Fact Check: How English Has Changed

There is a popular meme that illustrates language change. It is entitled “How English has changed over the last 1000 years: the 23rd Psalm.”

I don’t know the source, but it appears to be from a printed book. Maybe someone can help me hunt down the reference.

Now there are some problems with this analysis. Language is primarily spoken, not written, so comparing writing is not necessarily indicative of language change. It could simply be showing differences in spelling. Also, it is comparing different translations of the Bible. That a different translator rendered a passage differently doesn’t necessarily mean there was language change. It could mean they interpreted it differently, or used a different source text (early English translations were from the Latin Vulgate), or had a different translation philosophy, or it simply reflects stylistic differences.

But the most glaring error represents a common misconception: that the King James Version we have today is what they had in 1611. However, what is printed above is not the King James Version of 1611, but the King James Version of 1769! This misconception is continually perpetuated when we refer to the King James Version that we use as the 1611.

The 1611 King James Bible reads this way:

The LORD is my ſhepheard, I ſhall not want.
He maketh me to lie downe in greene paſtures:
he leadeth mee beſide the ſtill waters.

A helpful web site is King James Bible Online. You can compare the 1611 and 1769 there, and even view an original 1611 manuscript.

Take the Plunge

I’ve spent a good amount of time in the last few months cleaning up and re-organizing the pages with updated content. One of the pages includes links to lots, and lots, and lots of English Bible versions. And when you have that many Bible translations, many of them, especially the single-author ones, will be idiosyncratic.

I just came across one recently that had an interesting translation of the word normally transliterated into English as “baptize.” The Original Word of God translation, translated by Kenneth Allan Clark, instead consistently uses the word “plunge.”

However, that has the unfortunate result that “John the Baptist” becomes… wait for it… you guessed it… “John the Plunger” (Mark 6).

My English Bible is Out of Order!

Several years ago, I listened to a series of lectures on biblical theology. (The transcriptions are available online). Three of those lectures covered the order of the books in the Hebrew Bible. The lecturer titled one of his sections in the first lecture “My Bible is Out of Order.” Essentially, he argued that the order of the books in his Hebrew Bible were the “original order,” the “final form,” and thus the one correct order. He used Scripture to show that Jesus himself held to the threefold division of the Hebrew Bible, and that his Bible ended with Chronicles. Thus, he concluded that we ought to order it in this way.

Is he right? Are our English Bibles out of order?

How would Jesus order them?

There are two Scriptural arguments to be made. One is an argument for the threefold division of the Old Testament, like in our Hebrew Bibles and Jewish Bibles today. The other is an argument that Chronicles is the last book of the Old Testament.

Jesus says in Luke 24:44, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (NIV). According to the argument, this refers to the three parts of the Hebrew Bible: Torah, Prophets, and Writings, with Psalm as the first book of the Writings.

But the normal way to refer to the Scriptures in the New Testament is the “Law (Moses) and the Prophets” (cf. Matthew 5:17; 7:12; 11:13; 22:40; Luke 16:16; 24:27; John 1:45; Acts 13:15; 24:14; 26:22; 28:23; Romans 3:21). There are no other references in the Bible to a third division of Writings, or Psalms. Those books would be considered among the Law and the Prophets.

So why is Luke 24:44 different? Why did Luke add “and Psalms” here when “the Law and the Prophets” would have sufficed? Why do the other twelve references omit the Psalms/Writings?

I think Jesus mentions the Psalms here because he is discussing Scripture that refers to himself. The Psalms, of course, especially speak about the future messiah, so Jesus is highlighting the Psalms especially. It both explains why Luke 24:44 is different from the other 12 passages that only mention the Law and the Prophets, and it makes a connection to the Writings section of the Hebrew Bible unnecessary.

The other Scriptural argument is from Luke 11:50-51. Jesus says, “Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary” (NIV). The argument is that Abel was martyred in Genesis, and Zechariah was martyred in Chronicles. Therefore, Jesus must have been referring to Genesis as the first book of the Hebrew Bible, and Chronicles as the last book of the Hebrew Bible.

Now, if you already had in mind that Chronicles is the last book, that makes this verse interesting in light of that canonical order. But if you didn’t already have a fixed canonical order in mind, it’s difficult to see why we should necessarily take this as a reference to canonical order at all. The most basic explanation is that Jesus is speaking chronologically. Abel is chronologically the first martyr in the Hebrew Bible, and Zechariah is chronologically the last martyr in the Hebrew Bible, so that’s why Jesus uses their names. There’s no reason to bring the canonical order into the discussion.

But even if we were to consider the canonical order, the placement of Chronicles in the Writings would not affect that Zechariah would be the last recorded martyrdom in the canon. The other books of the Writings record no martyrdoms. So you could have Chronicles placed first in the Writings, like in the Leningrad codex. Or you could even have the English Bible order and place Chronicles after Kings. It doesn’t matter. You’d have the same result: Zechariah is the last recorded martyrdom in the canon. Any way you slice it, chronologically or canonically, and in whatever canonical order, Zechariah is last. So even if Jesus had some other canonical order, it still would have made perfect sense to say “from Abel to Zechariah.” So this verse in no way proves that Chronicles was last in Jesus’ Hebrew Bible.

