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The Truth About Bible Translation - El Shaddai Christian Ministries

The Truth About Bible Translations

Excerpted from an article by Jeff & Denise Benner, Ancient Hebrew Research Center

Throughout a lot of my blogs and in a couple of my books I have stressed the fact that we need to get back to basics. For the last couple centuries mankind has taking a lot of liberties in changing the actual Christian doctrine to suit their own ideas of what it should be. Many times this is to glorify themselves and not God. Throughout the entire Bible we are cautioned about this especially in the apostle Paul’s writings. One of the other major problems that arises is in the translation of the Bible. Like I have mentioned in previous writings some of these translational errors do not make much of a difference but some do make a major difference and even completely change the meaning. At the end of this blog I have included a chart that breaks down the translations from Word for Word they would be the most accurate to paraphrasing which of course is the least accurate translation. Here are just a few examples of some of the problems that are met when we try and translate the Bible as just examples.

The first thing we need to realize is that the entire Bible including the New Testament was originally written in Aramaic Hebrew. Documents have recently been found that confirm this. The second thing is that a majority of our translations come from the Greek and this poses double the translation problem because there are difficulties in translating from Hebrew to Greek and then another step of obstacles translating into the English.

The Bible does not say, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” A more accurate statement would be, “The Bible says, בראשית ברא אלהים את השמים ואת הארץ (bereshiyt bara elohiym et hashamayim v’et ha’arets), which is often translated and interpreted as, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

While this may sound trivial, it is in fact a very important issue as many theological differences, divisions and arguments are based on faulty interpretations of the text that could easily be resolved by examining the original language of the Bible. Once the Hebrew text is recognized, its meanings and interpretations can then be discussed properly.

In the world, past and present, there are two major types of cultures; the Hebrew (or eastern) culture and the Greek (or western) culture. Both of these cultures view their surroundings, lives, and purpose in ways which would seem foreign to the other. With the exception of a few Bedouin nomadic tribes living in the Near East today, the ancient Hebrew culture has disappeared.

As 20th Century Americans with a strong Greek thought influence, we read the Hebrew Bible as if a 20th Century American had written it. In order to understand the ancient Hebrew culture in which the Tenakh was written in, we must examine some of the differences between Hebrew and Greek thought.


Abstract Vs. Concrete Thought

Greek thought views the world through the mind (abstract thought). Ancient Hebrew thought views the world through the senses (concrete thought).

Concrete thought is the expression of concepts and ideas in ways that can be seen, touched, smelled, tasted and/or heard. All five of the senses are used when speaking and hearing and writing and reading the Hebrew language. An example of this can be found in Psalms 1:3; “He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither.” In this passage we have concrete words expressing abstract thoughts, such as a tree (one who is upright, righteous), streams of water (grace), fruit (good character) and an unwithered leaf (prosperity).

Abstract thought is the expression of concepts and ideas in ways that cannot be seen, touched, smelled, tasted or heard. Hebrew never uses abstract thought as English does. Examples of Abstract thought can be found in Psalms 103:8; “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger, abounding in love.” As you noticed I said that Hebrew uses concrete and not abstract thoughts, but here we have such abstract concepts as compassionate, gracious, anger, and love in a Hebrew passage. Actually these are abstract English words translating the original Hebrew concrete words. The translators often translate this way because the original Hebrew makes no sense when literally translated into English.

Every year, Bible executives analyze their product line for shortcomings, scrutinize the competition’s offerings, and talk with consumers, retailers, and pastors about their needs.” The translating and printing of Bibles is “Big Business.” In the world of consumerism, it is the producer’s primary objective to offer a product that appeals to the consumer. For this reason a translation is required to conform to the buyer’s expectations. If a Bible is published that does not conform to the buyers expectations, even if it is more accurate, it will not sell. For this reason, we must be willing to do our own investigations into the meaning and interpretation of the text.


Appearance vs. Functional Description

Greek thought describes objects in relation to its appearance. Hebrew thought describes objects in relation to its function.

When translating the Hebrew into English, the translator must give a Greek description to this word which is why we have two different ways of translating this verse. This same word is also translated as a “ruler” in 2 Kings 24.15, who is a man who is a strong leader.

Another example of Greek thought would be the following description of a common pencil: “it is yellow and about 8 inches long.” A Hebrew description of the pencil would be related to its function such as “I write words with it.” Notice that the Hebrew description uses the verb “write” while the Greek description uses the adjectives “yellow” and “long.” Because of Hebrew’s form of functional descriptions, verbs are used much more frequently than adjectives.


Impersonal vs. Personal Description

The Greek culture describes objects in relation to the object itself. The Hebrew culture describes objects in relation to the Hebrew himself.

As in the example above of the pencil, the Greek description portrays the pencil’s relationship to itself by using the word “is.” The Hebrew describes the pencil in relation to himself by saying “I write.” Because Hebrew does not describe objects in relation to itself, the Hebrew vocabulary does not have the word “is.”

A Greek description of God would be “God is love” which describes God in relation to God. A Hebrew description would be “God loves me” describing God in relationship to himself.


Other Factors

In the interest of space I have only listed a few of the factors that must be considered. Some of the Hebrew words have as many as ten or more meetings for the same word and in a lot of cases the meanings are quite different. We also have to take in consideration what is going on at the time, who was speaking or writing, and the context that the word or phrase is used in. It also helps greatly if we understand the culture of the time that the Scripture was written in.

If for no other reason than those I have mentioned there is a strong case to make sure that what we are understanding the Bible to say is actually being said. I have found that of the areas where the Bible seems to contradict itself can be resolved by careful exegesis of the passage or word. If we take a part of the Bible that has been improperly translated and then add our own spin or interpretation of what is being said, we usually end up with a big mess and confusion.


Bible Translations Comparison Chart 2020

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