Translating the Bible
English often combines many thoughts into one word.
For example, there are approximately fifty Eskimo words for snow. In English, we have one – “snow”.
Similarly, the ancient Greek language has six words for “love” as presented here. Again, English has one – “love”.
One of the great truths about the Greek language, the language to which most of the new testament was originally penned, is its precision. The German language is another precise language, to which can be credited much of the rationale for German engineering successes, and even the Luther reformation.
This, of course, was not happenstance, God sovereignly used the Greek and German languages to announce and revive the gospel of salvation.
Three translation examples
There are many examples of this precision but one, which is interesting and illustrative, is John 21:15-17:
So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He *said to him, “Tend My lambs.”
He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.”
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.
Understand that this conversation came about after Peter has denied Jesus three times as Jesus had predicted in John 18:15-27.
But why was Peter grieved?
Certainly, it would be concerning that Christ was asking three times and Peter was responding three times. As if Christ didn’t believe Peter. That could have caused Peter grief.
But there’s more to this story and it’s in the original language.
There are, as stated above, six words for love in Greek, but the two used here are:
- Agape love which means to love, value, esteem, feel or manifest generous concern for, be faithful towards; to delight in, to set store upon, and
- Phileo love which means to manifest some act or token of kindness or affection, to love, regard with affection, to like, be fond of, to cherish inordinately. (Phileo is the root of Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love.)
So what was really happening in John 21?
Jesus initially asks if Peter agape loved Christ and Peter answered that he phileo loved him.
This is kind of asking if you love me unconditionally and deeply and getting the response that I love you like a brother.
Christ asked Peter a second time do you agape love me and Peter responds a second time with phileo love.
Finally, Christ asks Peter if he (even) phileo loves him and Peter is grieved and answers a third time that yes, he phileo loves Christ.
You can see, from a fuller picture of the original language that Christ is not only asking Peter three times but on the third times lowers the standard of love to get Peter’s response.
That would grieve me also.
The one women man
One of the characteristics of blamelessness, to which elders and deacons are to meet and all the church is to strive is found if 1 Timothy 3:2 which states
“A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife…”.
The interlinear states “of one woman man” or “a one women man”.
In truth, there is another Greek word for wife and husband in Greek, this is showing that the translators used the words for woman and man and translated wife and husband.
This could be argued forever. The reality is, the husband of one wife does present problems. Does that mean someone who remarries because a wife has died can not be an elder? Does it mean that a man who is married to one wife but is flirtatious and unfaithful can be an elder because he is still the husband of one wife?
There certainly are issues with divorces etc., which may be biblical or non-biblical but the intent of “a one woman man” or a man who is faithful and devoted to his wife seems to be more in keeping with the intent of these qualifications.
In the New Testament, the Greek word for slave – doulos, is used 150 times and translated slave only when actually referring to a physical slave or when referring to an inanimate object, such as slave to sin or slave of righteousness.
Only two translation use slave – The Holman Christian Standard and the Goodspeed translation. The Russian Bible has it right as do many other international translations. The English bibles don’t.
There are specific words for “servant” in Greek and the Greek word for slave is doulos.
The concept, however, of slave is somewhat negative and belittling. In effect, the translators of the bible were trying to be “politically correct” and relied on the word servant.
Yet a servant is someone who is hired to do something and owes a service. While, a slave is bought and paid for and owes obedience. A servant can server two masters (Matthew 6:24), they could have a day job and a night job. A slave can only serve one master.
Since Jesus is Lord, Kurios, and he paid for us with his death on the cross, we are his slaves.
He bought us. He is not paying us to be servants.
This puts salvation is perspective. We don’t sign up to be Christians, Christ bought us.
2 Corinthians 4:5 puts both of these concepts – Lord and slave – in the same sentence.
“For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake.”
Again, servant is used instead of slave, in truth, we were bought and we are slaves to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The point of this post is to heighten the awareness of language, and as far as that goes, history, as a means of better understanding the meaning of what is being taught in the bible.
The study of interpreting the Bible, or Hermeneutics, requires an awareness of the original language, the customs and history of the time in which the Bible is being written, as well as a consistent and plain interpretation.
This is not to say that we should use a literal interpretation since the resulting translation would be stilted and unclear. It does show, however, that we need to be diligent in studying the word as 2Timothy 2:15 states
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.
Of course, this also requires the guidance of the Holy Spirit which in turn requires that the reader be saved.