Biblical Hermeneutics - Lesson 2

Early Beginnings (Part 2)

After William Tyndale published the first Bible in English in 1539 that was translated from the Hebrew and Greek texts, King James of England assembled a team of top scholars to create an English translation that was published in 1611. More recent translations are still being made to reflect new manuscript discoveries and changes in the English language. 

Robert Stein
Biblical Hermeneutics
Lesson 2
Watching Now
Early Beginnings (Part 2)

NT510-02 Biblical Hermeneutics: Early Beginnings Part 2

I. Introduction to Early Beginnings Part 2

A. Overview of the importance of understanding the historical context of early Christianity

II. Jewish Backgrounds of Early Christianity

A. The influence of Second Temple Judaism on early Christianity

B. The role of Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes in shaping early Christianity

III. Hellenistic Backgrounds of Early Christianity

A. The impact of Greek culture on the development of early Christianity

B. The significance of the Septuagint and the spread of early Christianity in the Greek-speaking world

IV. Roman Backgrounds of Early Christianity

A. The role of the Roman Empire in shaping the early Christian world

B. The relationship between early Christianity and the Roman political and social structures

V. Conclusion

A. Recap of the importance of understanding the historical context of early Christianity

B. Final thoughts on the significance of the early beginnings of Christianity for a contemporary interpretation of the New Testament

  • Understanding the roots of the English language and knowing the history of the English translations of the Bible gives you a context that can help you understand the meaning of the passage you are reading. 

  • After William Tyndale published the first Bible in English in 1539 that was translated from the Hebrew and Greek texts, King James of England assembled a team of top scholars to create an English translation that was published in 1611. More recent translations are still being made to reflect new manuscript discoveries and changes in the English language. 

  • There is no such thing as an exact word equivalent when going from one language to another. Different languages as well as different cultures pose a challenge for translators. It's important to use the best manuscripts for your translation.

  • A few of the challenges that translators face are for the translation to be accurate but understandable, contemporary but universal, and to avoid a theological bias. Contemporary languages are always changing, and each translator holds theological beliefs based on years of training and experience. 

  • Inerrancy of the Bible is an important foundation for the process of translation. Some translations focus more on "word-for-word" equivalents and some focus more on "thought-for-thought" equivalents. Some translations include footnotes to explain a verse that is ambiguous or controversial. 

  • The three components that determine meaning in written communication are the author, the text and the reader. In determining the meaning of Biblical passages, it's important to know as much as possible about all three components. 

  • The author of a passage made an intentional effort to communicate a message. It is the job of the reader to determine the meaning and implications of the message by studying the text itself, then evaluating the literary form and other contextual factors. 

  • The first step in interpretation is to focus on the pattern of meaning the author consciously willed to convey by the words they used. Then, the implications of the text may also include meanings in the text of which the author was unaware but fall within the author's pattern of meaning.

  • It's important to define your terms when you are determining the interpretation and application of Biblical passages. Your goal is to begin by hearing the message of a passage as the author intended it and the first readers would have understood it. 

  • The written word correctly interpreted is the objective basis of authority. The inward illuminating and persuading work of the Holy Spirit is the subjective dimension. When 1 Cor. 2:14 says that an unspiritual man cannot understand Scritpure, it is referring to his lack of acceptance rather than his mental grasp of the words. 

  • You will gain a comprehensive understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in relation to believers, the church, and the world. The lesson covers the Holy Spirit's work in the regeneration and sanctification of believers, empowering and guiding them, unifying the church, bestowing spiritual gifts, the conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment, and drawing people to God. The conclusion summarizes the Holy Spirit's impact on all aspects of life.

  • Your presuppositions about whether or not the miracles in the Bible took place as they are recorded will affect the way you look at the Bible and at specific events. Three approaches to this question are the supernatural approach, rationalist approach and the mythical approach. 

  • Kinds of meaning and types of meaning are two of the main ideas in the book, "The Language and Imagery of the Bible," by G. B. Caird. Proverbs are short, pithy sayings that express a general truth. Exceptions are allowed. A good example of an exception to a proverb is the book of Job.

  • Judgment prophecy assumes that, even if not stated, if the people repent, judgment will not come. Prophets also tend to speak in figurative language, using cosmic terminology. 

  • The prophets use figurative and metaphorical language to describe future events and spiritual reality. They also use cosmic language to describe God acting in history. 

  • Dr. Stein discusses the possibility of a sensus plenior in some passages. In Mark 13, Jesus talks about coming events that are also prophesied in the Old Testament. 

