to Accuracy is
A word consist of one or more symbols (letters) with an attached bundle of associations (the Source's meanings). These are not mysteriously joined together by magic. It is the results of the intervention of a formal system which is known as culture.
BHC's Eighth Bible Study Guideline
In order to understand the Sources message we must learn as much as possible about his or her civilization. The bundles of associations attached to the Sources words reflect his cultures way of viewing the world. The Source's language carries his culturally imposed sets of values and beliefs. The Source's message must always be understood in light of those values and beliefs.
Adin Steinsaltz provides additional information about culture:
culture is more than a set of rules to guide behavior; it is a comprehensive
worldview and way of relating to one's fellow human beings.
Like all complex cultures, Jewish culture does not spell everything out
literally, but leaves much to inference. A
culture's strength lies not only in what it says, but also in what it chooses
not to say, and this too must be learned.
We all think, act, and react in ways that have been primarily predetermined by our culture. It is impossible to completely understand the words of people from a different culture if we interpret them according to our culture.
What does the word breakfast mean to you? Is it a light or heavy meal? What time of day do you eat it? In Jamaica we find the same word in common use. It is also spelled b-r-e-a-k-f-a-s-t, but it has a different bundle of associations.
Middle-class Jamaicans eat breakfast in the morning, but it is a much more substantial meal than in the United States. Their lightest meal is called supper and is eaten in the late evening -- sometimes after 10 P.M.
Poor Jamaican farmers eat their lightest meal early in the morning, but they call it tea. They eat breakfast, a medium-to-heavy meal, at midday.
invited you to eat breakfast,
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BHC's Nineth Bible Study Guideline
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Matthew 12:1 (KJV)
corn; and his disciples were an hungered, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungered, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat.
Words paint pictures in our minds. Based on the words of the above verse, answer the questions below.
Did the mental image in your mind look something like the one below?
This is the image that usually
comes to American minds. The only problem is that this type of
known in the English speaking world until the discovery of
same letters -- c-o-r-n -- have different bundles of
associations attached in different cultures.
Below are the different bundles of associations of the three cultures:
British -- wheat
Scots -- oats
Americans -- maize
Both groups had used the identical word -- corn. But, each culture had a different bundle of associations attached to the same symbols. As soon as the American government understood what the British wanted they shipped wheat. This bit of linguistic ignorance cost taxpayers a few million dollars to repair and delayed the delivery of food that was urgently needed..
The King James Version is a product of the British culture of the 17th century. Now that you know what the word "corn" meant in the British culture and you know the King James Version is the British culture -- answer the same questions about Matthew 12:1 again:
Did your mental picture change to this?
Did you switch from an American maize field to a British wheat field? When you check out Matthew 12:1 in other English translations you will find "wheat fields" and "grain fields." Theologically, this isnt very significant, but if our standard is that the only correct answer is the ancient author's understanding of his word, then the right answer is not American maize. It didn't exist in Israel during the time of Jesus. The British were correct, because their translation accurately reflects the meaning of the ancient biblical manuscripts and what did exist in Jesus' world.
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More Familiar Words - Beware!
BHC's Tenth Bible Study Guideline
As we have seen above, words that we use in our everyday lives can take on very different meanings when we view them through the eyes of people from other cultures. We have already discussed "breakfast" and "corn." Now let's examine another word that is also very familiar to every American -- "marriage." Lets begin by considering the "bundles of association" we link to "marriage" in our culture.
The old saying, "First comes love, then comes marriage," reflects the way our American culture views marriage. What would most American's think if someone suggested that they should just forget the fall-in-love part - they would probably think you were crazy! Everybody, which means every American, knows that people are supposed to fall in love first.
When we read the word marriage, we automatically attach our bundle of associations (date, fall in love, etc.) -- and we don't realize we are doing it. This can completely change the meaning of a message written by a Source from another culture.
Let me share a personal experience of mine to help make the point. A young woman who had been born and raised in Iran came to one of our meetings and at which we were discussing cultural differences. I used the above information about the word "marriage." She asked if she could share her culture's understanding of the word marriage.
When she was only fourteen years old, her father signed a contract that obligated her to marry a man who was thirty-six years of age at that time. Her father and the groom finalized all of the details, and then, after the contract had been signed, was she told that she would be getting married. This was the normal and correct way of getting married in her culture.
