Keeping up with Languages

A lot of people, pastors in-particular, are amazed that I still bother to translate the passages on which I preach. I don’t claim to be a Biblical languages scholar, I’m not. If I had been trained before the advent of Bible software I might have dropped using the languages myself 1. What I don’t like the sometimes-leveled charge that my bothering to use the languages is “arrogant” because there are translations out there and those people are the real experts.

That charge tells me a whole lot about a person’s insecurities than it does about my supposed “arrogance” for thinking I could step into the role of a Bible translator.

Here’s why I continue.

First, translating my sermon passages is a spiritual discipline for me. I practice it as part of my personal devotion and, while I’m not overcome with guilt on the few occasions where translating is impractical, it’s a core part of my spiritual journey.

Second, I do pick up nuances in these passages that you can’t get from reading a translation, or even many translations. Idioms and other language features often don’t translate their full meaning across the linguistic divide, but when I study them in the original languages I can mentally fill in a more-full meaning.

Third, it helps me when I read commentaries. Because I’ve bothered to translate the text I can better follow arguments made in the the commentary, and because I can still use the languages I can even do my own searches on claims made in them – this helps me both see why people often have divided opinions and develop my own.

Fourth, there are the rare times when I see something in the text which contradict what’s in the translations, and I find out that it’s not just me mis-translating the passage 2. Case in point is in Mark 11:3 when Jesus tells his disciples to tell anyone who questions their acquisition of an animal 3, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” Now, as Christians, we’ve got no problem applying “Lord” to Jesus, but in the Gospel of Mark this would literally be the only time when κυριος, in that case and with a definite article would be used in reference to Jesus. This specific use of the word would typically be used to reference THE LORD – as in, the God of Israel. Jesus’ statement, then, may better be understood that the donkey was being taken for divine purposes. I rarely make a big deal of critiquing a translation until I’ve done some more research, because they often don’t have a huge impact on the passage or the sermon, but it’s fun for me. In this case it’s a big deal, and it’s nice to see that some commentaries agree with the insight I had 4.

So, there you have it. Four reasons why I continue to bother with Greek and Hebrew 5.

  1. Even with using the software my Hebrew vocabulary, in particular, is shot]. 
  2. It’s rare, but it happens. 
  3. Mark leaves the species ambiguous, an insight you really only get from the Greek. 
  4. NIGTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 432. 
  5. One of these days I’ll pick up Aramaic.