the History of Language & the Bible

Dr Gregory A. Boyd

(3) Authors in biblical times were not as infatuated with “literal facts” as modern authors tend to be.  They frequently wove together history and allegory or history and myth to make a point.  Ezekiel 19 is one case in point. The author tells literal history, but he does it by using symbolism.  The end result is a story which has a literal point and must, as history, be taken seriously, but which can’t be understood literally at every point.  The idea that the Bible must be 100% inspired is a very recent, and quite misguided notion.

(5) Luke uses expressions in Acts which were used widely early on in Christianity, but not later–not after AD 70.  Jesus, for example, is called “the Son of Man,” but this title of Jesus died out very early in Christian circles (replaced by “Son of God”).

(7) First, hardly anyone takes all the talk about hell being a place of fire and brimstone literally.  The Bible uses a host of metaphors to describe this place, metaphors which would contradict each other if taken literally.  So, for example, hell’s described as a place of total “darkness,” but also of “fire.”  It is described as a “pit” but also as  a “lake burning with brimstone.”  It is described as a place of punishment, but also of total destruction.  Sometimes the inhabitants are portrayed as being “cast out” from a dinner (in heaven); sometimes “cast down” into a pit; sometimes whipped as a disobedient servant.  Sometimes they seem rebellious (“gnashing of teeth”), sometimes even sorrowful (Luke 6).

The metaphors, you see, vary greatly, and non of them are to be taken as a literal “snapshot” of what hell is going to be like.  Rather, the goal of each is to impress on us that hell is a very bad place!  Hell is everything which is opposite of what God wants for humanity.  In fact, the term hell itself metaphorically expresses this.  Hell in Greek is gehenna, and gehenna was a valley outside of Jerusalem which was used as the city’s major dump.  What ends up in hell, the biblical authors are saying, is simply the refuse of humanity.

F.F. Bruce

(3) But we must not infer from this similarity of language and framework that two similar narratives are duplicate accounts of one and the same event, or that two similar parables (e.g. the wedding feast of Matthew xxii. 2 ff. and the great supper of Luke xiv. 16 ff.) are necessarily variant versions of one and the same parable, any more than we should conclude that, because a police officer describes two street accidents in almost identical language, he is really giving two variant accounts of one and the same street accident.

(3) Another interesting fact which comes to light when we try to reconstruct the original Aramaic in which our Lord’s sayings in all the Gospels were spoken is that very many of these sayings exhibit poetical features. Even in a translation we can see how full they are of parallelism, which is so constant a mark of Old Testament poetry. When they are turned into Aramaic, however, they are seen to be marked by regular poetical rhythm, and even, at times, rhyme. This has been demonstrated in particular by the late Professor C. F. Burney in The Poetry of our Lord (1925). A discourse that follows a recognizable pattern is more easily memorized, and if Jesus wished His teaching to be memorized His use of poetry is easily explained. Besides, Jesus was recognized by His contemporaries as a prophet, and prophets in Old Testament days were accustomed to utter their oracles in poetical form. Where this form has been preserved, we have a further assurance that His teaching has been handed down to us as it was originally given.

(1) It is worth mentioning here that striking affinities of thought and language have been recognized between this Gospel and the Qumran texts.

(3) Yet the texts provide additional evidence for the basically Hebraic character of this Gospel. They appear especially in the phraseology which opposes light to darkness, truth to error, and so forth; and also in certain forms of messianic expectation which find expression both in the fourth Gospel and at Qumran.

(4) These two feedings belong respectively to two parallel series of similar incidents, one series being enacted on Jewish soil, the other on Gentile soil to the north and east of Galilee. The incidents are selected in order to show how Jesus repeated on this occasion among the Gentiles acts which He performed among the Jews. Indeed, it has been suggested that there is significance in the difference between the two words for ‘basket’ used in the two accounts, the one in the first account being a basket with special Jewish associations, that in the second account being a more general word. Since Peter was the chief authority behind the second Gospel, it is not incredible that the apostle who used the keys of the kingdom of heaven to open the door of faith, to the Jew first and then to the Gentile, should have related these two similar miracles in his gospel preaching to show how Christ was the bread of life for Gentiles as for Jews.

(7) One of the happiest consequences of these discoveries has been the coming to light of a great quantity of Greek writing on scraps of papyrus (or on pieces of pottery) by I people of little education, and we are thus able to see the sort of Greek spoken by the common people of New Testament times – at any rate in Egypt.

