Tim, How Did You Come to Know Hebrew?

Question from a Site Viewer

I read your article on Jeremiah 17:9 at the request of a precious sister in the Lord who was quite impressed with your translation and wanted my opinion on your interpretation. Before responding to her, I wanted to cover all my bases, and that includes establishing some dialogue with you, the author.

My intent isn’t to question the validity of your interpretation so much as it is to inquire as to your background in the Hebrew language. You said you came to your understanding of the Jeremiah passage after learning Hebrew. I’m curious to know how you came to know Hebrew. As you well know, Hebrew is a keenly nuanced language that extends far beyond just grammar and syntax, and is highly dependent on historical, idiomatic and cultural aspects of the vernacular.

Tim’s Answer

You ask about my understanding of Hebrew. I attended Seminary because I wanted to learn the original languages. Thus, I took as many Greek and Hebrew classes as I could. As you know, modern Hebrew is different than Biblical Hebrew. Words and meanings have changed over time. The question any Biblical scholar must ask is what was the meaning of the terms during Jeremiah’s time. To understand that meaning, all we have is the Hebrew Scriptures to work from. We do not have any other source of information for historical, idiomatic, and cultural aspects of the language. There are no other Hebrew texts from that time period that we can use to compare. And outside of a few archaeological finds, we have little history outside of the Hebrew Scriptures to use for historical contexts. So, we are left with the Hebrew Scriptures to interpret the Hebrew Scriptures.

I realize it is tempting to some to read back into Jeremiah’s time the nuances of later Jewish writings. I do not find such to be very helpful. It is much akin to reading what a subsequent Congress says as shedding light on what a previous Congress meant. Such is not very helpful. So it is with Biblical Hebrew. What later people said may or may not reflect what the author intended. The best way of determining the meaning of the author is to look at the Biblical Hebrew itself. Jeremiah would have known the law. He likely would have had access to many of the prophets who were before him. He also likely would have had access to many of the Psalms, although certainly not the complete Psalter as it exists today. Thus, I think one can be fairly confident in using these resources as helping to understand the meaning of the terms Jeremiah uses. I think there is far less confidence in using other resources as being helpful to understand what Jeremiah is saying. Certainly, the closer the resource is to Jeremiah’s time, the more reliance we rightly could place on it.

Because Hebrew Scriptures stand alone as Hebrew language texts from the relevant time period, lexicographers focus on the Hebrew Scriptures to determine meaning. They are aided somewhat in the meaning of cognate words in Aramaic, and other related languages, and careful lexicographers will look at these related languages as well. But this is a little like looking at Portuguese to determine the meaning of a Spanish word. The best understanding of the Hebrew word will come from the way it is used elsewhere in the Hebrew text and from the context in which it is found.

Accordingly, I both look to the context and the way the word is used elsewhere in raising the question of the proper meaning of the words in Jeremiah 17:9. I believe both in the context and considering their uses elsewhere, the standard translations fail to do this verse justice, as I state in the article. I have argued that the Septuagint translation both makes more sense within the context and seems to reflect a better meaning of the verse in Hebrew than the standard English translations.

I realize that in raising this issue, I face a nearly universal line of English translations that state otherwise. I simply humbly submit that there may be reason to rethink the standard interpretation of this verse. I note that one must go back to the Wycliffe translation to find a translation that comes closer to what I think the verse means.

I hope this helps.

May the Lord Jesus guide you in His Word and in doing His will.

In His service,

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