  • Judges chapters 4 and 5 describe the same events. Chapter 4 uses prose, chapter 5 uses poetry. The book of Psalms is a collection of songs, prayers and reflections about human emotions, and God, his character and his work in the world. 

  • Jesus uses parallelism in the Gospels to illustrate and emphasize who God is and what the kingdom of God is like. In order to understand an idiom, you first need to identify it as an idiom and then determine what the meaning is in the culture.  

  • Exaggeration is overstatement. Hyperbole is literally impossible. When using exaggeration, both parties must agree that the expression is an exaggeration. Jesus uses exaggeration to emphasize and illustrate important teachings. 

  • Jesus uses exaggeration to make his point clear, especially on matters of morality, but doesn't take the time to discuss possible exceptions. Jesus also uses all-inclusive and universal language, as well as idiomatic language that no longer bears its original meaning. 

  • Some of the early church writers and the reformers interpreted parables, like the parable of the Good Samaritan, as allegories. 

  • Adolf Jülicher taught that parables tend to have one basic point of comparison, and the details are just there to make the story interesting. So you should try to understand what’s the main point of the parable. To begin with, seek to understand the parable as the first century audience would have. Consider what the Gospel writers were trying to teach. Ask how it applies to you in your current situation. 

  • In the parable of the hidden treasure and the parable of the pearl of great price, the message of the value of the kingdom of God is more important than the character of the man. In the parable of the ten virgins and the parable of the dishonest manager, it's important to focus on the main point of the parable and not to get distracted by the details. The parable of the lost sheep teaches us to pursue the lost. 

  • When interpreting the parable of the workers, determine the main characters, consider the rule of end stress and pay attention to what gets the most press. 

  • Some parables are best interpreted as an allegory. It's important to ask if Jesus with his audience would have attributed meaning to these details and if the audience of the Gospel writers would have understood the details as being allegorical. 

  • When you are determining how you should apply the parable of the final judgment in Matthew 25: 31-46, who Jesus is referring to when he says, "...just as you did it to one of the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me." In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus makes a point about what causes people to believe in him or to not believe in him. 

  • You read and interpret a passage that is historical narrative differently than a passage that is prophecy, poetry or a parable. Much of the historical information in the Bible is confirmed by archaeological discoveries including literature from other contemporary cultures. In the 1700's there was a group of scholars that began questioning whether the miraculous events in the Bible were supernatural. They tried to find meaning in the stories without saying that a miracle happened assumed that the real meaning is not the same as the author's literal intention. They did this by finding the meaning of the words, then conducting a historical assessment of what really happened. 

  • Supernaturalists believe that the miracles the Gospel writers recorded were supernatural events. The rationalists believe that either the Gospel writers knew that miracles did not take place, but they were accommodating their readers who did believe in miracles, or that they really believed them but they were just myths. This would require the Gospel writers to be liars or not very smart, neither of which seem consistent with the care and precision with which the Gospels were written. When you are preaching a narrative passage, it's important to include the whole context when you are interpreting the meaning of the events.

  • When interpreting the epistles, it's important to identify which words are used frequently, what the meaning of the words are and how the author uses them. It can be helpful to study the etymology of words and the meaning of words in their historical context. The process of moving from norms of language to norms of utterance is important. 

  • We can get information about the meaning of words from studying ancient Greek literature, the writings of early church fathers and the translators of the Hebrew Old Testament. We can also compare letters written by the same author, and also how the word is used within the same letter or passage. It can be helpful to look at the way different authors use the same word. 

  • Once you determine the meaning of the words, it's important to recognize how they are used in the sentence and how the clauses in the sentence are related. Understanding the different ways clauses can be used will help you determine the meaning of each sentence. The distinction between "means" and "cause" is significant. 

  • Romans 13:1-7 is a good example of the development of a logical argument. Most of the epistles follow the form of an ancient letter, which is greeting or salutation, thanksgiving or prayer, body of the letter and conclusion. 

  • Two types of covenants are the parity covenant and suzerain covenant. Covenant language is used in both the Old Testament and New Testament. The parts of a covenant, illustrated in the Mosaic covenant in Exodus 20, are the preamble, prologue, stipulations, provision for continual reading and witnesses.

  • God renews his covenant with Israel in Joshua 24. The three types of laws in the Old Testament are civil laws, cultic laws and moral laws. 

  • The book of Psalms is divided into five sections. The Psalms were written by different people at different times for different purposes. Some were for public worship and some were the result of personal reflection in times of joy, distress or repentance. 

  • In Jesus's day, the Scripture was the books of the Old Testament. Many of the books of the New Testament were written before 70 a.d. The Gospel writers produced a written record of the life of Jesus. Paul and other apostles wrote to churches to encourage and teach them. Eusebius, a church historian in 325a.d., recorded a list of the books that are currently in the New Testament.

