Texts Today and Yesterday

{Written as a lecture for an old course: "Biblical Backgrounds" and largely unchanged}

- Old testament was written in a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic. New Testament was written in Koine Greek ie the patois greek of the day

- Some greek shows signs of having a heritage in Hebrew or Aramaic. Others shows signs of the text itself, Revelations greek is outlandish in the extreme

- The septuaguinta was a translation of the hebrew as well as the addition of some extra books called the apocrypha

- The quotes of the old testament in the new may be either from hebrew versions or the septuaguinta.

- The original Hebrew version contained no vowels. The language was spoken so the vowels could easily be inferred.

- The Masoretes received the text as successors of the scribes in around 500AD.

- they worked to preserve the text and ensure the accurate handing on of the true meaning.

- they developed a system of vowels for the text called pointing. This consisted of dots and lines placed around the text indicating vowels

- They were in a long line of people concerned with preserving the text.

- As soon as the text got to canon status then it became important to preserve it. cf Mt 5:18

- The Masoretes were important because until the dead sea scrolls were found, most of our texts dated from their work.

- They placed variant readings/interpretations on the margin.

- some words though they completely lost the real vowels eg YHWH

- Yahweh is based on YHWH, Adonai and Elohim

- other vowels they just got wrong.

- no actual changes were ever made to the text they received - too holy??? or just received so passed on in the same way???

- They retained the marginal references by earlier scribes and went to extraordinary lengths to ensure against copy mistakes.

- counted the letters in a page and recorded the middle one for eg

- Despite such care some corruptions have entered the text.

- typo mistakes - repeated words or letters, omitted letters

- marginal references that have entered the text

- lines missed out

- or just plain rewriting of the text

- The new testament has a similar history

- by the mid third century it had been translated into Latin, Syriac and Coptic

- Jerome undertook a revision of the latin bible in 382AD which became the vulgate

- most of the medieval translations were based on the vulgate

- copies of the bible were all written and copied by hand which made them rare in the extreme

- there grew up the idea that only the church should have access to the scriptures

- Because of the wealth of monastic copying there is a great body of copies of the latin vulgate.

- about the middle of the tenth century an Irish priest called Aldred wrote between the lines of Latin text a literal English translation

- This became common - latin/old english interlinears

- It is not until the renaissance and the invention of the printing press that things change

- Wycliffe was a noted bible translater in the 14th century and the first printed edition of the bible was in 1525

- at around the same time was the beginning of the reformation and the interest in providing the scriptures to the common people

- Wycliffe was a noted bible translater and bible printer

- One of the first things that the reformers all seemed to do was to begin lecturing on the bible

- Zwingli found that although his lectures on the bible were packed there didn't seem the same enthusiasm for the lectures on Greek and Hebrew.

- Cromwell, during the English reformation actually placed copies of the bible in English in churches so that the common person could come and read them

- St Andrews cathedral, Sydney has a copy of the great bible put in these churches. Worth a look next time you are in Sydney

- King James of the King James version was of course the successor to Elizabeth I

- Remember her and Drake?

- Elizabeth brought peace to the English Reformation often called the Elizabethan Settlement

- James her successor commissioned the translation from the original that became the KJV

- This quickly became the standard English text.

- Other translations were made around the turn of the century - Revised, Darby and Youngs to name a few.

- The Darby version was described by FF Bruce a noted church historian and biblical scholar as the most accurate he has seen

- a criticism of the KJV is the quality of the manuscripts that were used.

- there was a tendency to include rather than exclude variant readings

- Since the beginning of this century there have been a plethora of translations

- RSV, Phillips, Good News for Modern Man, Good News Bible, Revised, NRSV, NKJV, NASB, ASB, JB, NJB, Amplified, Living, NIV etc

- each have different purposes.

- the living bible was written by conservative Americans for family reading - the emphasis is on user friendliness rather than accuracy.

- It is called a paraphrase for that reason - it retells the story in modern words - Saul went into the cave to go to the bathroom... type stuff when we all know that the hebrew says Saul went into the cave to cover his feet

- Amplified version lists all the possibilities of translation

- NIV, NASB both attempt to give a close to literal translation while still being readable

- Revised version is a close to word by word translation

- Good News bible has a reading age of about 8 to 10 years in other words identical to a tabloid newspaper. It has a tendency to add words to be explanatory

- New Jerusalem is a catholic translation and is interesting in that it translates the names of God in the old testament literally.

- There are even cult versions - The new world translation is the Jehovah Witnesses version. Interesting in its selective translation of the word Kurios

- It is important that you choose the correct translation for the job.

- You don't do exegesis from either the living bible or the Good News Bible

- you don't use the revised version with ordinary people

- you don't use the harder translations with young people - 13 to 18 because some of them will not have a high reading age

- some adults will also have trouble - you use the right tool for the job


This essay was developed as a lecture and so the references are not as good as they should be. As far as I am aware the material of the course was based on the following books:

"The New Bible Dictionary" (InterVarsity Press 1962)

"The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible" (Abingdon Press 1962)

"The Lion Handbook of the Bible" (Lion Publishing 1973)

"The Story of Jericho" 2nd Ed. by J. Garstang and J.B.E. Garstang (Marshall Morgan and Scott 1948)

"How to Read the New Testament" by Etienne Charpentier (SCM Press 1981)

"A Way into the Old Testament" by C.R. Biggs and A.L.G Catlin (Uniting Church Press 1983)

"The New Testament Environment" by Eduard Lohse (SCM Press 1976)

"How to Read the Old Testament" by Etienne Charpentier (SCM Press 1981)

"The Background of the Gospels" by W. Fairweather (T & T Clark 1911)