The Original Language of the Torah
By Jeff A. Benner
Many theological discussions, teachings and debates use phrases like "The Bible says," or "God says." From a technical point of view, the problem with these statements is that it assumes the Bible was written in English, which of course we all know is not true.
The Bible does not say, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." A more accurate statement would be, "The Bible says, '
(bereshiyt bara elohiym et hashamayim v'et ha'arets), ' which is often translated and interpreted as, 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.'" While this may sound trivial, it is in fact a very important issue as many theological differences, divisions and arguments are based on faulty interpretations of the text that could easily be resolved by examining the original language of the Bible. Once the Hebrew text is recognized, its meanings and interpretations can then be discussed properly.
As one example, the Hebrew word ראשית (reshiyt) is translated as "beginning" in Genesis 1:1 in the King James Version. But the King James Version also translates this same Hebrew word as "chief" (1 Samuel 15:21) and "principle thing" (Proverbs 4:7). The Hebrew word ראשית (reshiyt) may be interpreted as "beginning," but it's more literal meaning is "height," as in the height or beginning of an event, the height of someone in rank or the height of importance.
Rather than attempting an interpretation from the English, one should at the least be attempting to understand the text from its Hebraic origin. This can be achieved through the use of an English Bible and a Concordance, where the student is able to find the Hebrew word used in the text that lies behind the English. When using this tool, it quickly becomes evident that the English translators of the text were not very consistent in how they translated Hebrew words.
For instance, the Hebrew word נפש (nephesh) is usually translated in the KJV as soul, but also as; appetite, beast, body, breath, creature, dead, desire, ghost, heart, life, lust, man, mind, person, pleasure, self, thing and will.
The Hebrew verb נתן (N-T-N) means "to give" but is also translated with a wide variety of English words including; add, aloud, apply, appoint, ascribe, assign, avenge, bestow, bring, cast, cause, charge, come, commit, consider, count, cry, deliver, direct, distribute, do, fasten, forth, frame, get, grant, hang, have, heal, heed, lay, leave, left, lend, let, lift, make, occupy, offer, ordain, over, oversight, pay, perform, place, plant, pour, present, print, pull, put, recompense, requite, restore, send, set, shoot, show, sing, sit, slander, strike, submit, suffer, take, thrust, tie, trade, turn, utter, weep, willingly, withdrew, would, yell, and yield.
While it is true that one English word cannot translate one Hebrew word perfectly and some translational liberties are necessary, this should only be done out of necessity and the change should be noted in a footnote to aid the student with proper understanding and interpretation.