Trustworthy Translations and Hebrew and Greek in Sermons

Weeks ago, I posted a video of a Bible translation committee discussing how to translate a particular Greek word into English. I think it is a fascinating discussion that reveals the depth of work in translation that many who can readily pick up a Bible and read in their native language may never fully appreciate. These scholars put in a great deal of thought and work and prayer into Bible translation.

I wanted to follow up that post by pointing out that all of the individuals in that room are some of the most highly respected, doctoral-prepared Greek and Hebrew (and Aramaic) scholars in their respective fields. It is quite reassuring to know that translation decisions have gone through an extensive process by teams of brilliant scholars who really know their stuff. We can therefore trust that, though there may be differences from version to version, modern English translations are very accurate and reliable.

With this in mind, while I do not discourage the use of explaining Hebrew or Greek terms in preaching and teaching (I do so myself from time to time), a word of caution should be given about how such words are sometimes employed in biblical exposition. In particular, I usually advise hearers to be very cautious when someone claims “this English translation of this word is bad,” or “the translators did a poor job with this verse,” etc. Providing any linguistic background to a text by pointing out the original languages may provide an air of credibility to the preacher and add an interesting flavor to the teaching. However, comments like the ones above – or the one below – can erode a hearer’s confidence in reading and understanding the Bible on their own. Be assured that it is likely that the English Bible you are reading is very trustworthy.

HT: Stick World via Andy Naselli

2 thoughts on “Trustworthy Translations and Hebrew and Greek in Sermons

  1. My bible study software (Xiphos, from CrossWire Bible society) has 15 versions of the bible on it, I use usually 3. Have you ever hear of a version that should not be used, or would add confusion to the text?
    Secondly doing a word search and using a concordance such as Strongs, without knowing ancient grammatical structure, could I derive the wrong word meanings?
    I went and looked at the Corinthians passage on my Xiphos, the translations are about one third (slave) one third (servant) one third (being a servant). I guess it comes down to what do you see when in vs 23 “You are bought with a price.

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    1. Hey “Jatimlex”!
      First, nearly all of the major and recent English Bible translations are very reputable. I don’t usually use the KJV or the NKJV, not because they are “bad”, but because they were translated with the manuscripts they had in the early 17th century. Archaeological discoveries have unearthed many more and earlier dated documents. (Cf. e.g. the Dead Sea Scrolls, including Hebrew manuscripts from every OT book [except Esther], were discovered between 1947-1952. These date to the 2nd century B.C. The earliest Hebrew manuscripts available before that discovery were from the 10th century A.D. So basically, a millennium earlier!)
      The only translations that should not be used are ones that aren’t “translations”; e.g. heterodox corruptions like the New World Translation of the Bible from the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (the Jehovah’s Witnesses).
      As far as word studies are concerned, yes, there is great potential for error in doing “word studies” simply because meaning is derived from several factors and not just dictionary definitions alone. A really great work on the dangers associate with word studies in interpretation is D. A. Carson’s book Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd edition (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996).
      Great observation about the “bought with a price”. That is a great example of looking beyond just word “meanings” and definitions but also to the context of the passage as a whole. 🙂

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