  • Factors in recognizing the books that make up the New Testament were apostolic authorship, use in the church over time, unity and agreement and the superintendence of the Holy Spirit. The writing of the books of the Bible was inspired by God and it is inerrant. 

Dr. Robert Stein covers the history of the English Bible and then moves into the rules for interpreting the biblical text, including the role of the Holy Spirit in the hermeneutical process. He then spends considerable time moving through the different genres of literature (e.g., proverbs, poetry, parables, narrative). Dr. Stein did not provide us the notes he refers to in the class, but we did place links for the books he used as a basis for the class on the class page under the Recommended Reading heading.

Recommended Books

Biblical Hermeneutics - Student Guide

Biblical Hermeneutics - Student Guide

How do you even start to study your Bible? What are the guiding principles? Are the rules for interpreting narrative any different from parables and apocalyptic literature?...

Biblical Hermeneutics - Student Guide

4.  Thomas Matthew (John Rogers)

Coverdale mostly revised the work of Tyndale in the New Testament. Another translator who was a coworker with Tyndale was a man by the name of John Rogers, who produced the Matthew Bible, published in 1537. Why did he call it the Matthew Bible? John Rogers knew what happened to Tyndale, and he said, “Let them burn at the stake any Thomas Matthew they can find, just leave John Rogers alone”. Unfortunately, we will find that they found who he was, and he too was martyred for the Faith. This was a revision of Tyndale for the most part. He used Coverdale for those areas that Tyndale did not translate. There is an irony here in that in 1537 both Matthew’s translation and Coverdale’s were licensed by Henry VIII. In other words, they could be printed and sold in England, and this is only one year after the martyrdom of Tyndale. In 1555 Rogers was burned at the stake by Mary Tudor.

5. Richard Taverner

Another translation, the Taverner. One comes out in 1539, a revision of Matthew’s Bible. All of these translations that we talk about will be revisions of Tyndale’s. They all come from that central root, that central stem, Tyndale’s work. Most of them always started out with the presupposition, “Unless it’s broke, let’s not try to fix it; is there any reason we should change Tyndale.” If they were working on say, Coverdale’s translation, they would say, “Is there any reason to change Coverdale?” which of course was Tyndale. So they keep on going back to the original parent, Tyndale.

6. The Great Bible

The Great Bible, named for its size. I have listed here, its size was 15 inches by 9 inches. I have seen elsewhere it was 16.5 inches by 11 inches, which may be whether you leave out the blank margin around, or not. Whatever it was, it was not your pocket New Testament for witnessing on street corners. This was a chained Bible in the pulpit. This is the first authorized version. It is not THE authorized version. It was the first one authorized. But when we talk about THE authorized version, we are talking about the King James authorized version of 1611. This was authorized before by Henry VIII. He had assistance, support from Thomas Cromwell and Coverdale. What they did was to revise the Matthew Bible. Published in 1539, it was the official Bible of Henry VIII and his reign.

To get authorized, they did some things that would make it more palatable to the clergy and to political leadership. One was by going back to the traditional order of the New Testament books at the end. So they reversed the order and instead of following Luther, they followed the other ones before. It was also required that there be no footnotes in this Bible. You say, what is wrong with footnotes? I’ll show you what is wrong with some footnotes shortly. These are not the kind of footnotes you think of. A 1-cubit footnote (a cubit is about 18 inches) or 1 talent (a talent weighed this much). That is not what we mean by footnotes. In the Geneva Bible, which comes later, here are some of the kind of footnotes you get: “Here is wisdom. Let him that hath wit count the number of the beast, which is the  number of a man, his number is 600, three-score and 6.” Footnote: “Such as may be understood by man’s reason, for about 660 years after this revelation, the Pope or antichrist began to be manifested in the world.” These are the kind of notes we’re talking about. You have another one: “There followed another angel saying, “It is fallen, it is fallen, Babylon the great city”: “Signifying Rome, for as much as the vices which were in Babylon are found in Rome in greater abundance, as persecution of the Church, etc.” One or two more: “There are spirits of devils working miracles to go unto the kings of all the earth.” Footnote: “For all the kings’ courts, the Pope has had his ambassadors to hinder the work of the kingdom of Christ”. If you are a king, you didn’t come out too well in these things, either, princes and the like. So these were not what we mean by the normal notes of the Bible. And needless to say, if you were a king, you don’t want notes. So he did not allow any notes in the Bible.

