Do We Know What the Biblical Writers Really Said?

One of the speakers at this weekend’s Red River Freethinker’s Conference has spent much of his life studying origins of  the Bible. He specializes in the traslations from its original languages to English.  One of his conclusions is it’s really hard to know what was meant in the original languages.

Some of the early troubles with translation was recorded in notes made during the writing of the King James, 1611, version.  Writers back then were not quite as politically correct as today.  They admitted some entire sentences were simply too strange to know exactly what was meant.

We need only go back to the versions of “English” spoken in ancient Ireland and Scotland to see how much language changes over time.  Even by the time of our founding fathers, spelling was still largely phonetic.  Since we do not have perfect knowledge of how words sounded, it throws off further what might have been meant when they appeared on paper.

When Bible literalists hang importance on specific words in today’s Bibles, they may be off the mark from what was actually intended.  One of the examples is references to homosexuality which apparently is based on words over which there is creditable disagreement.  If those who decide to interpret this ancient writing in their own way would keep it within their own circle it would not matter.

Using the Bible as the basis for laws against such specific things as antigay marriage is the problem.

 

Avatar of Jon Lindgren

About Jon Lindgren

I am a former President of the Red River Freethinkers in Fargo, ND, a retired NDSU economics professor and was Mayor of Fargo for 16 years. There is more about me at Wikipedia.com.
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19 Responses to Do We Know What the Biblical Writers Really Said?

  1. Big Roy says:

    Very few people actually read your “BUNK”, Jon Lindgren! Give it a rest! You are so far from reality, it stinks! Go be a Grandpa at your age! Do something constructive! All it seems you are interested in is being a laughing stock! Oh, wait! I believe I hear it now………..yup, someone is calling loudly that they have just lost their “village idiot”! You better answer them, Jon! Hurry! Don’t be late!

    • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

      Big Roy 1:45 First time comment, thanks for stopping by. “Very few people actually read you ‘BUNK’”. Area Voices provides us bloggers with the number of people who open our blogs. A few people open mine.

  2. Henry says:

    The good Lord doth provide. He gave us the gift of the Greek language:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_language#Historical_unity
    “Historical unity

    Historical unity and continuing identity between the various stages of the Greek language is often emphasised. Although Greek has undergone morphological and phonological changes comparable to those seen in other languages, there has been no time in its history since classical antiquity where its cultural, literary, and orthographic tradition was interrupted to such an extent that one can easily speak of a new language emerging. Greek speakers today still tend to regard literary works of ancient Greek as part of their own rather than a foreign language.[15] It is also often estimated that the historical changes have been relatively slight compared with some other languages. According to one estimation, “Homeric Greek is probably closer to demotic than twelfth-century Middle English is to modern spoken English.”[16] Ancient Greek texts, especially from Biblical Koine onwards, are thus relatively easy to understand for educated modern speakers. The perception of historical unity is also strengthened by the fact that Greek has not split up into a group of separate, regional daughter languages, as happened with Latin.”

    Thank God for the Bible being penned in the Greek. Due to this fact, we have a very good idea what the original intent was. If it had been English, he may have had a point. Who was this “specialist” at the conference?

    • entech says:

      Same Wiki a paragraph or two earlier.
      Koine Greek: The fusion of various ancient Greek dialects with Attic, the dialect of Athens, resulted in the creation of the first common Greek dialect, which became a lingua franca across Eastern Mediterranean and Near East. Koine Greek can be initially traced within the armies and conquered territories of Alexander the Great, but after the Hellenistic colonization of the known world, it was spoken from Egypt to the fringes of India. After the Roman conquest of Greece, an unofficial diglossy of Greek and Latin was established in the city of Rome and Koine Greek became a first or second language in the Roman Empire. The origin of Christianity can also be traced through Koine Greek, as the Apostles used it to preach in Greece and the Greek-speaking world. It is also known as the Alexandrian dialect, Post-Classical Greek or even New Testament Greek, as it was the original language the New Testament was written in. Even the Old Testament was translated into the same language via the Septuagint.”

      Koine Greek, lingua franca – actually a modern equivalent would be pidjin English, something thrown together to make communication possible if not accurate.

      A market language.

      • Henry says:

        Perhaps a market language, but still one that can be easily understood according to the article.

        Again:
        “Ancient Greek texts, especially from Biblical Koine onwards, are thus relatively easy to understand for educated modern speakers.”

        • entech says:

          All true, I just suggest that it was more for ease communication than for precision in it’s beginning stages. A language that helped the Soldiers of Alexander to communicate with the Indians and Egyptians, and of course, the Hebrews. Still on its way to developing into a ‘standard’ language.
          If I may I would say for the New Testament a definite yes as it was actually the language used to write it at the time. I would be less confident about the accuracy of the Septuagint.

          • Henry says:

            Agreed.

          • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

            Henry 11:38 On traslations, the one thing we know is each year there are dozens of articles written by scholars arguing about what was actually meant in the ancient scripts that still exist, not to mention that many originals do not exist. If it were a simple matter, there would be no arguments.

            I like the statements on sites that adovatce for using exclusively the King James 1611. They write that, yes, there are arguments about translating the ancient texts and there are new points brought forward each year. That will probably continue on, they say. But, you have to draw the line somewhere, they believe, and determine which translation is the true one. We have decided the one published in 1611 is THE ONE, they say. Or, to paraphrase myself, “There won’t be no more stinkin’ translations after 1611, period.”