Now, it had always been recognized that the Greek of the New Testament was different in many ways from the classical language of the great Greek writers. Scholars tried to account for the peculiarities of this ‘biblical Greek’ in various ways; some, like Richard Rothe in 1863, suggested that it was a new ‘language of the Holy Ghost’,’ invented for the purpose of expressing divine truth. We do not, of course, deny that, in whatever language the New Testament was written, it would certainly be in one sense ‘a language of the Holy Ghost’, when we consider the good news and divine truth conveyed to us in that language; but the discovery of these unliterary writings in the sands of Egypt quite reversed the previous opinions of scholars, for they turned out to be written in much the same kind of Greek as the New Testament. The Greek of the New Testament, in fact, was very like the vernacular Koine or ‘common’ Greek of the day; the ‘language of the Holy Ghost’ was found to be the language of the common people – a lesson which we should do well to keep in mind.’

James Carroll

(3) The theological formulations that jelled between the Council of Nicaea (325) and the Council of Constantinopel (381) had reflected an accommodation with Greek thought, and so had the work of the great Augustine (354-430).  In this period, the metaphors that early Christians used to describe their experience of and faith in Jesus of Nazareth were reinvented in the categories of Hellenistic metaphysics.  Obviously, the movement from religious expression which began, essentially, as poetry, which  prizes ambiguity and allusiveness, to religious philosophy, which values precision above implication, represents a decisive shift.

John B. Gable

(1) Getting us into the metal world of the author is the immediate cause of all that we see on the page.  In this case (creation) we begin to understand the concepts of deity and creation held by the so-called Priestly authors who were supposedly responsible for this story along with much else in the Pentateuch.  For them God was awesome and remote, sharing power with no one and no thing, bringing the universe into begin simply because he wished to do so.

(1) So in the opening chapters of Genesis we now have two very different accounts of what was presumably the same event: the Creation.  There is no reason to suppose that the Priestly authors believed that there had actually been two creations.  No, there had been only one set of divine acts in the beginning—one object—but there is more tha one perspective from which to view it, that is, more than one subject.

(1) We might also wonder how Luke (who composed Acts about half a century after Stephen’s death) obtained a verbatim text of Stephen’s speech. . . . We have these problems as long as we look at the speech as something that was once “out there” and that was transmitted bodily to the written page without filtering through the mind of an author.

(1) But if we look at (Stephen’s) speech as a subject, we are liberated.  Now we can recognize that it is in fact a carefully structured literary composition, even though the story presents it as a curst of spontaneous oratory.  Now we can acknowledge that its real author was Luke, who wrote the speech that he believed Stephen would have (or should have) given on that occasion—as all ancient historians were accustomed to doing—perhaps following traditional accounts but supplying the exact wording himself.

(1) What Stephen’s sacrifice “really” was and “really” meant are questions, respectively, for the historian and the theologian.  We are not concerned with these questions because our attention is focused on the means through which all of this comes to us: a composition in which the normal literary processes of selection, emphasis, wording, and organization operate, and which must be studied as a literary composition.

(3) The Bible is not a book at all, in the usual sense of the term, but an anthology—a set of selections from a library of religious and nationalistic writings produced over a period of some one thousand years.  The Bible cannot have the kid of unity that we normally expect in a book from our own period.

(3) If one insists on looking at the Bible as a unified and homogeneous wok, planned from the beginning, then one is forced not only to ignore what is known about its origins and composition but also to explain away a host of textual problems—duplication of material, omissions, interpolations, contradictions—that are most sensibly accounted for as the result of multiple authorship over a long period of time.

(3) The notion that the Bible speaks with one once has been powerfully though accidentally encouraged in our own culture by the long preeminence of the King James Version.  If there were stylistic variations from one section to the next when this version was written, such variations have been pretty much obscured during the intervening four centuries:  It all sounds alike to us now.  What we notice and what many persons particular value—is the flavor of antiquity, the solemn and measured tone, the sense of something behind the word of this version.

(3) Modern vernacular translations of the Bible are unpopular with such persons because, in attempting to reflect the individual characteristics of the original Hebrew and Greek texts, the translators violate this assumption.

(6) In biblical times, writers who had some conception of a subject they wished to give expression to would turn naturally and as a matter of course to a traditional literary form as a vehicle for doing so.

