In his opening paragraphs, Dr. King eloquently references the Gettysburg Address as well as the Emancipation Proclamation, the Constitution, and Declaration of Independence. These intellectual references give his words weight and credibility; they ground his speech in significant historical context. In the latter part of the speech, Dr.
Great presenters connect with their audiences by weaving in well-chosen references and touchstones that will resonate. But when you use evocative, vivid language, you create strong and memorable images. For example, Dr. King weaves in an evocative extended metaphor, like a golden thematic thread, about cashing a check:. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.
Vivid imagery, evocative language, and on-point metaphors are mighty tools for making your message clear and memorable. MLK makes use of many of these, to great effect. For example:. You might notice that Dr. King repeatedly contrasts what is against what could be. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.
Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. King, of course, is the master, articulating in lucid detail not only the action that must be taken and the dire consequences if action is not taken. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. Rieu was a classical scholar and editor of the Penguin Classics series, for which he made a translation of the gospels The Four Gospels , published in Hugh J.
Schonfield published his Authentic New Testament in , reissuing it, with few changes, in , under the title Original New Testament. Schonfield claims that his is the first New Testament translation into English made by a Jew. His version has extensive and informative footnotes for the reader. Phillips has produced one of the most popular and accessible modern English versions of the New Testament.
This began life as Letters to Young Churches These were all put together in to form the complete testament. These appeared in with the title Four Prophets. Kenneth S. Rieu was the son of E. He translated the Acts of the Apostles for the Penguin Classics library edited by his father. It reflects the Witnesses' Unitarian outlook. For example, John 1. William F. Beck , a Lutheran, translated the New Testament in He began to translate the Old Testament, but died while still working on it.
Other Lutherans completed the translation, and the complete Bible appeared in Beck's version renders the Bible into mid-American English. This should not be confused with the New American Bible , which appeared at the same time. This version was again revised in the s and s by a group of scholars sponsored by the Lockman Foundation from California.
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This new version is extremely literal, and does not always use the most authoritative text for the original manuscripts. The use of "standard" in the title was reasonable in , but the conservatism of the new version and its use of marginal readings make it not at all a "standard" Bible for modern times.
The Amplified Bible shows a variety of interpretations of a given word or phrase, while leaving the reader to choose among them. It began life as a translation into French, and was rendered into English in , by a committee headed by Alexander Jones, of Christ's College, in Liverpool. The French edition was revised in , and this work was used to produce a revised version in English, which appeared in William Barclay 's translation of the New Testament came out in two volumes and Though published later than J.
Phillips' version, it is more traditional in its language. Earlier they had translated the New Testament from the Latin Vulgate, but in , Roman Catholics were permitted by the encyclical Divino afflante spiritu to make vernacular translations from the original languages. Rather than have an inferior New Testament, they translated this again, using the Greek original. The complete new translation was published in as the New American Bible. In a revision of the New Testament appeared, intended to be more inclusive in its language.
This revision uses formal equivalence rather than dynamic equivalence word for word, rather than meaning for meaning , and has some archaic lexis, such as "behold". The society's aim was to use a "common" or demotic English, accessible to anyone able to read the language. This translation seeks to convey the essential meanings and ideas in the original, but not to make an English equivalent of every word or phrase. The New Testament translation was done by Robert Bratcher, with the help of various specialists. In the Apocryphal and Deuterocanonical books were added to this version.
It is not as elegant as the Revised Standard Version , but is very easy for anyone to read. It appeals to those readers who want to get at the "story" or the content of the text, rather than those who want to know what the original documents say in any exact sense. In Kenneth N. Taylor translated a simple paraphrase of the epistles in the New Testament, under the title Living Letters.
The book was well received, and Taylor gradually added other books until he had translated the complete Bible, which was published in Taylor's work has inspired a project, "Living Bible International", for producing similarly simple paraphrases in other languages. Steven Byington 's translation uses "Jehovah" as the proper name of God.
This version was produced for re-translation into other languages, by those who cannot work from the original Greek. The Translators' New Testament is based on this text. English is an international language, and the translators of the New International Version NIV come from many English-speaking countries. Their version has achieved a wide readership, because it is the Bible the Gideons International have chosen, to place in hotel rooms, schools and elsewhere.
