AN OVERVIEW FROM AN OLD
Before we explore the difficult area of translating the
Hebrew OT from Hebrew into the English language(which part 7
contains), I think it would be good to give you some excerpts
from an article written that was part of a publication by the
Worldwide Church of God back in 1980. The publication was called
"The Authority of the Bible" and the article within it that I
will quote from was called "Has the Bible Been Preserved
Accurately?" and its author was Neil Earle.
All large capital letter emphasis is mine - Keith Hunt.
Could a collection of writings scattered over 1,500 years of
composition, spanning 60 generations and authored by 40-plus
writers in THREE languages survive such a journey?
Jesus Christ said YES. The skeptics DISAGREE........
Critical doubts and scholarly questions do not constitute
refutation......The document gets the benefit of any doubt. The
burden of proof lies with the skeptic!
A nation of priests
The evidence for the integrity and authenticity of the
documents underlying the biblical text makes a fascinating story.
It begins with the Eternal God's selection of an entire
nation as a "kingdom of priests" (Ex.19:6). The CARE and
PRESERVATION of Israel's lively oracles was ultimately to become
a solemn duty of PROFESSIONALS called scribes.
How easy was it to palm off forgeries on the SPECIALLY
CHOSEN teachers of the tribe of LEVI (Deut.33:10)? How did later
educated Jews feel about the authenticity of the documents they
VENERATED as the "holy scriptures" (2 Tim.3:15)?
Let JOSEPHUS, a Jewish historian of the first century,
' From Artaxerxes (Malachi's time) until our time everything
has been recorded but has not been deemed worthy of like credit
with what has preceded, because the exact succession of prophets
ceased. But what faith we have placed in our own writings is
evident by our conduct; FOR though so long a time has now passed,
NO ONE HAS DARED TO ADD ANYTHING TO THEM, OR ALTER ANYTHING IN
THEM' (Contra Apion, Whiston's Josephus, p.609).
Often overlooked is that the law, prophets, and writings,
which were accepted by Jesus (Luke 24:44), formed the BASIS FOR
THE LEGAL PRACTICES of the Jewish nation. These religious
writings had NATIONAL IMPACT equal to Britain's Magna Carta...or
America's Plymouth Rock Covenant and Declaration of
Independence....Animosity was, paradoxically, a powerful force in
PRESERVING the unimpeachability of Scripture. The appeal to the
text was the common arbiter in theological debate (Matt.19:7).
The Scriptures were known at the grass-roots level as well (Luke
4:16-20). UNOFFICIAL DELETIONS, INSERTIONS OR CORRUPTIONS would
have triggered an OUTCRY among the faithful in a nation ZEALOUS
FOR THE LAW (Acts 22:3).
TAMPER with the OFFICIAL Hebrew text? One may as well
consider EDITING the Declaration of Independence, DELETING a
sentence in a NEW copy of the Gettysburg Address......VITAL
literary production of NATIONAL SIGNIFICANCE are too WELL KNOWN
to be PRIVATELY tampered with among the faithful. There were, of
course, enemies who tried to do so - and still do!
Today thousands of people have committed the TEN
COMMANDMENTS TO MEMORY. Imagine the PROTEST if a NEW Bible
translation INSERTED AN EXTRA commandment!.......
The Thread of Conveyance
Scripture itself speaks of a systematic, ORGANIZED
PRESERVATION of the law, prophets and writings.
Moses entrusted the law to the Levites guarding the ark,
center-piece of Israel's religion (Deut.31:24-26). Joshua 1:8
comments upon "this book of the law" that Moses' successor read
to the entire nation (Josh.8:32-35).
Literate, proficient scholars functioned even through the
chaotic Judges period (Judg.5:14, 1 Sam.1:3,9). Under Samuel
and David and Solomon, during Israel's Golden Age, inspired
writers laid the basis for the historical narratives in Samuel,
Kings and Chronicles. David revered the sacred writings
(Ps.119:97), and he and Solomon contributed and collected many
psalms and proverbs.
These writings formed the basis for successive national
revivals and reforms (2 Chron.17:7-9; 2 Kings 22:8). Later on
Isaiah and Hezekiah updated the text (Prov.25:1; Isa.8:16). In
this way "holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy
Spirit" (2 Pet.1:21). The writings of the prophets were accepted
- often after the death of the prophets - because of God's
evident approval and inspiration, shown through dramatic
Even during the babylonian captivity Daniel had access to
the Scriptures (Dan.9:2), and the return to Jerusalem was greatly
influenced by Ezra, a "ready scribe" and guardian of the text
(Ezra 7:6,10). According to Jewish tradition, Ezra officially
updated and clarified the text in certain places(e.g.,Deut.34:5).
