Seek to Understand the Word

It is a duty and privilege to study the living word of God.

W.E. Read, Retired Administrator

IT is a special duty as well as a unique privi­lege to study the Word of the living God. The intrepid apostle Paul, centuries ago gave this vital counsel: "Study to shew thyself approved unto God" (2 Tim. 2:15). However, few of the English translations give "study" for the Greek word spoudazo. This is more often rendered: "Do your utmost" (Moffatt). "Endeavor" (Cunnington). Actually, it is more than "study" as such; it means "ear­nestly seek" (Weymouth); "exert yourself" (Fenton). Robertson, in his Word Pictures, translates it as "give diligence." If this counsel means anything, then it calls for the mobilization of all our mental and physical powers. But even more than that, it calls for spiritual insight, and that, thank God, can be ours as we dedicate ourselves to the Lord and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead us into fuller under­standing of the Word of truth.

Undoubtedly, Paul had the holy oracles in mind when he gave this counsel, for in the same letter to Timothy he reminds him that from a child he had known the Holy Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:15). At the time this was written he was referring to what we call the Old Testament, but as time went on, the further revelation which came as the result of the ministry of our Lord, His teachings, and those of His apostles, were classified as "Scripture." (Notice "other scriptures" in 2 Peter 3:16.) These were part of God's revelation to humankind. This continued revelation now becomes the basis for our doctrinal teachings, for our spiritual counsel, and for our hope and comfort for today and for the future.

The Unity of the Old and New Testaments

The Jews of ancient days regarded the Old Testament as comprising three parts: Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms (Luke 24:44). In other words, we might think of these sections as the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses), the Prophets (Joshua to Malachi), and the Hagiographa comprising Psalms, Proverbs, Job, et cetera, and the smaller books, Ezra, Nehemiah, and even Daniel and Chronicles.

The New Testament can also be looked upon as of three parts—the Gospels, the apostolic letters, and the Apocalypse.

These two Testaments are intimately re­lated one to the other, in fact, they are in­separably related. If one should take from the New Testament all the quotations from the Old or even the references and allusions from the ancient Scriptures, there would not be too much left. Each helps us to understand the other. Ellen G. White has given us a good statement on this:

The New Testament does not present a new re­ligion; the Old Testament does not present a re­ligion to be superseded by the New. The New Testament is only the advancement and unfolding of the Old.—Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 392.

The Question of the Septuagint in Biblical Interpretation

The Septuagint—the LXX—is the trans­lation of the Hebrew Scriptures into the Greek language. It stems from the second and third centuries B.c., and this has proved to be a real blessing to the church. The original work was not too well received by the Jewish community, nor later by the Christian church. A later translation from about the first century A.D. proved to be much more acceptable to both groups. This was done by Theodotian and constitutes what we know as the LXX in use today. There were two other translations, one by Aquila, another by Symmachus, but all that is available of these translations today is mere fragments, and these are scattered among the writings of some of the Church Fathers as well as other writers.

It so happens that in the letters of the apostle Paul, a large number of his quota­tions from the Old Testament are from the LXX rather than from the Hebrew text. There can be no doubt that the Greek text does throw considerable light on many pas­sages in the Old Hebrew Scriptures.

In Isaiah 65:22, we read, "As the days of a tree are the days of my people," but the LXX reads, "As the days of the tree of life." In Hebrews 1:6, we read: "He saith, And let all the angels of God worship him." This is a wonderful testimony to Christ our Lord, and one would conclude that these words were spoken by God the Father (see The Desire of Ages, p. 824). One might quite properly ask, Where in the Scriptures was this spoken? Where can the text be found? Some Bibles with margins give Deuteronomy 32:43, but when this is read, whether in the Hebrew or English text, it doesn't reveal anything like this. But if one consults the Greek LXX text and the English translation, one finds the very ex­pression "let all the angels of God worship him." These two instances show how the LXX translators thought these texts should be translated.

For a number of years, however, there has been a strong tendency on the part of some Biblical scholars to disparage the LXX. They charge that the LXX transla­tors were guilty of making excisions, inter­polations, and in short, that they did care­less work. Some men have cited certain illustrations to prove this contention, and one of them is Hebrew 1:6 noted above.

Recent discoveries in the cave at Qum­ran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, have proved a real help in this matter. Dr. F. F. Bruce, in his excellent treatise writes:

As the Biblical manuscripts from Qumran have been studied it has been possible to distinguish three main types of text among them. One is the ancestor of the . . . text which formed the basis of the Masoretes' editorial work. Another is the type of text which must have lain before the men who produced the Greek translation, commonly called the Septuagint . . . and a third type, continued to the first five books of the Old Testament, is closely related to the Samaritan Pentateuch.—The Books and Parchments, p. 123.

Concerning Hebrews 1:6, Dr. Bruce has this to say:

The quotation in Heb. 1:6, 'and let all the angels of God worship Him,' is referred in the A.V. margin to Deut. 32:43, LXX. No such words will be found in Deut. 32:43 in the A.V.. R.V., or R.S.V., which represent the Masoretic text. But the Septuagint text . . . is longer than the Masoretic . . . and this longer reading was based on a Hebrew orig­inal, as is now made clear by the discovery of a copy of this chapter of Deuteronomy in the fourth cave at Qumran.—Ibid., p. 154.