This version began as a collaboration, which was greatly helped by the sponsorship of the New York Bible Society , starting in The New Testament was published in , and revised for the publication, in , of the complete Bible. The NIV is a wholly new translation from the original languages. The NIV does not reflect the views of any particular denomination or church.
Is it possible to modernize an old text selectively, updating what is archaic and conserving what is timeless? This is what the translators of the New King James Version have sought to do. This Bible was the work of some scholars, theologians and others. Critics of this Bible note that while the translators used the most recent text of the Old Testament, they used, for translating the New Testament, the Greek Textus Receptus Received Text , which is widely believed to contain many copyists' errors.
Whether this Bible preserves the best features of the King James Version , it certainly, therefore, conserves one of its few failings. Opinions differ about the quality of this translation. For F. The lexis of this Bible shows the translators' sense of purpose. Verb endings are changed from "-th" forms to end in "-s" , so "says" replaces "saith". The familiar or intimate form of the second personal pronoun "thou" and related words, "thee", "thy" and "thine" have been replaced by "you" "your" and "yours" , in all contexts.
But this modernizing does not happen consistently with theological terms. Richmond Lattimore produced his translation in He tried to provide a simple, literal rendering in which the syntax and order of the Greek dictate the character of the English style. Lattimore placed Mark's gospel first of the four, as most opinion places it first in time. The rest of the books are in the traditional order.
Lattimore uses Westcott's and Hort's Greek text. At the back Lattimore placed notes, which explain his translations or give alternate interpretations. This was a direct translation from Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. The translators used paraphrasing less than in the first version of the JB. They also sought to use more inclusive language, especially by avoiding masculine pronouns.
The New Jewish Version was translated in stages. Harry Orlinksy headed the committee that published the Torah in The final part of the Hebrew Bible the Old Testament to appear in this version was the Writings The whole Hebrew Bible in this version appeared in one volume in under the title of Tanakh. This is the first part of the revision of the New American Bible of It sets out to be more inclusive, though it retains the word "brothers" in contexts that do not require a gender-specific noun.
It uses formal equivalence in translation and is more literal than the version. Heinz W. Cassirer was a Jewish philosopher who had not read any part of the Bible before he was forty-nine years old. When he found these texts he was so impressed that he spent the next twenty-one years studying them. He strove to make a clear translation, showing the meaning of the New Testament. He started work on the letters of Paul in and in began to translate the New Testament in its entirety.
Cassirer believed that John's Gospel had been misrepresented in the past for anti-Semitic reasons, but that it was not essentially hostile to Judaism. In Cassirer Old Testament quotations are in bolder typeface. References are at the bottom of pages. It was Cassirer's wish that his translation be published only after his death.
For a sample of his style, here is John 1. Different languages The meaning of Words Cultural contexts Theological meaning The meaning of structures Idiom and euphemism Language change Formal and dynamic equivalence The philological approach The linguistic approach The communicative approach.
Translation is never a simple matter. The facility with which some modern linguists provide simultaneous translation for speakers may deceive us. Invented languages whether for programming computers or for speaking, like Esperanto or Klingon may be logical in a strict or mathematical sense but authentic languages living and dead are more elusive. This is a truism, since we could not distinguish them apart as distinct languages without some such differences. It is a common mistake to suppose that dictionaries define words.
This may be possible for wholly logical words, such as those that represent numbers, and arguably some words that express relationships. In the case of lexical or "content" words those which have meanings which do not derive from their relation to other words the best a dictionary can do is describe meanings in usage, by quoting examples. But this is unusual. It is almost impossible to find precise and unambiguous descriptions for most verbs, adverbs, adjectives and nouns.
And if these descriptions work today, then tomorrow they may not do so. The translator has the challenge, first of understanding the meaning of a word in an ancient language. Assuming that he or she can do this, then he needs to find a word in the language of the translation, which corresponds to this. Can we do this for the scriptures? Clearly the people who first composed the various books probably orally did so in a language that they understood. Perhaps this is also true of the scribes who first wrote the previously spoken books, but this is by no means clear.
