In 1994 Frank T. Seekins published a book entitled Hebrew Word Pictures: How Does the Hebrew Alphabet Reveal Prophetic Truths? It unleashed a phenomenon involving a method of reading the Hebrew Bible based on an assumption about the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Since the term “Paleo-Hebrew” is associated with it, we will call it the Paleo-Hebrew phenomenon, and it involves the Paleo-Hebrew method, which is based on the Paleo-Hebrew assumption. If the claims of the proponents of this phenomenon are correct, it changes significantly how we understand not only the Old Testament but also the New Testament.
According to Seekins, “When Hebrew was first written, each letter represented both a sound and a picture.” Let us consider the first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet (in the Aramaic “square” script): א (Aleph) and ב (Bet),which eventually became “a” and “b” respectively in the Roman alphabet. There is no dispute that א and ב each represents a sound just as “a” and “b” each represents a sound. But neither א nor ב (nor any of the other letters of the Hebrew alphabet) seems to represent a picture. Seekins’ claim is that “When Hebrew was first written” the letters did represent pictures as well. Hebrew scholars generally agree that the Hebrew Bible (until the time of the Babylonian exile) was originally written using a script called Paleo-Hebrew, which is similar to the Phoenician script. The first two Paleo-Hebrew letters looked like this: . This script was changed to the Aramaic script that we have today during the Babylonian exile. But both these (as well as the other) letters in this script still do not seem to represent pictures:
The Paleo-Hebrew phenomenon involves a method of reading Hebrew words based on the assumption that, unlike the letters of other alphabets, the letters of the Hebrew alphabet represent not only sound but also meaning. Hebrew words then have “deeper meanings” missed by even Hebrew scholars who do not use this method in reading the Hebrew Bible.
For instance, consider the word (Aleph-Bet, ’āb), which means “father” when read based on the sound of the word indicated by the letters (the ordinary way of reading it). But according to the Paleo-Hebrew method, this word has a deeper meaning when read based on the meaning each letter supposedly represents: Aleph (= “strength/leader”) + Bet (= “house”). In other words the “father” (ordinary meaning) is the “strength or leader of the house” (deeper meaning).
If the Paleo-Hebrew assumption is true, Biblical Hebrew is unlike any other language of the world, whether ancient or modern. This is in fact a claim made by a prominent practitioner of the Paleo-Hebrew method who has written a Study Bible based on this method. And if the method is valid, it will change significantly how we understand not only the Old Testament but also the New Testament.
A graphic demonstration of how the letters of an alphabet actually work to form written words to represent the respective spoken words shows starkly that if the assumption is true, Biblical Hebrew has somehow managed to overcome what is linguistically impossible with an alphabetic writing system—that the letters can somehow represent not only sound but also meaning.
So does the Paleo-Hebrew method actually work when tested against the available evidence? It seems to work in the selected Hebrew words presented by practitioners, which have impressed an increasing number of Bible believers. But we get a different impression when two different Hebrew words which share the same letters written in the same order are taken into consideration. Continue reading “How to Misread the Bible in the Name of Paleo-Hebrew 2 (Executive Summary)”
Dr. Leong Tien Fock* has written a scholarly and conclusive refutation of the Paleo-Hebrew movement.
Setting the Context
A well-known pastor of one of the biggest churches in South East Asia preaches that Jesus is hidden in a Hebrew code word which is found throughout the Old Testament. He refers to Revelation 1:8 where Jesus describes himself as the Alpha and Omega, which are respectively the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. He asserts, “But Jesus did not speak Greek. He spoke Aramaic or Hebrew. So He would have said, “I am the Aleph and the Tav.” Aleph and tav are the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet.”
The pastor is promoting the ideas of a new movement which has gain popularity among preachers who claim they have special insights into the Bible, based on their idiosyncratic reading of ancient Hebrew script called Paleo-Hebrew. They rely on a method of reading Hebrew words based on the assumption that, unlike the letters of other alphabets, the letters of the Hebrew alphabet represent not only sound but also meaning. Hebrew words then have “deeper meanings” missed by even Hebrew scholars who do not use this method in reading the Hebrew Bible. Continue reading “How to Misread the Bible in the Name of Paleo-Hebrew 1 (Introduction)”
I. Theological Preliminaries
1. Strictly speaking, it is wrong to describe the birth of Jesus as a miracle. The birth process was normal; so normal that Mary made a sacrificial offering required by the Mosaic Law as a woman was considered ceremonially unclean after giving birth. The miracle refers not to the birth, but to the conception of Jesus outside any sexual relations. The caveat duly noted, I shall continue to use the phrase “virgin birth” in accordance with convention.
Modern critics argue that belief in the virgin birth undermines Christian faith as it precludes the full humanity of Jesus. Rather than refuting hypothetical possibility with other hypothetical possibilities (mystere pour mystere), I shall presently focus on the Biblical testimony that the virgin birth does not compromise the full humanity of Jesus (Hebrew 2:14, 17). Likewise, Jesus sharing of our full humanity that includes a normal birth (and human temptation) does not undermine the sinlessness of Jesus (Hebrews 4:15). Continue reading “Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas Fulfilment of Isaiah’s Prophecy”
I. What is the Redemptive Historical Method (RHM)?
The Redemptive Historical Method (RHM) is based on three affirmations:
1) RHM is Christo-centric. The RHM begins with the assumption that God’s plan of salvation for humankind was progressively revealed in mighty acts and prophetic word through various divinely appointed human agents in the history of Israel. RHM affirms the finality of Scripture as “God has in the past revealed long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son [Jesus Christ].” (Heb. 1:1-2)
2) RHM affirms that the Bible has a coherent message, with Christ as its centre and final fulfilment.
