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Understanding the Bible

What Does the Bible Say?

That may seem like an odd question, for with the Bible in front of us it seems perfectly obvious what it says. Yet the very fact that we can read a Bible that makes sense in our own language is itself a tribute to the endeavours to past generations of biblical critics. A few facts about the Bible will help to explain why.

  • The Bible is written in what to us are foreign languages: the New Testament in Greek, and the Old Testament mainly in Hebrew, with a few pages in Aramaic. To understand what the Bible says we need to have a good grasp of these languages. To translate a modern book from say, French into English is a fairly straightforward business, for large numbers of people speak both languages and we can readily discover what their various expressions mean. But nobody today speaks any of the Bible languages.

    Languages change all the time, and the modern language called Hebrew and Greek are both significantly different from their predecessors in Bible times. Even the New Testament's Greek is rather different from that used by classical thinkers like Plato, only a few centuries before the time of Jesus.

    Discovering the exact meaning of the Bible languages is a complex affair, which includes the study of history and culture as well as strictly linguistic considerations.

  • We should also remember that no modern person has ever seen the original texts that the Bible authors themselves wrote. Even our most ancient Greek and Hebrew texts are copies of yet older copies.

    All the oldest copies were made long before the invention of printing. Scribes wrote them by hand, often in difficult conditions - and they occasionally made mistakes. They often wrote from dictation, and sometimes heard the words wrongly. Even when copying from other written manuscripts, and ancient scribe would occasionally miss out whole sections of text as his eye jumped accidentally from one use of a particular word to the next, a couple of lines down.

    If a previous reader had made his own comments in the margin, they might sometimes be copied into the text as if they were part of it. Then, on top of that, groups of people with a particular message to put over might occasionally introduce deliberate changes in order to provide 'biblical' evidence in support of their point of view.

  • Go to Bible Texts

    What does the Bible say? What does the Bible mean?
    Land of the Bible
    Land of the Bible A real history needs a real setting. The land and the people were real, and so, says the Bible, the coming of God to that paticular place was real, too. MORE ...
    Archaeology and the Bible
    Archaeology and the Bible The Bible is a collection of ancient books. The cultures in which those books were written have perished long ago. Much is being found again. MORE . . .
    The Story of the Bible
    The Story of the Bible How did these various books come to be written? Who wrote them? When? And how did they come together to make the book we now know as the Bible? MORE . .
    Understanding the Bible
    Understanding the Bible The Bible may be an ancient book but it is part of an unfinished story. The story begins, continues - and will end - with God's love. MORE . . .

    Religion & Worship in the Bible
    From earliest times, men and women have felt the need to worship, or pay respect to, someone or something greater than themselves. For the Israelites and their neighbors religion was an essential part of life.MORE . . .
    Home & Family Life in the Bible
    It is hard enough to imagine life fifty years ago. How much more difficult, then, to get a true picture of home and family life in Bible times.MORE . . .
    Atlas of Bible History
    The story of ancient Israel, the major theme of the Old Testament begins with the Patriarchs and covers a people of promise but of disobedience as well. Great powers arose surrounding this tiny stretch of land...MORE . . .