Even modern writers will routinely refer to things that they may not really understand say, relativity or structuralism. Part of the book of Daniel is written in Aramaic, an ancient Semitic language, which also appears in isolated words and phrases of the New Testament. Bruce tells us that:. What is more, we have manuscripts in other languages, into which parts of the Bible were translated in ancient times. Where we can understand these languages, we can get a sense of what the writer intended to convey, and thus of how he almost certainly never she understood the Hebrew or Greek original.
Some of these readings only add to our confusion, but in many cases they support the readings of modern translators. From ancient times, Jewish scholars have tried to interpret their sacred writings. Although their comments may sometimes seem to amplify or embellish a plain original, again, they may give a sense of how people understood scripture close to the time when it was written down. This is not necessarily uncontroversial.
Jesus attacked the tradition that claimed to explain the written law, because, he saw, at one point at least that the tradition contradicted the plain sense of the law. The problem was that some people having made such an oath found themselves unable to revoke it, in order to use the offering to support needy parents as required by the commandment to "honour thy father and mother".
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By implication he sees the rabbinic tradition as a corruption or falling away from the perfection of the primitive written law. Snakes or serpents? Arks Rituals Ariels Messiah. Where a writer or speaker shares the culture of his or her audience, the possibility of mutual understanding is increased. A word or phrase can identify a thing which the reader or listener knows from experience. With ancient texts, we find the writer repeatedly referring to things which are unfamiliar to us, and which we can only understand at all with the help of notes or comments.
These give the translator a problem: perhaps there is no equivalent English term, so the best solution is perhaps to use a classical loanword or create an unidiomatic English phrase. Some translators, in search of a readable text, will use a more familiar English word or phrase, but run the risk that the reader will understand this more or less in its modern everyday sense.
Let us consider some examples. The villain of the story of Adam and Eve is a talking snake Genesis 3. In many versions, including the NRSV , the snake is called a "serpent". The noun is more or less reserved for this particular context. Its other use is as the first element in a compound noun that denotes a mythical monster, a sea-serpent, of which the creature supposed to live in Loch Ness is the most notorious example.
The translator who uses "serpent" keeps the narrative, for the educated reader, in the territory of ancient myth. But many readers will have no idea what a serpent is, other than the creature that talks to Eve. Until recently, people in the west may have shared the ancient dislike or fear of snakes. Now our attitude, informed by zoology, may be neutral or even approving. In other parts of the world, people may regard snakes with approval or hostility for cultural and practical reasons.
What is an ark? The word is found in various forms in many Germanic languages, as well as French OED suggests it may correspond to a Latin original , in the sense of a chest or container, usually constructed of wood. This made it a good choice for translators of the Bible, at a time when the noun was common in everyday speech. As a common noun, "ark" has more or less dropped out of use in English. But it survives as the name for Noah's vessel, and this is often depicted as a simplified version of the ark described in Genesis 6.
The Good News Bible translates the word as "boat". This is intelligible to the modern reader, but may be misleading, as it suggests a vessel with some means of propulsion, and which is designed to do more than simply float. The Ark of the Covenant was clearly a wooden box or container in which the Israelites placed the tablets on which the Law was written. The Ark acquired over time an aura of great holiness, such that, perhaps a more descriptive name, like "chest" or "box" would seem disrespectful.
The rituals of ancient Israel cause particular difficulty for the translator, as they describe practices that may have no modern equivalent. The modern Western reader may just understand the idea of sacrifice. That is, killing an animal as a way of satisfying or pleasing God or a god. The Old Testament records a more elaborate system, in which all sorts of offerings were made to God, including animals of many kinds, cereals, oil and wine.
Some were cooked in various ways, and partly eaten, while other parts were left for the Deity. In one kind of offering the sacrificial animal was killed, then completely burned on the altar, apart from the skin, which was given to the priest who performed the ritual. This is sometimes described as a "burnt offering" or a "whole burnt offering". But this noun cannot be used any longer in this sense. It has been taken over as a noun to denote the mass slaughter of people in war, especially the planned destruction of European Jews in the Nazi era. Sometimes the translator is faced with a term for which there is no clear equivalent.
