I went to seminary mostly so I could read the Bible in the original Greek and Hebrew. The Hebrew lay fallow for a long time -- I probably forgot more than I remembered -- but I've been reading through the Bible now, using an interlinear text. I eventually found that I didn't need to look at every word, so I covered up the English, and peeked only when I didn't know. Poetry uses a lot more varied vocabulary than history, so reading in the Psalms and Isaiah I'm looking all the time, but Genesis and Chronicles and parts of Jeremiah I only need to peek once or twice per verse, sometimes going two or three verses without peeking at all.
I'd spent a lot of time in the Greek text working on BibleTrans, so after a while I started carrying the Greek NT to church instead of a whole Bible (and now also the interlinear Hebrew OT). Hebrews and James are rough going, but Paul's letters and the gospels read pretty easily without looking in the dictionary (in the back) very often.
These are some of the insights that I got from this exercise.
We have the same thing in English. I was recently reading a novel and came across the spoken line "[cussword] are you?" I was stumped, but after a minute of thinking about it, I realized this was short for "Who the [cussword] are you?" which is emphatic for "Who are you?" I know the English language reasonably well, but it was not obvious to me what had happened. How much more in a language that's been dead for more than 2500 years? The prophet Ezekiel, probably one of the last Jews to write in his native Hebrew (prophets after the exile still wrote in Hebrew, but the language of the people was already Aramaic by then), has numerous lines where God says (literally) "if I [do it]" (not always the same activity), but the English translation is consistently "I will never [do it]," like as if the written Hebrew text is short for "if I never [do it], it will be too soon!" (a line I have heard in English), or perhaps in more idiomatic Hebrew, "a curse on me if I [do it]," like Jezebel's oath in 1Kings 19:2, several hundred years earlier.
The Jews who preserved the Scriptures for us must have carried those obscure meanings around with them, and they probably got captured in the early translations (like into the Greek Septuagint). Two and three thousand years later, we are deeply indebted to those early translations for helping us understand these figurative senses.
That's much less of a problem for New Testament Greek, because it was
written during a span of less than a century, by people who learned Greek
as a second language and therefore mostly didn't use obscure metaphors
frequented by people who were born into the language. Similarly, the atheists
who claim a late composition date for most of the Old Testament are wrong:
Ezra and the other scribes who returned from Babylon spoke Aramaic as their
native language, not Hebrew, so (like the NT authors) they were much less
likely to use obscure Hebrew metaphors, like you see in the earlier books.
The language of the Old Testament is consistent with its composition by
eyewitnesses, and not with late redaction.
Hebrew poetry like Psalms, often every verse is chiastic, with the object before the subject in the first part of the doublet that is characteristic of all Hebrew poetry, then the subject first in the second part, as here in Ps.8:1
How majestic is your name in all the earth! [normal English order: Your name is majestic]What I'm seeing now that I'm reading John in Greek is that he composes much of the sayings of Jesus in the same way, with the object before the subject in the beginning of each sentence, whereas the Greek in other parts of the New Testament is often more English-like, with the subject first. This gives a profound insight into the composition of the Fourth Gospel, that it cannot be a late composition by some second- or third-generation church leader in some far-off country like Ephesus. The word order is characteristic of Biblical Hebrew, which would not be affected by people who never knew Hebrew. Consider for example the verse familiar to most evangelicals, John 3:16 in the original word order:
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Thus loved God the world, [verb, subject, object] (inverted)Thus, it follows the Hebrew poetic style, inverted, then uninverted. I'm seeing a lot of this in John. Luke is not a Jewish name, and I did not see that kind of Hebraicism there. If John had been composed by a Gentile church member and not the (Jewish) Apostle, it would look more like Luke.
that the son the unique gave [object, verb with subject] (inverted)
so that every believer in him would not perish [subject, verb] (uninverted)
but have life eternal. [implied subject, verb] (uninverted)
Despite the moral agenda which apparently drives such argumentation, everybody I have ever met or heard of or can imagine actually believes in a different kind of "true" which they might prefer not to articulate (by reason of said moral agenda), but they very much practice when they are involved in financial transactions (two $5 bills never add up to a $20) or actions of harm involving fault. In those cases, their notion of "true" is better defined as "conformance to reality." Thus "5+5=10" is true but not "5+5=20". If Bill's fist connected with Sam's nose with a certain velocity and force behind it, then "Bill hit Sam" is true, because that's what really happened, and presumably that gives Sam the moral right to hit back. It doesn't matter if Bill believes otherwise, what matters is what really happened. Other people might be called in to confirm the respective opinions, but that makes sense only if there is a reality to conform to. See longer discussion here.
I have always held this "conformance to reality" view of truth, but until recently I had no reason for it other than that it seemed like a good idea -- otherwise known as personal preference. It's just a definitional thing, because both concepts exist in our culture and are used separately for their respective senses by all people. Some people define "true" in public as personal belief -- I assume to promote some dishonest moral agenda -- but revert to the other definition when expressing (righteous) moral outrage at some other scumbag who pretends to apply the same definition against them.
Now, reading the Hebrew Bible, I can see that the Hebrew word sometimes translated as "truth" has as its root sense "confirmation" -- we get the English word "amen" from the same Hebrew root. In other words, conformance to reality is the fundamental meaning of the word "true" in Hebrew, and thus bears the approval of God. Switching off between different and contradictory senses of a word is fundamentally dishonest, and God cannot lie, so it makes sense for the definition of "true" in God's eyes (and in His Word written) to be consistent and (ahem) a confirmation of reality. I suspect that might also be true of the Greek word, but less obviously so.
2014 November 15, revised 15 Jan 23