From the Preacher’s Pen…
One of the greatest failures of many so-called Christians is their failure to seriously read and study God’s word. A number of preachers ask how many have read their Bibles daily at the beginning of their sermons. Perhaps an even more pointed question would involve how many actually study and understand God’s word.
Bible Study: The Text Matters!
Understanding what you read, just like the man from Ethiopia in Acts 8:26-39, is VITAL to our salvation. And an important place to begin your reading is found in the front of most Bibles!
Since we read a translation made by fallible humans we are responsible to God for knowing the limits of their work. Don’t bother arguing with that since God never, ever promised that the denominational translators of any century and of any translation into any language would be inspired by God. If they were actually inspired by God they would have forsaken the erroneous teachings of their denomination!
All this leads us to a serious error intentionally promoted by the King James translators and perpetuated by most English translators since. The translators did NOT translate a word used by God in the same way every time God says it. What they did do is to make the Bible more interesting (their concept) to read by varying the words in the original inspired text, or by adding words or thoughts to better explain the original meaning. That goal, that attitude (actually stated in the original preface of the KJV translators to the reader) can seriously obstruct and obscure what God is saying and makes at least part of the translation a commentary rather than an accurate copy of the text.
Difficulties in Translating Word for Word
Now, to be fair, it must be noted that ALL translations into ANY language have some difficulties in exactly translating every word and/or thought from the original texts. Three examples illustrate this difficulty and help us appreciate the difficulties involved in translating the Bible:
First, the word order is often different with different languages. Thus a statement that is very clear in the original requires some modiﬁcation (or even the addition of some words) to convey the same meaning in the translation. For example: John 1:1 in a word–for–word translation ends with the phrase and God was the Word. But the subject has the article and the predicate does not, thus the English meaning is the Word was God.
Also, notice a word-for-word translation of Acts 2:36 would say: Assuredly, therefore, let know all [the] house of Israel that both Lord him and Christ made God, this Jesus whom you cruciﬁed. The meaning is NOT that Christ made God but rather that God designated Jesus as THE one; both sovereign, ultimate or supreme ruler and savior, messiah, anointed one.
Second, sometimes a literal translation makes no sense to someone outside the original culture. For example, The philosophers in Athens asked about Paul, “What would this spermologos [literally ‘seed–picker’] say?” The meaning of their sarcastic term used in the query in modern English is better rendered as “babbler” or “gossiper” (Acts 17:18), and even then we may be missing the force of the insult.
Third, one cannot always translate the same word uniformly in each occurrence. For example, the Greek word splanchnon literally means “intestines, bowels, entrails.” Acts 1:18 is easily understood when it says the body of Judas fell and “his bowels gushed out.” But Philippians 1:8 talks of Paul longing for you “in the bowels of Christ.” Only when we understand that the Greeks used splanchnon for the seat of the emotions (the heart to English speaking peoples) can we really translate the meaning of the words into English.
The choices that translators use to move from one language to another can help or hinder our understanding of the inspired writer’s words. And all this reminds us of the importance of continued diligent study and digging into God’s word rather than just a quick and simplistic reading!
Can We Trust the Bible?
If the text as conveyed by God Himself, and our making a great effort to study and understand exactly what the Holy Spirit said is so important, then the real question becomes can we trust our Bibles? Let’s look at a few facts about the text itself.
People questioning the accuracy of the New Testament may quote a ﬁgure of some 200,000 errors in the text. This large number is obtained by counting all the variations in all of the manuscripts. Thus, if a given word is misspelled in 4,000 different manuscripts, it counts as 4,000 “errors.” In reality, it was only one slight error that was copied 4,000 times!
Such error counting is a ridiculous attempt to undermine our faith in the Word of God. Indeed, our large number of “errors” is in direct proportion to our large number of manuscripts and, in the end, increases (not decreases) our certainty of what the New Testament says. Even a brief examination of a work such as Metzger’s A Textual Commentary On The Greek New Testament shows that we have 100% certainty of every doctrine and major teaching and, what’s more, nearly that same degree of certainty of the minutest details of the entire text of God’s Word!
Accuracy? The total textual variations (does not include such things as Greek vs Roman spelling of names, etc. which are of no consequence) exist for only 40 lines out of about 20,000 lines (about 400 words). None affecting any doctrine or teaching not duplicated elsewhere.
The facts say that God has delivered His inspired word to us. It is there for us to learn from and obey. But, and this is the important lesson, we must study and work to understand and handle correctly what God has said. No simple, easy solution without diligent effort will substitute. The question for us is…
What do we do with it?
Do we read our Bibles to begin with? Do we go to our Bible to learn God’s will for us? Do we accept what God says and obey Him? Or do we learn just enough “proof texts” to get by? Do we abide in the word or are we just passing through?
If we DO diligently read our Bibles do we understand it? Apparently from the example of that man of Ethiopia some more serious effort for learning and study is necessary.
If that is true (and God says it is!) then how serious is our study? Could the Ethiopian have learned as much studying with, say, one of the Sadducees? If not, how do we ever imagine that some denominational false teacher is just as good as a New Testament believing and obeying Christian teacher?
If we are diligent, conscientious, hard-working students of God’s word like Paul challenged Timothy to be (2 Timothy 2:15), then we are right with God. Anything less means that we stand before God as embarrassed by our failure.
Reading and seriously studying your Bible, God’s inspired word, CANNOT be done by attending one or two Bible studies a week. It cannot be achieved by briefly remembering your favorite verse or letting your Bible fall open to read an occasional verse.
The question comes from God: Are you seriously in the Word, studying, learning and talking with the author (in prayer to God) every day? If not, your Heavenly Father is offended so don’t bother being offended at the question. Why not begin seriously reading and studying God’s word today?
— Lester P. Bagley