Old Languages (II)


It’s hard enough to communicate with someone who speaks your own language. When you try to communicate across a language barrier, it gets even more difficult. Today we’re going to look at some of the barriers caused by translating the Bible from one language to another.

Translation Variations

Most of the Bible was originally penned in Hebrew or Greek. There are variations in how words in the original texts are translated into English.

  • One Greek or Hebrew word may be translated into several different English words.
  • Several different Greek or Hebrew words may be translated into the same English word.
  • Greek and Hebrew verbs may carry richer meanings than their English equivalents.
Example 1

“Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” (Joh 15:2-3)

According to Strong’s Expository Dictionary, the word translated purge in verse 2 and clean in verse 3 is:

“G2508 kath-ah’ee-ro From G2513; to cleanse, that is, (specifically) to prune; figuratively to expiate: – purge.”

I heard a preacher once say that God prunes us through the painful circumstances of our lives. I think that’s true, but it is not the main point of this passage. God wants to use His Word to prune us. By missing that point, the preacher missed a golden opportunity to help his audience avoid a lot pain in their lives. If we would let God’s Word clean away the unproductive parts of our lives, we wouldn’t have to be pruned by pain before we do right.

Example 2

“So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.” (Joh 21:15-17)

When you first read this passage, it seems a little odd. I know Jesus is making an important point to Peter, so the repetition is warranted. But it still struck me as odd when I first read the passage. Then I turned to my Strong’s Concordance and looked up the words. Let’s take a look at the passage again, but this time we’ll show the Strong’s numbers for the word love in the passage.

  • Jesus: lovest [25] thou me?
  • Peter: I love [5368] thee.
  • Jesus: Lovest [25] thou me?
  • Peter: I love [5368] thee.
  • Jesus: Lovest [5368] thou me?
  • Peter: I love [5368] thee.

Now take a look at Strong’s definitions for each of the words used:

“G25 ag-ap-ah’-o = to love (in a social or moral sense)”

“G5368 fil-eh’-o = to be a friend to (fond of [an individual or an object]), that is, have affection for (denoting personal attachment, as a matter of sentiment or feeling; while G25 is wider, embracing especially the judgment and the deliberate assent of the will as a matter of principle, duty and propriety:”

It adds flavor to the passage to see the different forms of love used in the conversation.

Reference recommendations

In addition to the Strong’s and Young’s concordances I recommended yesterday, the following reference tools will give you more original language insights.

You can also access Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words online.

Read more about it

If you haven’t finished looking up the Greek vocabulary from your Ephesians 1 word list, continue with your study today.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at how remote ideas influence your understanding of the Bible.

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