It’s still possible that Jesus was using a Hebrew Bible that used a threefold division, with Psalms at the beginning of the Writings, and Chronicles at the end. But I’m not persuaded Scripturally that this must be so, and that therefore we ought to use that order.

Manuscripts and the correct Bible order

In a previous post, we looked more in depth at Old Testament Book Order. We discovered that there was a lot of variety in the orderings of the Hebrew Bible, particularly in the Writings. Some manuscripts of the Writings began with Psalms. More of them began with Ruth. Some even began with Chronicles, including the Leningrad codex, upon which our Hebrew Bibles are based.

So whatever order of books Jesus might have been using, it didn’t stick. It wasn’t until we had printed Bibles in the 16th century and beyond that we began to have standardized orders.

The interesting thing is that the “final form” that the lecturer chose as the correct one is the order in his Hebrew Bible: Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS). But that order only became a standard in 1937, when it was used in Kittel’s third edition of Biblia Hebraica (BHK). It was created from the Leningrad codex order, but with Chronicles moved from the beginning of the Writings to the end of the Old Testament, and the rest stayed the same. So that order is very recent. (The lecturer mistakenly says that it is the same order as the JPS Hebrew Bibles, that is, the Jewish order, which dates to the second Rabbinic Bible in 1525).

Also, the BHS order won’t be the “final form” soon, because Biblica Hebraica Quinta (BHQ) will replace BHS. BHQ will use the Leningrad codex order, with Chronicles at the beginning of the Writings, and Ezra-Nehemiah concluding the Old Testament.

BHSBHQJPS

Psalms
Job
Proverbs
Chronicles
Psalms
Job
Proverbs

Psalms
Proverbs
Job
Ruth
Song of Songs
Ecclesiastes
Lamentations
Esther
Ruth
Song of Songs
Ecclesiastes
Lamentations
Esther
Song of Songs
Ruth
Lamentations
Ecclesiastes
Esther
Daniel
Ezra
Nehemiah
Chronicles
Daniel
Ezra
Nehemiah
Daniel
Ezra
Nehemiah
Chronicles
The order of the Writings in different Hebrew Bible editions

Canonical Order and Interpretation

Although there were many different arrangements of the Hebrew Bible, certain books tended to be grouped together, so the arrangements were not random. Even in the variety, there was some logic behind the ordering.

Some reasons for book order: Common authorship. Chronological order; either chronology of the events in the book, or chronology in terms of when the book was thought to have been written. Common genre. Common themes or purposes. Length, as Paul’s epistles are generally from longest to shortest. Then there’s also liturgical purposes. The five books of the Megilloth are ordered in the Jewish order according to the Jewish holidays.

I’m going to focus on common themes and purposes, as that is what the lecturer focused on to argue for a correct order. The placement of the books of the Bible affects how one reads the books. The lecturer groups the Writings under the heading “Covenant Life.” He notes that Ruth, like the Proverbs 31 woman, is called a “woman of valor.” Thus, Ruth should follow Proverbs because Proverbs 31 is about finding a good wife. Ruth is the illustration of finding a good wife, and the next book, Song of Songs, is about how to treat a good wife. He sees Lamentations, Esther and Daniel grouped together as books about how to live well in the exile. Then, he argues that Chronicles is placed after Ezra-Nehemiah to show that the return from exile is a failure.

Now, I’m not saying that these conclusions are necessarily wrong. Ruth was an exemplary wife who left her people to follow the God of Israel. I married a woman who had already left her home country to serve as a missionary, so I resonate with that. But I think that the books of the Bible are so rich, and diverse, and complement the other books of the Bible so well, that I don’t think we do them justice by limiting their purposes based on where they are correctly placed in the canon.

The book of Ruth is more than simply an illustration of a godly wife. It is about God’s faithfulness to the widow Naomi as well, leading to the birth of David, and ultimately the messiah. Chronologically, it fits in very well between Judges and Samuel, because you have both the period of the judges mentioned at the beginning, and David mentioned at the end. And in terms of genre, it’s probably closer to Esther and Daniel, as a short story of faithfulness rewarded by God.

The same could be said for other books as well. Daniel defies any easy categorization. It could be grouped with Esther in terms of chronology and genre, but those apocalyptic prophetic sections really fit more the other prophetic books.

So, for myself, between the diversity of book orderings that we see throughout history with no consensus, the lack of biblical evidence for a particular order, and the tendency for particular Bible orderings to dictate a particular way of interpreting a book, I don’t think there is just one correct order. In fact, I think it’s better that we don’t have to a correct order. I think we can miss out on the richness of the individual books of Scripture, and the rich variety of ways that the books can be tied together by theme, or chronology, or genre.

So what order should we read the Bible in?

That’s a great question. And there are a variety of answers. There are many, many different Bible reading plans out there. Most of them don’t strictly follow the English Bible order. Many of them are chronological. Many of them have both Old Testament and New Testament readings together. The church over the centuries have also developed liturgical readings of Scripture throughout the year. If we aren’t tied to a “correct” order, we are free to use various reading plans and strategies, and not worried that we are reading it in the wrong order.

In addition to the difference between English Bible order and Jewish Bible order, there have been some other English Bibles that have used different book orders as well. For example, William Barclay ordered his New Testament chronologically, beginning with Mark.