In 2 Samuel Or anything else that a man could smite strike or attack, with an implication of killing , for that matter? Literally it means one who is anointed with oil. The Old Testament tells of anointing of people and objects, such as Jacob's pillar Genesis In later traditions we read of the anointing of priests Exodus But this does not convey the popular understanding of the term in the Post-Exilic and Roman eras.
Whatever term the translator chooses, it may need the support of a note to explain the idea of the Messiah as a great leader, who would unite the functions of priest and king, and deliver the Jews from foreign domination. In translating certain kinds of nouns or verbs , the translator's problem is identifying what thing or "referent" a word or phrase denotes, then selecting the nearest English equivalent.
This is fairly straightforward with nouns that refer to familiar objects of everyday experience. In fact, even simple analysis reveals that these are relative terms like "big" or "cold" , not absolutes. They may have no objective independent existence.
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The scriptures come from ancient societies in which people believed perhaps uncritically in the real or objective existence of things we might now qualify, and regard as abstract, or things of a kind that we cannot certainly know. These would include such things as spirits, angels, heaven and hell, grace, salvation and justification. The translation of the scriptures does not simply show a process of finding modern equivalents for ancient meanings. A developing tradition of interpretation has led to the coining of new words, in Greek, Latin and modern vernaculars, to express these concepts, which can be called "theological", in the sense that they are part of a systematic account of things hitherto or otherwise mysterious.
This has the result that anyone can object to many things in any modern version on the ground that they do not really correspond to the wording of the original. Moreover, what may be a close translation at the time when it was made, over time becomes less satisfactory. Terms like "aspire", "conspire" and "inspire" are derived from the same base, but have acquired metaphorical meanings. Each had some independent reality, but in man the two elements were joined in ways which fascinated the philosophers, and which they would try to explain. Paul took his message to a world in which educated people would be familiar with this distinction.
It has persisted, through the Middle Ages into modern times: educated westerners today may not literally believe it, though we understand it. But it is not a Biblical idea. Thus when we read "spirit" in scripture, we may, wrongly, project this idea backwards, and suppose, for example that it was normal in ancient Hebrew culture. In the Old Testament spirit means, rather, something like "life" or "that which is vital".
Douglas Hare Oxford Companion to the Bible , p. Modern readers may well derive their understanding of "angel" from depictions in Renaissance art and more popular forms of these on Christmas cards or even in cartoons harp-playing halo-wearers giving advice in moral dilemmas or sitting on clouds. The word, from Greek "aggelos" , means simply a messenger. So we find accounts of various orders of superhuman agents in the service of God.
The writers make it clear that they are subordinate to God, and do not share his divinity. But they have powers we do not normally find in men, such as winged flight or special knowledge of the present and future. A clear example of this tendency appears in the synoptic Gospels. Mark's is generally reckoned to be the earliest. Their alarm, and the young man's message, that Jesus has been "raised" should be enough to signal his role as a messenger. Luke writing shortly after Mark removes any ambiguity about the status of the messenger.
In fact Luke The men not only explain that Jesus "has risen" but remind the women that Jesus had foretold all this, which they now remember. Matthew writes at about the same time as Luke. He writes Matthew He recognizes that, for his contemporaries, "angel" on its own could signify a human messenger, so adds "of the Lord", to make it clear that this is a super human envoy.
In the Hebrew Bible "heaven" translates a plural word "samayim" , which identifies a region above the Earth. Beyond this is an area of water, and beyond the water, the place where God lives. The word also denotes the sky, and the highest region of all. These ideas are neither clear nor consistent. In Genesis , God is not remote, but walks in the Garden of Eden. Yet in later tradition he is so transcendent that heaven cannot hold him. In early times, God's blessings were for this life only, after which one passed at best into a shadowy existence in Sheol, the underworld.
Only later does a belief arise in heaven as a place where one's spirit or soul enjoys a new kind of life after the death of the body. But "Paradise" translates a Persian word for a park. There is a difference, however. In some Greek tradition, personal identity and qualities survive in Hades, but in Sheol these are lost in a ghostly twilight or half existence.
