The Hebrew Heritage Bible Translation
By: Carl Johnson
Since the mid 1980’s1 a growing number of New Testament translations have been produced that translate the text with its Jewish/Hebraic background 2 or perspective primarily in mind. That this is happening is indeed significant, as the realization is starting to be understood by some scholars that both culture (Jewish) and the root language (Hebrew and Aramaic) must play a major role in properly analyzing and translating the text while reflecting the original intent of the author. But what is a Jewish/Hebraic perspective? One translator states, “…the time has come to restore the Jewishness of the New Testament. For the New Testament is in fact a Jewish book – by Jews, mostly about Jews, and for Jews as well as Gentiles.”3 Some may ask why is this perspective so important to have? One scholar sums it up by stating, “these authors, in both the Old and New Testaments, find their primary orientation in the Semitic culture of the East. God breathed his word into the minds of the biblical authors within a Jewish cultural environment.” Consequently, as another writer notes, “to ignore Hebraic ways of thinking is to subvert Christian understanding.” 4 So, the goal of these types of translations appears to be clear, that the intent of the translator is to place the text back into the soil from which it sprang, that being a Jewish one, in order to give the reader a better understanding of its original meaning.
But what exactly constitutes a translation with a Jewish/Hebraic perspective? What kind of characteristics does it have that distinguishes it from all others? After evaluating some of these translations several unique features become quite apparent – though not all must be present. Such as:
1) transliterations – Names and place names are usually transliterated instead of translated, such as; Yeshua for Jesus, Shaul for Paul, Yochanan for John, Yehuda for Judea, Yerushalayim for Jerusalem and Bet Lechem for Bethlehem and so on. This feature is usually pretty common in these translations where using the biblical spelling is part of restoring its historical and cultural context. This is not to be confused with Sacred Name translations, whose major goal is to use the correct spelling and pronunciation for the sacred names of God and his Son.
2) Cultural emphasize – the Jewish cultural is emphasized to strengthen the reader’s awareness of it, such as: referring to the “hem” or “fringe” of Jesus robe as his “tzitzit” which was commanded by the Torah for all Jewish men to ware on their garments. In Acts 20:7, where Paul’s meeting with believers in Ephesus is “on the first day of the week” was probably held not on Sunday evening but, reflecting the Jewish way of reconking time on Saturday night.5 Also measurements and weights are usually not translated into English terms but retain their original terminology and then the English eqivalence are footnoted.
3) idioms or common expressions – understanding idioms is especially important in this type of translation and plays a critical role in accurately translating the text. But what is an idiom? Webster’s dictionary states an idiom “is a form of expression of speech having a meaning that is not readily understood from the meaning of its component words.” Another words if you try to understand the words as they are literally written you will find it very difficult to understand its meaning. For example, if someone used the expression that “he hung up his shoes,” (which is a Spanish idiom meaning “he died”) you would probably fail to properly understand it unless you were from that culture. These types of expressions can only be determined and understood by their cultural setting. Those who translate with a Hebraic perspective insist it is impossible to correctly understand many passages found in the New Testament if you fail to translate them from a Jewish/Hebraic perspective. One example of this is found in Luke 6:22, the KJV literally reads “…cast out your name as evil…” the NIV reads “…reject your name as evil….” Taken at face value one could conclude that a person’s name is being called evil, though when read in context of the surrounding verses this meaning is certainly not meant. One scholar explains that through his research he has determined that this expression (cast out your name as evil) is really a Hebrew idiom that has been preserved for us in Greek clothing. He believes that the better way to translate this expression into English would be, “malign you,” or rendered in colloquial English as “give you a bad name” or “smear your name.”
With this in mind, The Hebrew Heritage Bible Translation, According to the Gospel of Luke is one of the more recent works produced in the line of Jewish/Hebraic translations. Starting with the gospel of Luke, Dr. Brad Young, professor of Judaic-Christian Studies at Oral Roberts University, is planning on translating the entire New Testament from the perspective of its Hebraic heritage. Dr. Young states that “at first I didn’t have any intention of producing a new translation, but as I studied other translations I realized the lack of awareness there was by translators to understand the Hebrew meanings of many of the Greek words.” He continues that “present translations render the Greek text without thought for the Hebraic perspective of early Christianity. For too long scholars have only considered the Greek text without taking into consideration the Semitic origins behind them.” Dr. Young stresses that “everyone needs a translation of the New Testament which will make the message of Jesus clear and open up the world of his early disciples.” He sums up his thoughts that, “the Hebrew Heritage Bible Translation will emphasize the Hebraic meaning and Jewish cultural significance of the New Testament text. Readers will gain a new vision of Jesus and his followers.”
In producing his translation, Dr. Young relied on the 27th edition of the Nestle-Aland’s Greek New Testament with help from Codex Bezae (a fifth/sixth century manuscript) which he believes tends to be more Semitic than most other manuscripts. Dr. Young explains that “the textual analysis of the manuscript evidence will take into consideration the Semitisms found in the Greek text of the New Testament. This translation will seek dynamic equivalents in English of the Greek text which will communicate the Hebrew meaning of the sayings of Jesus.”