I’ll add a little parenthesis here that Mary Tudor or “Bloody Mary” as she was called,  comes to the throne and begins a period of persecution. Let me just give a little history.  It might be nice to just note these dates.  Henry VIII died in 1545. At the end of his life he had made England an Anglican or Protestant nation. I wish we could say that he had very good motives, but the big issue was that the Pope would not let him divorce his wives. He probably should have because he killed some of them as a result of that. There became a clash between Papal authority and Henry VIII over moral issues,  in which somebody had better be right. He did make a break with the Papacy. Also, since the Bible is the strength of the reformers in the Reformation, he wants a great Bible, so that the people can read it. He dies in 1545 and he is succeeded by Edward VI, who dies in 1553. For eight years Edward VI reigns and he is also strongly Protestant in orientation. When he dies Mary Tudor becomes queen and she wants to undo the Reformation. She wants to make England Catholic once again. She begins persecuting the reformers there, some 300 of them are put to death. Bible translations are burned and destroyed, all but one, the Great Bible. Why didn’t she try to destroy the Great Bible? It was authorized by a king. If kings make mistakes,  queens make mistakes.  So, leave those things alone.  So, that was not touched.

Coverdale flees to Europe. He would have been martyred by Mary Tudor, except that the King of Denmark interceded on his behalf, and thus he escaped that. She marries Phillip II of Spain and in 1558 the people of England chop her head off. They did not want to go Catholic and above all, do you know how England and Spain got along? They were great rivals and 30 years later you have the Spanish Armada, which is not a cruise line, trying to invade England, so that was too much and she is put to death. In 1558 Queen Elizabeth takes the throne and she reigns until 1603, some 48 years, strongly affirming the Reformation and after Mary Tudor’s death, the fate of England as far as religion is concerned, Protestant or Catholic, is settled in the Protestant camp.

7. Geneva Bible

When Coverdale flees to England under the reign of Mary Tudor, he goes to Geneva and there he produces what is known as the Geneva Bible. This was the revision of the Great Bible and it is the first Bible in the English language that has verses, verse divisions. 1560 is the first time we have verses in our English Bible. The Geneva Bible was rather Calvinistic in its emphasis, but let me comment again. Up to 1560, no English Bible has verse divisions in it. If you look at some of Luther’s writings, he doesn’t say, “In Galatians 3:23 we find…”. He says, “Towards the end of Galatians chapter 3 we find…” Chapters are there, but not verses. The first person who begins this is a printer named Robert Stephanus (aka., Robert Estienne) in 1551. He produces a Greek New Testament in which he makes verse divisions. Chapters are there, now he versifies them. I remember a professor of mine, Bruce Metzger, saying that much of his work was done on horseback as he was riding through France and sometimes the horse went up and the pen went down at inopportune places. We are stuck with them. We will never change verses. How would you ever have a new versification and a commentary where the verses are different, etc. It would be absolute chaos.

Even if they are not perfect, it is much easier to try to find a verse in Psalm 119 if it is numbered.  So it became very helpful. This is the first one. It was a very popular translation in Queen Elizabeth’s reign. It had over 70 different editions. The people chose this. They chose this over the Greek Bible that was the people’s Bible. Sometimes this is known as the “breeches Bible” because in Genesis 3 when the Lord saw that Adam and Eve were naked, they translated, “He made them breeches”, so it has been called “the breeches Bible”.

8. The Bishop’s Bible

The bishops in England were not happy with the Geneva Bible. First of all, it was too Calvinistic. This is Geneva, where Calvin was located. By osmosis, it would be Calvinistic there. They knew that there had to be some sort of a new translation because they hoped that instead of having two Bibles, the one in the church, the Great Bible, and the one of the people, the Geneva Bible, they could produce one that would be a compromise that everyone would accept. So they produced the Bishop’s Bible, named because most of the people were either already bishops when they were in the translation process, or later became them.

9. The King James Version

The greatest and most famous translation of the Bible in the English-speaking world that ever was or ever will be takes place beginning in 1604. The new king, King James I orders that a new translation be made, based on the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, that would take the place of all of the Bibles up to that time. It would be one without notes. Forty-seven of the very best scholars in the Nation of England were divided into six panels, three of them for the Old Testament, two for the New, one for the Apocrypha, and afterwards a panel of two from each of those panels would become the final committee that would go over the work and come out with a final product.

A lot of translation proceeds today along the same lines. Only today, after those 12 have finished with it, they send it off to English stylists, who then work it over; and then it goes back to that committee again because stylists don’t know Greek and they may have taken liberties with the language that cause them no longer to be faithful to the translation, where you have to proofread that again.