One of the trends in Bible publishing that I am most pleased about is the advent of reader’s editions of the Bible. These Bibles come in nice multi-volume sets, with nice layouts. Single columns and comfortable fonts, and they take out chapter and verse numbers so you can just immerse yourself in reading. I am a big fan, and heartily recommend it to others. It has helped my Bible reading immensely.

Some of these reader’s editions use different book orders. You can see them in the chart below, with Barclay’s New Testament order. As you can see, these reader’s editions use the three-fold division as well. However, they put Ruth after Judges, reorder the Minor Prophets, and group each of the gospels with epistles so you don’t read all the gospels one after another. (I don’t have the Bibliotheca reader’s edition, which also uses the threefold division. If someone has that, please leave a comment with the book order it uses).

Sola Scriptura Bible Project /
The Books of the Bible (NIV)
Immerse Bible (NLT)William Barclay
Genesis
Exodus
Leviticus
Numbers
Deuteronomy
Joshua
Judges
Ruth
1-2 Samuel
1-2 Kings
Genesis
Exodus
Leviticus
Numbers
Deuteronomy
Joshua
Judges
Ruth
1-2 Samuel
1-2 Kings
Jonah
Amos
Hosea
Micah
Isaiah
Zephaniah
Nahum
Habakkuk
Jeremiah
Obadiah
Ezekiel
Haggai
Zechariah
Joel
Malachi
Amos
Hosea
Micah
Isaiah
Zephaniah
Nahum
Habakkuk
Jeremiah
Obadiah
Ezekiel
Haggai
Zechariah
Malachi
Joel
Jonah
Psalms
Lamentations
Song of Songs
Proverbs
Ecclesiastes
Job
1-2 Chronicles
Ezra
Nehemiah
Esther
Daniel
Psalms
Lamentations
Song of Songs
Proverbs
Ecclesiastes
Job
1-2 Chronicles
Ezra
Nehemiah
Esther
Daniel
Luke
Acts
Luke
Acts
Mark
Matthew
Luke
Acts
John
1-2 Thessalonians
1-2 Corinthians
Galatians
Romans
Colossians
Ephesians
Philemon
Philippians
1 Timothy
Titus
2 Timothy
1-2 Thessalonians
1-2 Corinthians
Galatians
Romans
Philemon
Colossians
Ephesians
Philippians
1 Timothy
Titus
2 Timothy
Galatians
1-2 Thessalonians
1-2 Corinthians
Romans
Ephesians
Colossians
Philemon
Philippians
1 Timothy
2 Timothy
Titus
Matthew
Hebrews
James
Mark
1-2 Peter
Jude

Hebrews
James
Mark
1-2 Peter
Jude
Matthew
Hebrews
James

1-2 Peter
Jude
John
1-3 John
Revelation
John
1-3 John
Revelation

1-3 John
Revelation

Concluding Questions

So, do you think there is one correct Bible book order? If you were to make your own reader’s edition of the Bible, how would you order the books? Comment below.

Old Testament Book Order

Christian Bible orderJewish Bible order
Pentateuch
Genesis
Exodus
Leviticus
Numbers
Deuteronomy
Law (Torah)
Genesis
Exodus
Leviticus
Numbers
Deuteronomy
Historical Books
Joshua
Judges
Ruth
1-2 Samuel
1-2 Kings
1-2 Chronicles
Ezra
Nehemiah
Esther
Prophets (Nevi’im)

Former Prophets
Joshua
Judges
1-2 Samuel
1-2 Kings
Poetic Books
Job
Psalms
Proverbs
Ecclesiastes
Song of Songs
Latter Prophets
Isaiah
Jeremiah
Ezekiel
Minor Prophets
Prophets
Isaiah
Jeremiah
Lamentations
Ezekiel
Daniel
Minor Prophets
Writings (Ketuvim)
Psalms
Proverbs
Job

Megillot
Song of Songs
Ruth
Lamentations
Ecclesiastes
Esther

Daniel
Ezra
Nehemiah
1-2 Chronicles

Christian Bible vs. Jewish Bible order

Over twenty years ago, I took an Old Testament class at my university. My professor was Jewish, and one of the required Bible texts was the Jewish Publication Society version of the Hebrew Bible.

One of my obsessions when I was in college was comparing different English Bible versions. I wanted to see if there was any ideological differences between the versions used by Protestants, Catholics, Jews, etc.

Eventually, I figured out that, in the actual text, the differences between a Jewish translation and a Christian translation, or between a Protestant translation and a Roman Catholic translation, were negligible. Things like translation philosophy make a far bigger difference in translation.

The major difference between Christian Bibles and Jewish Bibles is the book order.

In the Jewish Bible order, the Old Testament books are divided into three sections, Law (Torah), Prophets (Nevi’im), and Writings (Ketuvim). In Hebrew, taking the first letter of each section forms the word Tanakh, used to describe the entirety of the Hebrew Bible.

In the middle of the Writings, there are five books that are grouped together. They are called the Megillot, that are read in that order according to the Jewish liturgical calendar.

Jewish Bible translations, such as those by the Jewish Publication Society, Isaac Leeser, and Robert Alter, use this order. Messianic Jewish translations, such as The Scriptures, the Complete Jewish Bible, the Orthodox Jewish Bible, and the Tree of Life Version, also use the Jewish Bible order.

Some Christian scholars use this order as well. In their Old Testament introductions, S. R. Driver, R. K. Harrison, Brent A. Strawn, Marvin A. Sweeney, and Edward J. Young each use the Jewish Bible order.