(6) But the author’s feelings of estrangement and despair are nevertheless traditionally expressed, utilizing a form that modern scholars call the “lament,” of which there are nearly forty other instances in the book of Psalms, thus making it by far the most common type of psalm.  As a comparison of lament psalms will show, they tend to follow a stereotyped pattern: The speakers invoke God, describe their trouble (which often includes persecution by enemies), assert faith in God, petition for help (sometimes offering a vow), and thank God for the rescue that they foresee.

(6) The prevalent theory now is that most (if not all) of the poems in the psalmbook were used in ceremonies at the Second Temple—sung or chanted with musical accompaniment at carious points in the ritual.

(6) Numbers 6:24-26 is a blessing that essentially consists of the three-fold repetition of the name of Yahweh.  It is inserted into the narrative of the law-giving at Sinai, but its actual source is much more likely to have been in the services at Solomon’s Temple before the Exile.  The language of the covenant-renewal ceremony in Joshua 24:14-24 seems to have come from an annual ceremony of that sort held at Shechem.  This is preceded in 24:2-13 by a historical recital, itself a traditional form. as we can see by looking at Deuteronomy 6:20-25 or I Samuel 12:6-15.  The historical recital (to which we have already referred is an expanded version of the prologue that traditionally given a pact or covenant, known technically as a “suzerainty treaty,” between a ruler and his people.

(6) Already in Amos, prophetic oracles are a highly stereotyped literary composition.  Many of these oracles can be identified in the works of Amos and those who followed him.  They are marked by having a certain standard functions (denouncing the people for their sins, promising punishment from Yahweh), utilizing a more-or-less coherent set of central images (for example, Israel as a disobedient child and Yahweh as the parent), and including linguistic formulas (“These are the very words of Yahweh”).  We like to believe that the best of these oracles bear distinctive marks of the individual prophet’s thinking and literary style; but many of them could be moved from one prophetic book to another without creating any problem—some were in cat, moved during the redaction of these books (for example, Isaiah 2:2-4 is almost identical with Micah 4:1-3).

(6) The Old Testament is also the repository for several specimens of ancient patriotic poetry: the victory songs of Moses in Exodus 15, Moses’ blessing on Israel in Deuteronomy 28, Jacob’s blessing of his songs in Genesis 49, the Song of Deborah in Judges 5. We know nothing about the setting of these compositions—how they were used or what part they played in the life of the people—but of their character as public speech there is no doubt.

(6) Behind the written story (of Abram and Sarai) is doubtless an oral tradition of considerable age, a tradition that might have been mainly directed to the celebration of the beauty of Sarai, which would have made her desirable to others (notice that it is kings who desire her) and of course put her marriage to Abram in jeopardy.  In any case the author of the second version, in chapter 20, retold the story with some basic changes, presumably to substitute the author’s own emphases; the author of the third version did the same thing in chapter 26.  The final redactor who wove all three into the texture of the Genesis narrative may well have understood their meaning no better than we do, but since he could have retarded them all as history, he did not have to feel obliged to figure them out.

(6) Other traditional forms in the gospels are the pronouncement story, the story of healing, the “saying,” the birth narrative (in Matthew and Luke only), the beatitude, the “woe,” the legal commentary (“You have heard. . .  but I say to you . . .”), the allegory, the commissioning of apostles, the Transfiguration scene.  These and other common elements are intricately modified as they are used by one or another of the gospel writers, following their individual tastes and needs.  In every case the element itself originated within the Church as an oral tradition, the common property of a group of believers.

(6) The Last Supper narrative is a notable exception, because a communal meal among the believers that featured a recitation of the words and an imitation of the actions of Jesus on the occasion must very soon have become a standard with the Church.  The earliest version that we have is from Paul, who claims to have received it by a private revelation “from the Lord” (I Cor. 11:23-26).  Whatever on may think of Paul’s claim, it is clear that he Last Supper narrative existed and functioned independently of any literary context such as a gospel and that its appearance in the gospels (Matt. 26, Mark 14, Luke 22) reflects its importance to the Church.