Dr. Young has a background that is well qualified to carry out this type of translation work with his extensive studies in early Christianity and ancient Judaism. After receiving his B.A. in the United States, Dr. Young went on to complete his Ph.D. at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where he studied under the world renowned authority of Early Christianity, Dr. David Flusser. His doctoral dissertation was titled Jesus and His Jewish Parables.
Since returning to the states Dr. Young has been widely recognized as an authority on the life and teachings of Jesus. Besides teaching at ORU, Dr. Young founded and serves as President of the Gospel Research Foundation located in Tulsa, OK, which is dedicated to the scholarly exploration and spiritual restoration of the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. Other books Dr. Young has published are; The Jewish Background to the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus the Jewish Theologian, Paul the Jewish Theologian, and The Parables.
Currently, Dr. Young is translating Paul’s letter to the Romans.
Following are passages taken from Dr. Young’s translation and his reasons for translating them in the manner he did.
In Luke 4:3, Dr. Young translates this verse as “Since you are the Son of God,” rather than the usual translation “If you are the Son of God.” Dr. Young explains this minor but significant change in that the “Greek authorities agree that this is what is called a ‘condition of reality.’ The better translation conveys the idea that he is the Son of God.”
In Luke 4:5, Dr. Young departs from most modern translations and renders this passage, “Then the (Devil brought him to a high mountain) and showed him all the kingdoms in a moment of time.” The idea of Jesus being led up to a high mountain is omitted by most modern translations. Dr. Young admits that “the words of the translation in parentheses (Devil brought him to a high mountain) do not have strong textual support. Nevertheless the context and Jewish background support their authenticity. They may have been deleted by a scribal error when the copier’s eyes moved ahead a few words in the line. The story reminds the listener of the experience of Moses upon Mount Nebo when he was shown all the land of Israel in a moment of time.”
In Luke 6:24, the standard translation “But woe to you” is translated “Pay the strictest attention for your own sake” because as Dr. Young states it “is much stronger in English than the usual translation. The Greek words might even be translated ‘Damn you!’ which show the urgency of the situation in English.” He adds that “one could also translate this as, ‘Take heed for your own sake!’, ‘Watch out for yourself’, or ‘Change your behavior now before you are punished by God for your actions!’”
In Luke 7:23, Dr. Young translates the passage as “Blessed is the one who does not stumble over me!” He explains that the “Greek word skandalizo is literally translated here ‘to stumble.’ It is much stronger than some of the recent translations which render it as ‘to take offense.’ The force of the text means to stumble so as to fall. It means a complete failure.”
In Luke 9:46, the text reads “An argument arose among them as to who should be leader.” Dr. Young explains here “the word ‘leader’ is usually translated ‘greatest.’ The word ‘greatest’ in Hebrew, rav, most probably referred to a position of leadership.”
In Luke 11:8, most translations render this verse “…yet because of his persistence…,” (italics mine) but here Dr. Young uses the word “chutzpa.” He explains that this “is the exact equivalent for the Greek word anadeia which sometimes is related to the word, ‘faith’ in the teachings of Jesus which in some contexts really means, ‘unrelenting resolve,’ ‘bold determination,’ ‘raw nerve,’ or ‘strong willed tenacity.’”
In Luke 12:10, Dr. Young again departs from all other translations when he translates the usual term “Son of man” for “another person.” In this passage he explains that “the words, ‘another person’ represent the Semitism, ‘son of man’ which in this context is best understood as a reference to every human being. In other contexts in the gospels, it is a reference to the messianic title, ‘son of man,’ which developed in part from Daniel 7:13.”
In Luke 13:31, Dr. Young states that “this is the only place that I translated the Greek word farasaioi as ‘Pharisees’ instead of ‘spiritual leaders.” The word ‘Pharisee’ in English has come to mean ‘hypocrite.’ In the time of Jesus, the word was more positive and referred to those who were spiritual leaders. One might even translate the word Pharisees as, ‘spiritual giants,’ ‘spiritual elite’s,’ ‘pious ones,’ or ‘devout.’ In most passages, I have translated farasaioi with the dynamic equivalent of ‘spiritual leader’ which more clearly represents the Pharisees from first century Israel. Here in this passage, however, it is clear that some of the Pharisees are trying to save the life of Jesus because he was in danger from Herod Antipas just like John the Immerser. English speakers must change their perception of the religious teachings and spiritual legacy of the Pharisees who were really very close to Jesus and his followers in their theology and in their longing for faith renewal among the people.”
In Luke 15:18, the verse reads, “I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father I have sinned against heaven [God], and before you…’ Dr. Young explains that “here the word ‘heaven’ refers to God which might not be apparent to all English readers.”
