In the notice of Dr. Foat's lecture, contained in your...

Richmond (Eng.) Herald

In the notice of Dr. Foat's lecture, contained in your issue of the 2nd inst., the speaker is reported as saying that he could not agree to my contention "that the Bible writers did not mean anything supernatural when they spoke of miracles;" and he went on to maintain that "to them the phenomena in question were inexplicable, except as direct interventions of the Deity." May I, with your permission, examine this statement a little more fully.

The original documents of the New Testament were written, in all probability, some in Aramaic, and some in Greek. As Christianity spread, those which had been composed in Aramaic were translated into Greek, and in this way the Greek text of the New Testament came into being. Now there are in this text two Greek words translated miracle. The first of these is dunamis, which means an act of power; the second is semeion, which means a sign. Neither of these words has, or ever has had, any supernatural significance. It is, therefore, surely straining the text to suppose that the writers of the New Testament did not understand the meaning of the words they were using. They wrote, as all scholars today admit, in the bastard Greek known as Koine, which was the colloquial language of the peoples inhabiting the Mediterranean basin. This language was not literary Greek, which, if it occurs anywhere in the Bible, occurs only in the epistle to the Hebrews; nor was it Biblical Greek, which it is now admitted is a non-existent quantity. It was simply the Greek dialect spoken commonly in the local idioms of what was then the civilized western world. That is to say, in Jerusalem it would be spoken with the Hebrew idiom, and in Rome with the idiom of the Latins. It was, in fact, merely the commercial language of the day in which the Mediterranean peoples found it most possible to understand each other, just as in later days Latin became the language of the church, and so of diplomacy, until it was superseded by French, which to the present day remains the language of the diplomatic world.

To suppose, therefore, that the writers of the New Testament were ignorant of the medium they were using, or that when they used the words semeion or dunamis there was any mistake in their minds as to what they intended, is frankly incredible. The word miracle is derived from the Latin word miraculum, which was a common scientific term among the pagan philosophic speculators. Like the Greek words, it had no supernatural significance, and it was only introduced into the Bible when Jerome made the translation known as the Vulgate. There is, therefore, no reason to suppose for one moment that a single writer of the New Testament was unaware of the significance of the terms he used.

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May 14, 1910

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