Bible and translations

21 October 2022

In Hebrews 8:13, we read; When he speaks of a new covenant, he has thus declared the first to be obsolete. But what becomes obsolete and old is close to disappearing.

In Greek we read Hebrews 8:13 like this; en to legein kainen pepalaioken ten proten to de palaioumenon kai gersakon engus aphanismou

If you compare Hebr 8:13 in English with Hebr 8:!3 in Greek, you will soon notice something vital. In Greek, it does not say, “When he speaks of a new covenant.”

To understand this, let us begin with the Greek word translated as “new”. 

Kainen in Greek does not mean something wholly new and utterly different from the old. The Greek word neos, on the other hand, means something that has never happened before and is entirely different from what was, but as you can see; neos is nowheere to be found in Hebr 8:13. Instead the word kainen is used. Therefore, whatever the new might be, we know that what Hebrews 8:13 is talking about here is not something new that has never existed before ,but something which is unusual and has not yet been used.

After the Greek word kainen, it does not say “covenant” in Greek. But one might assume the translators perhaps have chosen to insert the word for covenant because of verse 6 of chapter 8 mentions which mentions the word diathekes.

What does diathekes mean? Directly translated, it means a a last will and testament. Diathekes does not have the same meaning as the Hebrew word for covenant: beriyth.

Beriyth in Hebrew means a legally binding agreement between God and people and a religious agreement regulating how we worship God.

As a legal and religious agreement, it was always sealed with blood, like a blood covenant. Sacrifice in the Old Testament was, therefore, as much about making a blood covenant that made Israel one with God as it was about atonement for sin. A blood pact in the Middle East can never ever be broken as long as one of the parties lives. Therefore, the covenant made between Israel and Israel’s God can never be broken because God can’t die. 

Everywhere else in Hebrews diathekes is used in the sense of a last will and testament before someone dies, never as a blood covenant. Therefore, one cannot simply assume that Heb 8:13 is about covenant,. 

So how then are we to understand Hebrews 8:13?

What we can say for sure is that Heb 8:13 itself has been tampered with by translators when they have added the word for “covenant”. Most likely, this is not done with malice, but because translators let their theology control how they translate the Bible.

We know that the book of Hebrews was written around AD 70 at about the same time as the Second Temple was destroyed. With this in mind and read Hebrews 8 in Greek, we understand that what is obsolete and about to disappear is the priestly service in the temple. What the author of Hebrews here in chapter 8 is trying to tell us is this: Even though the temple here on earth is destroyed, we have a better temple in heaven and a high priest in Jesus. 

This shows us that Heb 8:13 cannot be used as proof that the Mosaic Law no longer applies and that we must always be aware that translators of the Bible may have made conscious or unconscious mistakes. But the fact that translators of the Bible make mistakes does not mean that we cannot trust the Bible, only that we must be realistic in how we read it bearing in mind that God has never promised to watch over how His words are translated.