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Keys to Bible 'Understanding'

When you are examining the scriptures keep in mind the following: 

Bible understand, Hebrew speech, Jesus teaching

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General background 

  1.    The Creator chose ancient Israel to preserve His instruction and to be an example of His recommended way of life. They didn't do a real good job of living as instructed, but they did preserve the instruction.

  2.      Jesus (Hebrew: Yeshua) Christ/Messiah actually lived according to the instruction God gave as originally intended. He was born a Jew. He lived among Jews as a Jew. His discussions on a daily basis were with religious Jews often about the correct interpretation of the original instruction (the law of God) by which Israel was to live.

  3.      Jesus/Yeshua taught in Jewish religious institutions, i.e. synagogues and the Temple and was respected as a fearless advocate for what was right.

  4.      All the early leaders in the Christian church that formed after our Savior's death were Jews by nationality and general lifestyle.

    5.      The New Testament as well as the Old Testament was mostly written by native Hebrew or Aramaic speakers. Those languages are very similar

    6.      Christianity as it existed during the life of the Apostles was a sect of the Jews. (Acts 28:22, 24:5, 14)

 

Secondary keys that help with the details.

 

1.      Hebrew and Aramaic speakers often repeat themselves. This helps clarify and adds emphasis to what they are saying.  Typically they connect these parallel statements with the Hebrew 'vav', generally translated 'and'.  Since English speakers don't typically do this we are often confused. An obvious, unconfusing example is Luke 1:20.

 

"But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place..." Obviously mute and not able to speak are the same thing.

 

Here's another example: 'Pilate therefore said to Him, "Are You a king then?" Jesus answered, "You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth..."' (Joh 18:37). Being born and coming into the world is the same thing.

 

However sometimes this proclivity can be misinterpreted by English speakers. For instance:

 

"But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses." (Acts 15:5) They advocated keeping the command of Moses by circumcising the new converts. The Jews here are also adding weight to their belief that circumcision was necessary, by invoking the instruction by Moses.  There was no movement afoot to discredit the Law of Moses.  It was being referenced to tap its authority and lend weight to the belief that gentiles should be circumcised.

 

This Hebrew proclivity to be redundant is pervasive throughout scripture.  It is also probably the most frequently missed aid to correct understanding.  

 

2.      Use a translation that tends to be literal. The original Bible was written in mainly Hebrew and Greek. Any English version is a translation. Translations are all tradeoffs. The more literal the translation the more one can be confused by idioms and foreign expressions. The more interpretive the translation the more the idioms may be clear, but unfortunately with these versions the interpreters often 'clarify' other things that don't fit with their own beliefs. Often this twists the original intent of the writer. It will usually be apparent when you come across an idiom or foreign expression in a literal version. The sentence will be awkward, won't flow well or won't make sense. On the other hand it will not be apparent when you read an incorrect interpretation in a less literal version. The New American Standard Bible and the New King James Version are good with relatively modern English.

 

Many people use the New International Version (NIV). The Old Testament NIV seems to be a reasonably good translation. However, the authors of the New Testament seem to have an unshakable prejudice against the Law. They interpret in their own theology at every opportunity, usually at the expense of the Law. In spite of this failing, they did take into account solid research that shows some of the original Greek text to be late additions, not written by the original authors. So if you come across a thought in the NKJV or NASB that does not appear in the NIV, it is probably one of these spurious additions. The NIV usually explains in a footnote what happened.

 

3.      Hebrew authors are often more interested in telling their story than they are in assuring strict chronological sequence of events. Depending on whether one reads Deuteronomy 10:4-5, Exodus 35:4, 12, 37:1 or Exodus 40:17-21, one could decide that the tablets of the covenant were put into the Ark of the Covenant at any one of three different times. Each of these accounts is accurate if one doesn't assume a normal English approach to timing.

 

        A similar example involves the Creator's presence filling the Tabernacle after it was set up in the wilderness.  Exodus 40 describes Moses function in setting up the Tabernacle.  Verse 33 states “So, Moses finished the work”.  Verse 34 continues: “Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.”  The setting up of the Tabernacle seems to be followed immediately by the arrival of the Creator’s presence.

 

        However, that was apparently not the whole story.  Verses 12-15 mention that Moses was also to anoint Aaron and his sons.  This was all part of the process of setting up the Tabernacle.  The details of this are given in Leviticus 8 & 9.  As it turns out the anointing and consecration process of Aaron and his sons and the altar took seven days.  On the eighth day they offered additional offerings.  It was not until after those additional offerings that the Creator's presence enveloped the Tabernacle.

 

        The point is that Hebrew writers don’t feel bound to give all the details of a matter.  They are content to give whatever facts are relevant to their purpose.  They don’t often consider all the details of timing to be critical to the story they want to tell.

 

        Often if they do want to be precise about timing they will use some form of emphasis.  For instance Exodus 19:1 not only mentions Israel's arrival on the third moon (alternate translation: month), but reinforces the statement with 'on the same day'.  It is apparent in this case Moses is being specific about arriving the day of the new moon not just some day in the third month. (See: The Hebrew Concept of Time, by Ronnie Littlejohn, (pp. 53-56. Biblical Illustrator, Winter 1999-2000) or http://www.ovrlnd.com/Eschatology/hebrewconceptoftime.html

 

4.      In order to be sure not to take the name of God in vain the Jews during New Testament times avoided using the name almost completely. Consequently they created euphemisms that to them carried the same meaning. For instance: instead of saying 'the kingdom of God', they often said 'the kingdom of heaven'. There was no difference, but the latter avoided the need to pronounce 'YHVH' the Hebrew name of God. They also substituted Lord for 'YHVH' as well as other names or titles.

 

5.      In Yeshua's culture there was little distinction between belief and action. Belief was not a thought process, but the basis for action. One evidenced what one believed by how one conducted himself. A recommendation to believe was a recommendation to conduct yourself accordingly and respond appropriately.

 

6.      Certainly in capital cases God allowed conviction only with two or three witnesses. Consider that ultimately we will all be judged according to how we conduct ourselves (Rev 20:13). At some point each of us will ultimately be on trial for our lives. Therefore it seems that God has built into scripture at least two occurrences of any major instruction, which might be vital in understanding how we should conduct ourselves. For instance most of Yeshua's instruction mentioned in one Gospel account is repeated in another Gospel account. This need for two witnesses probably has something to do with the Hebrew proclivity to be redundant mentioned in the first point above. The bottom line: If you can find a fundamental directive in only one place, be suspicious.

 

7.      Jews tend to use something called 'block logic'. Westerners tend to use something called 'linear logic'. Block logic tends to generalize. Linear logic wants to clarify all the exceptions. So when Matthew says '..But he denied it before them all, saying, "I do not know what you are saying."' (Mat 26:70), he is generalizing.

 

8.      Hebrew is a very picturesque language. It bestows life on inanimate objects. So when David says "Let the floods clap [their] hands: let the hills be joyful together" (Ps 98:8) he is not expecting that to really happen. He is trying to emphasize the joyousness of the occasion.

 

9.      The scriptures also assume a certain amount of common sense. "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell" (Mat 5:29). our Savior is not advocating self-mutilation here. He's emphasizing the seriousness of the matter and the need for serious effort to correct the problem.