Let’s Get Practical, Part 2: It is in Hebrew and Greek, Right?

(This article was originally written for my local newspaper.)

In our current series of Soli Deo Gloria articles, we have been examining the greatest of books, the Bible.  The Bible was originally written in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  So the Scripture must be translated into our language in order for us to know what God has told us in its pages. 

This process can be a difficult task.  Aramaic is a ‘dead language,’ which means that it is no longer spoken.  The Hebrew of the Old Testament is very different from the Hebrew language spoken today because all languages change over time. In fact, the Old Testament text did not have vowels, and vowels had to be added in order to be able to read the passages of Scripture.

The same tendency for language to change over time applies to the New Testament, which was written in Greek.  This Greek is different from the language spoken today but also different from the Greek written in ancient times. This was the Greek commonly spoken by the people, different from the Classical Greek spoken by the upper class.

Some of the grammatical rules that applied to those languages are no longer in place today; some of the expressions of the time are no longer current, and some terms have changed their meaning.  It is a difficult task to translate any ancient book, and, since the Bible is the Word of God, there is a tremendous responsibility to be faithful to the original intent and wording of the authors.

Should a believer be able to read the original words of the Old and New Testaments, that is, the actual words of the prophets and apostles?  It would be of great benefit, but one scholar warns us not to ‘go half-way.’ 

At a recent Reformation Bible Conference at Grace Presbyterian Church in Troy, Jonathan T. Pennington, the Associate Professor of New Testament Interpretation and Director of Research Doctoral Studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recommended intensive study in New Testament Greek.  He said that a little knowledge of Greek can be a dangerous thing because mistakes are easy to make.  He recommended serious study.

It is a difficult task to try to read the ancient languages, but there is good news.  We have a wealth of resources and many experts that can help us.

This author does not know much about the Biblical languages, but he finds many resources that are written by scholars which can assist with Bible study.  Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance contains a numbered system that allows a person to find the particular Greek or Hebrew word that was translated by many English words used in the Bible.  A brief definition is also given.  This word can then be researched with other tools. 

Where does one go to conduct that research?  The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, edited by Kittle, is available in a both a multi-volume set and a single volume edition.  This book contains scholarly articles written by experts on most of the words of the New Testament.  These articles cover how the words were used in ancient common Greek in both the Bible and in other places in ancient writings.  The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament is also available.  (Please note that contributions to these two dictionaries are not always made by conservative Christian scholars.)

It would certainly benefit any believer to learn Hebrew and Greek, but you can be confident in the many excellent English translations, which God uses to communicate His truth in a reliable fashion today.  Our next article will look at two different approaches to Bible translation and present some recommendations from those approaches.


Gary said...

Dear Baptist/evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ,

I ask you to consider these points:

1. When God said that he would preserve his Word, what did he mean? Did he mean that he would preserve the original papyrus and parchment upon which his Word was written? If so, then his Word has disappeared as none of the original manuscripts remain.

Did he mean that he would preserve his word in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek only? He would not preserve his Word when it was translated into all the other languages of the world?

Or did God mean that he would preserve his Word…the message/the words…the Gospel: the free gift of salvation, and the true doctrines of the Christian Faith? Would God allow his Word/his message to mankind to be so polluted by translation errors that no translation, into any other language from the three original languages, continues to convey his true words?

2. There is NO translation of the Bible, from the original ancient languages, into ANY language, ANYWHERE on earth, that translates the Bible as the Baptists/evangelicals believe it should be translated.

No Bible translation on earth translates Acts 2:38 as, “Repent and believe in Jesus Christ every one of you and you will receive the Holy Ghost. Then be baptized as a public profession of your faith.”

Why would God allow EVERY English translation of the Bible throughout history to be mistranslated or use such confusing language as to suggest that God forgives sins in Baptism? And not only all English translations, ALL translations of the Bible have retained these “mistranslations or confusing wording”.

Do you honestly believe that God would allow his Word to be so polluted with translation errors that EVERY Bible in the world, if read in its simple, plain interpretation, would tell the people of the world that God forgives sins in water baptism??

3. Why is there not one single piece of evidence from the early Christians that indicates that ANYONE in the 800-1,000 years after Christ believed that: Water baptism is ONLY a public profession of faith/act of obedience; sins are NOT forgiven in water baptism? Yes, you will find statements by these early Christians that salvation is by faith, but do Baptists and evangelicals really understand how a sinner obtains saving faith? THAT IS THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION, MY FRIENDS! Does the sinner produce faith by his own free will or does God provide faith and belief as a gift, and if God does provide faith and belief as a free gift, with no strings attached, WHEN exactly does God give it?

4. Is it possible that: Baptist-like believers, at some point near or after 1,000 AD, were reading the Bible and came across verses that read “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” and “Call upon the name of the Lord and you will be saved” and established their doctrine of Salvation/Justification first, based on these and similar verses alone, and then, looked at the issue of water baptism, and since the idea that God forgives sins in water baptism didn’t seem to fit with the verses just mentioned, these early Baptists re-interpreted these verses to fit with their already established doctrine, instead of believing the “baptism verses” literally?

Is it possible that BOTH groups of verses are literally correct?? If we believe God’s Word literally, he says that he saves/forgives sins when sinners believe/call AND when they are baptized? Why not believe that God can give the free gift of salvation in both situations: when a sinner hears the Gospel and believes and when a sinner is baptized?

Should we re-interpret God’s plain, simple words just because they don’t seem to make sense to us?

God bless you and keep you!

Sunny said...

"Why would God allow EVERY English translation of the Bible throughout history ...."

Because there is no god. Problem solved. You're welcome.

J. K. Jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J. K. Jones said...

Anonymous, prove that God does not exist, or at least respond to positive arguments and evidences presented on this blog. Start with the "Nine Reasons..." Label to the right. Make your comments there and respond to arguments with counter arguments. That is, if you are capable of arguing instead if making declarative statements.

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