In Luke 16:18, Dr. Young is the only translator that I’m aware of to construe this passage as, “Everyone who divorces his wife in order to marry another, commits adultery…”
“In this passage the words “divorce” and “adultery” are often misunderstood” says Dr. Young. “Not infrequently Christians have thought that Jesus made divorce synonymous with adultery. Nothing could be further from the truth…” Dr. Young adds that in this verse “both verbs ‘divorce’ and ‘marry’ are in the present tense. In Hebrew the force of the expression would have linked the two actions together in a continuous motion, ‘Everyone who divorces and marries another commits adultery.’” Dr. Young further
explains that, “the second part of the verse must be understood in a similar fashion. In light of the Mishnah passage in Sotah, if a man marries a woman who obtained a divorce merely for the sake of her second marriage, then it is considered adultery. Divorce is not adultery. However, one can obtain a divorce for the sake of remarriage and thereby break the sacred trust of marriage fidelity.” 6 (for a more detailed explanation see Dr. Young’s
book, Jesus, the Jewish Theologian).
In Luke 22:31, the KJV, NIV and NASB all render this passage as if Satan were demanding to sift Simon as wheat. Dr. Young on the other hand translates it “…Satan has demanded permission to sift through all of you like wheat.” He explains that “though Jesus is speaking to Simon, the plural form in Greek for ‘you’ indicates that Satan wanted to sift through all the disciples like wheat.”
In Luke 24:51, Dr. Young omits the phrase “and he ascended into heaven” because he believes that “this seems to be a scribal addition to Luke’s text based upon the description of the ascension in Acts 1:9.”
As one reads through this translation one will notice many places the author exchanges one word for another in order to make the text reflect its Jewish nature such as: “Messiah” for “Christ,” “Shabbat” for “Sabbath,” “Torah” for “law,” “shalom” for “peace,” and “Pesach” for “Passover”. Other changes found in this work are “immerse” for “baptize,” “emissaries” for “apostles,” and “spiritual leaders” for “Pharisees.” As stated above, the reason for these changes have been to help reflect the original culture of the text. With this being so it is rather surprising to see that Jewish terms are not also used when referring to the name of the supreme being – LORD, God and the Holy Spirit. But this may have been purposely omitted as not to confuse the reader with names they are totally unfamiliar with.
All Bibles naturally fall somewhere along the “method of translation” spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is found a word for word (or formal equivalence) translation. Somewhere in the middle we have a thought for thought (also referred to as dynamic or functional equivalence) translation, and to the opposite end of the spectrum we have a paraphrase, or as some refer to it as a “free rendering or amplification of a passage, an expression of its sense in other words.” 7 As a translation this one falls somewhere between a word for word and a dynamic equivalence translation. Certainly, it’s not as literal as the NASB or the KJV, but it’s also not quite as dynamic as the NIV. At times the language flows freely and distinctively while at other times it appears stiff and archaic, but overall this translation is highly readable. One great feature of this translation is the helpful notes found at the bottom of most pages explaining the reason for rendering a particular passage in the manner he did. Another feature adopted by this translation is its use of gender-inclusive language, which is becoming a popular feature of recent translations.
I’m sure for some in the church and academic world today there will be passages that cause controversy and disagreement. But one thing is for sure, Dr. Young will challenge many to take a new and serious look at the approach and method of translating the text from its original perspective. Though this New Testament translation is many years from being completed, Dr. Young will certainly give all its readers a fresh new way in which to engage and understand the scriptures like those who first heard its message so long ago.
1 – The recent start of these translations really began with Hugh Schonfield’s, The Original New Testament (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985) which is a revision of his earlier translation, The Authentic New Testament in 1955.
2 – A total of eight so far, the current list of Jewish/Hebraic N.T. translations is: (1)1955, The Authentic New Testament by Hugh Schonfield; (2)1985, The Original New Testament by Hugh Schonfield, a later revision of his earlier work; (3)1989, The Jewish New Testament by David Stern; (4)1989, God’s New Covenant by Heinz Cassier; (5)1996, The Power New Testament by William Morford; (6)2001, Hebraic Roots Version “New Testament” by James Trimm; (7)2001, The Hebrew Heritage Bible Translation According to the Gospel of Luke by Brad Young. (8) 2003, The Hebrew Names Version of the World English Bible by Michael Paul Johnson. This list could also include The Orthodox Jewish Brit Chadasha by Phillip Goble translated in 1997, but this work can hardly be considered an English language translation (its more of a hybrid translation) due to the fact its language is so peppered with Hebrew words and phrases.
3 – David Stern, The Jewish New Testament (Clarksville: Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., 1989) p.ix.
4 – John Dillenberger, “Revelational Discernment and the Problem of the Two Testaments,” in The Old Testament and Christian Faith, ed. Bernhard W. Anderson (repr. New York: Herder and Herder, 1969), p.160.
5 – David Stern, The Jewish New Testament (Clarksville: Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., 1989) p.xix.
6 – Brad Young, Jesus, The Jewish Theologian (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.,
7 – Ed. Della Thompson, Oxford Dictionary of Current English (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1993) 2nd edition.