The thought that the Hebrew vowels were in the original autographs of the Bible, handwritten by the prophets who originally received God’s words, most likely sound ridiculous to the average Christian today because the scholars have consistently taught us the Hebrew vowels did not exist until a later date. The denial of the Hebrew vowels can neither be established by objective historical documentations, nor has it been the historical view of Jews or Christians of antiquity. This article intends to prove the antiquity of the Hebrew vowels as existing in the original manuscripts of the Holy Scripture while avoiding technical jargon and keeping the discussion short and simple enough for anyone to understand.

Though the quotations from contemporary scholars, theologians, and apologists on the denial of Hebrew vowels in the original autographs of the Bible can be extended indefinitely; one, more recent of such statements should suffice. Bodie Hodge an author for Answers in Genesis, the world’s largest apologetic ministry, which obviously has perhaps the largest influence on Christian apologetics today, wrote:

Sometimes you may see words in proper Hebrew with or without vowel points. Either is fine to use. The vowel points were added around A.D. 700-1000 because biblical Hebrew was becoming a completely dead language, even among the Hebrew Masoretes who were copying it. So they developed a vowel point system to know how to pronounce it. For example, Ararat and Urartu are spelled the same in Hebrew (no vowels in Hebrew so it would be “rrt” for both with their Hebrew letters), but pronounced differently. One referred to a region and one to a people group. Hebrew speakers used to know this (think “bass”—the guitar—and “bass”—the fish in English). But vowel points were added to help alleviate any misconception. 1) Bodie Hodge, Tower of Babel: The Culture History of Our Ancestors, Master Books, (Green Forest, AR, 2013), p. 114

This opinion is known as the “Tiberian Masorite Theory” (TMT) indicating the idea that Masoritic scribes in Tiberias invented the Hebrew vowel points generally somewhere between A.D. 500-1000. However, it can be proven that men were familiar with the Hebrew vowels at earlier dates than A.D. 500-1000.

For example, Christian author Origen (A.D. 185-254), though he was heretical in many of his views, was the only author of the Ante-Nicene age (A.D. 100-325) that had a working knowledge of Hebrew. In his commentary on the Gospel of John, he wrote about variations in the text of the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint (LXX) from the Hebrew manuscripts he observed in Israel that the Jews had. He said, “we have been at pains to learn from the Hebrews, comparing our own copies with theirs which have the confirmation of the versions, never subjected to corruption… to encourage students to pay more attention to such points…. The second son of Juda [Genesis 38:4], again, has with us the name Annan, but with the Hebrew Onan,…”2)Origen, Origen’s Commentary on John, book 6, chap.24; The Ante-Nicene Father, (ed. Allen Menzies, D.D.), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: 1896, Fifth Printing, 2012) Vol. 9, p. 371; accessible at  http://www.newadvent.org/fa thers/101506.htm According to Bodie Hodge’s comment above, the Hebrew text in Origen’s day only had Hebrew consonants, which would read “nn,” and Origen would not be capable of drawing our attention to any variation from the Septuagint’s rendering.3)Technically the comment of Origen spells the name Annan which is wrong as the Septuagint spells the name as Αυναν which would be accurately rendered Aunan. The variance evident here can be contributed to one of three things: 1) the English edition of the text made a typo. In the ten volumes of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, the most common typo is switching u with n, so words like “aud” or “bnt” appear on occasions. I believe this is the most likely scenario. 2) the translator could have mistook the ?Greek letter Upsilon “υ” for a Nu “ν,” thus rendering it as Annan instead of Aunan, or; 3) this same mistaken identity of the Greek letters could have occurred sometime in the past by transcribers and the English translator accurately rendered the transcribers mistake. The Hebrew script has the name as אוֹנָֽן (reading right to left), and the Septuagint spells it as Αυναν (Reading left to right). If the translators wrote the Aleph (א)—which is a silent consonant in Hebrew—as the Greek letter Alpha (Α), than the second letter in Greek is being interpreted as וּ to produce the υ, instead of וֹ which is the “O” of what Origen is essentially arguing about. The difference is the mere location of a dot which is the variation of the Hebrew vowel pointing. This could not be argued if there were no Hebrew vowel points existing in the manuscripts he had seen.

During the Nicene Post-Nicene era of Christian history (A.D. 311-590), only two men had a working knowledge of Hebrew language, the most scholarly was Jerome (A.D. 345-420) who translated the Bible into Latin from the original Hebrew and Greek. His commentaries also reveal the existence of Hebrew vowel points.