Edward F. Campbell Oxford Companion to the Bible ; p. It has overtones of favour, mercy and compassion, and denotes a quality which proceeds from God to man or that characterizes a relationship God initiates with man. Ultimately, it seems intelligible only as something demonstrated in particular events. Behind the idea of "justification" lies the related one of "righteousness" , which St. Paul tries to show to be impossible under the Law.
Christ's action has made it possible for men to be justified by faith. What does this mean? Vincent Taylor quoted in the Oxford Companion to the Bible ; p. This gives us problems. Even if we accept this unhappy effort, it leaves us relying on an understanding of other knotty terms, such as "gracious", "righteous", "faith" and "redemptive activity". But the gloss seems vague. It tells us that God has done something an action with a particular quality it is gracious.
This acceptance is the consequence of "faith" whose, we do not learn and this faith in turn rests upon God's "redemptive activity in Christ". Simplified, this seems to mean that God "in Christ" did one thing "redemptive activity" that led to another thing "faith" , that led to a third thing God's "accepting persons as righteous" , and that this third thing is "gracious".
What it was that God really did has eluded the translator. Meaning, in human languages, does not lie only in words. Words themselves may combine different elements root, prefix, suffix, inflection to create a complex or aggregated meaning. These basic elements we call morphemes "bits of forms". In English and some other modern European languages we can create new words, or adapt existing ones, by the use of recognizable morphemes. English is a relatively analytic language, in which the relation of one word to the others near it is partly signalled by word order.
In many European languages we organize words into phrases , to create one or more clauses , which we combine in sentences. Or, rather, this is a helpful way to explain or analyse structures in real speech or writing. How we form sentences, as a process in our own minds , is less clear. In writing, we use punctuation to show the internal workings of the sentence, and the point at which it ends. We can dispute this only if we extend its meaning and allow sentences to include many kinds of structures in all languages.
There are languages other than English where word order is also important, but in which the paradigms of word order differ from ours. There are other languages still where word order has little or no importance. It may sometimes be possible for the translator to be confident of the meaning of all the morphemes and words in a given passage of text though this will rarely be the case with a manuscript written in an ancient language.
But the meaning of the passage may still elude the translator, because we do not understand the way the meaning of the whole derives from the arrangement of the structure. Some languages do not allow the rhetorical question , which must be changed into an emphatic statement. In other languages, indirect discourse must be rendered as direct discourse. An Englishman says, "that's not my cup of tea" , meaning that something is of no interest to him and is not a thing of the kind he can do. There may, of course, be a situation where he really does wish to indicate which cup, among several, is his or not his.
A different culinary idiom tells us that something is a "piece of cake". In this case, we need to know that the idiom refers to the readiness we have to eat the cake, rather than the process of making it, since the phrase is used to denote something very easy to do. Idiomatic usage may become more obscure, if it undergoes change. When someone acts independently, we sometimes use a sporting metaphor, and say that this person "did it off his or her own bat". Evidently many hearers have understood the suggestion of autonomy, but without noticing the image by which it is expressed , since in popular modern English speech this frequently becomes "off his own back ".
If the speaker or writer and the hearer or reader both understand how the euphemism functions in the culture of the language, then all may be well, but the possibility of confusion is obvious.
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In 1 Samuel The RV reading is that he went "to cover his feet", which is what the Hebrew literally means. Translations in English are made into a living language , which is continuously changing. For this reason, if for no other, any translation has a limited period of currency.
An older translation, such as the King James Version , thus becomes increasingly more distinct from everyday language and the common register. These old terms do not simply disappear: rather we come to see them as belonging to a special Bible lexicon, as if they never were found anywhere else. Only recently have they found other documents from the time that show how "New Testament Greek" represents the common spoken Greek of the time in which it was written down.
Much more problematic are the many words that persist in modern English, but with a changed, or slightly changed, meaning. Israel is in the KJV a "peculiar people" for example, Deuteronomy The sense here is of a special people, marked or chosen in some way. This change is partly a recognition that "peculiar" would no longer be understood in its older sense. But it is partly the cause of change, because it removes what for many people is the best-known example of "peculiar" in this older sense.