A girl might meet her husband for the first time on the day of the ceremony. Love was not a factor. Below are the factors that are important.
Their primary factors are much different from what most American's think when they hear the word "marriage." Some of the women at the meeting pointed out that it was the lack of those things that are commonly listed as the reasons for many divorces in our culture.
The Iranian woman's family came to America before the marriage took place. Later, when they were ready to return, she refused to go back and marry the man. She was able to stay in America with other family members. She became a citizen and married a man that she loved.
English translations of the Bible use the word "wife" many times. The first time it appears is Genesis 2:24:
The English transliteration of the Hebrew word in the ancient text which the translators translated "woman" is ISHAH. The transliteration is made by substituting an equivalent English letter for each Hebrew letter or vowel sign in the original word. We will cover this in more detail in a future lesson. ISHAH also appears two more times in the verses quoted above. Take another look and see if you can figure out what the translators did.
Now let's correct the work of the King James translators and read what the ancient author of the Hebrew text of Genesis wanted to convey to his audience.
By mistranslating the Hebrew word ISHAH as wife, instead of woman, the translators implied that a marriage had been involved. The fact that these verses have been used in marriage ceremonies for centuries reflects how much they have been connected to this belief. I have no proof as to why the King James translators chose to mistranslate such a common Hebrew word as ISHAH, but I have a good idea that they allowed their cultural beliefs to cloud their professional training. It doesn't take much research into the culture of Britain during that period to conclude that one of their important beliefs was that "any naked man and woman that were found together had better be married to one another." Therefore, when translating a Bible passage that has a naked man and woman together, it appears that the British translators wanted to make sure it sent the correct message (based on their beliefs). Of course, one does wonder why they didn't say "husband and his wife," instead of "man and his wife?"
The word ISHAH is used hundreds of times in the Hebrew Bible. It was translated "wife" beginning with Adam, followed by Cain, the giants, Noah, Abram, Moses, etc. The bottom line is that most modern readers just assume that all of those people married their wives without taking time to consider what that would have meant in any of the ancient cultures involved. Interestingly, in the ancient world of the biblical text, the cultures involved were probably much closer to that of the Iranian woman mentioned above, than our American culture.
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BHC's Eleventh Bible
As we now realize, every culture has its own highly specialized
meanings and that a word-for-word translation will not transport the meaning of
the Source's culture to the Receptor's. In order to make sure the Source's
meanings are accurately understood additional detailed information is needed. This
is very clear from the above examples of the words breakfast, corn and marriage
above. Below are some other English words that cause a great deal of
trouble for those from another culture. Words of this type are called
What does the word overhead mean to you? The literal meaning that comes to mind is "something that is above the head;" since "over" means "above." Lets see how the Websters New Collegiate Dictionary defines it:
Don't you think that a person from another culture
would have a difficult time connecting "overhead" to the bundle of associations
"business expenses" without a full
"Order" is another very common word that can present a big problem for people from another culture. Lets see what it means to different people in our culture.
Clearly, without a detailed explanation, the correct meaning of the word "order" might not be understood by someone from another culture. If people living during the same time period could have problems communicating with one another, think about the challenges presented when we read the words of our Bible. The ancient authors lived several thousand years ago and belonged to very different cultures.
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The Technical Terms of Jesus
Jesus also used technical terms that are also theologically loaded words which require much more than just a word-for-word translation. In many cases, more than a few notes are required. Many of the differences that divide denominations are due to the lack of understandings the culturally correct meaning of technical terms, e.g., saved, baptize, righteousness, repentance, believe, Christ, Messiah, Sabbath, etc. Let's examine a technical term that played an important role in the teachings of Jesus -- righteousness. Before we continue, take time to write down your definition of righteousness below:
Now let's begin our study by examining Matthew 5:20:
Since Jesus used this word repeatedly, and even taught that righteousness was a requirement for anyone who will be part of the kingdom of Heaven - shouldnt righteousness be one word that is accurately understood by every Christian? It is such an important word that Jesus even said the "righteous person will inherit eternal life" (Matthew 25:46). So, if you have an interest in inheriting eternal life, then knowing what it meant to Jesus should be a top priority.