Jesus said to the two disciples on the Emmaus road, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24: 25-27).
3) RHM affirms the divine inspiration and sufficiency of Scripture. As Paul writes, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it succinctly, “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.” (1:6)
This article is dedicated to the seminary student who is troubled by the “methodological atheism” framework of contemporary historical criticism, and is looking for a believing scholarship that is consistent with the Church’s affirmation of the Bible as the Word of God.
I. The Challenge of “Methodological Atheism” and the Historical-Critical Method
Seminary studies is vital for equipping aspiring pastors with skills in biblical interpretation. However, seminary studies may prove to be hazardous for some students when they are introduced to critical scholarship which treats the Bible just like any other Ancient Near Eastern texts. Students are told that the origins of the Bible is obscure because of its antiquity and because the authors of the biblical texts in truth are anonymous. The historical reliability of the Bible is cast in doubt as critical historians (the biblical minimalists) privilege silent excavated artifacts over informative historical texts and declare that the Bible contains more myths than history. Finally, critical scholars conclude that alleged cultural and religious commonalities between biblical stories and ancient mythological texts render questionable, the traditional Christian belief that the Bible is unique because of its divine origins. Students who are overwhelmed by these critical ideas soon lose their passion for preaching and pastoral ministry.
Critical scholarship is alluring because of its claim to be a rational inquiry that continuously advances the frontiers of religious knowledge, in contrast to conservative scholarship that is constrained by dogmatic authority. To be sure, this Enlightenment inspired narrative has been contested by recent scholarship. However, rather than outlining an alternative historiography which can be both intellectually robust and consistent with the biblical worldview, this article shall focus on how critical scholarship based on “methodological atheism” challenges the faith of students. Continue reading “Reading the Bible as God’s Word: The Redemptive Historical Method and Progressive Revelation. Part 1”
Some readers may conclude that we have been unduly alarmist in our discussion of the impact of historical criticism which have proven detrimental to the faith of some evangelical scholars. It would be good to recapitulate our concerns by referring to a recently published book – Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism ed., Christopher Hays and Christopher Ansberry which presents the current state of the historical critical method in evangelical scholarship. The authors are self-confessed evangelical scholars teaching at two venerable evangelical institutions and their book carries endorsements by several established evangelical scholars.
Reading the book confirms the concern that adoption of historical criticism could result in a shift towards liberal teachings: 1) denial of the historical Adam and Eve, 2) doubts about the reliability of the Biblical account of the founding of the nation of Israel, 3) the book of Deuteronomy was not written in the time of Moses. It was a produced much later at the time of King Hezekiah. The various books of prophecy were not written by the purported prophets but by some anonymous groups of followers who codified an ongoing collective tradition. Since it is impossible to identify the actual writers, it would be more accurate to describe these writings as pseuepigraphy, 4) New Testament criticism shows the events narrated in the gospels do not accurately reflect the original context as later anonymous authors took the liberty to redact and collate the texts to serve their own theological purposes. Finally, 5) the Book of Acts is demonstrably not historically reliable as critics conclude that there are discrepancies in historical details and theology between the Paul of the Book of Acts and the Paul of the Pauline Epistles. Continue reading “Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism Part 2”
The Promise and Perils of Historical Critical Method in Biblical Studies
How is it that access to modern tools of learning which evidently has help many Christians deepen their understanding of the Bible results in some losing their confidence in its historical reliability? It seems we have a classic case of the paradox of knowledge of good and evil which brings blessings and curses in a fallen world. Wonder drugs work miraculous cure but if taken excessively, would poison the body. Atomic energy generates massive electric power but it can also be used for weapons of mass destruction. Historical criticism which enhances our understanding of ancient scripture can also destroy faith – if it is applied without regard for the object of its investigation, the Bible with its self-attested divine authority. In this article I shall examine the process, promise and perils of the historical critical method for the study of the Bible.
Christians today can access many tools of modern knowledge to study Bible. Obscure words are clarified using Greek and Hebrew lexicons, strange ancient customs are explained by Bible encyclopedia and puzzling passages are illuminated in Bible commentaries. Understanding of the Bible becomes more concrete with new knowledge gleaned from recent archaeological excavations.
Leaders in the Malaysian evangelical churches in Malaysia welcome these tools as they will spur vigor and enthusiasm in systematic study of the Bible. After all, the evangelical churches have traditionally prided themselves as a Bible-centred movement. However, there is concern that some scholars have cast doubts on the evangelical doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration and infallibility of the Scripture as they deem the doctrine to be inconsistent with modern scientific study of the Bible that is promoted vigorously in the Western liberal academia. Continue reading “Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism Part 1”