Bethlehem: House of Bread

More than three-fourths of our Christian Bible is written in Hebrew. The remainder (the New Testament) is written in Greek. Oh, how thankful we should be for the men and women who have devoted themselves to mastering these languages so that reliable translations and helpful commentaries could be written for those today who can’t read the Bible in its original Hebrew and Greek! Let us never belittle scholarship and erudition! If it were not for scholars, there would be no English Bible!

Nor should we think that the scholarly task is over, for two reasons:

1) There are many places in the Bible that are impossible to understand precisely because the original vocabulary or grammar is still obscure to scholars. Often at the bottom of your page you will see a note which says, “Hebrew obscure” or “Hebrew uncertain” (for example, in the book of Job). Which means that the scholars don’t have enough evidence to decide what a Hebrew word or phrase means. But maybe we will find that evidence. And so there must continue to be serious biblical scholars who devote themselves to such labors.

2) The other reason the scholarly task is not over is that our English language keeps changing, so new translations are needed now and then. At such times we are dependent upon those who know Greek and Hebrew to guide such translation projects (like the recent New International Version).

For these and other good reasons the task of biblical scholarship is never done. So if you have a child or know young people who are inclined to pursue a scholarly vocation, don’t discourage them. They are essential servants in the body of Christ. God forbid that we should ever be among those who debunk the scholarly enterprise as irrelevant! Should we smack the hand that feeds us?

Not at Bethlehem, the “house of bread!” In Hebrew, Beth-lehem is two words and means “house” (Beth as in Beth-el, “house of God”) and “bread” (lehem). The Hebrew language is read from right to left, and so Bethlehem is written like this:

  bread           house

The little dots are the vowels. The big letters are the consonants. So we are a “house of bread.” Oh, that people might always feed on Christ the living Bread when they come to Bethlehem! Might we all be nourished not only by natural bread, but “by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3)! But yes by natural bread too, as in the early church: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

Can we be a people with hearts large enough to embrace with gratitude both the scholarly enterprise and the simple joy of breaking bread together? What a great example we would be!