All of the major Bible translations in English either use the Christian Bible order, which is derived from the Greek Septuagint order, or the Jewish Bible order.

Book order in Hebrew Manuscripts

Now, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew. Thus, we might be inclined to follow the order found in Hebrew manuscripts, and not the Greek manuscripts. That would be, then, the Jewish Bible order, right? Well, not quite. While all the Hebrew manuscripts we have follow the three-fold division of Law, Prophets, and Writings, they differed in the exact order of the books, especially within the Writings.

Let’s take a look at the Hebrew manuscripts found in the British Library, ranging from the 12th to the 16th centuries. There are other manuscripts, of course, but the British Library has a lot, and we can view these manuscripts online!

Of the 23 different manuscripts I found that contains the Writings, there are 16 different orderings! And none of them are identical to the Jewish Bible ordering. Do you want to see them? Of course you do. Here they are. (Note: Ezra includes both Ezra and Nehemiah).

Add MS 15250
Add MS 21161
Harley MS 1528
Or 2212
Or 2375
Or 2376
Or 1475
Or 4227
Add MS 15252
Or 2091
Harley MS 5775Arundel Or 16Harley MS 5711Harley MS 5498Harley MS 5506Add MS 9399Harley MS 5715Or 6570Or 2628King’s BibleOr 5956Add MS 15251Or 2201
RuthRuthRuthRuthChronicles
Ruth
ChroniclesPsalmsChroniclesRuthChronicles
Psalms
Job
Proverbs
Psalms
Job
Proverbs
Psalms
Job
Proverbs
Psalms
Proverbs
Job
Psalms
Job
Proverbs
Psalms
Job
Proverbs
Psalms
Proverbs
Job
Daniel
Ezra
Nehemiah
Ruth
Song of Songs
Ecclesiastes
Lamentations
Esther
Psalms
Proverbs
Job
Psalms
Job
Proverbs
Psalms
Proverbs
Job
Psalms
Ruth
Job
Proverbs
Psalms
Job
Proverbs
Psalms
Job
Proverbs
Psalms
Job
Proverbs
Ecclesiastes
Song of Songs
Lamentations
Ecclesiastes
Song of Songs
Lamentations
Song of Songs
Ecclesiastes
Lamentations
Ecclesiastes
Song of Songs
Lamentations
Ecclesiastes
Song of Songs
Lamentations
Ruth
Song of Songs
Ecclesiastes
Lamentations
Ruth
Song of Songs
Ecclesiastes
Lamentations
Song of Songs
Ruth
Lamentations
Ecclesiastes
Psalms
Proverbs
Job
Daniel
Ezra
Chronicles
Daniel
Ezra
Chronicles
Daniel
Ruth
Song of Songs
Lamentations
Ecclesiastes
Song of Songs
Lamentations
Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
Song of Songs
Lamentations
Ruth
Ecclesiastes
Song of Songs
Ruth
Song of Songs
Ecclesiastes
Lamentations
Daniel
Esther
Ezra
Chronicles
Esther
Daniel
Ezra
Chronicles
Esther
Daniel
Ezra
Chronicles
Daniel
Esther
Ezra
Chronicles
Daniel
Esther
Ezra
Esther
Daniel
Ezra
Esther
Daniel
Ezra
Chronicles
Esther
Job
Proverbs
Chronicles
Daniel

Ezra
Chronicles
Ruth
Song of Songs
Ecclesiastes
Esther
Lamentations
Song of Songs
Lamentations
Ecclesiastes
Esther
Esther

Ezra
Esther
Daniel
Ezra
Chronicles
Daniel
Ezra
Esther
Chronicles
Esther
Daniel
Ezra
Esther
Daniel
Ezra
Chronicles

You can see that, while there was some general agreement about what books should be grouped together, there was still no consensus on the exact book order, even a thousand years after the Hebrew Bible was written.

So where did the Jewish Bible order come from, and how did it become the standard? I think we can attribute it to the printing press, and its ability to disseminate literature widely and in great numbers. The first printed Hebrew Bible was in Socino, Italy in 1488, and it actually put the five books of the Megillot after the Pentateuch!

But it was the second Rabbinic Bible of 1525 that became the definitive Hebrew text, and it used the Jewish Bible order. It is very similar to many of the book orders in the manuscripts, but not identical. Where they got that exact order, I’m not sure. Perhaps this order was based on the manuscripts they had then, or it had to do with its liturgical use, or a combination of both.

Book Order in the Babylonian Talmud

The oldest record we have of Old Testament book order is found in Bava Batra 14b in the Babylonian Talmud, which was compiled around the year 500. Here, the order of the Writings is Ruth, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Lamentations, Daniel, Esther, Ezra, and Chronicles. It’s worth reading, because not only does it have a book order, but it gives reasons why it chose that order, as opposed to other suggestions.

This is the order used by Roger Beckwith, Stephen Dempster, and Jason DeRouchie in their books on the Old Testament. However, no printed editions of the Hebrew Bible or English translations of the Bible that I know of use this order.