(7) The first parable recorded by Mark, the parable of the sower, rather plainly does not fit the allegorical interpretation added to it and so affords us a glimpse into what may have happened. In the added interpretation the focus is changed from the act of sowing the seed to the fate of the seed after it has been sown.  Now the sower disappears altogether, although the harvest should be his reward for having persevered in his work.  Indeed, because the harvest can be of no concern to the soil it grew in, the concept of reward now becomes irrelevant.  It is replaced by the concept o fitness or receptiveness to the growth of the seed (that is, the gospel), thus initiating a theme of paramount interest to the write—as we can tell from everything else he wrote—but a theme that was surely not intended in the earliest form of the parable.

(7) There is no limit to the number of allegorical expressions that may be given to a single theme or idea.  The more important it is, the more likely it is to show up in many different forms.

(8) Jesus’ actual words would have been in Aramaic, the language he spoke, but they were translated into Greek before being included in Matthew’s gospel.

(9) The key to Hebrew poetry, he (Bishop Robert Lowth, 1753) found, is that it is a structure of thought rather than of external form and that a Hebrew poem is composed by balancing a series of sense units against one another according to a certain simple principles of relationship.

(9) Turning it in the hand and viewing it from different angels, as it were, the Hebrew poet could more fully demonstrate its latent significance.

(16) In Hittite treaties, fore example, we find a stereotyped structure: (1) preamble—identification of the sovereign; (2) historical prologue—why the king and his vassals are in this relationship; (3) stipulations—what is expected of the vassals; and (4) blessings and curses—what will happen if the covenant is observed or not observed.  The covenant between Yahweh and Israel, given to Moses, is quite in line with this tradition.  In Exodus 20 we find: (1) “I am Yahweh”; (2) I “brought you out of Egypt, where you lived as slaves”; (3) “You shall have no other gods to rival me.” The fourth element, blessings and curses, became detached from the Exodus context and shows up in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28.

(17) The poetic technique here, parallel repetition, with its effect of reinforcing meaning, is precisely the one that shaped the poetry of the Hebrew Bible, And it was from their Near Eastern neighbors that Hebrew writers leaned the technique.

(18) One of the material sources of history in those days was annals: simple bookkeeping records, systematically compiled, of what happened when—since after the invention of writing it had become possible to support fallible human memory with something more permanent.

(18) The overarching principle that embraces and binds together all the elements of historical writing just described is ideology, and in this respect the biblical writers were exactly like their predecessors.  As the next chapter will show in detail, non of those writers was ever interested in the past simply for it’s own sake.  Their chief aim was to use the past to teach a religious lesson, specifically, that proper obedience to the deity leads to success in earthly affairs, with its corollary about disobedience.

(21) When they told their stories of the past, they did so not for the sake of the past but for the sake of the present—their present, of course.  That is, they selected material concerning the past and shaped it according to what they felt were the needs of their own present-day audience.

(27) What is true of this sort of material in the earlier writings is true of it in the New Testament as well:  Events of the past are set forth not to provide an objective account of the past but to serve the needs of some specific contemporary audience for whom each of the authors had a particular concern.

(28) The case that the purpose of the writers of biblical literature was not to give objective accounts of the past but to meet the needs of their contemporary audiences.

(28) But we must never forget that, so far as the biblical writers were concerned, history was only a means to a greater end, not an end in itself.  In their conception, the truth of an event was not in the fact of its happening but in what it signified.

(30) For them to write it as an address by Moses was not an act of literary deception.  The authors were no doubt perfectly sincere in believing that Moses either did say or should have said these things (the distinction between “did” and “should have” is an invention of the modern mind and did not exist in the ancient world).

(48) The (apocalyptic) vision that comes to the speaker—sometime while waking, sometimes while sleeping—consists of concrete images that represent the intended meaning through vivid and usually fantastic allegory.

(48) Behind it all (the apocalypse of Daniel), is the writer, who to serve the need of his contemporary audience has created a seer, the vision, the interpreter, and the interpretation.

(48) The writer of the book (Daniel) that bears his name selected that particular figure as the one to receive and describe a serious of apocalyptic visions.

(48) Here it will suffice to remark that (1) the author of the book of Daniel chose the important figure of wise Daniel as his spokesperson in order to gain a hearing for his message of hope, and (2) the success of the book encouraged later imitation of its major literary features, including pseudonymity.

(48) There was nothing dishonest in this (pseudonymity), any more than there was anything dishonest in the author of Acts putting long, detailed speeches into the mouths of persons who lived fifty years before his time. This was simply the convention of history writing in the ancient world.