Dr. Bruce is not alone in his contentions, for Dr. William F. Albright also remarks:

We now know that in the fragments so far de­scribed from the Pentateuch and the Former Prophets . . . the Greek translators were almost slavish in their literalism. . . . We may thus be reasonably certain that they . . . go back to an older Hebrew recension which differed from M.T. —Quoted in Dewey M. Beegle, God's Word into English, p. 45.

The Question of the Targums and Biblical Interpretation

"Targum" is the general term used for the Aramaic version of the Holy Scriptures. The Targums, while they are a translation, are also somewhat interpretive, hence they are looked upon as being paraphrastic. One thing is very important in this work and that is that the Targumists do reveal the way the Scriptures were understood in their day. In many ways that is of considerable benefit to us.

It seems that the Aramaic language be­came the household and popular language of the Hebrew people during the time of their Babylonian exile; in fact, it even took the place of their Hebrew, especially in business, in education, and in other avenues of communication. This was so much so that on the return from Captivity, as it is recorded in the book of Nehemiah, on the occasion of a special gathering of the people, they could not properly understand the Hebrew scrolls as they were read. "So they [the leaders] read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the read­ing" (Neh. 8:8).

Fenton's translation will perhaps make this a little clearer: "And they read from the book of the law of God with an inter­preter, who translated the meaning, so they might understand what was read."

This, then, constitutes the Targums; they are not in Hebrew but in Aramaic, a kindred language. Most of the books of the Old Testament were translated into Ara­maic, the exceptions being Daniel, Nehemiah, and Ezra. The Aramaic Scriptures are available today, but for the most part in that language the only translations at the present time in English of which we have any knowledge are: The Pentateuch (5 Books of Moses) by J. W. Etheridge, The Targums on the Pentateuch, in 2 vol­umes, London, 1862-1874; The Song of Songs by Hermann Gollancz, London, 1908; The Targums on Ecclesiastes by Christian D. Ginsburg, London, 1861. The benefit of the Targums is, as already mentioned, the fact that they show how the Bible and its message was understood in the time of Dan­iel and later. Let us observe a few examples —those particularly which relate to the Messiah:

1. Isa. 9:6:

K.J.V.—"His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."

Tgm.—"His name has been called from of old, Wonderful, counsellor, Mighty God, He who lives for ever, the Anointed One (or, Messiah)" (verse 5)

2.       Isa. 11:1:

K.J.V.—"And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots."

Tgm.—"And a king shall come forth from the sons of Jesse, and an Anointed One (or, Messiah)."

3.       Isa. 52:13:

K.J.V.—"Behold, my deal prudently."

Tgm.—"Behold, my Anointed One (or, shall prosper)." There are many instances We will, however, notice one other item—the use of the word MEMRA. This is an Aramaic word and is to be found quite often in the Targums. It reveals the fact that God worked through an intermediary in the days of old. Most modern Jews find it difficult to reconcile the concept of a mediator anyway with their idea of the unity of God. The ancient Targumists, however, recognized that the Lord worked through someone whom they designated as the MEMRA. When J. W. Etheridge did his work on this subject he was so impressed by its importance, for he discovered that in places the MEMRA was equated with the "Angel of God," the "Shekinah," and even

1.     In Gen. 1:27:

K.J.V.—"So God [Elohim] created man in his own image."

Tgm.—"The MEMRA of the Lord created man."

2.          In Ex. 20:1:

K.J.V.—"And God [ElohimJ spake all these words" (the Decalogue).

Tgm.—"The MEMRA of the Lord spake."

3.          In Ex. 13:18, 19, 21:

K.J.V.—"God" [Elohim]—verses 18, 19; "Lord" (Yahweh)—verse 21; "went before them . . . in a pillar of cloud . . . and a pillar of fire."

Tgm.—"The MEMRA of the Lord went before them in."

It is interesting to note in the New Testa­ment what is mentioned about these three experiences:

Gen. 1:27—The creation of man was ac­complished by Christ (Col. 1:16, 17).

Ex. 20:1—The speaking of the Ten Com­mandments is ascribed to Christ (Heb. 12:24-26).

Ex. 13:18-21—It was Christ who led Israel (1 Cor. 10:4-9).

The same emphasis can be seen in the Spirit of Prophecy writings:

Gen. 1:27—"But the Son of God who had created man, could make an atone­ment for him."—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 66.

Ex. 20:1—"Christ Himself had given both the moral and the ceremonial law."—The Desire of Ages, p. 307. Ex. 13:18-21—"Amid the awful glory of Sinai, Christ declared in the hearing of all the people the ten precepts of His Father's law."—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 366.

Ex. 13:18-21—"Christ was the leader of the children of Israel. . . . Enshrouded in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, He led and guided them."—Christ's Object Lessons, p. 287.

In our preparation for the work of God, we shall be called upon to: "Feed my lambs" (John 21:15); "feed my sheep" (John 21:16); "feed the flock of God" (1 Peter 5:2); "feed the church of God" (Acts 20:28). But we shall be able to do this only as we ourselves are fed with the Bread of Life (see John 6:51, 52, 63).

"The words of the living God are the highest of all education. Those who minis­ter to the people need to eat of the bread of life. This will give them spiritual strength; then they will be prepared to minister to all classes of people."—Counsels to Parents and Teachers, p. 381. (Italics supplied.)

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W.E. Read, Retired Administrator

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