Anatomical Bible Words (Part 1)

Anatomical Bible Words
One of the most ambiguous words used by believers and atheists alike is when they say they are taking the Bible “literally.” It is ambiguous because of the underlying assumptions people make about the biblical translations. Word meanings can change over centuries and sometimes over decades. We can think of words, such as “gay,” which have changed in meaning in our lifetimes. Sometimes believers get confused by the meaning of Bible words in the King James Version. Skeptics especially like to criticize anatomical Bible words for being inaccurate.

At one extreme, some Bible fundamentalists insist that the King James Version was given by direct revelation from God to the translators in 1611, and that it is 100% correct. There are massive difficulties with that view. There are both translation mistakes and antiquated vocabulary in the KJV. Many words used in the KJV have gone out of use or have different meanings today.

A translation error we have mentioned before is in Genesis 6 where nephilim is translated “giant.” That mistranslation was a carryover from the earlier Latin Vulgate translation. In the Vulgate, the Latin scholars translated nephilim as gigantus which means “giant.” The KJV translators didn’t go back to the true meaning of the word nephilim which is “fallen ones.” The Hebrew word nephilim is derived from naphal which means to fall, fall away, or be cast down.

At the other extreme, atheists, skeptics, and biblical minimalists have claimed that the Bible is full of errors. They say that anatomical Bible words show a lack of understanding of basic science. The Hebrew word for kidneys is kelayot and it was used by the ancients in the sense of “mind” or “interior self.” We find it used eleven times in the Old Testament in reference to humans. In the KJV it is usually translated “reins.” We all know that the kidneys filter our blood and remove wastes, but the Bible never identifies the kidneys with that function. In Job 19:27 kelayot is translated “heart” or “mind” in most translations. In Proverbs 23:16 most translations read “innermost being.”

So does this mean that the Bible is not the word of God because our creator should have understood that kidneys are not the seat of our inner self? We believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. We have stated before that we must understand the Bible literally. To take it literally means to look at who wrote the passage, to whom it was written, why it was written, and how the people of the day in which it was written would have understood it.

The biblical passages we have referred to were written to common people in an ancient time in words that they could understand. If they could not understand it, they would never have passed it on to us. Our knowledge of human anatomy is far beyond that of the ancients. We can understand what the Bible is saying and so could those who lived in ancient times. The Bible is God’s word for all time, not just today. We will continue with more on anatomical Bible words tomorrow.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018

Bible Translations and the Tyranny of God

Bible Translations
One of the constant challenges made by skeptics of the existence of God is what they sometimes call the tyranny of God. The charge is that God has done things that make it impossible to believe that He is a God of love and mercy. They suggest that the biblical stories are just myths contrived by brutal and primitive societies. This misunderstanding is often caused by Bible translations.

They give examples like 2 Samuel 12:31 where David “puts people under saws, axes, and iron and passes them through brick kilns: … ” Perhaps the most frequently used case is 2 Kings 2:23-25 where Elisha has God send a bear to rip up a group of children who are kidding him because he is bald. Just reading these stories in your KJV Bible might make you think that there is some validity to the challenges, but there is a far more basic problem here.

The problem in these cases and many others is translation. In many cases, the King James is a very poor translation of the original language, and the meaning many English words has changed since 1611. You can see this by looking at modern Bible translations or by using The Word: The Bible in Twenty-six Translations. Let us take the two examples above to see what we mean.

Second Samuel 12:31 does not say that David cut up people with saws and irons and burned them in kilns. It says he forced them into doing these things as labor. The people involved cut wood, made bricks, picked rock, and the like. It may have been hard labor, but it was not wanton brutality. The story in 2 Kings 2:23 -25 is badly distorted by the KJV use of the word “child.” The actual Hebrew word in the passage refers to a young man in a militant form–sometimes referring to an army. This was a gang of teenage thugs who were not just making fun of Elisha, but denigrating God and His spokesman. The reference to baldness probably had to do with the fact that lepers shaved their heads, and as such were outcasts. This is a case of a direct challenge to God and His representative.

To get at the question of whether we understand God’s methods, purposes, or nature, we must look at the original language and the context in which it was written. Failure to do this is not confined to those who would discredit God. It is also seen in the work of some fundamentalists and religionists.

In the debates about evolution, many creationists do not look at the words in Genesis and what they mean and how they were understood by the people of Moses’ day. The fact that the Sun, Moon, and stars were created in verse 1 and then became fully visible in verses 14-19 is lost if one does not look at the difference between the process of creating (Hebrew bara) and making (Hebrew asah). Failure to take the Hebrew words literally has caused some to limit God’s creative process to the week of Genesis when clearly God’s miraculous acts took place before the week started.

Those who claim to take the Bible literally must work at understanding what the author wanted to convey in the original language. Comparing different Bible translations can help to clarify some problems. For a detailed explanation of the Hebrew words in Genesis, we recommend our booklet God’s Revelation in His Rocks and in His Word available in printed form or online.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Atheism and Translation Issues

Elisha’s Spring Fountain at Jericho
Atheists do their best to make the God of the Bible seem to be a heartless, ruthless, barbaric, evil God. We have reviewed many of their attempts over the years. Recently an example cited in an atheist blog demonstrates the difficulties that occur when an old translation is read carelessly. The story is in 2 Kings 2:23-24. The King James translation tells us that as the prophet Elisha was walking a group of “little children came out of the city” and mocked him ridiculing his bald head. According to verse 24 Elisha “cursed them in the name of the Lord” and two bears came out of the woods and tore up 42 of them. If you stop at this point, you could think that the God who caused this was heartless, ruthless, barbaric, and evil. Why should God be so vindictive when all the children were doing is making fun of an old bald preacher?

The truth is that God is not any of those things. The Hebrew word translated “little children” in the King James Version of the Bible is also used to describe Joseph when he was 17 and Joshua when he served in the tabernacle. It is also used to describe David when he fought Goliath and Solomon in 1 Kings 3:7, even though he was married. We aren’t talking about a bunch of six-year-olds, but rather a large group of young warrior-like juveniles who could have done great harm to Elisha. The city they were coming from was Bethel which was a center of idolatry in Israel. In 2 Kings 10:29 we read that Jeroboam established golden calf worship in Bethel. In this story, 42 young thugs come out to attack a prophet of God. That is a far cry from innocent children making fun of an old man. Another important fact in this story is what the young men are saying, “go up you baldhead,” is not about Elisha’s hair line. In verse 11 Elijah was taken up into heaven, and Elisha was left to carry on. In verse 3 the pagan prophets had jeered Elisha because his mentor was going to leave him. They said, “Knowest thou that the Lord will take away thy master from thy head today?” They were saying he would be powerless because Elijah who gave him his authority would be gone.

The rest of the story is that Elisha showed his authority by using the abilities given him by God including miraculously purifying the water from the spring at Jericho. Whenever there is a biblical event that looks foolish or contradictory, we need to examine it more closely. We need to consider who wrote the account, to whom it was written, why it was written, and how the people of the day would have understood it. If you do that, you will find that the Bible is a true, factual, and logical guide that we can rely on. We also learn that the God of the Bible is patient and shows His wrath only when humans refuse to accept anything else.
–John N. Clayton © 2017