Thursday, September 26, 2013

Acts 6:1 - A Conflict Between the Disciples of Jesus

In those days, as the disciples were multiplying, the Hellenists among them complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily support. (Acts 6:1)

(1) In those days - This marks the beginning of a new context.

(2) as the disciples were multiplying – “disciples” is the term used in the Gospels as reference to the personal followers of Jesus.

(3) the Hellenists -- The noun twn ellhnistwn (TON HELLENISTON) occurs here for the first time in Greek literature. Its formation indicates its basic meaning to be “one who affects Greek ways” (thus it would most naturally refer to non-Greeks).[i] A Geek lexicon states: Hellenist; a Greek-Jew.[ii] Three times every year, Jews came from many lands to participate in Temple rituals; many came from the lands of the Greek-speaking dispersion. Hellenists attended synagogues where the scriptures were read and the prayers recited in Greek.

Hellenistic Judaism was a form of Judaism in the ancient world that combined Jewish religious tradition with elements of Greek culture. One of the primary issues between Hellenists and other Jewish groups was circumcision. Hellenists viewed it as a disfigurement of the body. The main centers of Hellenistic Judaism were Alexandria (Egypt) and Antioch (Northern Syria—now Turkey), both founded at the end of the 4th century BCE.[iii] Even in Jerusalem such synagogues were to be found, as is evident from the verse below:

Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. (Acts 6:9a)

Archaeologists discovered an inscription written in Greek in the southern part of the City of David from 1913-1914.[iv] It is currently on display in the Israel Museum. The inscription mentions a priest by the name of Theodotus (which means “god gave” in Greek) who established a synagogue that is dated to the last hundreds of years of the Second Temple period (30 BCE – 70 CE). The inscription gives us a peek into the nature of a Second Temple synagogue during a period when the synagogue was used as a place to read the Bible and learn about God’s commandments, and not for prayer as it is today. Additionally, the inscription refers to the presence of a facility with water which is either a bath house or a mikvah (ritual bath), as well as guest rooms probably used by Jewish pilgrims who made their way to Jerusalem and required a place to wash and rest during their journey.[v] Below is a translation of the inscription:

Theodotus, son of Vettenus, priest and archisynagogue, son of an archisynagogue, grandson of an archisynagogue, built the synagogue for the reading of the Law and the teaching of the commandments, and guest-house and the rooms and the water supplies for the lodging of strangers in need, which his fathers founded and the Elders and Simonides.[vi]

Another Theodotus, a Greek historian,[vii] noted that there was an important difference between synagogues in Israel and those outside the land. The central focus of all synagogues was to teach the Torah – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy. Synagogues in Israel, however, were not houses of prayer.” [viii] In the land of Israel there was only one House of Prayer -- the Temple. Synagogues in Judea, Samaria and Galilee werehouses of study,” not “houses of prayer.”

(4) among them complained against – this is a conflict between two groups of disciples of Jesus.

(5) the HebrewstouV ebraiouV (TOUS HEBRAIOUS) these were the Hebrew and Aramaic speaking Jews who followed the traditional understanding of the Torah, which was read and discussed in Hebrew in their synagogues.

(6) because their widows were being overlooked in the daily support – The Hellenists disciples complained to the apostles because they believed their widows were not receiving the daily support, apparently food in this context. The word translated support is th diakonia (TE DIAKONIA), which is the same word that “deacon” comes from.

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[i]  The Acts of the Apostles: Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary © 1990 by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Grand Rapids, MI; p. 8
[ii] A Lexicon Abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon  © 1972 Oxford at the Clarendon Press, Great Britain; p. 216b
[vi] (CIJ 1404; Deissmann, LAE, pp. 439-41)
[viii] Josephus, Life 277, 280, and 293

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Bible Study 101: BHC’s Basic Guidelines for Bible Study

Welcome to the Biblical Heritage Center Bible Study Blog. We are excited about using this new format to share information from our MRI Databases about the verses of our Bibles. We hope you will read the following guidelines so you will understand terms we use in our Bible Studies. Our primary goal is enjoy and learn together. Your comments and suggestions are also very important to us.

(1) Every translation of the Bible is a translation. Therefore, every translation is the result of decisions made by the translators concerning the following:

The selection of which ancient manuscripts will be translated.  

The words they choose to translate.

The words they choose to transliterate.

The words they choose to omit.

Words they choose to add that are not in the ancient manuscripts.

(2) Translate is to read something in one language and interpret it into another language. The goal is to transport the meanings of the words from one language to another. An example is the translation of the Greek word anqrwpoV. It is usually translated as “man”, but it can also be translated “human being” or “person.” The translators have three options to choose from for their translation. It is very important to know the options the translators did not choose, as well as those they chose.

(3) Transliterate is to transport the symbols (letters) of one language to another. This is often done when translators encounter names of people and places in the ancient manuscripts. The translator determines what the closest equivalent symbols in the language of the translation are to the symbols of the word in the ancient manuscripts. Below is an example of the transliteration of the Greek word cristou --


cristou is transliterated “Christ” in English translation. The Greek ending “-ou” is dropped. If the translators had chosen to translate cristou, we would find “anointed” instead of “Christ” in our Bibles.