The King James translators understood different pronouns in the second person, as conveying a greater or less degree of familiarity. The modern reader often fails to distinguish subtle changes between these forms T and V forms, after French "tu" and "vous". There are many modern speakers of English who adopt these pronouns for prayer, scripted or extemporary, but who would never use them in everyday speech. This is very odd. They use the familiar if archaic mode of address in the mistaken belief that it is courteous.
And few modern speakers know the standard verb forms for particular grammatical persons, so "-est" and "-eth" are scattered indiscriminately. Formal equivalence as an ideal perhaps arises from a misunderstanding of language. Even when scholars held up the classical languages of Greek and Latin as ideals, they knew that word order in these ancient languages differed from that in English. Today it is clear that different languages do not even have lexical systems which operate in such a way that there is always an equivalent form in Language A for anything in Language B.
Versions using formal equivalence may have their chief use as study aids or "cribs" for students trying to understand the Hebrew and Greek originals. The Revised Version and the New King James Version are translations that represent best the method of formal equivalence. Some Protestant Christians have maintained that formal equivalence is the surest way to safeguard the "original" meaning of Scripture against readings from the Roman tradition.
Yet in doing so, they may have introduced their own special lexicon. The problem with dynamic equivalence is that it leads to translations which are more culturally conditioned, and likely to be affected by language and cultural change. Edward Harwood's version uses an English style well suited to the 18th century reader mostly educated and privileged and he hopes especially to appeal to "the young and gay".
Eugene A. Nida Oxford Companion to the Bible , page , article on Translations: theory and practice identifies three complementary traditions in translation, which he characterizes as the philological , the linguistic and the communicative. It also looks at the history of the text in transmission, and how it has been interpreted over time. This method was successful in producing translations into mature written languages, such as Jerome's Vulgate in Latin and the King James Version in English.
The linguistic approach arose partly from need. In the 20th century missionaries brought the scriptures to all parts of the world, and peoples with many different languages, some of which had no written tradition and others no system of writing at all. The missionary on the ground looked for help in such things as devising an alphabet, analysing the grammar of a language, determining meaning relative to cultural contexts and learning features of style in oral narratives.
In the United Bible Societies held their first international conference of Bible translators, and a year later, a learned journal The Bible Translator first appeared. Many western societies have cultures that are broadly continuous with the Judeo-Christian tradition in which the Bible arose. In the developing world the cultural differences may be much greater.
To put this another way, Christianity, Neo-Platonism and the scientific world-view have more or less effaced, in the west, alternative religious attitudes from mainstream and everyday thought and speech. In these other societies, the translator may be aware of powerful beliefs ancestor worship, polytheism, spirit magic, the divinity of tribal chiefs. Should these appear in the translation? Francis Xavier understood this in the mid 16th century, when he began to teach Christianity to Japanese Buddhists:. The communicative approach develops the linguistic approach, in the light of modern communication theory.
It uses a slightly different model for translation:. Nida states, uncontroversially, that this equivalence "can never be an absolute or mathematical equivalence". But, he suggests, there can be a "communicative equivalence, something that is effective in obtaining an appropriate response". This seems broadly sensible, but rather glosses over what would be an "appropriate response" in differing contexts. A translator's problems might not be severe in translating a passage of narrative, where the "appropriate response" is to understand that, say, David killed a big Philistine warrior, who may have been called Goliath.
Similarly, with an ethical imperative, the "appropriate response" might be to understand that coveting other people's things is wrong, perhaps added to a wish not to covet or a sense of shame at having coveted or continuing to do so. But in passages that describe the nature of God or the theology of justification, it is less clear what would be an "appropriate response". Nida proposes a description he calls it a "definition" of both maximal and minimal communicative equivalence in translation, adding that "Bible translation should fall somewhere between these maximal and minimal levels".
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Nida concedes that this is only a "helpful theoretical goal", since no two cultures are ever identical. This rather understates the huge gulf between the various ancient and classical situations in which parts of the Bible appeared, and the various historical and modern situations in which readers experience the Bible in translation. As a counsel of perfection it may, indeed, be "helpful" in recalling to the translator the immense difficulty of his or her task.
The minimal level, according to Eugene Nida, requires that "the readers or hearers of a translation should be able to comprehend how the original readers or hearers of a text must have understood and appreciated it". This is still an exacting standard. One can show convincingly that many translations fail to reach this minimal level.
