Lesson 6

The Symbols of Your Bible

BHC's Fourth Bible Study Guideline
A word is one or more symbols or sounds
with an attached bundle of associations

The symbols are the letters of the words, which collectively are called the alphabet.  It contains the building blocks of a written language.  Below are the symbols of the English language. 





The Ancient Symbols of the Hebrew Bible

The ancient words of the Tanakh, the Jewish Hebrew Bible called the Old Testament by Christians, were written with symbols shown below.  These are the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.  


The Ancient Symbols of the Greek Bible

The ancient manuscripts of the New Testament were written with Greek letters.  Early Christians also used the Greek translation of the Tanakh, which is called the Septuagint.

BHC's Sixteenth Bible Study Guideline
No author of any biblical book wrote in the English language.
Every translation is the sum total of decisions made by translators
concerning each word they read in the ancient biblical manuscripts.

Bringing the Message from One Language to Another

Hebrew and Greek words are of no value unless they can be understood by someone who can read them. It is therefore the translators job to make them meaningful to their English readers by converting them to symbols that can be understood. People who are restricted to only English translations do not know which options their translators did not choose for their translation. 

Since most Americans do not know how to read Hebrew and Greek translations were needed so the biblical words could be read.  The people that do this work are called "translators."  The word "translate" contains "trans-" which comes from Latin and means "across, over or beyond", combined with "-late", which means to "bear, bring over or carry." The thing that is being "brought over" is the "message," which is carried from one language to another. Therefore, a translation brings the meaning of a message from from one language to another. 

The translators also have the choice of transliterating words instead of translating them. As we saw above,  "trans-" means "across, over or beyond", combined with the Latin word "littera" which means "letters."  Therefore, "transliteration" means "to bring letters across from one language to another." In other words, the symbols of the original word is reproduced in another language by using the symbols of that language which have the equivalent sound.

Translators also have two other options when working with a word in an ancient manuscript: 1) ignore it, or 2) insert a completely different word in their translation.  I will discuss these options in more detail in future lessons. 

Working With Ancient Biblical Texts

There are several ways you can learn how to work with the ancient Greek and Hebrew manuscripts of the biblical texts.  First, you could enroll in college courses, which would require a commitment of several years.  Another option is to learn how to use tools that will allow you recognize which choices the translators made when making their translation.  Just as important, this option also allows you to become aware of the choices they didn't make too. Most people have very busy lives and the option of taking Greek and Hebrew language courses at a college isn't possible. Therefore, the second option is the best for them and it allows them to start using the tools very quickly.  

Today, the internet makes it possible for may of the tools you need for working with the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts immediately.  There are a number of websites that provide the ancient texts.  We will use Mark 1:1 to introduce the new Bible study tools.  Below is the Greek text from one of those websites.

Unless you know how to read Greek you cannot understand what the above words mean.  The first tool you must learn how to use in an interlinear Bible.  A great online resource for this tool and many others is Biblos.  The interlinear text for the above verse is found at this link. Below is Mark 1:1 from the interlinear Bible.

This interlinear Bible provides five lines of information for each word.  On the third line you can see the Greek text of Mark 1:1.  The top line is the number assigned to the word by the Strong's Concordance. The second line is the grammatical information for the word.  The fourth line contains the transliteration of each word. The fifth line is the English translation for the Greek word selected by the translators.  What you do not know is what other options were available, but not selected by the translator.

One of the first things this tool will help you do is identify transliterations.  Look at the transliteration (4th line) of the last Greek word -- christou.  By looking at the line below it you can see that the two words are identical, except for the last two letters of the transliteration.  The -ou is a suffix that was added to a root word.  When we find a transliteration we always want to check and see why the translator didn't simply translate the word.  In this case, Dr. Ike Tennison provides us with some very interesting information.

"A common assumption among people is that Christ was the last name of Jesus.  There is good reason for this assumption, since he was called Jesus Christ in the New Testament itself.  The more accurate phrase, however, is Jesus the Christ, because Christ is a title and not a name.

The name Jesus is a succession of transliterations (i.e., simply converting the letters of one language into the equivalent letters of another language): English from Latin from Greek from Hebrew (see Matthew 1:21 and Luke 1:31 for the name).

Christ, on the other hand, is a transliteration of the Greek word christos into English.  The Greek word christos, a form of the Greek verb chrio that means "to pour," is a translation of the Hebrew word mashiach, from which we get the word "Messiah."  Both words, Christ and Messiah, mean "anointed" (i.e., the anointing oil was poured onto their heads).

Thus, Jesus the Christ means Jesus the Anointed.  In the history of the Hebrew people (Jesus was a Jew), those who were anointed included priests and kings."

Notice what happens when we replace the transliteration with the translation in Mark 1:1 --

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus the Anointed.

The question that is now raised by this translation is what was Jesus anointed to be or do?  In other words, what was the bundle of associations attached to the word in the mind of the ancient author.  The fourth guideline provides a way for us to find out.

A word is one or more symbols or sounds with an attached bundle of associations.
The associations are a product of the author’s culture, historical time period, 
geographic location, and personal experiences.

The first place to look is always the author's culture during his lifetime.  You will learn how to use other tools to answer questions like this later.  Now we will continue our study of how to use the tools that help you work with the Greek and Hebrew words. The next lesson will introduce you to a special tool BHC created to help you work with the Hebrew and Greek words when there is no interlinear text - THE TRANSLITERATOR

Congratulations -- you have completed Lesson 6!

Continue to Lesson 7


If you find our work beneficial, please consider becoming a contributor too. 
For information click here.

Thank you!



Free Web Counter
free counter

Thank you for visiting our site!
Sign up to receive BHC News & Updates by e-mail.

Tell a friend about BHC & FOLLOW BHC ONLINE -- click here.
Copyright 1999-2015 Biblical Heritage Center, Inc.
* Information on this website comes from a wide variety of sources and the inclusion of any source is not to be understood as an endorsement of the position, person, or group.   All comments or statements are those of the source and have been included for educational and research resources.
Jim Myers, Webmaster