(49) It (Revelation) employs most of the standard features of that literary genre and was written for the same reason that other apocalypses were written—namely, that author believed his own days to be the worst possible days and thus surely the last days; therefore the faithful were to be encouraged to persevere during this bad time, for their deliverance was soon to come.

(49) To comfort those among the Christian faithful who were puzzled (to say the least) at their lot in life, the author of Revelation did for Christians just what the author of Daniel had done for Jews two centuries earlier.  He wrote a book to demonstrate that because the mightiest of human agencies (the Roman Empire) was opposed to the one true faith (Christianity), God himself (in the person of Christ) must break into human history and bring it to an end.

(49) But this writer chose to use the form that had worked so well in the book of Daniel—a seer’s report that visions embodying symbolic things and symbolic actions—and to enrich it with the language and perceptions of the ancient prophets and mythic materials of the ancient religion of Israel.

(49) Most of the images in Revelation had had a long precious history of religious and literary use before this particular author employed them; inevitably a multiplicity of meaning had become attached to them.

(49) The “time of the End” for the writer of Daniel was, of course, the writer’s own time—the time of the persecution under Antiochus IV Epiphanes—and thus he was representing his work as being a message from the past that was presumably discovered in his own day.

(53) One of the most widespread changes, accelerated if not begun by the experience of exile, was the replacement of Hebrew by Aramaic as the common spoken language of the people.

(53) Aramaic is as old as Hebrew and was widely spoken in the Near East; from about 1000B.C.E. onward it began to replace the native language of the Assyrian conquerors within the empire they had created.

(55) A somewhat simplified form of classical Greek know as “Koine” became the lingua franca of this empire and remained so even after the Roman conquests, especially in its eastern regions.

(55) They (the Diaspora) no longer spoke Aramaic, but Greek and their culture was significantly penetrated and altered by that of the Greeks. It was for this colony that the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek, a work that began in the middle of the third century B.C.E. and continued through the second, giving us the version know as the Septuagint.

(58) Ethical dualism views evil in a generalized way, as a principle balancing and opposed to the principle of good; the presence of evil is explained by attribution it to some agency operating in this world that sponsors it and aims for its increase.  Cosmic dualism simply projects this situation onto a universal stage and makes the agencies of good and evil supernatural antagonists who are battling not only for possession of human souls but also for final victory over all creation.

(72) Just as the borrowing of material from other writers was not frowned on in earlier ages as it is today (we call it plagiarism and consider it a grace fault), so may have been the device of claiming some notable person from the past as author of one’s own work.

(72) Pseudonymity of this kind was simply an established means of communication of spiritual matter—a way you did it when you had ideas to get across.

(75) The obligation we feel to record events of great historical importance was not felt b first-century Christians, who were still close to the events themselves.

(80) If these responses often look rather oblique to the occasion that prompted them, it is because what matters is the saying and not the event.

(80) That most of these events are miracles is the least important thing about them in John’s view.  They are acts pregnant with extraordinary meaning, which Jesus chose to perform as a means of revealing aspects of himself.

(80) John interprets the Crucifixion in both a literal and symbolic sense:  Jesus is “lifted up” on the cross (8:28, 12:32, 34) just as Moses raised the bronze serpent in the wilderness (3:14) to save his people.

(88) This text (Leningrad Codex B19A) was consonantal written Hebrew basically lacks vowels, and so in a time when that language was not commonly spoken it became necessary to indicate somehow the pronunciation of words.

(103) Consider the following:  (1) Hebrew verbs express not the time of an action but rather whether the specified action is complete or incomplete.  Tenses can usually be fairly easily assigned to such verbs, although less easily in prophetic writings, where there are rapid shifts back and forth among past, present, and future.  But in assigning tenses, translators will often choose to leave unexpressed the completeness/incompleteness element because English has only awkward ways to handle that. (2) Hebrew displays much less subordination of one clause to another than does English, and in general it lacks our great variety of words that indicate logical connections between clauses and phrases.  In Hebrew narrative, sentence units tend to be strung out one after another in boxcar fashion and to be hooked together by means of a single, all-purpose connective that is usually translated “and” in the KJV. . . .  Then would represent the Hebrew connective not merely with “and” but with “when,” “but,” “however,” and so on (depending on context) or at times would simply omit it. (3) Greek verbs indicate time of action more definitely than Hebrew verbs do, but they also indicate nature of action (whether linear, recurring, or completed).  Greek verbs are thus very complete in meaning, and translators who attempt to capture all of the potential meaning will risk overloading their English and producing a translation so clumsy as to be unreadable.