The English Meaning of Righteousness
Lets see what righteousness means in English, then compare it to what it meant to Jesus almost 2000 years ago.
Right + (e)ous + ness
Therefore, righteousness in English means "The condition of abounding in being in accordance with what is good and proper." But, Jesus wasn't speaking English to an American audience when he taught. The bottom line is that Jesus never said spoke the word "righteousness." The word that you would have heard Jesus use sounded like this --TZEDAKAH. If we want to know what it meant to Jesus we must go to sources of information about his culture and language. A very good source is the Encyclopedia Judaica, it can be found in many libraries. It is the source of the following information. Compare the following information about TZEDAKAH with your definition for righteousness.
TZEDAKAH is defined as "the fulfillment of all legal and moral obligations by doing what is right in all relationships. It is concrete acts, not abstract notions. Hebrew righteousness is a constant pursuit of justice and the performance of positive deeds, not merely abstention from evil. It is a learned trait resulting from the sustained performance of obligations. It is not an inherent human characteristic."
"In the Hebrew language, the righteous man is the innocent party, while the wicked man is the guilty one. The prophets conceived of the ideal society in terms of righteousness because righteous action results in social stability and, ultimately, in peace. Failure to perform obligations leads indirectly to the upsetting of social stability and, ultimately, to the deliberate undermining of the social structure."
"Righteous action within a righteous society will restore peace in the world.The righteous are called living even after they die, whereas the wicked are called dead even while they are still alive. Any person who is sincerely sorry for the sins he/she has committed, turns from them, and lives according to Gods will can change his/her status from that of wicked to that of righteous. On the other hand, anyone who has been a perfectly righteous person all his/her life can choose to turn away from a righteous lifestyle to become wicked, thereby canceling all their good deeds. Our free will allows us to choose which path we want to follow."
In the early rabbinic time period (Jesus time period), righteousness took on the additional meaning of "charity, almsgiving, or practical benevolence." It is understood that a righteous man is a good man, free from sin, one who carries out his obligation to God and to man by obeying the precepts of the Hebrew Bible. Righteousness does not necessarily suggest unusual piety; it simply means carrying out God's will. Neither does it mean "perfect," it means that when a righteous man commits a sin he does what is required to restore himself to a state of purity.
The obligation to help the poor and needy is stated many times in the Hebrew Bible. It was considered by the Jewish sages of all ages to be one of the cardinal commandments of Judaism. The importance they attached to the commandment of almsgiving can be understood by their statement that "almsgiving is as important as all the other commandments combined."
There is a great difference between the Hebrew understand of TZEDAKAH, with its requirement of almsgiving, and the English word charity. The Hebrew culture defines almsgiving as follows:
Everyone is obligated to give alms. It is performed as a matter of obligation by those possessing the means of providing what is needed.
There is a tremendous difference between the word Jesus used, TZEDAKAH, and the word righteousness that is found in most English translations. Using the new culturally correct information, read the following passage from Matthew (25:31-46).
Discuss what this message originally meant to Jesus and his Jewish audience. How did the meaning change over the centuries? How does this message relate to the salvation doctrines of modern Christianity?
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BHC's Twelfth Bible Study Guideline
Old definitions are like a road with deep ruts. You normally don't think about the meaning of words as you use them. As you discover new information that changes the meanings for many well known and very familiar words, unless you take steps to document them, in a very short time they will slip away. Old meanings are like deep ruts in a dirt road, because you will find yourself reverting to them, even though you found that they were wrong. I have literally realized that I was doing this while teaching. I have stopped and said, "Forget what I just said because I just slipped into an old rut."
Informed Believer you should consider the following suggestions:
It takes time and discipline to incorporate the new cultural information into your Belief System. You must apply the new information with relentless determination to fill in those old ruts. As you use the BHC Guidelines and improve your newly acquired skills, the messages in your Bible will take on new meanings right before your eyes.
Congratulations-- you have completed Lesson 4!
The benefits of using the BHC linguistic approach to Bible study should be obvious by now. You have already reached a level of expertise that will elevate the quality of your Bible studies far above those who do not understand how word work and are not working to view the wotds of their Bible through the eyes of the ancient authors.
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