For those of you keeping score, this order of the Writings is the same order as in Add MS 15250, Add MS 21161, Harley MS 1528, Or 2212, Or 2375, and Or 2376 at the British Library! However, the Babylonian Talmud order of the prophets is Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and the Minor Prophets. Add MS 15250 and Harley MS 1528 have “Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel” (like most manuscripts), Add MS 21161 has “Samuel, Jeremiah, Kings, Ezekiel, Isaiah,” and the other three do not include the prophetic books. So none of these manuscripts completely corroborate the Babylonian Talmudic order.

Hebrew Texts Today

If you go out and buy a Hebrew Bible, you may notice that it has yet another order for the Writings! Why is that? Good question.

Today, our main scholarly source text for the Hebrew Bible is the Leningrad Codex, the earliest complete manuscript, dated to 1008. The order of the Writings is Chronicles, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. The tenth century Aleppo Codex uses this order as well.

Critical editions of the Hebrew text have used various orders. The first two editions of Biblia Hebraica (1909, 1913), edited by Rudolf Kittel, and abbreviated BHK, uses the text of the second Rabbinic Bible, and thus uses the Jewish Bible order.

It gets more complicated. The third edition of BHK (1937) switched to using the Leningrad Codex. However, they decided they didn’t like the Leningrad Codex order, and wanted 1-2 Chronicles to be last. But rather than use the Jewish book order, they simply moved 1-2 Chronicles to the end, thus creating yet another book order.

The current critical edition of the Hebrew Bible is Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS), which is the follow-up to BHK, also uses this order. If you take Hebrew in seminary, you will use this. BHS uses the Leningrad Codex as the source text. So the BHS order is the order that most Hebrew students end up seeing. It is the order that Brevard Childs, Paul R. House / Eric Mitchell, Rolf Rendtorff, and Miles Van Pelt use in their books on the Old Testament.

The next edition is Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BHQ), and when that is completed, Chronicles will be back to the beginning of the Ketuvim.

Babylonian
Talmud Order
Leningrad Order
Aleppo Codex, BHQ
Jewish Order
JPS, BHK1, BHK2
BHS Order
BHK3
Genesis-KingsGenesis-KingsGenesis-KingsGenesis-Kings
Jeremiah
Ezekiel
Isaiah
Minor Prophets
Isaiah
Jeremiah
Ezekiel
Minor Prophets
Isaiah
Jeremiah
Ezekiel
Minor Prophets
Isaiah
Jeremiah
Ezekiel
Minor Prophets
RuthChronicles
Psalms
Job
Proverbs
Psalms
Job
Proverbs
Psalms
Proverbs
Job
Psalms
Job
Proverbs
Ecclesiastes
Song of Songs
Lamentations
Daniel
Esther
Ruth
Song of Songs
Ecclesiastes
Lamentations
Esther
Song of Songs
Ruth
Lamentations
Ecclesiastes
Esther
Ruth
Song of Songs
Ecclesiastes
Lamentations
Esther

Ezra
Chronicles
Daniel
Ezra
Daniel
Ezra
Chronicles
Daniel
Ezra
Chronicles

Is there a right order? To be continued …

With the variation of book order between Christian and Jewish Bibles, and between Hebrew manuscripts, is there a right order for the books of the Bible? Is there an order that the books of the Bible ought to be read in? Does the Bible itself indicate a particular order for the books of the Bible? How do differences in book order affect interpretation? These are great questions, but these are fairly large discussions. I plan to address these soon in a future post.

Overcoming Inadequacies of Words Commonly Used in Bible Translation and Teaching (Part 3 of 3)

This is a guest post by Daniel Boerger. He and his wife Brenda worked on the Natqgu New Testament in the Solomon Islands. He is the translator of the Interpreted New Testament, available in print, ePub, Kindle, and free on Android.

II. C. How Can a Bible Translation or Teacher Compensate for the Mismatch in Meaning?

Translators and Bible teachers must first realize that they cannot change how people commonly use language or words. The culture can and will change what words mean over time, but you as an individual or a particular translation of the Bible cannot and it is naïve to think it is possible. The best you can do concerning a particular word, is 1) clearly teach what the word means in the Bible and consistently remind your readers or audience of that meaning so they are always aware of the difference between common usage and the biblical meaning, and/or 2) use a different term or phrase that more adequately conveys the proper meaning and reminds people (when they look at a more literal translation) of what the word “worship” means in the Scriptures. Most translators and Bible teachers choose option 1 but fail to constantly remind people of the correct meaning. They may teach it once, but to assume that forever after the correct meaning—different from common usage—will come to mind to listeners or readers every time they encounter it is naïve and irresponsible. It won’t happen. Most people will automatically revert to interpreting “worship” as their culture does, in terms of outward actions only.

There are various ways a translation can help to convey the correct meaning of “worship” in Scripture.

1. A minimal way is to include the literal word “worship” as is done in almost every translation, plus include a glossary definition somewhere in the book. In TINT, I included the following glossary entry which I offer as an example.

