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The languages of the Bible as we know are Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek of thousands of years in the past. Their culture is far removed from ours and is varied because the 66 books of the Bible were written throughout the 1,600-year period, as well as being written to different audiences, in different times, situations, and under different covenants.
The Hebrew Scriptures encompass several hundred words that have not been found in any other writings and are, as a result, difficult to translate. One such word is pim, occurring only once in the Bible. During the time of the reign of King Saul, the Israelites had to go to the Philistines smiths to get their tools sharpened
|1 Samuel 13:21 (UASV)
21 The charge was a pim for the plowshares, the mattocks, the forks, and the axes, and to fix the goads.
|1 Samuel 13:21 (KJV)
21 Yet they had a file for the mattocks, and for the coulters, and for the forks, and for the axes, and to sharpen the goads.
Did the pim have anything to do with a file? No, and there was no way of knowing that until the beginning of the 20th century. In 1907, the first pim weight stone was excavated at the ancient city of Gezer. The King James Version translators simply tried to go with the context. Seeing that the tools were being sharpened, this seemed only natural.
Modern scholars are now aware that a pim was a weight that measured 7.82 grams, approximately two-thirds of a shekel (a quarter of an ounce of silver), the basic Hebrew unit of weight. This pim was what the Israelites were charging the Philistines to sharpen their tools. This archaeological discovery accomplished far more than clarify the meaning of the Hebrew word. It testifies to the historicity of the Hebrew text. The shekel weight system was displaced at the end of the seventh-century B.C.E. when Jerusalem was destroyed and taken captive to Babylon for seventy years.
William G. Dever, professor of Near Eastern archaeology and anthropology, exposes such liberal scholars as Philip R. Davies, Thomas L. Thompson, Neil Peters Lemche, Keith W. Whitelam and others, who argue that the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures, including the book of First Samuel, date to the Hellenistic-Roman era, even as late as from the second to the first century B.C.E. It is claimed, therefore, that “they are … ‘unhistorical,’ of little or no value for reconstructing a ‘biblical’ or an ‘ancient Israel,’ both of which are simply modern Jewish and Christian literary constructs.” (Dever 2001, 26)
Referring to the pim measure mentioned at 1 Samuel 13:21, however, Dever says, “[It] cannot possibly have been ‘invented’ by writers living in the Hellenistic-Roman period several centuries after these weights had disappeared and had been forgotten. In fact, this bit of biblical text … would not be understood until the early 20th century A.D., when the first actual archaeological examples turned up, reading pim in Hebrew.” The professor continues: “If the biblical stories are all ‘literary inventions’ of the Hellenistic-Roman era, how did this particular story come to be in the Hebrew Bible? One may object, of course, that the pim incident is ‘only a detail.’ To be sure; but as is well known, ‘history is in the details.’”
The New Testament Greek text was at first written in ongoing, unbroken lines of letters. For example, you might have GODISNOWHERE. Is that GOD IS NOWHERE or GOD IS NOW HERE. It was not until the ninth century C.E. that any method of separating sentences by punctuation marks was developed. The main features of our modern system of punctuation began in the fifteenth century C.E. because of the introduction of printing. The original writers did not do subdivision of the Bible into chapters and verses either (the Greek New Testament has 260 chapters, 7,956 verses). This came centuries later. The Masoretes, Jewish scholars, divided the Hebrew Old Testament into verses. Then in the thirteenth century C.E., chapter divisions were added.
Therefore, translators must determine where a sentence begins, and when to add commas, semicolons, periods, quotation marks, question marks, and so on. As we can only imagine, there will be differences of opinion on where the marks go, or if there were marks there at all. It must be stated that it is not that the earliest Greek manuscripts did not have any punctuation at all; it was simply that they had very few. If the translator were fortunate enough to have textual evidence of punctuation, of course, it would be considered. However, it must be realized that any scribe, which places punctuation in his text could have been doing so based on his exemplar or based on his doctrinal position. The teachings of the rest of the Bible must be the basis for the determination, and not punctuation inserted in the text centuries afterward. Our first example is found in Matthew 6:10.
|Matthew 6:10 (KJV)
10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
|Matthew 6:10 (ESV)
10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
The Bible translation principle that is generally followed is to place the punctuation in the text where it gives the best sense. If we look at the above Matthew 6:10, we will see that the King James Translators chose to place the comma after earth, while modern translators like the English Standard Version places the second comma after done. The latter is preferred because it allows the phrase “on earth as it is in heaven” to be applied to all three of the preceding petitions:
- hallowed be your name, on earth as it is in heaven,
- Your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven,
- your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven“.
|Luke 23:43 (ESV)
43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
|Luke 23:43 (UASV)
43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise.”
At Luke 23:43, we find a punctuation choice that has some very serious theological importance. Is the text telling us that Jesus said the evildoer would be in Paradise that day, or is it saying that Jesus was telling the evildoer on that particular day that he would be in Paradise? There is a very significant difference between the two. The question that immediately comes to mind is ‘did Jesus, and the evildoer go to Paradise the day they died?’ We know that Jesus was not to be resurrected until the third day, and it was not to Paradise, but back here on earth. He would spend another almost six weeks making a number of appearances to his followers around the land of Palestine. On one of those occasions, Jesus told Mary: “I have not yet ascended to the Father.” (John 20:17) It seems that the German translation by Professor Wilhelm Michaelis was looking to the context, Jesus’ words read: “Truly, I give you this assurance even today: You will (someday) be together with me in Paradise.” However, it is up to each Bible reader to take note of the translation difficulties, and research them. Therefore, whichever choice is made “I say to you today, you will” or, “I say to you, today you will,” the other alternative needs to be in a footnote, with a textual comment that helps the reader know there is a legitimate issue.
