“Speak to the people of Israel; say to them, ‘When any of you brings an offering to Adonai, you may bring your animal offering either from the herd or from the flock.”-Leviticus 1:2
We’re going to talk a little bit about words today and why it’s important to define your terms when engaging somebody in a Bible discussion or debate.
A perfect example is the word “law”.
Within the context of Judeo-Christian religious discussion, this is probably one of the most misused and misunderstood words ever!
For example, although The Law isn’t formally given until halfway through the Book of Exodus, Jews commonly refer to ALL five books of Moses as “The Law”.
“The Law” has become a synonym for the entire Torah.
But that’s not all.
The Jewish people also refer to other non-Biblical sources such as the Talmud and general commentary from their greatest Rabbis as The Law.
A good analogy I can think of is a time way back when I was a new believer and I used to walk around with just a New Testament in my hands.
I used to refer to that New Testament as “my Bible”.
Well, obviously that wasn’t correct since what I was really carrying was just a portion of the Bible.
Another good example are those pastors and ministers who say they’re preaching or teaching the Bible.
In most cases, this is NOT true because what they’re really teaching is a DOCTRINE that represents a certain denominationally based church tradition rather than the Bible itself.
As long as the discussion takes place within the same group, such loose usage of Biblical terms usually doesn’t pose any serious comprehension problems.
Everybody is speaking Christian-eze so to speak.
And the same phenomenon occurs among Jews when they use the term “The Law”.
“The Law” could be referring to any number of things depending on the context or how the word is being used.
I’ve already mentioned that the Lord makes a distinction between “The Law” and the “Sacrificial System”.
So when somebody says “The Law was done away with”, most of the time (like 99% of the time), most people have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about.
Do they mean God’s moral list of do’s and don’ts have been done away with?
Are they just talking about the sacrificial system?
Or are they just referring to the consequences of breaking the Law?
Can you see how it’s not such a simple and cut and dried matter?
Well, the truth be told, we encounter a similar phenomenon with many Bible translations.
Let’s take a look at verse 2 from chapter one of Leviticus.
It says “if anyone brings an offering to ADONAI…“.
The Hebrew word used for offering here is KORBAN.
This is a good word to know because it is a common Hebrew word that can refer to any kind of offering, whether it be a regular tithe, property or even one’s own personal time.
The purpose of the offering could also be for anything whether a general fund or something more specific like a building fund.
The important thing to know is that KORBAN is NOT referring to a particular class of sacrifice.
Or another way to phrase it is to say that each type of offering or each type of “KORBAN” we’ll study will have a specific Hebrew name attached to it that identifies what kind of sacrifice it is.
Again, KORBAN is just the general word for “offering”.
So what is the first type of offering or KORBAN we are introduced to in Leviticus 1:2?
In Hebrew, it is called OLAH and is almost universally translated as a “BURNT OFFERING”.
Now forgive me, but I’m going to get a little technical on you for a second.
The phrase “BURNT OFFERING” from the original Hebrew word OLAH is what scholars term a “functional translation” as opposed to a “literal translation”.
The truth is we’re going to encounter a lot of “functional translations” or “functional definitions” in the Torah.
You’re probably wondering ‘why?’.
Why in the world would scholars opt for using a “functional translation” as opposed to a “literal translation”?
The answer is simply because if a “literal translation” were used, the meaning of the original Hebrew would be completely lost on us.
In fact, in many cases scholars can’t even come to an agreement on what the proper literal translation of certain Hebrew words should be.
For example, OLAH literally means “go up”, “ascend”, “approach” or “bring-near“.
Now if I was to say, the “go-up offering” or the “near offering”, would that make any sense to you?
Of course not, and modern Bible translators realized that, so they decided to use words that would give the reader an understanding of the FUNCTION or purpose behind the “near offering“.
In this case, the OLAH as an offering to the Lord, its function is to be completely burned up on the altar.
Hence, the functional translation of “BURNT OFFERING“.
This isn’t necessarily an incorrect or bad translation but it does miss an important Scriptural nuance that a literal translation of OLAH would more effectively capture.
The translation “burnt offering” doesn’t capture the idea that by completely burning up the offering, the smoke emitted BRINGS IT NEAR to the Lord by ASCENDING up to Him in Heaven.
Don’t worry, I’m not going be breaking down every new Hebrew word we encounter into such painstaking detail like I did with OLAH.
I just want you understand what the difference between a functional and literal translation is and why it’s important.
The thing is, many times in Bible, we’ll be presented with many such functional translations.
Again, there is nothing wrong with a functional translation per say, but in some cases and I will demonstrate this from time to time, it is much better to go ahead and translate some Hebrew words literally if we really want to understand the Hebrew mindset and Middle Eastern cultural perspective on some things.
Sometimes a literal translation will give us a better idea of the actual mental images the Hebrews had in their minds when they were describing or labeling certain things.
In the case of OLAH, although it is almost always translated as “BURNT OFFERING”, the literal translation of “NEAR-OFFERING” or “ASCENDING OFFERING” allows us to literally picture the smoke being emitted from this sacrifice and more importantly, WHERE THAT SMOKE IS GOING.
The ascending smoke is a very key element that reveals the purpose behind this offering.
We’ll talk more about this later on.
CONNECTING THIS TEACHING TO THE NEW TESTAMENT
“And he said unto them,
“Full well do you
reject the commandment of God,
in order to keep your tradition.
For Moses said, ‘
Honor your father and your mother;
and, He that speaks evil of father or mother,
let him die the death’:
but you say,
‘If a man shall say to his father or his mother,
That wherewith you might have been
profited by me is Corban,’
that is to say, Given to God;
you no longer allow him to do anything
for his father or his mother;
making void the word of God
by your tradition,
which you have delivered:
and many such like things you do”