In the case of the best translations, one cannot be sure that these consistently achieve it in all parts. For certain passages in the Acts of the Apostles or some of St. Paul's letters, we can have an idea of the original readers because the writers have told us this , and may be able to see how these readers "understood and appreciated" it. With other books, even this is plainly impossible - as we do not know who the readers were, and can barely begin to "comprehend" the world view, assumptions, habits and beliefs which they brought to their hearing in most cases or reading of such things as the creation and flood narratives, the discourses in Job or the picaresque stories in Judges.
But what it cannot possibly tell us is whether the "original readers or hearers" believed these things, or knew them rather as we do as conventional but mythical or symbolic elements in traditional stories. We would rightly object should people in the far-distant future dismiss us as "primitive" for "believing" in aliens who create crop circles, teenage vampire hunters in urban North America or indestructible cartoon animals. Historical scholarship has shown convincingly that two extreme attitudes to the text of the Bible are no longer tenable.
The reverence paid to their holy books by Jews in antiquity meant that old or damaged scrolls were replaced regularly by fresh copies. The frequency of the copying might make it seem likely that errors would multiply over time, but acting against this was the extreme caution with which the scribe worked. How can we know this? When we compare them, we find few changes, mostly in matters we think trivial. The great accuracy of the parts we do have gives us confidence in the rest.
But as a proportion of the whole text, they are not so frequent. Textual scholarship is a highly specialized branch of study. As well as using ancient manuscripts in Hebrew and Greek, scholars use translations made in antiquity into other languages, such as Syriac, to find clues to the correct form of a passage which is unclear, or for which there are plausible variant readings, in the original language.
Scholars may still approve a reading that is not found in most manuscripts, if its appearances are in the oldest manuscripts and supported by other versions.
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A potential problem comes in the way Hebrew was written in ancient times. It was first written down as a consonantal script. It seems obvious to us that we should write using symbols not only for consonants, but for vowels and other things, like the pauses and emphases we mark with punctuation. But this is because we suppose the reader not to know what we are writing. If the reader knew the text well already, we could use a script giving more limited information.
Where the text is familiar to the reader we might still wish to write it down for reference, to prevent change and to help a reader recall the whole of a long structure. And these readers would know what vowels were required. Later Hebrew scholars called Masoretes did add vowel points to secure the text by about AD This the use of consonantal script explains the origin of the name "Jehovah" as a title for God. This name was considered sacred, and the scribes had elaborate rules for writing it down such as making sure their hands were clean and not interrupting the writing to dip the quill in ink.
The Renaissance translators, not understanding this, used the consonants of the Tetragrammaton and the vowels of "Adonai" , to create the novel and artificial form "Jehovah" , which appears in Tyndale and the King James Version. Thus Jehovah has the consonants of one word, and the vowels of another. However, the practice of the scribes was to show a form in writing, that was understood but never spoken aloud, being replaced by the acceptable euphemism "Adonai".
We may wish today that ancient peoples had been more careful in transmitting their sacred texts to posterity. Modern technology allows us to produce multiple copies of any document very rapidly. But the people among whom the Bible grew up would not have foreseen modern people's inability to pass on an oral tradition with more or less perfect accuracy.
Writing and reading were not common. They were the privilege of an elite, mostly male, and depended on fallible technology and expensive materials. When they came eventually to write things down, they were amazingly careful to avoid mistakes. And they did their best to produce many copies. Moreover, the Masoretic scholars, having established what they believed was the most authoritative text of the Hebrew Bible, deliberately removed earlier copies from circulation, to avoid the reintroduction of past errors.
Nowadays we are used to the methods of scientific history, which collects and studies works of art and culture and artifacts of the past, as far as possible. In earlier times, historians would not necessarily think of looking for these, which, in most cases were not to be had, nor of conserving them. Scholars began to be interested only in comparatively modern times in finding old manuscripts of the Bible. Experts soon showed, from the style of the writing, that this Bible came from Alexandria and was written in the fifth century AD. This Bible, called the Codex Alexandrinus from its place of origin, is one of three great ancient Bibles that survive to this day.