Along with words and structures no directly translatable, there are in every language idioms—certain set expressions that have developed solely writing that language and have no force outside it.  When idioms occur in the Hebrew and Greek of the Bible, translators must choose among several possibilities: (1) they may translate the idiom directly when the result will make some degree of sense in the receptor language (2) they may capture just the main point of the idiom and abandon tits colorful dress; or (3) they may substitute for the idiom an approximately equivalent idiom in the receptor language.

T. Francis Glasson

(1) Jesus spoke Aramaic, a Semitic tongue allied to Hebrew (Hebrew at this time being a dead language); our Gospels were written in Greek, a language with belongs to quite a different family, the Indo-European.  It is obvious that a certain amount of interpretation and paraphrase is to be expected in all the Gospels, as without this no translation would be intelligible.

(3) There is also the question of the Little Apocalypse, Mark 13 and its parallels.  Even men like Schweitzer, who interpret our Lord’s teaching on purely apocalyptic lines, accept the view that this discourse contains matter which Jesus did not utter.

Alister McGrath

(9) For Jerome, it was important that the Bible should be available in the official language of the Roman Empire.  The fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century did not, however, lead to the end of Latin as an international language.  If anything, Latin became increasingly important as time progressed, and was well placed to become the language of scholarship and diplomacy when the so-called “Dark Ages” finally lifted over Europe around the year 1000.

(12) Tyndale’s translation would prove to be of foundational importance to the shaping of alter English translations.  many of the words and phrases used by Tyndale found their way into the English language.  Tyndale was a master of the pithy phrase, near to conversational English but distinct enough to be used like a proverb.  In his Bible translations, Tyndale coined such phrases as: “the powers that be” (Rom. 13); “my brother’s keeper” (Gen. 4); “the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5); and “a law unto themselves” (Rom. 2). These phrases continue to be used, even in modern English, precisely because they are so well shaped in terms of their alliteration, rhyme, and word repetitions.

Tyndale also introduced or revied many words that are still in use.  He constructed the term “Jehovah” from the Hebrew constructin know as the “tetragrammaton” in the Old Testament. He invented the English word “Passover” to refer to teh Jewish festival known in Hebrew as Pesah. Other neologism developed by Tyndale to translate biblical words that had, up to that point, no real English equivalent include “scapegoat” and “atonement.”  It should be noted that this latter word was invented by Tyndale to convey the idea of “reconciliation.” It can be seen immediately that biblical translation thus rpovided a major stimulus to the development of the English language.

I. Howard Marshall

(2) It is increasingly evident that there was a considerable knowledge of Greek in Palestine itself, so that we cannot affirm that the earliest church must have spoken Aramaic (and Hebrew and not used Greek.

(4) Terms that were intelligible to Jews, such as Son of man, were not the most suitable when speaking to Gentiles who had not read the book of Daniel.

(4) Any missionary worth his salt would use terms and concepts familiar to his hearers which could be used to re-express the Christian message, and the sure of the term ‘Lord’, familiar in pagan ruler and mystery cults, to apply to the ‘one Lord Jesus Christ’ (I Cor. 8:6) was an obvious development of this kind.

Elaine Pagels

(6) This gnostic teacher (author of the Gospel of Philip) criticizes those who mistake religious language for a literal language, professing faith in God, in Christ, in the ressurrection or the church, as f these were all “things” external to themselves.

Daniel Rops

(3) Even if they (Jesus followers) had been able to write it is unlikely that they would have preferred the written to the oral word.  The whole Semitic tradition, as far back as their history goes, is contrary.

Leland Ryken

(1) The basic strategy of theological writing is to tell us about the subject, not (as in literature) to recreate an experience.  It appeals to our intellectual grasp of propositional truth.

(1) Historical writing is governed by the documentary impulse to record the facts of the matter

(1) Historical writing in the Bible does not tell only the facts of the matter, however.  It obviously puts the historical facts into an interpretive moral and spiritual framework in which, for example, the writer does not hesitate to align himself against Ahab.

(1) The governing purpose of literature is to recreate the actual scene and event in sufficient detail that we can imaginatively experience them.

(1) In literature, the writer’s chief aim in this passage is to tell a story, not to develop a theological argument.