Many grammatical issues could affect the area of grammar. One problem that we have already discussed in chapter four is the choice of being consistent with translation or transliteration. For example, how do the modern translations perform in reflecting the original language words of Gehenna and Hades? Do they use more than one English word to translate Hades? Do they translate both Gehenna and Hades as “hell”?
In the Book of Genesis, for example, when should ‘adam he translated “man,” and when should it be transliterated as a proper name (Adam)? In this matter, ancient and modern translators have varied widely in their judgment. The first use of “Adam” in Targum Pseudo-Jonathan is at Genesis 2:7; in the Greek Septuagint, at 2:16; in the Latin Vulgate, at 2:19; in the NIV, at 2:2 1; in the NEB, at 3:21; and in the NRSV, at 5:1. The Greek word Christos may be transliterated “Christ” or translated “anointed [one]” (i.e., “Messiah”). The Greek verb baptizo may be transliterated “baptize” or translated “immerse.” The Greek adjective presbyteros may be transliterated “presbyter” or translated “elder.”
Another problem that the modern translation has to deal with is gender issues. The Bible often mentions yatom (Ex 22:22; Deut. 10:18; 14:29; 24:17; 27:19), which is literally “fatherless boy.” However, even the literal translations (KJV, ASV, NASB, and ESV) abandon their translation philosophy and render these verses as “fatherless child.” Why? Because they fear that this would send a message to readers, that God has less concern for ‘fatherless girls.’ The entire chapter 12 covers what is known as the gender-neutral Bible controversy. However, we will briefly introduce it here.
Many modern literal translations have chosen to sidestep their literal philosophy and render yatom as “fatherless child” or “orphan” in many of these verses, therefore covering boys and girls. However, we find great irony in the English Standard Version (which this author promotes), because they tout that they’re a literal translation to no end. In fact, several of those who served on the ESV translation team have penned several books defending the literal philosophy over against the interpretive translators. Books, such as Translating Truth: The Case for Essential Literal Bible Translations (2005), The Word of God in English: Criteria for Excellence in Bible Translation (2002), Understanding English Bible Translation: The Case for an Essentially Literal Approach (2009), and The Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy (2004). Sadly, the ESV is not completely consistent with its philosophy. The publisher even refers to it as an essentially literal translation. This means the reader is getting essentially the Word of God.
They choose to follow the Hebrew and Greek at times when we are dealing with a masculine gender. This writer feels that they would do far better to be faithful and more accurate by rendering yatom as “fatherless boy(s).”
|Psalm 68:5 (ESV)
5 Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.
|Psalm 68:11 (ESV)
11 The Lord gives the word; the women who announce the news are a great host:
|Psalm 68:5 (UASV)
5 A father of fatherless boys and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation.
|Psalm 68:11 (UASV)
11 The Lord gives the word; the women that publish the news are a great host.
As we can see, the ESV is inconsistent at Psalm 68:5, because they likely do not want female readers to feel that God is not a protector of fatherless girls. However, how do they deal with the fact that he is the protector of widows, a female, whose husband has died? Does God not protect the widower, a male, whose wife has died? Does god not have just as much concern for men? Just a few verses later in verse 11, the ESV is back on track with their translation philosophy. Based on the same sensitivity to the underlying Hebrew, the feminine gender of a verb in Psalm 68:11 is rendered literally: “the women who announce the news are a great host.” What are there no men announcing the news?
God chose to inspire his writers to pen “fatherless boys” with yatom, but this does not mean that he lacks concern for the girls, who may be missing a father or mother. The Old Testament is quite clear that God has concern for females as well, and for widows. (Psalm 146:9; Isaiah 1:17; Jeremiah 22:3; Zechariah 7:9, 10; Malachi 3:5) This is exemplified in the fact that, in the Law, God also built-in a justification, concerning the decision, which assured an inheritance for the fatherless daughters of Zelophehad. That decision became a decree for handling similar situations, thus upholding the rights of fatherless girls. Numbers 27:1-8
Jesus did not discriminate against the female gender either. In the ESV, we read, “13 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.” (Mark 10:13-16) The ESV has no issues here because the Greek word paidia “children” is in the neuter gender. The top lexicon says of paidia “very young child, infant, used of boys and girls.”
When we look at the controversy of gender-inclusive language and the use of plurals, the above principles come into play, as does the historical-grammatical approach, which means that God personally chose the time, the place, the language, and the culture into which his Word was to be inspirationally penned. Who are we to disrespect that because we wish to appease the modern man or woman, who may be offended? Their offense is nothing more than self-centeredness, refusing to wrap their mind around the idea that the Creator of all things chose the setting, the language, and time in which his Word was to be introduced to man. It should, therefore, be understood that counsel in the Hebrew Old Testament about caring for “fatherless boys” does not diminish how we should be concerned about all children who lack a parent or parents.
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 two-thirds of a shekel
 This rendering fits the context because Jesus was not going to be resurrected that day but rather three days later. There were almost no punctuations in early manuscripts. See also Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible
 Bruce Metzger. Bible in Translation, The: Ancient and English Versions (p. 189).
 The Jewish Tanakh reads: “The LORD gives a command; the women who bring the news are a great host.”
 William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 749.