The bint put fairy lights in her flat. When she was finished, she put a nappy on the baby and gave him a dummy. When the babysitter arrived, she put on her coat, bonnet, and wellingtons, and met her chum at the pub for supper, where she had fish and chips. She ordered a biscuit for dessert, but accidentally dropped it on the floor. Her chum laughed that she was all cack-handed. Her chum was a school leaver who was a Hooray Henry but could only find a job as a dog’s body.
Do you know what the above paragraph means? The paragraph is in English, but it is British English and not American English. I used an on-line British-American dictionary to write the paragraph. Try to see if you can decipher it before reading the translation.
Translation: The woman put Christmas lights in her apartment. When she was finished, she put a diaper on the baby and gave him a pacifier. When the babysitter arrived, she put on her coat, hat, and boots and met her best friend at the bar, where she had fish and french fries for lunch. She ordered a cookie for dessert but accidentally dropped it on the floor. Her best friend laughed that she was clumsy. Her best friend was a college graduate who was a yuppie (upper class) but could only find a job as a menial worker (sort of like a gofer–she fetched and carried).
We tend to assume that all English is the same, but in reality, words have different meanings in different countries even when the language is the “same.” Things even have different meanings in different regions of the same country. For example, Michigan is the only region in the USA that calls soft drinks, “pop.” Other states call them “sodas.” A few years ago I visited my friend, who grew up in Michigan but now lives in Iowa, if she had come across language differences between Michigan and Iowa. She listed several. The only one I can remember is that we call a small forest “woods” and they call it “timber.” To us, timber is wood prepared for use in building and carpentry–or it’s what lumberjacks yell when a tree is about to fall: “TIMBER!”
The meanings of words also change over time. Here are some words whose meanings have changed that I found on the website Daily Kos:
- Apology once meant to defend against an accusation. From the Greek apologia, “defense.”
- In ancient Rome, an aquarium was a place to water cattle.
- That pretty armoire was once used to store weapons.
- Artificial originally meant “full of artistic or technical skill.”
- To aspire meant to breathe into. From the Latin spirare, “to breathe.”
- Awful once meant “full of awe” i.e. something wonderful, delightful, amazing. It was often used in religious descriptions and sometimes still is.
- A bachelor was a young man hoping to become a knight. Even before that, he was a poor young soldier.
- A backlog was the huge log placed in the back of the fire that would smolder for days.
- Bail once meant a water carrier or a person charged with a responsibility. From the Frenchbaillier, “to carry; to take charge.”
- A basement was once a toilet.
- A belfry was originally a wooden siege tower on wheels. From Middle German bercfrit“protecting shelter” (bergen “to protect” + frid “peace”). The spelling was altered by the new association with the word “bell.”
- A bellboy was once the boy who rang the ship’s bell.
- Brave was used at one time to signify someone who was showy or gaudy.
- To broadcast meant to sow seeds in a sweeping motion.
- Cute is a shortened form of acute, meaning “keenly perceptive; shrewd.”
- Gay, until fairly recently, used to mean “merry, happy, carefree.”
- Girl used to be the term for a young person of either sex.
- A glade was once an area of water not frozen over but surrounded by ice.
- To grin once meant to scowl or show the teeth as a sign or anger.
- Guess meant to take aim, as with a weapon.
I am sharing this because I want to stress the importance of understanding the history, language, and culture in which the Bible was written. When many people read the Bible, they assume that the words have the same meaning as they do today. They also often read it from the perspective of their own culture. Because they don’t know the context/history/culture/background/language of the Scripture, they come to wrong conclusions and error–just as you might have “guessed wrong” about the British English paragraph above.
Let me share some examples from the Bible of Scriptures that come to life when you understand its context:
- “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matt 6:22-23 NKJV)
In the ASV Bible, “good eye” and “bad eye” are translated “clear” and “bad” eye. The KJV translates it as “single” and “evil eye.” In the NIV it’s “healthy” and “unhealthy” eye. Do you have any idea what it means? Is it an eye disease? An evil eye that a witch in a fairy tale uses to curse someone? I never understood this phrase until I learned Hebrew. This is a Hebrew idiom. If someone has a “good eye” he is generous and unselfish. If he has a “bad eye” he is stingy and selfish. Make sense?
- I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:2-3) “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. (Matt.24:36-37). For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. (1 Thess 4:16).