          • Henry says:

            The 1611 KJV would currently be unreadable to most due to the changes in the English language. Quite a while back, I waded through the preface in which they advised the reader to check the translation out despite them taking great pains to correctly translate with a systematic process. This was probably a good note to have with the translation to an English language somewhat breaking new ground at the time.

            Having said that, I am pretty confident in the translation hitting the original intent. I am certainly no expert, but I would imagine 400 years (wow! I missed that anniversary!) have given the translation to English a good test. People with their own pet agendas actually help to test and strengthen the translation. Thank you, Mac.

          • entech says:

            The king James is interesting, reputedly one of the closest to the original, a good Jewish friend of mine reads it a lot for this reason and for the fact that his Hebrew is not very good. Apparently the New Testament is translated from the Greek and the Old from Hebrew, the Apocrypha from the Latin. But simply on the language used a lot goes back even further than 1611 as a lot of Tyndale’s earlier translation (1500 and something, probably using some from Wycliffe who was about a hundred years earlier) was used, the language was actually a little out of date even in Cranmer’s day and by the time KJV came it was decided to keep the archaic tone as it gave an air of authenticity.

            I still have the copy given to me by my Grandmother and that was not new when it was passed down to her, it is still in near new condition.

          • Henry says:

            I use the KJV and the NIV. If I am just trying to get the flavor of a passage, I use the NIV. If I want to dig in to the Hebrew and Greek to discern the original meaning, I use my KJV in conjunction with my Strong’s and Green’s.

  3. Avatar of Mac Mac says:

    As a man of faith, I do believe there is spiritual influence in biblical scripture. I’m also certain beyond any personal doubt there are those who manipulated transcription of these documents to serve some purpose of importance in their current society at the time of transcription.

    Interestingly, the message of treating humanity with decency continually shines through, yet often gets tossed by the wayside with today’s fundies. It seems the sin-of-the-day seems to be what carries the fundamentalists through. Working Sundays and getting divorced was what became newly visible in the 50′s.

    Now it’s the openly visible homos that’s drawing the ire of fundies.

    I suppose genetically engineered humans and the parents that spawned them will be the next group that’s hell-bound.

  4. Bob says:

    To Mac, As a man of Reason, verses Faith, I call your “fundies” faithheads instead.

    Languages are fluid, they are changing constantly, like something alive, you can only really understand a language in context. To say that we can truly know all the nuances of the language of the bible from its time(s), is like saying we can understand all the quirks and nuances in the relationship between Gilgamesh and his wife. Which is impossible.

    The words of the Abrahamic texts were molded mostly by men for men’s purposes. In a time when only the elite could read, and those that could read used that ability to hold the power over everyone else who couldn’t read. And those purposes are dead to us today. Its dangerous to think that the Abrahamic texts can help us in anyway as it concerns our modern day issues, like CERN recently finding possibly a particle that can travel faster than light, DNA computers, Quantum computers, genetically being able to modify our human DNA not too far in the future which means our decendants will very likely live to be however long they want to live, and they will make their physical heaven based-on-reality as wonderful as they want it to be. Its horrible that faithheads can’t get it that the Abrahamic text days died when the first computer was fired up, or possibly earlier when the telephone was first used back in edison’s day.
    Anyway, its over, take the god glasses off please and toss the torah, koran, and bible in your nearest garbage can. We only need a few copies in a library somewhere so some historian can research them to see how dumb we used to be when we actually bought into that crap.

    “And if a man lie with mankind, as with womankind, both of them have committed abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”
    The passage is taken from Leviticus Mac, how can you buy into that crap of the bible and old testament when it says you should be put to death just because you are gay.

    • Avatar of Mac Mac says:

      People of faith have for centuries picked and chosen which verses serve their purpose. I’m fond of the ones that talk about treating humanity as if they are truly the children of God himself.

      Actually, when someone throws a clobber verse at me, I remind them it’s a good thing we no longer stone slutty women like the non-virgin one they married.

      That usually shuts ‘em down.

      (I do like the term faith heads. I especially appreciate your ability to have civilized discourse)

      • Henry says:

        “Actually, when someone throws a clobber verse at me, I remind them it’s a good thing we no longer stone slutty women like the non-virgin one they married.

        That usually shuts ‘em down.”

        Ahh…the sin of the heterosexual justifies the sin of the homosexual. (3-(-3)= 3+3). I know where that logic stands with the Christian faith. As far as logical reasoning, I believe you’ve employed the logical fallacy of tu quoque. You get a pass in math class, but not in philosophy nor religion.

        • entech says:

          I always thought of tu quoque as more like <ad hominem. But it is often used as a debating trick, as Mac seems to be doing here: the question is, is Mac attacking the man’s choice of partner or is it simply a gratuitous attack on that man’s partner. Not very clever or deep but an effective retort; rather like saying, I am a Christian and that is my religion, if you are not a Christian you still have a religion, even atheism is a religion.

          But that is just silly quibbling tell me “where that logic stands with the Christian faith”.

          • Henry says:

            “tell me “where that logic stands with the Christian faith”.

            Sin cannot blot out sin. Perfect sacrifice coupled with repentance blots out sin.

          • entech says:

            My Mother said the same thing with more reality and less pretension.
            Two wrongs don’t make a right.

  5. Bob says:

    But Mac, think of all the young vulnerable gay kids, who don’t have your confidence and experience, who because of the bible’s hate towards gays, gives the bullies the stance, the okay, the moral permission, to bully gay kids mercilessly until some of them kill themselves. Its not just about you Mac. You need to take exactly what the bible says more seriously. Its not a joke the evil things the bible says what it says about gay people, women and children.

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