Jerome also specifically speaks of the Hebrew vowels and accents in a variety of his writings…. Commenting on Ezekiel 27:18, Jerome wrote, “Hebrew nouns have very different interpretations, from the difference of accent, and the change of letters and vowels, especially such as have their peculiar uses.”  Likewise, in his commentary on Jonah, he writes, “I am quite surprised at some translations, since in Hebrew there is no such close relation between letters, syllables, accents, and words.”4)Thomas D. Ross, Evidences for the Inspiration of the Hebrew Vowel Points, p. 21-22; accessible at http://faithsaves.net/inspiration-hebrew-vowel-points/

During this time (A.D. 200-400), The Babylonian Talmud was being composed from oral and written material. The Babylonian Talmud, tractate Bavil Nedarim states:

Now, he who maintains that remuneration is for the teaching of accentuation,… why does he reject the view that it is for teaching accents? — He holds that accents are also Biblical;  for R. Ika b. Abin said in the name of R. Hananel in Rab’s name: What is the meaning of, And they read in the book, in the law of God, distinctly, and they gave the sense, so that they understood the reading?  ‘They read in the book, it, the law of God,’ refers to Scripture; ‘distinctly,’ to Targum [“translation”—generally referring to Aramaic];  ‘and they gave the sense’, to the division of sentences; ‘so that they understood the reading,’ to the accentuation; others say, to the masoroth.5) The Babylonian Talmud, tractate Bavil Nedarim, 37b; accessible at http://www.come-and-hear.com/nedarim/nedarim_37.html

The footnote explains the word “masoroth” as “The term ‘masorah’ occurs in Ezek. XX, 37, and means ‘fetter’. Thus the masorah is a fetter upon the text, i.e., it fixes its reading. In course of time it was connected with masar (to hand down), and thus came to mean traditional reading.”6)footnote #8 of The Babylonian Talmud, tractate Bavil Nedarim, 37b; accessible at http://www.come-and-hear.com/nedarim/nedarim_37.html The editor then follows the statement by expressing the average view of the Tiberian Masorite Theory that the original Hebrew was without brakes in the letters consisting of only consonants, but in saying such he contradicts the entire passage. The Passage referring to Nehemiah 8:8 when Nehemiah reads the Scripture, explaining it in Aramaic to the Jews recently returned from Babylonian captivity, and in his exposition of the texts he is acknowledging accents marks that are fixed as the traditional reading way before the Tiberian Masorite Scribes supposedly invented these diacritical marks. This was handed down through traditions and recorded in the Talmud before the Masorites performed their duty of producing the fixed traditional reading by adding vowels and accent marks. How could the Talmud, written before the accent marks were supposedly invented, tell us that Nehemiah expounded the Scripture and explained the accent marks in them more than 1,000 years before they were invented?  Dean Burgeon stressed that the corruptions of manuscripts were caused by some scribes that copied the sacred Scriptures in such a style as commonly claimed.  “Corrupt readings have occasionally resulted from the ancient practice of writing Scripture in the uncial character [all capital letters], without accents, without punctuation, and indeed without any division of the text or spacing between words.”7)Dean Burgon, Cause of Corruption of the New Testament Text, Sovereign Grace Publishers, Inc., 1998, p. 21 Thomas Ross gives multitudes of other examples from the Talmudic texts about evidence for Hebrew vowel points.8)Thomas D. Ross, Evidences for the Inspiration of the Hebrew Vowel Points, p. 11-20; accessible at http://faithsaves.net/inspiration-hebrew-vowel-points/

 

Hebrew[Black are consonants, red are vowels, and blue are accent marks]

 

When the Lord Jesus Christ stated “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18), it is normally interpreted by those denying the vowel points as expressed by Charles Ryrie:

The jot is the Hebrew letter yodh [י]. It is the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet… A tittle is even more minute than a jot. Whereas a jot is a whole letter, a tittle is only a part of a letter… For example, the Hebrew letter beth looks like ב. The letter kaph looks like this כ. Obviously they appear to be very similar. The only difference between the two letters is that the bottom horizontal line on the beth extends slightly to the right of the vertical line, whereas no extension appears on the kaph.9)Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, Victor Books, 1986, p. 88-89

However, earlier commentators, such as John Gill, taught that the word “tittle” was to be understood as the vowels points of the Hebrew Scripture.

