other languages do not all have the same words that English uses or the same grammatical usage; some words need to be added to help the text make sense to the English reader. You might think this is crazy “how could you add to the word of God?” You would think that until you realize simple words like ‘of,’ ‘the’, ‘a’, ‘for’ and so on are often added otherwise you wouldn’t understand the context of what is being said. Often bible translation will try to find ways to indicate this to readers by having words be in italics or they will use [brackets] and try to come up with ways to show this. Take the following verse from several translations for an example (Matthew 2:1-2):

  • [Mat 2:1-3 KJV] 1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. 3 When Herod the king had heard [these things], he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
  • [Mat 2:1-3 NKJV] 1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard [this], he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
  • [Mat 2:1-3 ESV] 1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;
  • [Mat 2:1-3 NASB] 1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard [this,] he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
  • [Mat 2:1-3 WEB] 1 Now, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 2 Saying, Where is he that is born king of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and have come to worship him. 3 When Herod the king had heard [these things], he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

Something else to know, there are three major thought processes that are used to translate the greek or hebrew. The first is a formal or literal translation. This tries to take the literal language and translate it word for word as close to the original language as possible. Generally this can be hard because word order and grammar in the original language don’t always line up with english. This can cause some issue whether or not you rearrange the sentence structure or do you use one word for each greek word or do you allow synonyms?

Another way is a thought for thought translation which tries to get an idea of what the writer is saying and express it into english. This helps produce a readable translation that is nice in english. The problem is you need to interpret this and you bring in translation bias based on doctrinal or other bias.

Sometimes they try to make a Dynamic translation which tries to keep the text word for word but update measurements or terms that we don’t have. Such as a denir being a measure of money after working for some time. So instead of this, translate it based on the idea of what the measurement is or translate things into distances that are familiar with imperial units.

Jesus didn’t speak English (Part 2)

Bible verse used in the podcast

  •  Psalm 12:6-7  ESV

Interesting resources

Are the New Testament manuscripts reliable?

Let’s talk about the New Testament. There is a large amount of debate about when the writings were done and what is the date of the oldest manuscripts we have where written. There are some things to understand. When we talk about the writing of the manuscript and the oldest copy we have, they are not the same thing. When a writer writes, their work is copied and then copied again. The date of writing is considered fixed (although which date to fix it on maybe debated). We might not have their first copy of the first copy of the first copy. We might have the tenth copy down the line. The question is, how much time passed between the first copy and the last copy we currently have. Two days is not a big deal, two thousand years is. 

Comparing the New Testament

The last of the writings of the New Testament was completed around or before 100AD by John the disciple (exactly is debated). Some people will put the date earlier than this but this is generally the upper limit. From there he wrote, his letters were passed around and the earliest copies we have of his writers are generally considered to be no greater than 40-50 years (though this is debated by skeptics). This seems rather large until you realize that there are over 5,000 manuscripts that can be dated to be copied around that time. Now compare this to The Gallic War which talks about Caesar’s military campaign in Europe. This is clearly a historical event and the writings tell us information about Caesar, a person we can agree lived and had a large influence on the world. There was a gap of about 950 years from the original manuscripts to the oldest and we have the total number is around 251. By volume there are more manuscripts that talk about Jesus life than Caesar’s military campaign and here is a table that compares other ancient sources [a bigger list can be found here]:

AuthorWorkDate Written Time Gap # of copies
HomerIliad800 BC4001,800+
Caesar Gallic Wars100-44 BC 950251
Demosthenes Speeches300 BC 1,100+ (1,400) 340 
Greek N.T. Manuscripts50-100 AD 50 5,838 
Greek New Testament Early Translations18,524 

When comparing the different ancient manuscripts, the New Testament has the most manuscripts with the smallest gap between when they were written and the originals. Just comparing the Gallic Wars, there are nearly 1000 years between the original work and our earliest surviving work. Assuming the game of telephone has any relevance, the New Testament is more reliable simply because the earliest manuscripts dating within a generation of the original authors. Not to mention the vast volume of manuscripts that can be compared to see their accuracy. 

Other considerations

It doesn’t end there. Many of the Greek manuscripts were translated into other languages around that time. This helps get a sense of what the original manuscripts said because you can cross-reference the languages to see what a translator may or may not include. Many of the early church leaders wrote books that reference portions of the new testament so if there is a problem about “was that originally there” then we can check their writing to see if they knew it was in the scriptures back then.

There are other sources that can be linked to the times of the bible. Flavius Josephus was a historian who was born just after the crucifixion and lived during the time of Acts. He had access to the Roman libraries being an important figure. He wrote about some of the details talked about in the new testament such as the Pharisees and Sadducees and the temple in Jerusalem. He also talked about John the baptist’s being killed. It also mentions “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James.”  A letter was found from Mara-Bar Serapion who talks about the death of Socrates, Plate, and “The Wise King of the Jews” who had “the new laws which he enacted” which connects these people to God’s judgment. Publius Cornelius Tacitus, a Roman historian, makes a reference to Jesus in one of his writings in the Annals of Cornelius Tacitus. The worship of Christ is mentioned in Pliny’s Letter to Trajan. These are just a handful of places. 

