Preach the Word! (a translation of the title)
It is often said, “It’s all Greek to me.” Too often I am in agreement with this statement. I have now studied Koine Greek for nearly two and a half years and on certain days it feels like I have not learned a thing! But then I take a calm breath, refocus my mind, and recapture the beauty of syntax in the original languages of Scripture.
The other day I was at Starbucks (surprising, I know) when I noticed a set of piercing eyes examining my work. I was in the process of translating Hebrews 7; she was in the process of figuring out how to ask what in the world it was that I was doing! Her issue with me translating from Greek is a valid one, she could not figure out why I would translate something that has already been translated. This led to an engaging conversation to which I defended the practice of beginning from the original text and translating the Bible, both in Hebrew and Greek. I came to these few conclusions:
- Starting with the Greek I am placing myself into the shoes of the original audience. — The Bible is not an abstract document. Instead, each book has a purpose and a particular audience in mind, both of these factors inform what is being written.
- Greek is a picturesque language. — Often a concept is being conveyed that is not easily equated to a single English word. Sometimes you have to grasp an emotion, a picture, or a command with your mind’s eye.
- You are better able to capture the author’s flow of thought. — Everything informs interpretation: what kind of verb, is it a command, how are prepositions being used, what are the structural markers…
- Word order is often key. — Greek will often leave the verb last in the sentence, other times there are no stated verbs in a sentence (how is that possible!).
- Each translation is biased. — There is a target audience for each translation done. Some are more literal than others, use more poetic language than others, some are actually paraphrases; regardless, each is done for a specific purpose and this may determine how people choose to translate certain words.
- For study purposes, there are great benefits to producing a ‘wooden’ translation. — The best translations for reading/teaching are the ones that are fluid in speech. A wooden translation is not afraid to be complicated, to render participles with their semantical classifications, and use ten words instead of just two.
- You gain an appreciation for translating, period! — Once you translate from the original language you are able to see why modern translations have translated words the way they do. Often, I find myself wanting to give the translators a handshake for doing a much better job than I could.
Fortunately, she was genuinely interested in my response. I was able to derive each one of these reasons from the text I was working in. She was able to actually see the issues for herself rather than hearing an abstract lecture on linguistics, which would have been so boring for both of us…
p.s. — Always take advantage of an opportunity to share the Word of God in a public setting. Spend the $2 and get a coffee at Starbucks because their coffee is good, but when you do make sure you bring your Bible and seek an opportunity to interrupt someone’s day by pouring into them the truth and love of Jesus, as revealed in Scripture!