For the last few bulletin articles we’ve looked at the importance of reading Christian books to help us understand the Bible. This week I want to look at how we need help because the Bible wasn’t given to us in our language.

God in his wisdom did not give us his word in English. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew (with some small portions in Aramaic) and the New Testament was written in Greek. And even if you speak a Hebrew or Greek language that is used in parts of the world today, the Bible is written in an ancient form of those languages. It is not in anyone’s native language.

Therefore everyone needs some help trying to understand what was originally written. Either we need to learn the original languages or read a translation written by someone else. Most of us choose to use a translation. But this is where you have to be careful as no translation is perfect.

All translators (not just those translating the Bible) have to make decisions about the meaning of the word or group of words in the original language and find a similar meaning in the translation language. But it is not always easy to do. For example, in some translations of 1 Peter 2:24 we read that Jesus bore our sins in his body on the ‘tree’ (NIV, ESV, KJV), but other translations have on the ‘cross’ (NAS, TNIV). Now the original Greek word (xulon) is definitely used in other writings to refer to trees (like the tree of life in Revelation 22:2), but in a number of writings it is also used to refer to what Jesus was crucified on; which was most definitely a ‘cross’. But there is a specific Greek word for ‘cross’ (stauros) that is used by the gospel writers to describe Jesus’ crucifixion. So it is interesting that Peter didn’t use it. Why? One possible reason is that Peter wanted to emphasise that Jesus was cursed: ‘anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse’ (Deuteronomy 21:23). Now if you were reading the NAS translation as your Bible, you might easily miss this point. But if you recognised the inadequacy of Bible translations to perfectly translate and so you read other books (and translations!) to help you understand the Bible, you are more likely to understand that Jesus didn’t just die a painful death, but an accursed death!

Do you read other books because you know your translated Bible is not perfect and you need help to understand the original?

Joel Radford.