Giving Back the Bible
The main purpose of Israël en de Bijbel is to distribute the Holy Scriptures among the Jewish people worldwide. To put it differently: We want to give them their Bible back. By reading God’s word, we get to know Him, and we get to know what He demands of us. This is something the Bible tells us directly: The Word that comes from God shall not return to Him empty, but it shall accomplish that which pleases Him, and succeed in the thing for which He sends it (see Isaiah 55:11).
Trusting on this promise, we distribute the Tanakh and the New Testament, or B’rit Chadashah, as two separate volumes. There are two main reasons why we do not include them together:
First of all, Orthodox Jews generally have an aversion to the New Testament. They think it is an anti-Semitic book, written by Christians to harm the Jewish people. Often they will accept a Tanakh, but not if the New Testament is included in the same volume. Secular Jews have less problems with this.
A more fundamental reason is that while many synagogues have access to prayer books and Thora’s, they often do not have the complete Tanakh. You will also not find them regularly in Jewish homes, so they cannot read important parts of Scripture, like Isaiah 53 and other Messianic prophecies. However, the eyes of many Jewish people were opened precisely by reading Isaiah 53!
Quite a few Jewish people, outside the land of Israel, have insufficient knowledge of Hebrew, so they are often very thankful for our bilingual Bibles. On one page you will find the Hebrew text, while the opposite page has a translation in someone’s first language .
The New Testament is a slightly more complex matter. It was originally written in Greek, which is why a Hebrew translation is necessary. Today, there are many different translations available, both old and new. From those available, we have chosen the Salkinson-Ginsburg. Why?
The New Testament in Hebrew
We can broadly divide Hebrew translations of the New Testament into two main categories: Translations that were made before and after the birth of the state of Israel in 1948.
A lot of people think that the Hebrew language ceased to be spoken after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70AD, and that it came back to life some decades before the birth of the state Israel, around 1900. This is incorrect.
To various degrees, the Jewish people have always continued to speak and write Hebrew during the last 2000 years. For example, Jews from different countries would often use Hebrew to communicate with each other. This was especially so in the nineteenth century, which was also the golden age of translations. Many of the great works of world literature were translated into Hebrew, from Shakespeare to Dante.
Of the many nineteenth-century Bible translations, two are still in use today: The Salkinson-Ginsburg, and the translation of Delitzsch. After 1948, several other translations have been made and published.
What are the differences between on the one hand the older translations of Salkinson-Ginsburg and Delitzsh, and on the other hand the Modern Hebrew translations?
First of all, there are linguistic differences. Modern Hebrew is much further removed from Biblical Hebrew than the older translations from the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. If you want to reach out to modern secular Israeli’s, and interest them for the New Testament, it is much better to use a modern translation. The situation is comparable to a lot of other Western countries. If you want to reach young people in Europe or the United States with the New Testament, it is perhaps unwise to give them the translations of the early reformers from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They are often much too difficult to understand.
For many Israeli’s, Biblical Hebrew is already very difficult to understand, as it is far removed from Modern Hebrew. There have been plans to translate the Old Testament into Modern Hebrew, but it has proven to be a touchy and difficult subject: Orthodox Jews will never accept a modern translation of the Tanakh. This is why you will only find some paraphrases or children’s Bibles of the Tanakh in Modern Hebrew.
Secondly, there are differences between the different manuscripts of the Greek New Testament. All Modern Hebrew translations are based on what is called the critical text of the New Testament. Most modern English translations are based on it as well. Originally the Salkinson-Ginsburg and the Delitzsch translation were also based on the critical text, but they were later brought in line with the Textus Receptus. This is the same Greek text that underlies the King James Version.
Why the Salkinson-Ginsburg?
We are sometimes asked why we do not use the Delitzsch translation. They are very similar and were created around the same time period. Its translators, Isaac Salkinson and Franz Delitzsch knew each other personally and were actually very good friends. Which translation one prefers, therefore, is mostly a question of taste. And there is no accounting for taste. However, both Salkinson and Ginsburg were Hebrew Christians1, which is the main reason why we use their translation. After all, a Jewish translator is more acceptable to a Jewish reader than a Christian translator, like Delitzsch.
But is this translation not too difficult for secular Israeli’s? That may be the case, but it applies similarly to the Tanakh. However, since we use bilingual versions, which have the Hebrew text next to a national language, like English, German, Russian, Spanish and Dutch, you can always read the New Testament in your first language. This is why we also distribute a version which contains both the Salkinson-Ginsburg, and a Modern Hebrew translation. By contrast, most (ultra)orthodox Jews would rather read a translation that is closer to the Tanakh and Rabbinical Hebrew, than a Modern Hebrew one.
1. In the nineteenth century, this was a common name given to Jewish followers of Yeshua.