In King James’ day the literary men of their day were the scholars of the church. So you didn’t need stylists in this way. This was then to supersede all other English translations.  It is estimated that 90% of the New Testament is simply Tyndale.

Until 1881, when there was a revision of this, the only other change for the King James version took place in 1769. It was a major change in one sense, but it was insignificant in another. It was just a change in spellings. The spellings from the Old English. Remember how I showed you Wycliffe with the double “ffe” at the end, to the more modern English, which would simply have “if”. There were lots of spellings of that nature and they were all changed in 1769. All of these are from the same family. All of them have the same root, that of Tyndale.

10. The Douay-Rheims Version

If you are a Roman Catholic, you have a problem. If you want to read the Bible in the English language, what do you read? Do you read the Geneva Bible? I showed you some of the notes on that one. The Great Bible has no notes, but you can’t even carry the thing, it is so heavy. So eventually they decided to have their own Bible and this was produced in Douay, France, the Old Testament and that is how it got the name Douay Version. The New Testament was produced mostly in Rheims, France and sometimes they talk about the Rheims New Testament. The major difference here is that it is based not on Greek and Hebrew text, but on the Latin Vulgate. This is due to the fact that in the Council of Trent in 1546, a counter conference to oppose what the Reformers were doing, it was decided that it would not be the Greek and Hebrew text for the final authority, but the Latin Vulgate. So this was the authority for the text and it remained pretty much that way among Catholic translators until the 20th century, modern Roman Catholic scholars don’t follow that, although the Council of Trent did. Published in 1609, 1610. The present one that people would use in the Roman Catholic Church would be a revision in 1749. It became the authorized translation of the Roman Catholic Church.

Look for a minute at something of a chart as to the various translations:  The influence of Tyndale. From Tyndale you have Coverdale, the Matthew, the Greek Bible comes out of Matthew, which goes back to Tyndale. The Taverner uses both Tyndale and Matthew. The Geneva goes back to Matthew and Tyndale. The Great Bible. The Bishop’s Bible. The King James. The English Revised of 1881. The American Revised of 1901. The Revised Standard Version of 1952. The New Revised. The American Standard. The New American Standard Version; they wouldn’t use the word revised, they used the updated New American Standard Version. All of these ultimately come out of the seed of Tyndale, a wonderful translator, a great gift to the Church.

C. Modern Versions

Let me talk a little about some of the translations. In 1881 we had the first revision of the King James. It was the English Revised Version, or The Revised Version, for short. The English invited some American scholars to be part of that revision. But they had the promise that they would not come up with their own revision for at least 20 years. Twenty years, bingo! The American Standard Version. In 1952 a Revised Standard Version is completed,  The RSV in 1946 and the revision in 1962 of that and 1970, there have been several revisions of these.  One of the things about modern translation is that they are constantly being revised, so that every 10, 15 years there are small changes in them. Germans still use the Luther translation. What edition is it? 26th, 27th, 28th, somewhere up there. So, there have been 26, 28 times when changes were made and it is so gradual, you don’t have this traumatic experience, but after 340 years you have changes like the RSV make, and it is too earth-shattering.  This is being done regularly. The NIV has gone through three, four, five changes already. The Living Translation that came out 10 years ago, they are working on a revision of that again, an updating of it.

One of the things that is interesting is that when the King James Version came out, I read a letter of one of the Biblical scholars in England, castigating it, that it lost the beauty of the Geneva Bible. And I thought, everything in this letter sounds like the kind of thing that happened in 1952 when the RSV came out. All you could have done is just take this letter and just changed names and you wouldn’t have to change anything, it was the same kind of thing. We don’t like change and that is why I think you want to make translations and revise them regularly, so you don’t have these traumatic exchanges. The New American Standard Version came out in 1960. The Berkeley was an evangelical one that was an attempt to be an option to the Revised Standard Version. The New American Standard in 1963. The Jerusalem Bible, this came out in 1966, it was originally a French translation; but it was so successful that it was translated into English. The new English Bible, a completely new translation from scratch. The Roman Catholic New American Bible in 1971. The New International in 1978. The new King James, 1982. The New Revised Standard Version in 1989. The Revised English Bible, a revision of the new English Bible, etc.

There are so many different translations coming out, it is simply impossible to stay on top of them. It is incredible how much is coming out. I have had quite a few translations, but I will go broke if I try to keep up with every one. I have some real problems with all the translations that are coming out. The problem is simply this: It is not accidental that there are big bucks in English translations of the Bible, a lot of money to be made. In a world in which there are all sorts of languages that don’t have any part of the Bible in their language, do we need dozens and dozens of translations all of the time coming out? I don’t know. I have real questions on that.