6 The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.

Psalms 12:6 ESV

Jesus didn’t speak English (Part 1)

Bible verse used in the podcast

  • Aramaic: Daniel 2- 7 and Ezra 4-7 

Interesting resources

The Bible wasn’t written in English

This may come as a shock to some but Jesus did not speak English. The old testament was written in Hebrew and some portions in Aramaic. Aramaic is used in only a handful of places, the most notable place would be parts of Daniel 2- 7 and Ezra 4-7. There are other words and phrases used but overall the rest of the old testament was written in Hebrew. For a time, the text was originally in paleo Hebrew script which was a picture form of the characters.

After the Babylonian captivity the letters changed into the characters form known today. The old testament in Hebrew is referred to as the Tanakh. The first five books Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers are called the Torah (or Pentateuch), the Law of Mose, Moses’ Law, or simply the Law in different places in the bible.

Before this time of the New Testament, Alexander the Great conquered the land of Israel and the surrounding territories. During that time Greek culture was enforced as the main language and many people started speaking in greek; specifically koine greek. The language of Greeks became so dominant that the Jewish communities wanted a translation of the Old Testament in greek. This translation is called the Septuagint (LXX). This was then used by the church as a common old testament in greek. The new Testament was written completely in greek (with some borrowed words). Often the new testament writers quote from the Septuagint 

The question is how reliable are these writings? This question can be broken into a few parts: Is the text Inspired? How do we know? Is the text we have now the same as when it was written? How do we know it has not been changed? Are there any contradictions? First, we will deal with the question “how do we know the bible is the same and has not changed?”

Old testament scribble traditions

First looking at the old testament, In ancient times, the old testament was copied by the scribes of Israel. The people were educated and trained for this job. Some give the idea, well the bible was retold over and over again and the meaning has been lost like the game of telephone. This did not happen with the bible simply because of this process of writing down. The scribes had (and still do) a long list of rules about how manuscripts are to be copied down:

 Scribal copying rules 19

  1. Must be written on the skins of clean animals  
  2. Must be prepared for synagogue use by a Jew only
  3. Must be fastened together with strings taken from clean animals.  
  4. Each skin must contain an exact number of columns, which must be equal throughout the entire manuscript  
  5. The length of each column must be between 48 and 60 lines.  
  6. The breadth of each column must consist of 30 letters  
  7. The whole copy must be first lined, if 3 words were written without a line it was considered worthless.  
  8. The ink must be black only and prepared according to a special recipe that was used only for copying of scripture 
  9.  The original used to make the copy must be authentic and must not be deviated from the copyist and the scribe must say each word aloud as he wrote it.  
  10. No word or letter could ever be written from memory, the scribe must always look first at the original before writing his copy.  
  11. A space of a hair or thread must intervene between each consonant  
  12. A space of the breadth of 9 consonants must come between each section  No word must ever touch another  
  13. A space of 3 lines must come between every book  
  14. The 5th book of Moses (Deuteronomy) must end exactly with a line  Before copying, the scribe must wash his whole body  While copying, the scribe must only write the name of God with a pen newly dipped into the ink  
  15. Each time the scribe came across the Hebrew word for God, he had to wipe his pen clean. And when he came across the name of God, Jehovah (YHWH), he had to wash his whole body before he could write it. 
  16.  Should a king address the scribe while writing that name he must take no notice of him  
  17. If a sheet of parchment had one mistake on it, the sheet was condemned. If there were three mistakes found on any page, the whole manuscript was condemned. 
  18. Each scroll had to be checked within thirty days of its writing, or it was considered unholy.  
  19. Every word and every letter was counted. If a letter or word was omitted, the manuscript was condemned.

That is not enough, every single detail is copied, even stylistic details. There are different manuscripts with different traditional styles. They would often format the text so they have the same amount of letters and lines as previous ones, they would often elongate letters at the end of a line so there are no uneven lines and start a new line when the words do not fit. Sometimes the letters were decorated and these decorative markings were kept exactly the same. These do have variations because different scribble groups did have different styles they keep up. But this only changed the format and detailing of the text, not the words of the text. 

Often if mistakes were made in the text, the whole thing was destroyed and set aside as unfit for use. When writings containing the name of God were demanded they would often place them in genizahs which held the manuscripts for letters. These Genizahs sometimes held other documents but often were special places ordained by a temple.

Interesting side notes

There was a built-in spell-check system in each writing. Each letter in Hebrew has a number associated with it. What the priest would do is count up the total value of these letters and check to see if they matched previous copies. If not, then that means either the person counted wrong or there was a mistake and often the copies had to be reviewed by others within a time frame before it was considered good to use.

One thing to keep in mind, in those days, the religious leaders had a large emphasis on interpreting the text. Often you see them acting as religious lawyers and each letter of the text was extremely important because that is where loops or strict traditions come from. You can see this happen often when the Pharisees try to ask Jesus theological questions. They took every bit of the text as holy and important and to preserve the text was of high importance because their entire way of life depended on it.