(4) Omit means to choose not to translate or transliterate words that are written in the ancient manuscripts.  Below is an example of Mark 1:1:



gospel of

Scholars have concluded that the words on Line A are the original words and that words 6, 7 and 8 were added by later scribes when they made the copy that has Line B. The translators chose to omit those words from their translation.

(5) Insertion is when translators add a word to their translation that is not found in the ancient manuscripts. A literal translation of Romans 3:28 from Greek manuscripts is:

We maintain therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

Martine Luther added the word “alone” to his German translation to support his doctrine of salvation. His translation of Romans 3:28 reads:

We maintain therefore that a man is justified by faith alone apart from the works of the law.

(6) Culturally correct meanings are the meanings that best reflect the ancient author’s culture. We think, act, and communicate in ways that are primarily predetermined by our cultures. We did not choose our culture any more than we chose our parents and were immediately immersed in our culture the day we were born. The definition of culture is:

Culture is the whole behavior and technology of any people that is passed on from generation to generation.  Culture consists of the knowledge, language, beliefs, morals, laws, religions, customs, concepts, habits, skills, institutions, and any other capabilities of a given people in a given period.[1]

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz adds the following insights about the meaning of culture:

A culture is more than a set of rules to guide behavior; it is a comprehensive worldview and way of relating to one's fellow human beings.  Like all complex cultures, Jewish culture does not spell everything out literally, but leaves much to inference.  A culture's strength lies not only in what it says, but also in what it chooses not to say, and this too must be learned.[2]

(7) Meanings that fit the time period in which the author lived are given more weight. The meaning of words may change as time passes, therefore it is important to determine which meanings of words fall within the author’s lifetime.  

(8) Words must be viewed in the context in which they are written. The context is that which precedes and/or follows any part of a discourse.  The immediate context of a word is the sentence in which it is found. The immediate context of a sentence is the paragraph in which it was written. Context affects the meanings of words. When words are removed from their contextual environment, their original meanings may be completely lost and a new unrelated meanings substituted for them.

(9) Biblical Heritage Center Bible Study Group Agreement. We understand that there are disagreements about the meanings of the words of the Bible and that those disagreements may affect important beliefs of members of the group. Therefore, we ask that members of the group to respect each other because we have gathered to more accurately understand the words of the book we hold in high esteem and to agree to follow the guideline below.

My belief system will be large enough to include all of the facts; I will be open enough to allow my beliefs to be tested; and, I will be flexible enough to change my beliefs when errors are discovered or I become aware of relevant new facts.

We hope you will agree to agree to use it too. Sign up for email updates for this blog so you will receive alerts when new Bible Studies are posted.


[2] Teshuvah: A Guide for the Newly Observant Jew by Adin Steinsaltz © 1982 by The Domino Press, Jerusalem; Translation © 1987 by The Free Press, New York, NY; p. 10

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Origin of the English Word “Bible”

The English noun “Bible” is well known.  But do you know where the word came from?  Why do we call the book by that name?  

Like many of our English words, the noun “Bible” comes from French.  French, of course, is one of the Romance languages (i.e., a direct descendant from Latin), and thus we must look to Latin for the source of the French noun.  The French word, by the way, is bible.

The Latin word from which the French derived their noun “bible” is the word biblia.  In grammatical terms, this is a noun, singular in number and feminine in gender.  At first sight, It seems strange that the Romans considered this form of the noun as feminine and singular because the exact form of the noun in Greek, from which the Romans transliterated their word, is neuter and plural.

The transliteration of the Greek noun is biblia.  This is the plural of the Greek noun biblion.  In turn, the Greek noun biblion is what is called a diminutive form of the Greek noun biblos, which is sometimes written bublos.  When transliterating Greek words into English, the usual way of transliterating the letter “upsilon” (the letter “u” in Greek) is with the English letter “y” because this English letter approximates the sound of “upsilon” better than the English letter “u.”

Thus, the transliteration of the alternative word bublos turns out to be byblos.  What this word meant to the Greeks originally was a Phoenician city on the Mediterranean coast – Byblos.  

In time, the Greeks started using the same word in reference to a principal export of the city of Byblos (the Phoenicians were great seafarers).  That export was papyrus.

Papyrus was a plant that grew along the Nile River in Egypt.  The pith of the plant could be cut into thin strips and pressed into a material on which one could write.  Papyrus was effectively the paper of the ancient Mediterranean world.  The “sheets” of papyrus thus inscribed could be glued or sewn together to be rolled up (scroll) or put into book form (codex).

The Greeks easily made the transition from using the word biblion to refer to the writing material to the product of the writing, a “book,” especially by using the word in the plural (meaning “sheets” of papyrus).  Diminutive forms of nouns were sometimes used literally because the thing referred to was “small,” but they were often used figuratively as terms of endearment or for something familiarly known.

Based on the use of the Greek noun for scroll or codex in the sense of multiple sheets of papyrus was easily adopted by the Romans in the sense of a single “book” or “scroll,” thus causing the change from the Greek plural form of the noun to the Latin singular form of the noun, and then the use of the Latin word by the French became the origin of the English noun “Bible.”   

(This study was written by Dr. Ike Tennison, President of the Biblical Heritage Center, Inc.)