LESSON 2.

TEXTUAL CRITICISM.

9.   We repeat: The Hebrew text of the Old Testament, to which Jewish scholars have added both the vowel-letters “a h w  j,” and vowel signs, may have mistakes, as regards these vowels, but must not be called into question any further. But there are destructive critics who go much farther than this. They manipulate the consonants. We will illustrate, in a crude manner—it cannot be critical—their method, taking an English sentence for the purpose. First we rob it of its vowels, and then we have the following:

GDSLVDTHWRLDTHTHGVHSNLBGTTNSNTHT
WHSVRBLVTHNHMSHLDNTPRSH.

10. Now let us decipher, remembering that according to Hebrew usage “the” is often lacking where we would use it, and therefore we may supply it; and sometimes we can read a consonant double, sometimes single. Beginning by supplying a “the,” and inserting vowels in small letters, at the same time spacing the words, we read: “The aGeD SLaVe DoTH WeaRiLy Do THaT Hay. i GaVe His [double the S] SoN LieBiG[3] To iNSiNuaTe [IHTW we alter to WTH WiTH] HiS VeRy BeLoVeD [we insert a D here, on the supposition that the text is incomplete] Tea (double the T] THeN He SHouLD NoT PeRiSH.” There is an M before the word “should,” but we drop it out.

11. In this long sentence we have not supposed many corrections necessary; and some of the corrections are lawful from the standpoint and practice of all who interpret the original text. But aside from these lawful ones, is this sort of manipulation of the consonants of the original text lawful work, with the Word of God? NO! The work of these destructive higher critics in clearing up obscure passages in the Old Testament is both tempting and fascinating, and in their works they give praise to those who have made “brilliant guesses” as to the meaning of certain sentences. The method is tempting because by its looseness almost any passage would permit of some sense being read into it, whereas, otherwise many passages will lie in more or less obscurity for centuries, before their precise meaning will be discovered. Yet, recalling the fact that though cut glass looks prettier than uncut diamond, it is worthless in comparison, we choose the consonants unaltered, even if the sense is obscure, to a pretty setting forth of mere sentiment.

12. Having made our choice, then, let us think again of the English sentence, as though it were, in very truth, an obscure Hebrew passage. It is, in point of fact, a verse from the Bible. If we cannot read it at once, we will keep it at hand and pray over it. If it be indeed a very word from God, it is worth years, or even centuries of patient waiting for God to reveal its meaning. We will assume that after a while you pass through a new spiritual experience, and all the Bible takes on fresh meaning to you,--for this result always follows a nearer approach to God. Your soul is full of love to God, and a deeper love of His Word. Fresh messages of love shine forth from every page of His Book. God is now first in all your thoughts, and turning to this sentence once more, for light, it seems to you that the opening consonants, GD, must mean “God,” not “aGeD.” Yes, and the next four consonants naturally suggest “So LoVeD.” Ah! now you have it! Not “aged slave,” but “God so loved.” We are on the right track. How beautifully it all unravels, without the loss or change of a single consonant! The printed Word tells you half the story, and your heart’s experience the other half, and the meaning of the sentence which so long may have baffled you is, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish.”

13. Now scholarship alone did not reveal the meaning to you, nor did experience alone, but a combination of the two. We are mistaken when we think we can get along on a slovenly and incomplete knowledge of the Bible. No amount of spiritual experience, or even the Spirit’s help and instruction will take the place of the study God requires us to put upon His Word. The world, the Church and women are suffering sadly from woman’s lack of ability to read the Word of God in its original languages. There are truths therein that speak to the deepest needs of a woman’s heart, and that give light upon problems that women alone are called upon to solve. Without knowledge of the original, on the part of a sufficient number of women to influence the translation of the Bible in accordance with their perception of the meaning of these truths, these needed passages will remain uninterpreted, or misinterpreted.

14. Such truths man is not equipped to understand, much less to set forth to the understanding of women, for, as the very learned Canon Payne-Smith has said: “Men never do understand anything [he refers to Bible translation] unless already in their minds they have some kindred ideas.” And such truths as are messages to women, women without knowledge of the original languages, even if having the spiritual experience, cannot discover. They find such a message often an inexplicable mystery, or even distorted into meaning something painful.

15. To return to the sentence to which we supplied the vowels: We purposely took a verse from the New Testament, and the greatest promise in the whole Bible. (Of course it does not stand in the original text in Hebrew, but in Greek). We wished to demonstrate that the most precious thing in the Word might be changed into insipid nonsense, perhaps, by the manipulation of two or three consonants of a vowel less language. They are like strong talons holding tenaciously to the only correct sense that can be legitimately made of the sentence. Bear in mind, further, a point which is passed over lightly by the destructive critics of the present time: With each consonant that is changed in Hebrew textual criticism, there is involved a change, or several changes, of the unexpressed vowels. The alteration of a consonant is not a trivial one at all, when it invades a consonantal language.

16. Twice, since the opening of the Christian era, Christians have so neglected the Hebrew Bible as to have lost the language, and they have turned to the Jews to acquire it again. They lost it first, Dr. Wall tells us, “for somewhat more than 100 years immediately preceding the time when Origen flourished [born A.D. 185]: and again, in the dark ages for a long series of centuries, terminated by the revival of learning in Europe.” The rabbis who taught the Christians each time would naturally teach them, not towards, but away from Christian ideals, and towards Talmudic ideals. Because of this fact, some things in the Old Testament, relating to women especially, demand a very careful, critical investigation, as to their precise meaning, since we know that the Talmudic view as regards women was not a just, unprejudiced view, by any means.

17.  So much, as to the Hebrew Old Testament. As to the Greek New Testament, we shall not be faced with the same difficulties, and in our Lessons are not likely to call its text, as it now stands, into serious question. The Greek has always expressed its vowels, as well as its consonants, and hence no question arises at this point. The punctuation of the Greek, for the most part, is of recent invention, and at some points seriously to be questioned. But as to the interpretation of its words and their usage, there is an extensive Greek literature, independent of the New Testament, to give light, whereas, practically all that exists of ancient Hebrew literature is in the Bible. Modern Hebrew, as spoken by Jews, is merely the use of Bible words in their traditional meanings, which may be correct, but are sometimes doubtful, or even demonstrably incorrect.

Notes

[3] i.e., beef extract

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