The meaning of a single phrase in the Bible is sometimes the subject of intense debate and rarely does the debate result in opinions being changed. It could be argued that such debates are unhelpful to understanding God's Holy Word. The following is a necessarily brief suggestion as to how we should approach our reading of the Bible so that we might serve our God with a full and adequate knowledge.
1. Everything in the Bible is God's Word and is intended to bring us to righteousness
- 2 Timothy 3:16. (When this was written the Bible comprised the Old Testament only).
2. The New Testament has more than 250 specific quotations from the Old Testament and more 1,000 indirect or partial quotations.
3. The New Testament was written entirely after the Crucifixion and before the end of the first century AD. It might be reasonable to conclude that it together with the Old Testament is intended to guide Christians until the now imminent return of Christ.
From these simple observations we have a duty of studying the whole Bible and in particular we need to understand God's plan for the world until the time described in
1 Corinthians 15:24 beyond which we have no guidance.
The scriptures were written and reproduced at times when errors in translation could occur for a variety of reasons.
1. The Bible was reproduced by hand until the invention of the printing press in 1440. This was a costly process.
2. Depending on wear and tear manuscripts might have to be replaced at quite short intervals.
3. Transcription was tightly controlled in Old Testament times by the Hebrew priesthood so the error count in the Old Testament is very low and of little consequence to the intended meaning. This accuracy was also assisted by students being required to memorise the text.
4. The New Testament books were originally reproduced for the needs of individual churches and persons and were generally subject to less rigorous control.
5. The beliefs contained in the New Testament books were subject to attack by the many Jews who did not believe the Gospel and others within the early church itself who, for example, did not believe in the resurrection.
6. One example of text modification is found in Mark 16:9-20 where these verses were not in the original but were most probably added by another person at an unknown date. The consequences of this substantial addition might be considered scripturally unimportant however it demonstrates that the writings of a disciple have been subject to review and change.
7. Translation error is a field that has consumed countless hours of academic endeavour so we will confine ourselves to the simplest of observations and examples.
a. The language of convenience in the Eastern Roman Empire was Koine Greek which was a second language for most people whether a Roman soldiers or a Hebrew scholar. We have the similarity with the common use of English as a convenient language in Europe.
So you have the New Testament probably not being written in the author’s first language. This would have required Jesus’s teaching to be translated from Aramaic which he is believed to have mostly spoken.
b. Israel in the first century was a place of turmoil with people of many nations living together - far different from most of the Old Testament era. Languages are live and change in daily usage and the extreme circumstances of first century Israel would have encouraged rapid change.
c. In our own times we can see how language is rapidly corrupted. Young people in Australia often use “he went…” instead of “he said…” So a sentence like “he went to hell with you” can be understood in two totally different ways.
d. The Bible that is substantially the basis for modern translations is the 1611 King James Version. Before this time there were beliefs held by the Roman Catholic Church reflected in the Church Bible that were disputed by Protestants. The translation in many cases adopted the Protestant viewpoint. However it was very difficult to totally avoid the influence of Catholic beliefs given that a judgement has to be taken as to the meaning of a phrase before refining a translation further. Some words can have alternative meanings depending on the context of the phrase. e.g. The Greek word “dia” can mean “for” or “through”.
The above does not present any difficulty if you seek to understand the purpose of God's plan for the world. This plan is clearly stated in the Old Testament.
The Jews understood this plan and were waiting for the Messiah to come. Their terrible error was not recognising him and also not understanding the meanings of the prophecies as referred to by Christ in Luke 24:44-46.
We should give full weight to the Old Testament promises to Abraham which are the foundation of the Gospel message. Any New Testament text that apparently diminishes or contradicts an Old Testament value then deserves a detailed analysis.
The land of Israel was promised to Abraham and to his seed, Jesus Christ.
The New Testament is intended to guide the management of our churches and to maintain our faith until the return of Christ. It filled a vital need when the Apostles died and could no longer bestow the Holy Spirit gifts. It also instructs us individually on how to live in this world and that we must spread the Gospel message to all.