Worship – Today, most people use this word to mean “to praise, honor, and adore God,” usually with music and singing or clapping or raising one’s hands. And certainly any of these can be valid means of expressing worship, but none of them are the core of worship. In fact, all these things can be done while not truly worshipping at all. Biblical worship is the genuine intentional offering of your life and resources in submissive obedience and service to God. See Romans 12:1. God encourages us to honor and praise people who deserve such, (see Romans 12:10 and 13:7)—but true worship is reserved for God alone (see Deuteronomy 6:13 and Luke 4:8). Many people participate in “worship services,” but remain unrepentantly rebellious against one or more of God’s commands in their daily life (e.g., they may habitually lie, cheat, criticize, gossip, slander, hate, be selfish or unkind, participate in sexual relationships forbidden by God, view pornography, refuse to forgive someone who has wronged them, or some other sin)—so are not truly submitted to him. And their so-called worship is counted as worthless by God (see Isaiah 29:13-14 and Matthew 15:7-9). In the Bible, submissive worship is most frequently symbolized by physically bowing or prostrating oneself before someone. Fake worship is hypocrisy and is also idolatry—i.e., submission to something as more important than God. This can be anything at all, including money, fame, power, a person, a feeling, or one’s own desires. God views idolatry and fake worship as a personal rejection of himself. The more you know about God, the more serious the consequences become for rejecting him and not submitting to him in true worship.

2. Another way to steer readers to a more correct understanding of biblical worship is to translate it with a phrase that at least partially explains what worship is. Multiword phrases can be more accurate to the intended meaning if your translation philosophy does not require that single words in the original text be translated by single words in the translation. But multiword phrases can also be cumbersome, and unless a reader is comparing your particular translation to a more traditional literal translation, they may not realize that the phrase you use is literally “worship” in the original text. In TINT, I compromised by usually using the phrase “submissive worship” or some variant based on that. Since the glossary provides a more detailed explanation, I considered that the word “submissive” gives the reader a reminder of that explanation for those who have read the glossary entry, and a push in the right direction for those who haven’t. I’m sure you can come up with other ways to convey a biblical understanding of the concept. My goal here is not to do that for you, but to urge you to find a way to do it in your translation or teaching.

In teaching and translation, if the words you use do not, in and of themselves, sufficiently convey the correct meaning, your readers or audience will default to the common meaning of the word in use in their culture. Bible teachers should, in my opinion, remind their audience of the proper meaning of biblical worship every time the subject comes up in a Scripture passage. Many churches emphasize the importance of not taking Holy Communion in an unworthy manner, lest people come under God’s judgment (1 Corinthians 11:27-32). The Scriptures also warn us of coming to God with false worship—yet I have no memory of any pastor teaching on this topic, and I have never heard a warning given to people who come together to worship lest they offer false worship. It is not uncommon for pastors to exhort their people to actively participate in worship, but it is relatively rare to hear teaching about what the core of true biblical worship is so people can compare it to what they are doing. This might be because even pastors tend to focus on the current modern meaning of “worship” rather than on the biblical emphasis and meaning. The text of all translations I am familiar with, particularly in New Testament passages, do not remind them of that core meaning, except in Romans 12:1.

In a translation, if you use the word “worship” alone and the common reader in the group for whom you are translating inevitably interprets the word inaccurately, then your translation of that word is inadequate and inaccurate. As a translator you will bear responsibility for knowingly allowing your translation to convey wrong meaning. Translating literally word for word all the time is, in general, a deficient translation philosophy because words can have different meanings in different contexts (i.e. in different passages) and cultures (i.e. biblical cultures versus the culture you are translating for) and time periods (i.e. ancient versus when the KJV was translated versus today). Your translation should adequately convey the original meaning to your current audience, or the translation is not really faithful to the message of the original text. A Bible reader should not require a Bible teacher at hand to cue them as to the correct meaning of words they are reading. The translation itself or some kind of note should do so. The correct meaning of the original text was clear to the original readers, so the correct meaning should also be clear to the readers of your translation without outside assistance.

Overcoming Inadequacies of Words Commonly Used in Bible Translation and Teaching (Part 2 of 3)

This is a guest post by Daniel Boerger. He and his wife Brenda worked on the Natqgu New Testament in the Solomon Islands. He is the translator of the Interpreted New Testament, available in print, ePub, Kindle, and free on Android.

II. B. What is Biblical Worship? At its Core it is Not Any Particular Action or Manner of Action, or Form.

Many biblically literate Christians will immediately answer, “It is worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23‑24 NASB But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”) But despite this being an important biblical truth, it is not a definition of what worship is. It is merely an truth about the manner in which God’s people should worship. It does not define what worship itself is.

There are 178 occurrences of forms of the word “worship” (i.e. worship, worships, worshiping, worshiped, worshiper, worshipers) in the New American Standard Bible, so I trust that is approximately true of the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts.

Just over 50 percent of the time, these words occur with nothing in the immediate context to clarify what the word means.

About 27 percent of the time, the worship word is in the immediate context of words and phrases indicating that the worshiper was physically prostrating himself (i.e. bowing low, falling (face down) on the ground, bowing before something, falling at the feet of someone, etc.).

About 16 percent of the time, the worship word is in the immediate context of words, phrases, and sentences indicating that the worshiper was serving God or a deity.

About 7 percent of the time, the worship word is in the immediate context of words, phrases, and sentences indicating that the worshiper was offering sacrifices of some kind to God or a deity.

About 2 percent of the time, the worship word is in the immediate context of words and phrases indicating that the worshiper was offering praise to God.

The above percentages total 102 percent because a few of the occurrences overlap and were counted twice.

In four passages (Genesis 47:31, Judges 7:15, Nehemiah 8:6, and 2 Chronicles 20:18) the biblical text indicates that the people involved were “bowing in worship,” suggesting that the bowing was an integral part of their worship. Bowing, in all the passages where it is associated with worship, indicates a posture implying and expressing a total submission and pledge of obedience to God’s will. It was the most common visible means of expressing an inward attitude of worship.

