Saturday, July 05, 2008

Interpretations and Translations

I so wish people would consider using two or three Bibles in their Bible studies. Why? Because the translation and interpretation of certain words can totally change the idea behind a Bible verse.

Take one of the most famous:
The Kingdom of heaven is at hand
The kingdom of heaven is near.

No, depending on one's minister and one's denomination, one either has been trained to believe that "at hand" and "near" means either A) "is coming soon" or "is right here." A whole lotta difference going on there.

Do we try to save a lost person by saying, "The kingdom of heaven is coming soon" or do we try to save a lost person by saying "The kingdom of heaven is right here beside you." ?????

Or consider a verse like "The light shineth in darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it." If a minister doesn't understand that the old Elizabethan meaning of the word "Comprehend" means "overcome" (and not "understand) then his parishioners end up with a very good -- perhaps great-- sermon on not understanding the Scripture. But even so, the real text means something differently....and modern translations of the Bible will show it differently.


Consider Mark 9:23:
In Mark 9:22, the father of the demon-possessed epileptic boy says, "If you can do anything, have compassion and help us."

King James Version: If you can believe all things are possible to him that believeth.

Young's Literal Translation (printed in 1898):"If thou art able to believe! all things are possible to the one who is believing."

The New International Version: "'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes."

The International Children's Version: "Jesus said to the boy's father, "You said, 'If you can!" All things are possible for him who believes."

The Contemporary English Version: "Why do you say 'if you can'? Anything is possible for someone who has faith."

The New Revised Standard: "If you are able! --All things can be done by the one who believes."

See how subtle the difference in these translations are. If one goes only with the King James Version, you'll end up thinking Jesus is telling the father that the father has no faith and as one televangelist -- whom I highly respect (but who in this case is way wrong) says-- Jesus is putting the responsibility back on the father. Not true in the other versions. In the other versions, Jesus is reassuring the man that anything is possible and that of course he -- Jesus-- can do anything.

I'd say that pretty much all the versions blame the ministering disciples for not having faith, but many ministers use the KJV and because they don't want to put the blame on ministers (themselves) they all manage to make sermons about the man's lack of faith. But as is clearly seen in the non-KJV versions, Jesus isn't blaming the father at all. Jesus puts the onus of healing on the disciples and ministers of the church


This happens in so many places. Consider the KJV version uses the word "chamberlain" for Potiphar (the guy who was married to the woman who tried to seduce Joseph.) Who nowadays know what a chamberlain is? But other translations use the word "eunuch." So then we know Potiphar's wife wasn't merely a loose woman. She was married to a castrated guy.

Consider the Ishmael playing with Isaac story. Sarah saw Ishmael "mocking" Isaac. The hebrew word translated "mocking" could just as easily "playing with" or "playfully teasing." One translation makes Ishmael a lowlife bitter kid. This translation shows that Sarah is upset at the friendship between the boys (cause one is the son of a slave)

Consider Jephthah's daughter. Every year the daughters of Israel went up to "mourn for" Jephthah's daughter. The same would could also mean "talk with and comfort." Depending on which translation, you either think that Jephthah followed the customs of the heathen and killed his daughter. Or Jephthah made his daughter a living sacrifice. (Like Esther.)

When Lot and his family fled the sulfur-burned cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot's wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt. Many people have questioned this verse and tried to explain it. Some say that she actually, literally turned into a pillar of salt. Some say she was covered up with sulfuric salts. Some say she was radiated and burned and her remains were salt. Those who know ancient middle eastern slang, know that the phrase "to be turned to a pillar of salt" is a middle eastern slang which means something like our "petrified." (We use the word "petrified" to mean shocked or afraid. But it literally means "turned to stone.") In that case, Lot's wife might simply have died of fright. Some people will fight you to the death to defend their idea that God purposely set out to do a very destructive personal punishment of Mrs Lot.

