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Dude’s book, seems kinda cool.

This is more for those who are Theological Geeks or adhere to the quest for “original autographs” of the texts to base their “Inerrancy Theology” of the original languages on. (If you didn’t follow that sentence, then this may bore the crap out of you)

Bible translation is always both an exercise in turning words from one language to another, as well as making theological choices. Any English Bible you read has been influenced by the translators understanding of the original language, as well as their theological framework (if you deny this, then you don’t understand how translation works, or handle snakes and insist that Jesus translated the 1611 KJV as the only Authorized one).

It is better to learn the original Koine Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew languages to understand them, right? I will give you that with Greek, but Hebrew/Aramaic  may be another story altogether. When I was in Seminary, my Hebrew class was based on the Masoretic text which are used for pretty much all Protestant “Old Testament” translations.

Stick with me, it’s that complicated.

I was taught in Seminary that the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures) was inferior, and the Masoretic texts were the “Original Texts” for the sake of “Inerrancy” and “Divine Inspiration” reasons. Here is the rub though, the oldest pieces of Masoretic texts we have, date from the 9th Century AD and the oldest complete edition is from the 10th century AD. Yes, that is correct. The “Old” Testament many hold as “perfect” is based on “original” texts written 900-1000 years AFTER the “New” Testament, and several thousand years after their purported original authorship.

Enlightening isn’t it.

Then we have the Septuagint. It was translated in the 2nd century BC and the earliest complete copy we have dates from the 4th Century AD and we have bits of it as early as the 2nd Century BC. That is a full 500-600 years earlier than the “authoritative” Hebrew texts. That bit of historical oddity was explained by the fact that much of the Septuagint lines up with the Masoretic texts. Where it doesn’t, the Masoretic was taken as the original source even though it was newer than the Greek translation. It trumped the Septuagint if there was a difference.

Funny thing happened on the way to 1948 though. A shepherd boy found some clay jars in the West Bank that contained documents that would become known as The Dead Sea Scrolls.

In the pots were writings collected from 408 BC to 318 AD. Among them are parts of almost every book in the Hebrew scriptures…in HEBREW. This means that we have manuscripts that are about 700 years older than the oldest Masoretic text fragments.

When we compare them to the Masoretic texts and the Septuagint, some interesting things pop up. Much of them are inline with both, but there are some textual variants. For some of them, guess which version they line up with?

That’s right, the Septuagint not the Masoretic texts.

If you keep in mind that it wasn’t until around 100 AD that the OLD Testament was Canonized, this shouldn’t be surprising. Unless, of course, you adhere to semi-mystical magical doctrine of Biblical Inspiration/Inerrancy. Then it challenges your assumptions, and basis for the original text.

So who cares right? From this fascinating article (emphasis theirs):

That means the Septuagint sometimes reveals an older version of the Old Testament than those that exist in the Hebrew Bibles we use in seminaries and universities. The Septuagint gives us glimpses into earlier stages in the Bible’s development, before the completion of the Hebrew Bible that is now the basis of modern translations. This is especially problematic for those who put their entire faith in the pursuit of the “original text.”

Most Protestant Systematic Theology (PST) is a fragile house of cards, and Inspiration/Inerrancy theory is the base of the teetering structure. If you remove that single card, then the whole thing comes tumbling down and you have to play 52 card pickup with your basic spiritual beliefs.

In fact, this lone card comes from a single compound word found in only one place in the Greek text (2 Tim 3:16). It is a combination of Theos (God,or generally a god) and Pneo. Theos is all over the Greek texts, but Pneo isn’t as popular. If you look it up, the sources claim that it means “I blow, breathe, as the wind”. Sounds good right? God plus breathe = God Breathed, i.e. Inspired (which is actually circular since the English is based on the Latin word which was coined based on this passage).

Minor issue though is that Pneo appears 7 times in the New Testament, and NONE of them refer to breathing in any way. It is all about the wind. So why add the whole “breath” part of it to the translation?

Theological preconceived notions to support your house of cards of course.

If Scripture is “God Breathed” then if fits better into PST then if is “God Blew Like the Wind”.

What does that even mean? And, what is he referencing too when he says “the scriptures” are…this word?

The second part is easy. Paul is referring to what he knew as scripture at the time. That would be the Septuagint version of the “Old Testament” . Paul even says that Timothy had known them from infancy. Unless there is some weird Timey Wimey thing going on here, it would have HAD to been the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Paul even alludes to a story about two dudes who opposed Moses that is not found in any version of Exodus a few passages before. In order to expand that to all of the Bible, you have to apply a system of theology, which I hold to be a horribly crappy way of looking at it all.

What does the actual word mean? Hard to tell since we do not have any other places Paul uses it for context, or any other author for that matter. That is really up to you to decide what it means, within reason. I am confident that it does NOT mean that God stuck the words of the Old and New Testaments into the minds of writers creating some perfect document for all time, then allowed the original divinely inspired writings to be lost to history. That does not fit the context of the passage, a faithful translation of the word, or  reality in general.

Unless you are Mormon, then that fits right along with the way God does things.

The Bible, contrary to Reformed/Conservative PST, is not a coherent, divinely dictated, manuscript of God’s mind. It’s a collection of writings gathered over time into a convenient pocket sized edition. Objectively speaking, it tells the story of God interacting with the early Israelite people and the formation of the first century community centered around the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth who claimed to be the Messiah. It has many forms and includes or excludes several books depending on your faith tradition. Three major world religions, and few offshoots, hold all or parts as their central teachings.

What that means to you and your life, is the big question.

For me, the four versions of the life and teachings of Jesus are the most important ones by far. Any and everything in the Epistles are subject to interpretation BY the teachings/life/actions of Jesus. The rest of the Greek writings are commentary on, or application of, these teachings in 1st century Palestine and Asia Minor. If there is any contradiction, then the “Gospel” overrides the Epistles every time.  Most of them are internal memos on how new religious communities can best deal with their issues in light of the unique cultural climate they existed in.

The Hebrew scriptures are history, and tell the story of the early Israelite people. For those who are interested in the Greek scriptures, the Septuagint should hold more meaning and importance than the Masoretic texts. It was the “Bible” that the writers heard, quoted, and knew. The Masoretic texts are historically significant of course, but much later history and show the evolution of Hebrew scribal tradition.

The whole thing though, is spiritual by nature and meant to be taken as such. There is nothing to dictate what 21st Century American Society should look like beyond general principles of love, respect, and caring for others. These are not exclusive to the Bible though, and are really basic human values shared by most of us.

I firmly believe that the Bible, as we know it, is a living document where the specific application of it’s general spiritual principles changes over time and culture. I completely reject the idea that the collection of texts has a consistent, coherent, and divinely inspired message. Every bit of the text has value of course, but all are equal in that value.

Each writing must be considered unto itself first within the original historical/cultural context. The audience and original author’s intent is of vital importance as well. Once that is considered, then we can move to other writings by the same author, then to contemporaries. It is dangerous to move beyond that though, and it’s a gateway into Systematic Theological thinking. History tells us that is dangerous and destructive place to end up.

Remember kids, only YOU can prevent Systematic Theology. Just say no.

The questions one asks about the text are at times more important than the answers others give us.

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