Rightly Dividing the Word of God

The Greek language used in the original writing of the New Testament did not have punctuation nor did it have upper and lower case letters. Those things were put in later by translators to help modern readers understand the text more easily. Those ‘additions’ were done with expert care, and the resulting text is indeed far more easily read.

However, there are a few places that may hint at some some bias or problem on the part of the translator. For example in Luke 23:43 Jesus is speaking to one of the thieves being crucified with Him,

And He said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

That sentence contains some commas that were put in by translators and if they were put in differently the meaning of the passage changes slightly. For example:

And He said to him, “Truly, I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise.”

The latter comma placement seems to work a little better to me. (Not that I am a language scholar, but I am following the lead of some who are.) Simply moving the second comma to be after the word ‘today’ clears up the old question of “How could the thief be in paradise that day with Christ when Christ himself wouldn’t be there for another forty days?” .That change clears up the mystery, but otherwise does not change the meaning.

The word ‘elohim’ in the Old Testament is a Hebrew word meaning ‘gods’. The word is both plural and singular. It works like the English words for sheep or deer. When the word is capitalized in the Bible it refers to the God of Israel. When it is not capitalized it refers to other spiritual beings or being.

Translators must decide whether the word is plural or singular and whether it should be capitalized or not. Those decisions can affect the understanding of the relative passage. For example in the very first verse in the Bible the Hebrew word ‘elohim’ is always translated as ‘God’ instead of ‘gods’. But there is nothing in that verse that tells us which way it should be. It is through subsequent verses that the meaning becomes clear.

In the New Testament the Greek word for ‘spirit’ is ‘pneuma’. However ‘pneuma’ can be translated in a variety of ways and it is through surrounding text that the meaning can be found. However, even the surrounding text may sometimes not make the meaning clear which leaves the interpretation up to the translator. The translator then usually relies on agreed conventions to make the correct decision. Difficulties arise when the agreed conventions are questioned.

In Romans 8:1-16, Paul is discussing the two human natures of flesh (Greek word ‘sarx’) and spirit (Greek word ‘pneuma’). However, Paul also uses ‘pneuma’ when he refers to the Holy Spirit leaving the correct interpretation to be found in the surrounding text or in agreed convention. The translator usually distinguishes between the two usages by using ‘Spirit’ (upper case ‘S’) to mean ‘Holy Spirit’ and ‘spirit’ (lower case ‘s’) for all other meanings.

Hopefully, the translator makes the correct choice. Unfortunately not all translations agree on which is which so there can be some confusion. For example in Romans 8:5 Paul is distinguishing between our two natures – flesh and spirit – and their relationship to the Holy Spirit so the first use of the word ‘pneuma’ in that sentence should be translated as ‘spirit’ while the second use of the word ‘pneuma’ should be translated ‘Spirit’.

For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the spirit the things of the Spirit.”

However some translations use ‘Spirit’ in both instances. Unfortunately such things can lead to confusion about what Paul is actually saying.

There are a number of other issues translators have to deal with beyond examples I have given above.

So, are there any perfect translation of the Bible? Such a thing is not possible, but there are many that are very good. To help the reader to better understand the Bible they hold in their hands most translations include a statement in the opening pages describing their methodology and philosophy

It is important for serious Bible readers to be aware of the problems inherent in translation and the philosophy of translation. Such awareness can help one to more precisely understand God’s Word.

There are many bible verses that refer to the importance of understanding God’s Word to the best of your ability. I list a few here to read and meditate on. Please take the time to read them. I urge you, however to read each of them in more than one translation. Some will read the same; some will be different, but your understanding of them will be deepened by the extra effort.

2 Timothy 2:15, 2 Peter 3:16, Hebrews 4:12, Luke 24:45, James 1:22, Psalm 119:18

Each of us a unique spiritual being. We are born individually, die individually and stand before God every moment of our lives as an individual. No matter how large a group we are in, our relationship with God is one on one. Therefore our worship and each of our styles of worship must be accordingly unique. That concept is developed and expanded in the book “Worshiping Alone” available on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. If you haven’t read it, please consider doing so.

Copyright © 2022 Sam Dronebarger | All rights reserved

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