Have you ever wondered why, if Jesus is God, He doesn’t know when He will return? It relates to the Jewish wedding ceremony. Do you know about the Jewish wedding ceremony? No? If you do not know about the wedding ceremony, you miss a breathtakingly beautiful love story. Briefly: A Jewish father would come with his son to present a marriage contract to the girl he wanted to marry. The son would list what he would give to the bride, and a bride price would be agreed upon–the price the son would have to pay before he married his bride. The price was high, to signify the value he placed on her. If the woman accepted the covenant, she’d drink a cup of wine that the groom presented to her. Then the left her to prepare a place for her–a bridal chamber. He’d make it special for her, and it wouldn’t be finished until the father said it was–because, as Zola Levitt said, “If it was up to the son, he’d throw up a shack in his eagerness to go get his girl.” When the father felt the place was special enough, he would tell the son to go get the girl. The son would not know when the father would determine it was finished and then the son swooped in and “kidnaped” his bride. He’d give her a little warning by shouting when he drew near her house. She waited expectedly with her bridesmaids, knowing he could come at any time…
To read about this wonderful love story in more detail, read “Christian Love Story,” a $3 booklet by Zola Levitt. (Scroll down the page about halfway to buy it.)
- Did you know that leprosy in the Bible is not what we call leprosy today? It was an odd rash that was believed to be a spiritual disease, not a medical condition, because an afflicted person had to present himself to a priest, not a doctor. It was thought to be the result of sins such as murder, adultery, pride, theft, stinginess, a vain oath, and, most of all, for speaking evil of others. See the Hebrew for Christian article about tzara’at.
- “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. Isa. 1:18
Do you know the significance of this? In the Book of Leviticus chapter 16, God instructed Moses and Aaron to select two goats every year for an offering. One was to be used as a sin offering to atone for the sins and transgressions of the people. Once killed, it’s blood was to be sprinkled on God’s mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant. There God would view the blood of the sin offering and have Mercy on the people and forgive their sins. The high priest would then lay hands on the second goat which was allowed to live, and he would confess the sins of the people putting them on the head of the goat. The goat would then bear the blame for all the transgressions of the people and would be set free into the wilderness, where God would remember their sins no more. The goat became known as the scapegoat.
Jewish history records that it was a common practice to tie a red strip of cloth to the scapegoat. The red stripe represented the sin of the people which was atoned for by the red blood on the mercy seat. According to the Jewish Talmud this red stripe would eventually turn white, signaling God’s acceptance of the offering. Isaiah 1:18 is not just a pretty metaphor. It referred to this red piece of cloth that turned white when God had forgiven the people. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”
There is an amazing reference in the Talmuds that verifies that after Jesus was crucified, God no longer accepted the sin offering and the scapegoat offered by the Jewish high priests. The Talmud states: “Forty years before the Temple was destroyed (30 A.D.) the chosen lot was not picked with the right hand, nor did the crimson stripe turn white, nor did the westernmost light burn; and the doors of the Temple’s Holy Place swung open by themselves, until Rabbi Yochanon ben Zakkai spoke saying: ‘O most Holy Place, why have you become disturbed? I know full well that your destiny will be destruction, for the prophet Zechariah ben Iddo has already spoken regarding you saying: ‘Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour the cedars’ (Zech. 11:1).’ Talmud Bavli, Yoma 39b
It’s important to note that this event recorded in the Talmud occurred 40 years before the destruction of the Temple which was destroyed in 70 A.D. The date of this amazing event was 30 A.D, the same year that Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice on the cross. Jesus was the final sin offering and the scapegoat bearing the sins for all mankind.
- Do you know what the Last Supper was? It was Passover.
- Do you know how the Jesus and His disciples celebrated Passover? The Jews celebrate it the same way today as Jesus did. It’s beautiful and speaks of Jesus all the way through it.
- I Corinthians 5:6-8 says: “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” This refers to the preparation for Passover, in which all leaven (which symbolizes sin) in the house is searched for and gotten rid of. A few crumbs are left so that the Father can take his children to “search” for it and get rid of it.
- Do you know what Jesus said when he blessed the bread during Passover? The Jews would know because they have been praying it for thousands of years:
- During Passover, three pieces of unleavened bread are placed in a bag with three compartments, one piece in each compartment. This symbolizes the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The middle piece is taken out and broken, just as Jesus was broken for us. Half is eaten, and half is wrapped in a linen cloth and hidden by the father. Later it will be “found.” This is called the Afikomen, which means “he who comes.” When Jesus broke the bread and said, “This is my body….” he was breaking this middle bread.
I could go on and on and on describing how studying Scripture from a Jewish perspective explains, clarifies, and brings out the beauty of it’s truth. But I think I shared enough to illustrate my point.
The important things to understand is that Jesus was born to Jewish parents in a Jewish family in a Jewish culture in a Jewish country at a particular time in history. He had a Jewish understanding of Scripture, and He celebrated Jewish feasts. If we want to truly understand what He said, then we must seek to understand our Jewish roots. There is so much we miss or misunderstand by not studying these things. A wonderful place to start learning is the Hebrew for Christian website. Dive into the articles, meditations, and This Week’s Torah. Another good place to learn is the En-Gedi Resource Center. En-Gedi has smaller bite-sized teachings.
Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Tim 2:15)