P3 A step-by-step guide to Translating and Applying a Hebrew Old Testament Text – 1 Samuel 16:1-10

Introduction and review:                                                                                                        For the past two posts we have been looking at a step-by-step process of taking a Hebrew Old Testament text from translation to application.  So far we have covered six suggested steps:

1). Read the text out loud                                                                                                                   2). Note and parse the key verbs                                                                                                     3). Note the Masoretic text marks                                                                                                   4). Keep in mind what you have translated so as to aid you in what you are translating next 5). Do word studies on words you already know                                                                             6). Notice the dialogue or statements made by the main actors in the text

The goal of this short series is to show the reader what can typically occur when working with the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, and how to make such an endeavor a regular part of one’s spiritual life and ministry. Even if the reader may not know Hebrew, the observations in these posts will hopefully whet the reader’s appetite to dig deeper into the text.  Many word study tools are available today to those readers who never had a course in the language.  Such tools can still give the reader some of the beneifts that come from doing word studies.  Today we will finish out this three part series, finishing our our case study text of 1 Samuel 16:1-10.  To God be the glory!

1). As you translate, use two guidelines: a “rough translation” that focuses on a literal faithfulness to the the original wording of the text.  Then do a “final translation” that focuses on readability to the modern reader.

Bible translations fall into one of two general categories: faithfulness to the original language in being as literal as possible or what is called “formal equivalance”. Such translations as the KJV, ESV and NASB lean more in the “formal equivalence direction”. The second category tends to emphasize more “readability” or trying to capture how the audience might had understood the text or what is called “dynamic equivalence”. Translations and versions such as the NIV, HCSB and NLT lean more in the “dynamic equivalence direction.

All translations ultimately incorporate both approaches, with favor being shown towards one tendency or another.  Whenever I translate a Hebrew text, I will think of that translation in a wooden literal translation and sometimes write it out, following up with a second translation that then makes it more readable.  Such an approach enables one to capture what the author originally intended while also trying to connect a modern day reader to what God is saying in the text. 1 Samuel 16:7 below will be used to highlight what I’m talking about. 

1 Samuel 16:7 וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְהוָ֜ה אֶל־שְׁמוּאֵ֗ל אַל־תַּבֵּ֧ט אֶל־מַרְאֵ֛הוּ וְאֶל־גְּבֹ֥הַּ קֹומָתֹ֖ו כִּ֣י מְאַסְתִּ֑יהוּ כִּ֣י ׀ לֹ֗א אֲשֶׁ֤ר יִרְאֶה֙ הָאָדָ֔ם כִּ֤י הָֽאָדָם֙ יִרְאֶ֣ה לַעֵינַ֔יִם וַיהוָ֖ה יִרְאֶ֥ה לַלֵּבָֽב׃

Literal “rough translation” 1 Samuel 16:7 He said, Yahweh, to Samuel: “Do not regard the seeing of him and do not reflect on the stature of him. For he is rejected. For do not see as a man would see. Man looks with the eyes but the Lord sees to the heart.”

Final “readable translation” 1 Samuel 16:7 “Yahweh said to Samuel: “Stop regarding these men by outward appearance and do not use their stature as a guide for how you will choose. For besides, I have not choosen him. Do not make you decision the way men would typically make such a choice. Men look upon the outward appearance but Yahweh can see into the inner being of the man.”

2). As you translate, ask the questions: Who is the Lord in this passage? is there a promise to claim? a command to obey? an example to follow? a sin to avoid? is their an action to perform?

In translating a given text, you must make sure you are not just doing the translation for the sake of performing an exercise.  Such an activity should be an opportunity to be transformed in your heart and life.  After all, whether your translation is for yourself or whether it will be used in the process of preaching a sermon or teaching a Bible lesson, there needs to be change wrought in the heart.  Truly this is the goal of exegesis and working with the text: to bring about transformation and Christ-likeness.

The above questions serve as examples of bridging the gap between the work of translation and the necessary application. In the translation of the final verses below, you can hear the struggle Jesse is having in wondering why the LORD would not have any of his seven sons to be the next king of Israel. Using the diagnostic questions above to compare how you might respond can aid in bringing this text to the hearts and minds of those to whom you are communicating, or to personal application in your own life.

8 וַיִּקְרָ֤א יִשַׁי֙ אֶל־אֲבִ֣ינָדָ֔ב וַיַּעֲבִרֵ֖הוּ לִפְנֵ֣י שְׁמוּאֵ֑ל וַיֹּ֕אמֶר גַּם־בָּזֶ֖ה לֹֽא־בָחַ֥ר יְהוָֽה׃

9 וַיַּעֲבֵ֥ר יִשַׁ֖י שַׁמָּ֑ה וַיֹּ֕אמֶר גַּם־בָּזֶ֖ה לֹא־בָחַ֥ר וַיַּעֲבֵ֥ר יִשַׁ֛י שִׁבְעַ֥ת בָּנָ֖יו לִפְנֵ֣י שְׁמוּאֵ֑ל וַיֹּ֤אמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל֙ אֶל־יִשַׁ֔י לֹא־בָחַ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה בָּאֵֽלֶּה׃

10 וַיַּעֲבֵ֥ר יִשַׁ֛י שִׁבְעַ֥ת בָּנָ֖יו לִפְנֵ֣י שְׁמוּאֵ֑ל וַיֹּ֤אמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל֙ אֶל־יִשַׁ֔י לֹא־בָחַ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה בָּאֵֽלֶּה׃

1 Samuel 16:8-10 (translation) “So Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass before the presence of Samuel and he said: “surely he is the chosen one of the Lord”. 9 “When Jesse had him go before him he was told: ‘he is not the chosen one’. Jesse eventually had all seven of his sons pass before the face of Samuel and Samuel said each time to Jesse: ‘Yahweh has not chosen any of them”. 10 “And so when Jesse had seven of his sons pass before the presence of Samuel Samuel said to Jesse: “The Lord has not chosen any of these”.

My hope is that these past three posts have given readers a sense of what goes on when working with the Hebrew Old Testament text.  I’ll be the first to admit that I have much more room to grow and work to do, being that the scriptures are ever the master and readers like me are ever the student.  Truly the text is ever this way, since the Living Master, Jesus Christ, is their subject and object.

About pastormahlon

By the grace of God I was converted to saving faith in Jesus Christ at the age of 10 and called into the Gospel ministry by age 17. Through the Lord's grace I completed a Bachelors in Bible at Lancaster Bible College in 1996 and have been married to my beautiful wife since that same year. We have been blessed with four children, ranging from 7-18 years of age. In 2002 the Lord enabled me to complete a Master of Arts in Christian Thought at Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield PA. For nearly 25 years I have been preaching and teaching God's Word and have been studying the original languages since 1994. In 2016 God called my family and me to move to begin a pastorate at a wonderful Southern Baptist Congregation here in Northern New York.
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