Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Bible Was Written in Hebrew and Greek, But We Can Generally Trust Our Good English Translations

As we seek to understand the bible correctly we must remember that it was originally penned in Hebrew and Greek (and a little bit of Aramaic). While we don't need to be able to read Hebrew and Greek to comprehend scripture, it remains important that we respect how it was first put down on parchment.

This is part nine of my ten part series Church, Bible, and Interpretation - It's Not So Simple.

The original languages are important. This is because all languages have certain quirks and idiosyncrasies about them. All are unique. Additionally, languages change over time. For example, the Greek spoken in Greece today differs significantly from the Koine Greek of the New Testament. Because of these things the church needs a significant number of believers who can read and teach biblical Hebrew and Greek to the next generation. If for no other reason this is important for apologetic purposes. It would do great damage to the body of Christ if no one could say with certainty what the Greek and Hebrew mean.

I'm generally not a fan of seminaries (even though I attended a fairly good one). However, I am glad that most evangelical seminaries in this country strongly support the teaching of Greek and Hebrew. Many require classes in both. Until the church gets to the point of teaching Hebrew and Greek one to another we need seminaries to keep doing what they are doing.

The Reformer Martin Luther said the following:

We will not long preserve the gospel without the languages. The languages are the sheath in which this sword of the Spirit is contained; they are the casket in which this jewel is enshrined; they are the vessel in which this wine is held; they are the larder in which this food is stored; and, as the gospel itself points out, they are the baskets in which are kept these loaves and fishes and fragments….

I am exceedingly glad that I speak English. The reason I say this is that the bible has been translated into English in many good forms. We have an abundance of excellent translations, for example the KJV, NKJV, ESV, NASB, NIV, NLT, NET, HCSB, ISV, and YLT. With modern technology it's even easy to compare translations by using a site like Bible Gateway. Because of all this we English speakers can feel confident that we know what the bible truly means even if we cannot read the original languages.

This brings us to another issue: the importance of bible translation into all languages. While we English speakers have lots of choices, some Christians around the globe have only one relatively poor translation or no translation at all. I encourage you to consider giving to those who spend their lives doing translation work; Wycliffe Bible Translators is a wonderful example.

One final thought: some of the English translations do not handle leadership issues well. Because many of those doing the translating are enmeshed in the institutional church framework they tend to translate in a way that gives pastors more authority than they actually should have. In my opinion this is the biggest weakness of many English translations. Therefore, if you are dealing with church leadership/authority issues, I highly encourage you to read multiple translations and consult numerous commentaries prior to coming to any significant conclusions/decisions.

To sum up: let's always remember that the bible was written thousands of years ago in Hebrew and Greek. Despite this, we can know what the bible means.


3rd Anchor said...


T Aagard said...

The clergy - laity division and the claim that certain "appointed" men have authority to dominate and demand what they want is mostly driven by the corrupt translations on church leadership. This simple corruption is the foundation for why every church must consume 84% of it's giving to make church happen. The devil certainly knows how to shrivel the impact of God's people and have them love it and consider it Godly all at the same time.