(above: Havasu Falls, Arizona) One of God’s pavilions, sacred to the Indians. You understand why that is when you visit. Four walls does not necessarily a church make.

 

Translations

If you are anything like me sometimes you are reading the Bible and come across verses that just don’t make sense. No matter how many times you read them they seem like an impenetrable mystery. So why is it that the Bible can be so clear in some cases and not in others, even within the same book.

I have learned that when I come across those passages there is something that I am missing, some social understanding, or history, or cultural perspective that is key to understanding the passage. Many times the key to understanding a passage is to read it in the original language. But if you are not feeling up to learning Greek and Hebrew I would suggest using one or more different translations of the Bible.

To give an example recently I was having a hard time understanding John 2:23-25. The King James Version reads like this:

23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. 24 But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, 25 And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.

The more I thought about this the more it didn’t make sense. So I tried the New International Version (NIV).

23 Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. 24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. 25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.

That was a little better but still not very clear. Next I tried the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

23 When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.

It was slightly different but just similar enough that it didn’t clarify it. So I tried the New Living Translation (NLT).

23 Because of the miraculous signs Jesus did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many began to trust in him. 24 But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew human nature. 25 No one needed to tell him what mankind is really like.

This version really cleared it up and helped me understand this passage. With these different translations I was able to check the original Greek and get a sense of some of the key words to gain a better understanding of what John was talking about.

The point is that it’s useful to have a few different translations of the Bible on the shelf. History books are useful in providing context as are contextual narratives such as Josephus.

 

The Progressive Search for Truth

 

 

 

Do you Appreciate Beatles Music?

 

20 COMMENTS

  1. +1 on your opening.

    When I was a young lad in the mid-60’s, during the summer we would load up our Willeys jeep pickup with a weeks worth of camping stuff and our tent, and drive up into the High Sierra from our ranch in the California Gold Rush country. We would drive in to the edge of a wilderness area and set up our base camp. We would then venture out from there on day trips by horseback. I have never felt more spiritual than when I was above the tree line.

  2. “…check the original Greek.” Incredible. MAJOR h/t.

    Years ago I began mainly using the ESV, if I had a tough time with a passage or section, due to exactly what you point out, context, I flipped over to other versions, including The Message, a great paraphrase that for most of us doesn’t require heavy scholarship for revealing some level of understanding. John 2:23-25 is a great passage for today’s world. Divine leading? Surely. For me, Jesus knew the fair-weather fickleness of those who saw his works then believed, and knew in their hearts they’d give him up when pressed, the proverbial thin faith without a solid foundation. That describes far too many this past year. Extrapolation is believing without “seeing”. The Havasu Falls area by example shows God’s hand easily for those who do see…and the Natives “saw”.

    The mountain climber meme, I liken it to a “believer” putting their hand in a flame while praying that God spares them from getting burnt. Don’t test God is one aspect, being stupid is another a d He likely just shakes his head.

    Excellent Sermonette, will afford pondering throughout the day.

  3. Knew a guy who was REALLY into studying the Bible. He said that the times he couldn’t understand a verse, after a period of time would go by something would happen and he’d realize ‘THAT was what it meant’.
    A combination of study, and experience.

  4. Another solid sermonette. Always found that strong feeling of God nearby when I’m camping in Central Oregon and the evening fire dies out and the stars seem close enough to touch. As for the Beatles I knew a guy who was a huge fan and though I found the music to be good I didn’t see it as the greatest ever which he did. Looking at the map of second largest religions does Europe have it in them to save themselves? Which I guess leads to, do we?

  5. Years ago, I was reading Moby Dick.
    It begins with “Call me Ishmael”.
    I didn’t know what that meant.
    Pre-Google, I read something that said that it was a biblical reference.
    It explained the character in three words.
    So I read the Bible to be literate.
    Then I read stuff in the Bible that I didn’t understand.
    So I got a commentary. What an eye-opener and faith builder.
    I was amazed that those obscure prophecies had a literal fulfilment.
    Jamieson, Fausset & Brown is a good free online resource.
    https://www.blueletterbible.org/commentaries/jfb/

    Paul said “Study to show yourself approved.”

  6. Translation ‘bias’ is a thing.

    When discussing things with my wife, who was Church of Christ and then Reformed Judaism, I’ve often found interesting as to how her worlds mesh with my world of semi-old-school Roman Catholic.

    A potential translation of Genesis from the Torah is “God repopulated the Earth…”

    And King James Version? Oh, compare to a standard Catholic bible, there are some very noticeable variations. And then the people who varied off of KGV?

    Some of the ‘new’ stuff from direct translations of the various Dead Sea scrolls show even Catholics have fiddle-farted with the Word.

    Men are fallible at best. Put an agenda into the equation and the fallibility increases exponentially.

    Read what version you want to. The Truth will sing out through the pages if you let it.

    And, funny thing, one of the things that pissed the Church of England about the Puritans is they were questioning what was written in the Christian bibles of their times. They did things like consult with rabbis and imams to find out what the other versions of the Olde Testamente said. Whoda thunk that questioning authority would get one into trouble?

    • “Men are fallible at best. Put an agenda into the equation and the fallibility increases exponentially.”

      Good point. I grew up with the king James Version and was not aware of any others.
      Sectarian interests determined what was incorporated in the Bible. Alternate views promoted by groups with less political power were excluded, and those proponents were branded as heretics.
      The study of the development of religion is fascinating. In particular, the theocrasia which was instrumental in the widespread acceptance of Christianity.

      • I grew up reading what ever version my parents had, which would have been a Roman Catholic “approved” version. And boy, did I ever get in trouble questioning The Good Nuns (Mom’s term) over things in the Bible, and things in our little blue Catechism book. Certain things just “didn’t make sense”, but when questioned, I’d get brushed aside with an eye-roll and an “Oh, Jimmy…..”, with no explanation, and others got me “sent down the hall”, so I could get “straightened out”.

        Kind of had the effect of turning me off on organized religion for many years…..

    • 40 or so years ago, I heard a guy speak who was a biblical scholar and could read the originals in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. His take on this topic was as follows:
      1) the current knowledge about the archaic biblical languages is far superior to that of circa 400 years ago when King James commissioned the translation of the Old and New Testaments.
      2) the common English language circa 400 years ago was a far richer language with greater nuance and range of meaning than our current version of English.

      In maths terminology, it’s a problem of mapping sets with different populations (vocabulary and grammar). For a salient example, view John Banyan’s comedic version of the Three Little Pigs rendered in Shakespearian vocabulary. It’s instructive and hilarious.

  7. My church seems to be on the porch.
    And a lot of the sermonizing goes two ways between me and the dogs.
    Happenstancually, the offering involves tennis-balls… some tossed, some drooly.

  8. I experienced the same with Lukas 14:16 The various translations gave a different meaning. So I asked the teacher I use to learn Koranic and Classical Arabic since he knows old greek.

    What I learned was that it is important to read the sources and the oroginaø text and understand the context. That will enlighten you and give a better understanding.

    Many translations deviate from the original text due to the interpretation and the narrative the translater wants to present.

  9. My grandfather who had little formal education , said not to worry too much about what’s in the Bible that you don’t understand. There is plenty there that is easy to understand , and can occupy you for a lifetime. He was a smart man.

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