There is a wonderful example of how the way things are written can affect understanding in the July 2018 issue of Reader’s Digest (page 48). The story is that a professor wrote the following sentence on the blackboard: “Woman without her man is nothing.” He then asked each person in the class to rewrite the sentence with correct punctuation. The men wrote: “Woman, without her man, is nothing.” The women wrote: “Woman! Without her, man is nothing.” It is obvious that punctuation causes misunderstandings!
When one reads the Bible in English, the same problem occurs. The original Hebrew and Greek of the Bible were written in a completely different way from modern English. The original documents usually have no punctuation and sometimes not even spaces between words. This is rarely an issue for someone simply trying to understand the basic message, but when people start digging into questions that are technical in nature, it can become an issue.
An example of this is Genesis 1:1-2a. In the King James Bible, there is no punctuation. The Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible reads “In the beginning of God’s preparing the heavens and the earth– the earth hath existed waste and void.” In my studies with Jewish scholars, I was told that the understanding of this in their tradition is that God created the Earth and heavens and the earth became wasted and chaotic.
None of this has much to do with the basic message of the Bible. However, when you compare the scientific evidence with the biblical account, it is important to know how the people of Moses’ day would have understood the words. Sometimes modern punctuation causes misunderstandings of the account which conflict with the evidence of science.
–John N. Clayton © 2018