In the biblical cultures, worship was such a basic concept that people didn’t need a definition spelled out in Scripture as to what it was, because they all knew what it was. The only explicit definition of worship in Scripture is found in Romans 12:1. (NASB) Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 

Romans 12:1 indicates that true spiritual worship is serving God by means of self-sacrificially offering your life in complete obedience to him.

I rendered the second part of this verse in The Interpreted New Testament (TINT) this way: Offer yourselves, your bodies, and everything you do to serve God—following his holy will in all things. Do this as your sacrificial offering to him. For this is the essence of true spiritual worship which pleases him.

My own summary definition of biblical worship is: to offer, pledge, or swear fealty to God (or to a false god)— which is a formal committing of your life, will, and resources to him in total submission, service, loyalty, faithfulness, and obedience, promising him your highest ultimate allegiance above your own desires and above all other authority or commitments.

How is this different than modern definitions? Biblical worship is something so special it is properly reserved for God alone (Deuteronomy 6:13; Daniel 3:28; Luke 4:8; Revelation 19:10; 22:8). It is never appropriate to worship other people or authorities. This is because it is a pledge of ultimate submission of your life in obedience above all else to whatever you are worshiping.

The Scriptures command us to give due honor and praise to people (Romans 12:10; 13:7). So these acts, in and of themselves, cannot be the core of what worship is.

The actions we commonly think of as worship can be means of expressing true worship. We are commanded to meet together regularly for corporate times of worship and we are commanded to praise and adore God (1 Chronicles 23:30-31; Psalm 104:35; 106:1, 48; 113:1; 117:1; 135:1-3 and many other places). So we can do these things in submission to God’s commands and in that submissive obedience we are genuinely worshiping God. But we can also do all these things that we think of as worship without being truly submitted to him because we are reserving our highest allegiance to our own desires in defiance of God’s will. Many people go through the motions without genuinely worshiping at all. This is false worship, which God detests (Isaiah 1:10-17; 29:13; Matthew 15:7-9). And yet many people doing these things think they are worshiping God and pleasing him in what they do because they have an inadequate understanding of what true worship is—even though they may realize that they are not fully submitted to him.

True biblical worship can be done anywhere, anytime, with anyone, or even alone—this is at least part of what it means to worship “in spirit” (John 4:24). Any act of obedience and submission to God’s will is an act of worship. It is not just the acts of corporate gathering at a worship service or singing songs of praise. The modern definition of the word leaves out the core meaning of what biblical worship is—i.e. complete submission—and focuses way too narrowly on certain outward means which can be either acts of true worship or acts of false worship, depending on one’s heart attitude. At least part of the meaning of worshiping “in truth” (John 4:24) is being truly repentant and wanting to submit to God’s will in all things. But the modern definition misleads many into thinking that certain outward actions are, in and of themselves, true worship and pleasing to God, when that is not the case at all if their heart attitude is wrong. Therefore, the modern word “worship” is, on its own, an inadequate translation of the biblical concept which misleads many to the detriment of their spiritual lives.

Overcoming Inadequacies of Words Commonly Used in Bible Translation and Teaching (Part 1 of 3)

This is a guest post by Daniel Boerger. He and his wife Brenda worked on the Natqgu New Testament in the Solomon Islands. He is the translator of the Interpreted New Testament, available in print, ePub, Kindle, and free on Android.

General Introduction

Most English speakers today are “biblically illiterate.” By that I mean they lack any significant knowledge of biblical history, and/or biblical cultural norms, and/or theology – all of which are necessary in most passages for an accurate understanding of what the Holy Spirit and the original Scripture writer intended to say.

Even for a short historical narrative passage—in which the actions or events that happened may seem perfectly clear to any reader—the significance or implications of those actions or events is often not communicated, even though they would have been obvious to Jewish readers a couple of millennia ago. Sometimes modern readers are not even sure if what happened was good or bad —from God’s perspective or even sometimes from the perspective of persons involved in the narrative. Most modern readers will interpret any Scripture passage in terms of their own cultural standards, values, and worldview; and in so doing they may totally misunderstand the basic intended message, significance, and implications of the passage.

Much of the proper contextual knowledge needed to understand the Bible in general can be gleaned by becoming familiar with large portions of it. But this takes a lot of time, effort, and motivation—which is largely lacking in most people today. Therefore, most Bible readers today misunderstand many things that they read.

Unfortunately, Bible illiteracy is high today even among regular church attenders. The percentage of church goers who have the historical, cultural, and theological background to understand any given Bible passage accurately is quite small. Most church attenders are very dependent on pastors or other Bible teachers to enable them to properly understand a passage, so the only understanding they gain (unless they do a lot of Bible reading and studying on their own) is what they get from a pastor in a sermon or in a group Bible study or class. Learning what is needed to properly understand the Bible from only listening to sermons and attending group Bible studies takes years. But if a Bible translation were designed to communicate the basic meaning and implications of every passage such that any biblically illiterate reader could properly understand the basic intended meaning without being misled by their own cultural standards, values, and non-biblical worldview, a serious Bible reader could acquire an accurate understanding of at least the basics of the Bible within months instead of years.

