Once upon a time a Preacher, Professor & Rabbi . . .

“Once upon a time a Preacher, Professor & Rabbi . . .” sounds like the beginning of a good joke, but in this case it is the beginning of a twenty-five journey. I (Jim Myers) am the preacher, Dr. Ike Tennison is the Professor and the Rabbi is Jeffrey Leynor.

Our destination was to more accurately understand the words of our Bibles and the histories of our religions – Christianity and Judaism. We specifically wanted to focus on the first century CE when both of our religions were Jewish sects and part of Second Temple Judaism and learn more about how one of those sects – the Yeshua Movement – became a universal Gentile religion called Christianity, and the other – the Pharisees – became Rabbinic Judaism.  

In the early 1980s, I was preparing to enter a Bible college and purchased a new Bible. I took it home, sat down at my dining room table and prayed this prayer – “Please show me what I need to study.” Instantly these words came to my mind – “Unless you understand how words work you can’t understand one word of your Bible.” I didn’t have a clue what that meant, but I couldn’t forget it.

Four years later, after graduating from Bible college and founding a new church, I received an advertisement for a new book – Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus. The moment I read the title I remembered the answer to that prayer and knew I had to read the book. I ordered it and the day it arrived I read it – in one sitting!  After finishing, I had a much better understanding of why I had to learn more about how words work. I camped out in the library of a local university for almost a month – eight hours a day. It was there I created the guideline I called the Law of Language: "A word is a symbol or group of symbols with an attached bundle of associations and those associations are a product of the Source’s culture, historical time period, geographical location and personal experiences."

I now knew that the first step to understanding the words of my Bible was to identify the Sources (authors) of the words and learn as much as possible about their languages, cultures, time periods, geographical locations and personal experiences. Sounds simple, but as I quickly discovered, it wasn’t. However, as I gathered this information, it transformed the way I read and understood the words of my Bible. Before the Law of Language, I simply opened my Bible, read something and assumed that what those words meant to me was exactly what they meant to the people that wrote them. The first thing I discovered was that the Sources of the words I was reading were the King James translators -- I had been calling THEIR BUNDLES OF ASSOCIATIONS THE WORD OF GOD!

I suddenly realized why there were so many Christians arguing about the meanings of the words in their Bibles and why there were so many church splits. Many were doing the same thing I had been doing. We were arguing about everyone’s bundles of association without considering those of the ancient Sources. Why were we so concerned about what the words of our Bibles meant? For Christians, there is much more at stake than just understanding words – Christian beliefs are based on those words and beliefs determines where we will spend eternity.

Keep in mind that I was pastoring a church at this time and sharing things I learned with church members. As you may imagine, that kind of information wasn’t a “faith builder” for people who I had taught their King James Bible was the inerrant and infallible Word of God. Heated discussions became common in my Bible studies and in private with members. This led me to create another guideline which I asked all participants to agree to follow. It became our Prime Directive -- "My Belief System will be large enough to include all of the Facts, open enough to be tested, and flexible enough to change when errors or new facts are discovered."

This made a huge change in the environment in which we met and made it possible for participants to more openly share their thoughts and discuss differences in beliefs. Instead of arguing, we used the Law of Language to guide us as we worked together to understand the origins of our beliefs and why they differed. People began coming to me and telling me how refreshing it was to participate in a group where they felt free to openly discuss things that had been bothering them for years. New participants often told me that questioning what their preacher taught or members believed at their old churches was a big no-no!

Searching for facts helped me discovered that the King James translators translated ancient Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, so that was where I went next. I thought that I would just pick up a copy and go from there. I quickly discovered another step translators took before they began translating. There were thousands of ancient manuscripts of the books of the Bible, so they had to select which one they would translate first. Most translations today are actually translations of composite manuscripts created by scholars. This means that different parts of a single verse came from different manuscripts. It was what scholars believed the original Source wrote. There are about 6,000 Greek manuscripts and fragments of just the books of the New Testament, which were written between the second and sixteenth century – and none of them are identical. In addition, there were multiple Hebrew manuscripts, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Greek translations of the books in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament).

It was at that point I knew I needed to learn more about Greek and Hebrew before I could work with these manuscripts. That led me to enroll at The University of Texas at Arlington and take courses that related to my objective -- and that is where I met Dr. Ike Tennison. Later, I enrolled in classes at the Dallas Jewish Community Center and one of those classes was taught by Rabbi Jeffrey Leynor. Ike and Jeffrey agreed to follow my guidelines, and needless to say, we came up with many amazing and challenging questions. Over the years we have accumulated gigabytes of data related to the things we discovered on our journey and we share through this website, blogs, newsletters, updates, etc. We are happy your path crossed ours and we would like to welcome you to travel with us as we continue.

Biblical Heritage Center