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by Jeremy Smith
The Online Magazine of The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals
September 2006.

Original link: []

"There is no Jehovah." With these words, it appeared that my formal introduction into biblical Hebrew began with a less than innocuous start. In reality, this bold statement had nothing to do with the God of the Bible but everything to do with the issue of linguistics. As most first-year Hebrew student can tell you, the common designation "Jehovah" is the product of misunderstanding issues of pronunciation and further stems from a particular theological understanding of the third commandment. This theological/linguistic snafu has an amusing, if somewhat tedious explanation.
The personal, covenantal name of God in the Old Testament is usually translated into our English Bibles with the all-caps designation, LORD. Standing behind that translation are the Hebrew consonants that come into English as YHWH, usually pronounced "Yahweh," though there is debate about that. What makes certainty difficult is the fact that Hebrew vowels were originally omitted in written form, a practice that continues to this day in modern Hebrew. Israeli newspapers and other print materials, for example, frequently omit the written designation for vowels. They exist, and for native Hebrew speaker, this omission is no difficulty. Certain rules govern their placement even when they are left out of the written language. But for non-native speakers, this does pose a problem, as the rules for vowel insertion are not apparent if Hebrew is not your first language. And so scribes in the latter half of the first millennium AD went back to the consonantal text and inserted marks (or vowel points) above and below the sacred consonants to indicate the traditional pronunciation. Their efforts played an enormous role in keeping the ancient Hebrew language from becoming a lost or forgotten language. These scribes, known collectively as the Masoretes, preserved and protected and transmitted the text we now have as the Old Testament, called the Massoretic Text (MT). What does this have to do with Jehovah? Before I can make the connections, there is one more piece to the puzzle.

All good Jews know that the divine name of God is sacred. As part of keeping the third commandment, good Jews would not even pronounce the divine name, written in their Bibles as hwhy (YHWH). As a reminder to not vocalize the name, the Massoretes inserted different vowels under the consonants that belonged to a different word. The vowels belong to the Hebrew word for "Lord," which many know through the efforts of the world-famous theologian, Amy Grant, is Adonai. This vowel replacement program stood as a reminder that when the reader came across the divine name, to think and say "Adonai" instead of "Yahweh."

The designation, Jehovah derives from pronouncing the consonants for Yahweh combined with the vowels for Adonai, mediated through modern foreign language conventions were the "Y" becomes a "J" (German) and the "W" becomes a "V" (modern Hebrew). As such, the alternate vowels are pronounced, and "Yahweh" turns into "Jehovah." Thus my Bible-believing, orthodox, evangelical Hebrew professor could say with full conviction, "There is no Jehovah."

In my experience, the study of original languages produces several kinds of students. There are the ones who become exposed to language study, particularly that of Hebrew and Greek, and become "language geeks." They carry their 2500 page Biblia Sacras to church, decorate their office walls with framed parsing guides, and entertain the masses with stories like the one above as regular parts of their teaching ministries. To them, English Bible translations are nigh-unto sacrilege. They preach sermons that feature the phrase, "in the original," or "your English translation leaves something to be desired here" or "what Paul really said was . . . ." In the end, learning the original languages becomes a new priest craft for them, something that separates them from the masses, and brings them closer to the mind of God.

On the other end of the spectrum are the students who never embrace the study of the languages. For these language slackers, the courses are tedious, their performance mediocre, and their commitment to Hebrew and Greek lasts as long as the curriculum requires it. Perhaps to them comes John Piper’s searching question: "What is more important and more deeply practical for the pastoral office than advancing in Greek and Hebrew exegesis by which we mine God’s treasures." I think Piper, like Luther before him, would have found a kindred spirit in the person of Nehemiah, who tells us of the cause for and nature of his rebuke to the people of God:
"In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. 24 And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah [i.e. Hebrew], but the language of each people. 25 And I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair." Thankfully, most language students fall somewhere in between. The languages are tedious, but their importance is recognized. But the reality is that most pastors, even the ones who studied original languages in seminary (which by no means is all), usually allow their language skills to decay over time. For most pastors, studies in the original languages are a thing of the past.

Which all brings me to the several points of this review. First, BibleWorks7 can be a very helpful tool in the hands of the aforementioned group. Indeed, anyone engaged in the study of God’s word, particularly in the original language, will find this program immensely helpful. It stands in the gap for those of us not native speakers of either Greek or Hebrew, and offers assistance in translation (lexical guides, parsing help, etc.) and understanding (there are several commentaries and confessions that come with the basic package, and more can be purchased). The truth of language study at the seminary level is that it is, in and of itself, incomplete. Any linguist will tell you that a new language is not absorbed beyond the most remedial level through a handful of academic courses. For those students who wish to maintain and grow their abilities in the original languages and use them in their ministries, further assistance is needed. BibleWorks7 is one outstanding resource for such purposes.

Second, BibleWorks7 is a powerful search engine. Programmed to conduct searches in any of the countless versions included with the software, the user is exposed to any kind of search imaginable (including several that are beyond the scope of my imagination). Need to know how many imperatives Paul uses in the 4th chapter of Ephesians? BibleWorks7 says there are 11. How about the number of times Paul uses faith and works in the same verse. There are six. Just in the book of Romans? There are three such verses where both "faith" and "works" appear, at least in the English Standard Version I was searching. Do you know a part of a verse but forget where it comes from? With a few keystrokes, BibleWorks7 finds the fragment that is stored in my memory and gives me chapter and verse.

Finally, BibleWorks7 offers countless other features that have appeal to certain niches. To use but one example, the text from Nehemiah above was copied and pasted from BibleWorks7 with the greatest of ease. Superior to its predecessors in this regard, BibleWorks7 makes it easy to import texts of Scripture into other programs, both in English as well as any other language. (Of particular interest to some readers is that certain glitches that existed in previous versions that made copying Hebrew text into word processing programs difficult sees to be solved in BibleWorks7). Interested in reading the 1997 French version of the Bible? "Au commencement Dieu créa le ciel et la terre." Apparently, that’s French for "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." For those who like to make notes in the margins of their Bibles, Bibleworks7 offers the electronic version of such practices. Notes can be typed and linked to a particular passage and saved for future use. These and many other features are included and may be found useful by one group or another.

BibleWorks7 is not capable of transforming you into a better Christian. If you are not already a student of God’s word, it is unlikely that the bells and whistles included in this gadget will kindle a flame in your heart to become one. But the computer software can be a valuable aid in your ongoing study, serving as a researcher, tutor, and dictionary. For those convinced of the importance of study in Hebrew and Greek, but who have not reached a certain aptitude (which is most pastors, I think), this software offers easy to use helps in your study. It can be a meaningful addition to the pastor/teacher’s toolbox.

Jeremy Smith is assistant to the Editorial Director at Reformation 21.


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