Now as our Lord refers to the least Letter (yod) in the Hebrew language, …so it need not be wondered at, that he should refer to the least Point in the language, from which all the rest come. And, indeed, though the Points are represented as very numerous, yet there is the one point in the whole language, and that is Chirek [.] which is diversified, or placed in a different position.10)John Gill, A Brief Memoir of the Life and Writtings of the Late Rev John Gill (John Rippon) Baptist Standard Bearer, 1999, p. 51-51

The Yodh and Chirek appear as יִ with the dot below being the Chirek. This interpretation follows a more logical consistency as the word “jot” being a transliteration of the smallest Hebrew consonant and the “tittle” from the Greek word Keraia as a transliteration of the Hebrew word Chirek—the smallest Hebrew vowel. Any of the Greek scholars and authors of common Greek lexicons will inadvertently admit this in defining the word keraia as follows: “Grammarians used the word to denote the accents in Greek words”11)W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Revell, 1966, Vol. IV, p. 140 and “a little horn; extremity; apex; point; used by the Grk. Grammarians of the accents and diacritical points.”12)Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Harper Borther (New York, 1896) p. 344 Thomas Ross recognizes “extrabiblical Greek demonstrates the clear propriety of employing keraia for a single point or dot.”13)Thomas D. Ross, Evidences for the Inspiration of the Hebrew Vowel Points, p. 9; accessible at http://faithsaves.net/inspiration-hebrew-vowel-points/ The word Keraia clearly caries the Grammatical meaning standing in conjunction with “jot” (ιωτα) and the “law” as a written document (the Old Testament). Those who deny the Hebrew vowel points would interpret the “tittle” as a small horn protruding from a letter, as Ryrie does, are not carrying a consistent interpretive method which would demand the grammatical sense of the word. The definition “small horn” is not the grammatical meaning of the word.

Dean Burgeon warned, “The casual reader may think that undue attention is being paid to minute particulars. But it constantly happens that from such exceedingly minute and seemingly trivial mistakes serious misrepresentations of the Holy Spirit’s meaning have occurred. This may include new incidents introduced into the Scriptures, unheard-of statements, name changes, and other perversions of our Lord’s Divine sayings—such phenomena are observed to follow upon the mere omission of the article, or the insertion of an expletive, or the change of a single letter.”14)Dean Burgeon, Cause of Corruption of the New Testament Text, Sovereign Grace Publishers, Inc., 1998, p. 27 A single letter would include, for example, a Hebrew vowel that appears as a simple dot (Chirek). Consider how one can handle their exposition of the Old Testament if they deny the fixed and preserved inspiration of the Hebrew Vowel points.  Spiros Zodhiates writes:

Since the vowel sounds were not written in the original Hebrew manuscripts, there are two possible translations for the Hebrew word which is rendered “plowing” in this verse [Proverb 21:4]. By inserting other vowel sounds, this could be translated “lamp.”15)Spiros Zodhiates, Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, AMG Publishers, 1991, p. 820

Dr. Thomas M. Strouse wrote, “A Review of and Observations about Peter Whitfield’s A Dissertation on the Hebrew Vowel-Points” which was published in 1748; summed up some of the major arguments of Peter Whitfield’s Dissertation. The first three arguments are as follows:

  1. The necessity of vowel-points in reading the Hebrew language
  2. The necessity for forming different Hebrew conjugations, moods, tenses, as well as dual and plural endings on nouns
  3. The necessity of vowel-points in distinguishing a great number of words with different significations which without vowel-points are the same16)Dr. Thomas M. Strouse, “A Review of and Observations about Peter Whitfield’s A Dissertation on the Hebrew Vowel-Points,” http://www.deanburgonsociety.org/CriticalTexts/witfields.htm

This is where the discussion come to a practical level for every born again believer today. If God preserved His words as He has promised,17)see Heath Henning, “Deistic Inspiration or Preserved Inerrancy,” http://truthwatchers.com/deistic-inspiration-preserved-inerrancy/ then our English translations and commentators must be faithful to the fixed Hebrew vowels as read, and not play around with possible readings if those vowels were to be changed. It is significant that “it is likely that a belief in the inspiration of the Hebrew vowels was maintained either universally or at least by the main body of the translators of the King James Version of 1611…”18)Thomas Ross, The Battle Over the Hebrew Vowel points, Examined Particularly As Waged in England,” p. 15; accessible at http://evans.landmarkbiblebaptist.net/04-BibleCorrectionExamples/Battle%20Over%20the%20Hebrew%20Vowel%20Points,%20Ros.pdf Thomas Ross records, “Medieval Judaism accepted the inspiration of the Hebrew [vowel] points and generally dated them to Moses, although Ezra was often held to have exercised a prophetic role in the standardization of the text; the available copies were considered perfectly preserved from the time of their original inspiration, and not only consonants and vowels, but Masorah and tradition handed down unchanged from God to the patriarchs to the present day. However, in 1538, Elias Levita, a famous Jewish grammarian and scholar, published his Massoreth Ha-Massoreth, which asserted that the vowels had been added by the Masorites c. A.D. 500,…”19) Thomas Ross, The Battle Over the Hebrew Vowel points, Examined Particularly As Waged in England,” p. 3-4; accessible at http://evans.landmarkbiblebaptist.net/04-BibleCorrectionExamples/Battle%20Over%20the%20Hebrew%20Vowel%20Points,%20Ros.pdf If the Hebrew vowels and accents were invented sometime between A.D. 500-1000, we would wonder how all the Jews being scattered across the world in A.D. 135 are universally able to accurately understand the meanings and  pronunciations if the language was “essentially vowelless… vocalically ambiguous… [and] pronunciation of the language was handed down orally, and as the Jew left or were expelled from Palestine and formed new communities in Babylonia, Egypt, and eventually throughout most of the civilized world, the traditional reading of biblical texts diverged gradually from whatever norm might have existed prior to these dispersions.”20)Thomas O. Lambdin, Introduction to Biblical Hebrew, Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd. (London: 1973), p. XIV Even harder to account for are the complex grammatical rules involving vowel reductions being acknowledge by Jewish communities separated from one another around the world. Why would the Jews after the diaspora unanimously accept such tampering with scripture? “With very few exceptions a syllable must begin with a single consonant followed at least by one vowel.”21)Thomas O. Lambdin, Introduction to Biblical Hebrew, Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd. (London: 1973), p. XVIII Such tampering would literally double the Hebrew Scripture as a vowel is placed under every consonant and an accent exists on every word.