In one of Paul’s letters, (Gal 6:11) he writes, “look what large letters I write when I write with my own hand.” The problem here is with the words “large letters.” The reader in English should be aware that there are two possible meanings: Paul could mean large handwriting or a missive that takes many pages. Considering the forged letter the Thessalonians had received stating that the world had ended, it might be a good idea for Paul to remind people of how big his handwriting is. But…considering (also) that when a person dictates a letter he is often less chatty than when he actually writes it himself, the phrase could also refer to the length of the letter. However, this small gnat has created the camel of Paul’s supposed blindness. This assumption comes about for many reasons. The first is that English Bible readers are assuming that “large letters” refers to Paul’s handwriting. A study of the Greek will show that the word he used for large referred to the quantity of the words and not the size of the handwriting. But those who believe that Paul had eye problems will turn to another phrase in which Paul states that when he had first met the Galatians, he was sick and “if it were possible, the believers would have given him their very eyes.”
Forgetting that the phrase could be a slang term which might mean something near to our slang term “she would give her right arm for me,” those who have swallowed the camel of Paul’s long-term sickness say that Paul says he was sick with some eye-trouble

Another Example:

Hebrew word “ruach” can mean “wind,” “spirit,” or “breath.” When a translator sees “ruach,” he has to decide which word best translates its meaning. For instance, Genesis 1, declares, “And the ruach of God moved over the waters.” Is Moses describing the wind, God's spirit, or God’s breath? This is not a problem that is peculiar to Hebrew. No doubt, the English word “spirit” creates a similar problem with foreign translators.
The name “Adam” means “man,” “soil” and “red.” As one looks closer, one can see how these names are related. The first man came from the soil and his skin was colored red like the soil. Translators can choose to translate Adam as a personal name or as a generic term for humanity.

Slang and idioms are even harder to translate. When Jesus' mother told him to do something about the wine shortage at a wedding reception, he answered her with an idiom. The King James translates his answer as, "Woman, what do I have to do with you?" This is a literal translation. But the actually meaning of the very friendly phrase is something like, "Woman, what is that to you and me?" A speaker of Aramaic with a knowledge of Hebrew words and speaking styles would readily understand that Jesus was being friendly to his mother and agreeing to do whatever she asked, but the view of a modern Christian depends on the translation read. Some wonderful sermons have been written and spoken about why Jesus harshly dismissed his mother and other equally wonderful sermons have been written about the opposite - about Jesus being friendly to his mother. No doubt God uses all these sermons, but a speaker of Aramaic and a student of Middle Eastern linguistics would know what Jesus actually said and actually meant.

Here is another example. Remember the phrase, "The Love of Money is the root of all evil." (1 Ti 6:10) The Greek word hubergrubion means “covetousness” and is made up of two root words which mean "love of” and “money.” Placed together, these two words mean “covetousness.” The KJV translators, however, broke down the word into its technical meaning and translated it by its components: “the love of money.” Hence, "covetousness" becomes quite literally "the love of money." A better translation would read “Covetousness is the root of all evil.” Not convinced? Think what would happen if someone translated strawberry as "berries of straw” or if the word “wholesale” were broken down into “whole” and “sale.”
Other examples include modern people understanding the angel’s phrase “there shall be time no longer” as meaning “time will no longer exist.” The phrase actually means, “there shall be no more delay because the prophecy is about to come true.” This misunderstanding is based on not knowing Elizabethan English. Consider how many people think “world without end” means “the world won’t end” when it really means “forever.” Another kind of misreading occurs when someone simply ignores what is written and assumes something else is meant


Roman Catholics think of the verse in Revelation of the woman clothed in the sun who gave birth to a Son destined to rule all nations as representing the Virgin Mary. (They connected her to the Ishtar/Isis tradition) But it obviously -to non-Catholics anyway-- represents Israel and the amount of persecution Israel would suffer at the hands of the devil (using Christians too, I might add) because Israel gave birth to the Messiah.

The trouble is that many Christians are so addicted to believing what their denominations think that they won't re-think the meaning of a passage if that passage differs from the King James Version. A case of intense idolatry.

To better comprehend how misunderstandings can occur, let’s consider how a non-English speaker four hundred years in the future might react to the question, "What's up?"
He might assume the speaker is asking, "What is up?" Or he might think the speaker is asking the meaning of the word ‘up.’ Or he might translate it rightly as "What is happening?" The translated meaning will depend on the skill, education, and insights of the translator. Translating is both a skill and an art. In addition, all languages have words which have more than one meaning. A translator often has to make an educated choice. That choice can change the outcome and meaning of a Bible story. Different translations can cause differing interpretations. Sometimes a translator’s choice of a single word, yoked together with ignorance of Biblical Culture or human prejudices, can cause differing interpretations.
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