Study Bibles can assist the motivated Bible student in their understanding of Scripture. But many of the notes in a typical study Bible are geared towards the serious Bible student and they assume a minimal level of knowledge that biblically illiterate readers lack. Study Bibles often do not provide simple basic information which a biblically illiterate reader needs. And many Bible teachers and pastors also seem to lack understanding of which basic information such biblically illiterate listeners are lacking. So they teach about the Bible using words and Scriptural figures that are often communicating either zero or wrong meaning to their listeners.

This article provides just one example of how a simple common Bible word is often misunderstood such that the message people receive concerning this word is not exactly what the Bible or a pastor intends to convey. And there are many such Bible words, multiplying the amount of misinformation that is conveyed in a typical Bible teaching and in reading a typical translation (whether a literal translation, or even in meaning-based translations like the New Living Translation).

My first goal is to convince Bible translators (and pastors and Bible teachers) by example that simply translating a word from the Hebrew or Greek text into its closest English equivalent is often not sufficient to accurately communicate the meaning intended in the biblical context. My second goal is to suggest possible ways of filling in the meaning gap in a Bible translation or when teaching about this example word. Perhaps future articles will provide further examples of Bible words that similarly do not communicate properly today.

I. Overcoming Inadequacies of the Word “Worship”

In deciding whether to use any modern word to translate a word in Scripture, one must consider the meaning of the word in modern usage. If it doesn’t mostly match up to the meaning in Scripture, then it will usually communicate the modern meaning rather than the biblical meaning to the majority of Bible readers, and it will always communicate misleading aspects of meaning to biblically illiterate readers.

II. A. What Does the Word “Worship” Mean to People Today?

Dictionary definitions of “worship” are: (I took these from a couple of different online dictionaries, combined them and edited them, but they will not totally match any one dictionary.)

Transitive Verb

  1. to honor or show reverence for a divine being or supernatural power,
  2. to regard with great or extravagant respect, honor, or devotion; to feel an adoring reverence or regard for (any person or thing)

Intransitive Verb

  1. to perform or take part in or attend a worship service or an act of worship
  2. to render religious reverence and homage, as to a deity
  3. to feel an adoring reverence or regard

Noun

  1. reverence offered to God, a divine being, a sacred personage, a supernatural power, or to any object regarded as sacred; also: an act of expressing such reverence
  2. a form of religious practice with its creed, ritual, or liturgy; or a formal or ceremonious rendering of such honor and homage (e.g. They attended worship this morning.)
  3. extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem

Synonyms: Verb adore, adulate, deify, honor, glorify, idolize, revere, reverence, venerate

Synonyms: Noun honor, homage, adoration, adulation, deification, hero worship, idolatry, idolization

Among most church-attending Christians today, the above definitions are what they think of as the meaning of “worship.” Additional common meanings of this word are “to sing songs of praise and adoration to God, or to come to God in prayer.”

While there is overlap between these definitions of worship and the biblical meaning of worship, there are significant problems, and if this isn’t immediately and clearly obvious to you, then your own default understanding of biblical worship is, in my opinion, deficient.

The Adversary in Job

In a recent Christianity Today article, it talked about how the word “satan” in Hebrew is a word that means “accuser,” or “adversary,” so “the satan” is a title, not a name. Thus, many Old Testament scholars believe that “the satan,” in the book of Job is not actually Satan, the devil, that we find in the New Testament.

Among those scholars is August Konkel, the author of the notes for the ESV Study Bible. He had his notes changed by the editors to say that “the satan” is indeed Satan, contrary to his views and his commentary on Job.

But before we start writing angry letters to the editors of the ESV Study Bible, we have to understand what they were working with. In the ESV text itself, “the satan” is translated as “Satan.” So the translation itself already made the determination that “the satan” was Satan. Would it make sense to have study notes that contradicted the text of the Bible itself? That would be problematic.

The ESV is not alone in this. English Bible translations have translated “the satan” as “Satan” ever since Wycliffe translated the first English Bible. You can view all the translations of Job 1:6 on Bible Gateway and see that the vast majority translate it as “Satan” (CSB, NASB, NET, NIV, NRSV) or “the accuser, Satan” (NLT, cf. Amplified, God’s Word, The Message, REB). These translations exclude the view that the accuser is not Satan.

Putting aside the theological question of whether “the satan” is indeed Satan or not, I think it would be more transparent and accurate to the Hebrew text to translate “the satan” as “the accuser” or “the adversary” in English Bibles.

This would not exclude the view that Satan is the accuser in Job. For example, most identify the serpent in Genesis with Satan, but we don’t need to put “Satan” into the text of Genesis. A footnote could be added that “the adversary” is “the satan” in Hebrew, and that some identify “the adversary” with Satan.

So what translations do that? Very few. The Common English Bible (CEB), Complete Jewish Bible (CJB), Jewish Publication Society (JPS 1985), the Modern English Version (MEV), and Young’s Literal Translation (YLT) have “the Adversary.” The Voice has “the Accuser.” The New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE) has “the satan,” replacing “Satan” in the original NAB. The Tree of Life Version also has “the satan.”

How would you translate “the satan” in the Book of Job? Would you keep the traditional rendering of “Satan”? Would you translate it “the accuser” or “the adversary”? Would you add a footnote? If so, what would it say? Comment below.