This relatively novel theory was not persuasive during the Reformation era and was not affecting the translators of the King James Bible.

The denial of the Vowel points began creeping into Christendom as the Catholic church first promoted the opinion of the Tiberian Masorite Theory yoked with Catholic tradition and magistrates alone able to interpret Scripture due to ambiguity without the vowels. “The idea of the recent addition of the points was popular among the Catholics, for it lend support to their idea of the superiority of the Latin Vulgate to the Hebrew (and Greek) original, formally canonized in the Council of Trent, and became a tool in anti-Protestant polemic, for the perspicuity of Scripture and support the Romanist contention for the necessity of infallible interpretation by their organization.”22)Thomas Ross, The Battle Over the Hebrew Vowel points, Examined Particularly As Waged in England,” p. 5; accessible at http://evans.landmarkbiblebaptist.net/04-BibleCorrectionExamples/Battle%20Over%20the%20Hebrew%20Vowel%20Points,%20Ros.pdf

Protestants first resisted such ideas but slowly gave up the inspired vowels. Secular historian William Durant records:

Another heartache came when Louis Cappel, Protestant professor of Hebrew and theology at Suumur, concluded that the vowels points and accents in the canonically accepted Hebrew text of the Old Testament were additions made to older texts by the Masorete Jews of Tiberias… Cappel published nevertheless (1624); Johannes Buxtorf the younger tried to refute him, and argued that the points and accents were also divinely inspired. The controversy continued through the century; orthodoxy finally yielded the points, and a modest step was taken toward appreciating the bible as the majestic expression of a people.23)Will and Ariel Durant, The Story of Civilization: The Age of Reason Begins, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY: 1961), Vol. VII, p. 580

However, “The points found numerous defenders among men like Gerardus, Junius, Gomarus, Polanus, Whitaker, Ussher, Rainolds, Buxtorf Sr. and Jr., Voetius, Deodatus, Lightfoot, and Heidegger”24) Thomas Ross, The Battle Over the Hebrew Vowel points, Examined Particularly As Waged in England,” p. 8; accessible at http://evans.landmarkbiblebaptist.net/04-BibleCorrectionExamples/Battle%20Over%20the%20Hebrew%20Vowel%20Points,%20Ros.pdf among many others.

It is interesting that conservative evangelical scholars today seem utterly ignorant of this issue while liberals recognize it. Liberal author James Barr wrote about the inconsistency of contemporary conservative evangelicals views of inerrancy, saying, “The older protestant scholastics, on the other hand, had a certain amount of reason on their side. Firstly, they really thought, or tried to convince themselves, that the vowel points were ancient and went back to the historical origin of the books. Secondly, when the doctrine was so tightly connected with the exact verbal form of the biblical text, it would have been very peculiar if they had not regarded as inspired the vocalization, which is so essential for the determination of meaning.”25)James Barr, Fundamentalism, SCM Press Ltd, (London, 1977) p. 298 The thought of the inspiration of Hebrew vowel points is mocked by secular men and Liberals theologians and all but ignored by contemporary evangelicals because of their compromised views on inspiration, but sound evidence and logic would persuade us that God gave us His words in an unambiguous clear communication to be understood (Deuteronomy 27:8) because God desires for all nations and languages to hear His glorious gospel (Revelation 14:6) and have His word translated for them to obey all things He has commanded (Matthew 28:20).

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