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What is the Masorah?

For centuries, or at least since 1611, the English speaking Christian community has had in its hands the King James Translation of the Hebrew Texts of the Old Testament, and from the Greek Text, the New Testament. Now there are many other Bible translations available today, possibly too many depending how one looks at it. The important thing is; does whatever translation a person studies put the true Word of God in the student’s mind?

Let’s use an analogy for finding out which translation is best suited for us. First, why is finding a certain Bible important, one might ask. The analogy starts like this: suppose you’re an antique auto enthusiast. You’ve found an old car that you wish to restore to mint condition depending on parts availability. To make that car ‘true to its time’, which I mean you want that car as close to the original condition as possible, you’ll look just about anywhere for any original parts, regardless sometimes of their condition, because you can rebuild some of them, but the ideal is ‘mint’ or pristine shape. The whole project might span a few months, years, or even a lifetime. The key is knowing that you’ve done your best to get the most original ‘first parts’ for your antique. You may have to settle for some remanufactured or ‘new’ parts, but those will be a minimum, because you know it destroys the originality of the car.

Now this analogy can apply to many different types of antique enthusiasts, but let’s apply it to God’s Word. For someone who wants that ‘pristine’ form of God’s Word, in mint shape, unaltered, the same as when it was written down ‘first hand’, it might take months, years, or a lifetime of study. To find the original parts one might have to begin an in depth study of Hebrew and Greek and Chaldee. Then one must proceed on a field trip to find all available sources of the Hebrew, Greek, and Chaldee Texts, and then make comparisons, and lastly putting everything together in one final translation. Many people who are bi-lingual and speak a second or more languages can probably understand this more easily, because they are aware of some of the problems when translating between languages. Now, this is not to say that our Holy Bible is wrong , or mis-translated, but going back to the antique car analogy, ‘the car is whatever make or model it was originally built to’, but some of the parts may be ‘newer additions’ and some parts may still need to be found. The car may be driven from point A to point B, without maybe, a missing runner board, a spare wheel that mounts on the rear, side mirrors, etc., but it still goes down the road and gets us where we want to go. However, we bide our time and are patient until we can find all the parts, or in The Word’s case, patiently studying in hope, and faith in the ‘ideal’ of our salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.Our English translations are similar to the antique car analogy. The Hebrew and Greek Texts are ‘pure’ and ‘pristine’. The only problem is we must understand how to read Biblical Hebrew and Greek and in some cases, Chaldee and Aramaic. Then we must understand the peoples of that time, their laws, expression, and idioms; all while ‘thinking’ in these other languages.

Unfortunately, not everyone can do this kind of in depth study, for it requires patience of the sort that archeologists must learn. Luckily much of the work has been accomplished for us already. All we have to do is go get it. This can mean finding a Church in your community that relies heavily on teaching the congregation the Hebrew expressions and idioms that help explain God’s Word along with a verse by verse, chapter by chapter instruction, or a group of Christians that meet and have a study period together, or by searching out the Texts for yourself. The important matter is that as Christians we have a responsibility to Our Lord to know what ‘His Letter to us’ says. Also, the fact that even today new translations are coming out means that scholars are not agreed upon how to translate the ‘original parts’ that go into building their translation of God’s Word. This may seem confusing , and to many Christians it is. Many feel they don’t have time to learn Hebrew and that God wouldn’t allow the truth to be lost between translations. I somewhat understand this attitude. Finally, this brings us to the Massorah.

All of the most reliable manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible have on every page next to the Text that is arranged in two or more columns, smaller lines of writing called the Massorah Magna or Great Massorah, and the writing in the side margins is called the Massorah Parva or Small Massorah. This writing appears in between the main columns of Hebrew Text, along the top, two sides, and bottom. The word Massorah means to deliver something into the hand of another. It contains the guidelines for the Hebrew scribes that must be used in transcribing the Hebrew Texts from generation to generation. This work was originally done under Ezra and Nehemiah in order to fix the Text after the return from Babylon so that it couldn’t be tampered with (Neh. 8.8 and Ezra 7:6,11).

The Massorah is called “A Fence to the Scriptures.” This was because it assured every Hebrew character must be in its place in the Text by recording the “number of times the several letters occur in the various books of the Bible; the number of words, and the middle word; the number of verses, and the middle verse; the number of expressions and combinations of words, &c.”(1)   The Massorah also contains ‘facts’ and ‘phenomena’ associated with the Hebrew Texts; information that affects the sense and casts light upon the Scriptures. It is not found in any ‘one’ manuscript but is spread out among different copies of the Hebrew Text in several different countries, and for whatever reason, Dr. C.D. Ginsburg is the only ‘Christian’ scholar that has pulled all of it together from the several manuscripts, and printed a three volume set. His three volume set Massoretico-Critical Text is very rare. This Massoretico-Critical Text of the Hebrew Bible can be found in only one Bible to date. That is The Companion Bible. This is an edition of the 1611 King James Authorized Version with a wealth of information in its margins especially the notes of ‘facts’ and ‘phenomena’ from the Massorah, and a well rounded Appendix full of diagrams, charts, Hebrew idioms and expressions, tabulated data on particular messages within God’s Word, up-to-date archeological information proving God’s Word, etc. The Companion Bible is not a new translation, nor a commentary, and is not authored by any one man.

“Why is this Massorah so important?”, you’re probably asking. Here’s one point. When the translators of The King James of 1611 went to the Hebrew Texts of the Old Testament, they did not know of the Massorah. They and also the Revisers performed their work ignorant of the treasures contained in the Massorah, and no hint of it was given the reader. It’s almost like the ‘antique car’ (Hebrew Text) had some ‘original parts’ (Massorah) that got lost when it went from one country (Hebrew manuscripts) to the next country (translation into Old English King James Bible). The fact of why the Massorah was not known of by the KJV translators and Revisers, or even Critics; and if they were aware of it, why it would have been purposely left out of the KJV is a study in itself. Here’s yet another point. No matter how many new modern English translations come out, if they don’t contain the Massorah, some of the original ‘sense’ will be lost. One could say that the Massorah was God’s way of making sure His Word had only ‘one’ interpretation, and if followed, would be handed down from generation to generation without alteration.

Peace be with you in Christ Jesus,
Dave Ramey.

(1) The Companion Bible, ( Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan), Ap. P. 31.

Appendix 30, The Companion Bible on The Massorah

Click above to see a picture of The Massorah with an explanation contained in The Companion Bible at

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