It inspired scholars to look for other ancient manuscripts. An even earlier manuscript Bible from Alexandria found its way to Constantinople. Another fourth century manuscript was discovered as late as the mid nineteenth century, at St. Catherine's monastery in the Sinai Peninsula. The monks presented it to the Tsar of Russia. In the Soviet government sold the manuscript to the British Museum, where it is kept today, along with the Codex Alexandrinus. After its place of discovery, this manuscript is called the Codex Sinaiticus.
Agnes Lewis discovered, again in St. Usually the scholar is interested in the older writing which is hidden, but which can be revived by chemical treatment. Underneath the later surface writing Mrs. Five years later, in , B. Grenfell and A. Hunt made excavations in Egypt, near to Oxyrhyncus. Here they found a huge collection of ancient papyri, including a fragment of the Gospel of Matthew. Later Grenfell and Hunt discovered a fragment containing some verses of John 18, which has been dated to the early years of the second century AD.
In the caves were jars containing ancient scrolls. The documents found in the caves have been known, since , when the story broke, as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Many are fragments, and the collection has perhaps not matched scholars' initial expectations. Nevertheless, the finds included a scroll, in Hebrew, containing practically the entire book of Isaiah , which dates from about B. This makes it the oldest known Hebrew Bible manuscript, and the oldest existing Bible manuscript in any language.
There is no other ancient text that comes even close to the Bible in the number, antiquity and consistency of the manuscript documents that are available to modern scholars. Attacks on the historicity of Jesus, of the kind made by Karl Marx, stem from the Enlightenment and a desire at all costs to explain away the supernatural. Already in the 19th century these "Rationalists" were not being rational, in the face of the evidence.
Nowadays, we can dismiss, as a flat-earth view, the notion that any part of the Bible is a post-Christian fabrication. It is related to the modern English "cane" , too. It has come to mean an established standard or rule. The standard or rule of faith is identified with Scripture. But what is Scripture? What this list is has been more or less universally accepted by the catholic in the inclusive sense church. But in part this is a circular argument, since those who dispute the canon have mostly been branded as heretics and therefore placed outside the church.
For each of the testaments, of necessity, the canon was formed some time after, but perhaps not long after, the writing of the latest document to be included. The Old Testament canon was more or less settled by the time of Jesus who, in Luke In creating a New Testament, the Christian church recognized the impossibility of adding to the canon, now fixed, of the Hebrew Bible which we know as the Old Testament. The Christians' faith claimed to supersede, but not to invalidate, Judaism. So a new collection of books, to reveal the New Covenant, was a natural development.
The first Christian teachers spread the Good News of Jesus, so it was also natural that the core of the New Testament would be the written versions of the Good News or Gospel, which had come to be known as the gospel s in the familiar four books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The rest of the New Testament, apart from two special books, is taken up with letters sent by St. Paul and other leaders to young churches throughout the Roman Empire. Of twenty-one letters, fourteen are traditionally attributed to Paul, and seven to other writers. The two special books are the Acts of the Apostles and the Revelation of St.
Acts , as it is sometimes known, is an account of the growth of the church from Christ's leaving his apostles to St. Paul's imprisonment in Rome. The author is certainly St. Luke, and much of the book narrates events of which he was an immediate witness. At the end of the book, the church is an established reality, with what we would now call an infrastructure, in fast-growing communities throughout the eastern half of the empire. Revelation is quite different. It is the product of a persecuting society, and the author uses indirect communication to express disapproved or illicit views, to lessen the risk of punishment.
Revelation is attributed to an author called John, traditionally thought to be the Apostle of this name, brother of James, and son of Zebedee, though few modern scholars would support this attribution. The challenge with the New Testament has been not to defend what is in it, but to prevent the addition of heretical books. Ever since there has been a church, it has been active in attempting to produce standard and authoritative statements of its teachings and its grounds for holding these. This is partly bound up with the continuing history of the church as a human organization.
But it is also partly to do with its sacred writings or Scripture. They did this for Jews in Egypt for whom Greek was a more familiar tongue. The inability of some of the authors to write Greek was not a problem, since books were normally written by a scribe or amanuensis , who could cope with an oral original in Aramaic or some other language.