Shortly after his time the book of Malachi, the last OT prophet,
How responsible was the transmission of the text? We can get
a good insight by surveying TWO PERIODS OF TRANSCRIPTION: from
the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 to about A.D. 500, and from A.D.
500 to A.D. 916.
In the first five centuries a group known as the TALMUDISTS
guarded and copied the text. A supreme effort to safeguard the
OT accompanied the scattering of the Jewish people after A.D. 70.
"A great rabbi - Yochanan ben Zakkia by name (reconstituted)
the SANHEDRIN AT JANNIA, between Joppa and Azotus. They
considered whether canonical recognition should be accorded to
Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs and Esther......the
upshot was the firm acknowledgement of all these books as Holy
Scripture" (F.F. Bruce, The Books and the Parchments, p.97).....
TRANSCRIPTION WAS LETTER BY LETTER, WORD BY WORD, OR PHRASE
BY PHRASE! DILIGENCE, VENERATION, PROFESSIONALISM. THE HALL
MARKS OF THE TALMUDIST TRADITION!
The MASORETES (Hebrew Masorah, meaning "to deliver something
in to the hands of another") safeguarded the text from about A.D.
500 to A.D. 916. These dedicated scholars based in Tiberias
produced the Masoretic texts used today; they are the basis for
our English OT of 1611. "The Masorah is called 'a fence to the
scriptures' because it locked all words and letters in their
places. It records the number of times the several letters occur
in the Bible; the number of words and the middle word; the number
of verses and the middle verse, etc., for the set purpose of
preventing the loss or misplacement of a single letter or word"
(Bullinger, Companion Bible, Appendix 30).
Designating the middle letter of the Pentateuch and the
middle letter and verse of each book as well as the entire OT was
not enough for these technicians. Phrases were counted,
enumerated, distinguished. "House of Israel" was computed
separately from "sons of Israel" and the number of times each
occurred was well noted. The expression "sins of Jeroboam" is
noted separately from "the sins of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat."
thus the Jewish zeal for God was turned to good use (Romans
So confident were the Talmudists and Masoretes that the
older documents were discarded. In the words of Sir Frederick
Kenyon, late curator of the British Museum, "Age gave no
advantage to a manuscript." Understanding the PRECISION and
SKILL of the Jewish scribes explains why. Who has ever counted
the letters of Shakespear, the words of Herodotus, the phrases of
(Note: An interesting paragraph from the Companion Bible,
Appendix 30, that was not quoted by Earle is this:
" The Text itself had been fixed before the Massorites were
put in charge of it. This had been the work of the Sopherim [from
saphar, to count, or number]. Their work, under Ezra and
Nehemiah, was to set the Text in order after the return from
Babylon; and we read of it in Neh.8:8 [cp Ezra 7:6,11]. The men
of 'the Great Synagogue' completed the work. This work lasted
about 110 years, from Nehemiah to Simon the first, 410-300 B.C."
- Keith Hunt).
The Dead Sea Scrolls
............Then came 1947. One of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls
found was the COMPLETE Isaiah manuscript. Its date?
Approximately 125 B.C. This is a thousand years earlier than the
Masoretic tests. HOW DID IT COMPARE? Norman L. Geisler and
William E. Nix report:
"In one chapter of 166 words (Isa, 53) there is only ONE
WORD (three letters) in question after a thousand years of
transmission - and this word does not significantly change the
meaning of the passage" (General Introduction to the Bible,
Minor stylistic and spelling variations PALE before the FACT
that the Isaiah scroll "proved to be WORD FOR WORD IDENTICAL with
our STANDARD HEBREW BIBLE in more than 95 percent of the text"
(Archer, A Survey of the OT, p.19).
In the words of Mr. Geisler and Mr. Nix, "the King James
Bible is 98.33 percent pure" when compared with the Dead Sea
Yet, as the accuracy of the Talmudists and Masoretes SHOULD
DEMONSTRATE, the Dead Sea Scrolls NEED TO BE EVALUATED BY THE
OFFICIAL MASORETIC TEXT, NOT VICE VERSA.................
End of quotes from Neil Earle's article.
In our next study in this series we will look at the difficulties
of translating the OT Hebrew into English.
Written December 1997