The words in your Bible may be different than you thought. Let’s look at a good example. The Bible says(ish) in Deuteronomy 5:2 that “The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb.” (NIV)
That is a good translation that gets the main thrust of the Hebrew across in English. However, when you look at the original text that’s not exactly what it says. In fact, no one ever really “makes” a covenant in the Old Testament. That’s not the word they used. Instead, the verb for “covenanting” is “to cut.” That is because every covenant was sealed with the blood of an animal. Instead of signing on a line at the bottom of a piece of paper, you cut an animal and performed a ceremony involving its blood.
Why not say “cut a covenant” instead? If we did this with every Biblical word, you would have to have a Master’s degree to understand what on earth the Bible was saying. Therefore, Translators try and get the MAIN idea across so that the average person can understand what on earth the Bible is saying.
The Bible is full of words and imagery like this! Since we read it in our language, we often bring with us the cultural values we have attached to whatever word or concept that translators have used to convey the truth of the original Hebrew. This can, of course, cause a good bit of confusion because those values are not always the same. For example, What does marriage mean when it is not tied to monogamy? What does family mean before the rise of the American obsession with the “nuclear family?”
It’s kind of like the Bible has been written with layers and layers of code. The basic meaning is there for anyone to pick up and read, but for those ready to go deeper, there is unfathomable depth available. Each concept can be lifted out, given new life and new beauty through careful examination.
That is where my thoughts are heading in a new series of teaching that is focused on unlocking this “code” and mining its beautiful depths. For those nearby, I am teaching on Sunday nights at 5pm in the evening worship service at Christ UMC in Mobile, AL. For everyone else, check back here for audio versions and even a bit more text!