(1) A work of literature is incarnational—it embodies meaning.  The customary literary terminology for talking about this is to say that the writer of literature shows rather than tells.

(2) Given this mixture of types in the Bible, it is obvious that the same passage can be approached from different perspectives and with different interpretive methods.

(3) Because the Bible is an anthology of separate works, it contains a mixture of genres, some of them literary and some nonliterary.

(4) Word play is particularly important in the literature of the Bible, and not just in the poetic parts.

(4) In addition to these individual linguistic devices, literary texts frequently possess rhetorical patterns.

(5) Much of the Bible uses figurative language to express its meaning.  There is also an abundance of word play and irony.  The language of the Bible frequently does more than words normally do, and a literary approach is interested in these linguistic nuances.

(6) Literary critics are accustomed to call these recurrent images and symbols archetypes.  Archetypes recur throughout literature because they are also pervasive in life.

(6) The archetypes of literature, moreover, fall into a dialetical pattern of opposites.  The two categories of archetypes form a pattern of ideal and unideal experience, wish and nightmare, tragedy and comedy.

Hugh J. Schonfield

(1) But also we cannot ignore that in the interests of theological doctrine, contemporary circumstances, and effective story-telling, nothing wrong was seen in creating view for Jesus to express, altering the sense o traditional sayings of his, supplying and colouring episodes with the help of non-Christian literature.

(5) We are so familiar with the application of the term Jew to all persons of the Jewish faith that we may not realize that in the New Testament the name is sometimes used in the narrower sense to mean Judeans, the inhabitants o Judea, compared with the Galileans or Samaritans.

(5) The term Essean-Essene appears to have come from the northern Aramaic word Chasya (Greaek Hosios) meaning Saint.  It would seem that we have to treat the term as generic, covering a variety of loosely related groups.  For the people ‘the Saints’ were the Jewish eclectic bodies, who also bore or were given descriptive names according to their affiliations of characteristics.

(6) The Bible has to be treated through and through intelligently, by applying to its understanding knowledge of the ways and ideas of those who had a hand in its composition in their various periods.

(6) What our Gospel stories so engagingly offer is a tribute typical of the thinking and literary expression of the world of nineteen centuries ago, couched in language which Christianity had derived from its Jewish inspiration.

“the Scriptures”

– The most important manuscripts are the oldest ones, the uncials, of which there are 29, which were written on parchment and vellum from the fourth to the ninth centuries. They are written in capital letters with no breaks between words and with a number of word contractions. There was practically no punctuation and no verse numbering or chapter divisions. When cursive writing became common, the more difficult uncials were relied upon less.

– The word “Septuagint” is from the Latin “Septuaginta” or seventy, and is ascribed to the Jewish translation of the Old Testament into Greek. The Pentateuch, the earliest part of the Old Testament Canon, was translated first during the reign of Philadelphius (285-247 BC) by 70 (or, more precisely, 72) Jewish scholars; hence, it received the name “Septuagint” (LXX). Originally ascribed to only the Pentateuch, it was eventually applied to the entire Old Testament. It is the version most often cited by New testament writers and is the predominant source of new testament believers.

Meir Sternberg

– Narrative communication involves no fewer than four basic perspectives:  the author who fashions the story, the narrator who tells it, the audience or reader who receives is, and the characters who enact it.  Where the narrator is practically identical with the author, as in Homer or Fielding or indeed the Bible, the discourse therefore operates with three basic relationships that constitute the point of view: between narrator and characters, narrator and reader, reader and characters.

Geoff Trowbridge

(3) The first known use of the word in Christian writings was by Paul, who referred to the message about salvation through Christ. It was not until the writings of Justin Martyr in the mid-second century that the term began to be used specifically in reference to scriptures about the deeds and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

(4) The format of the sayings gospel is derived from Jewish Wisdom literature, and seeks to preserve not an historical or biographical history of Jesus, but rather a collection of his teachings in the form of isolated sayings or hypothetical dialogue. While no sayings gospels were canonized into the New Testament, most scholars theorize that such a gospel (“Q“) was used as a source by Matthew and Luke.

Gene M. Tucker

(4) For example, “feet” is a frequent euphemism for sexual organs, as in the reference to the seraphs in Isaiah 6:2: “Each had six wings: with two he covered his face and with two he covered his feet and with two he flew.”

(Lady Ophelia)


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