Oct 24, 2010
(from Stick World)
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Category: Language, Religion
Um…? Wow. Last time I heard someone say something like that was in an extreme KJV-only, Fundamentalist church.
Can I clarify. When I said “say something like that,” I’m referring to the post itself, not the pastor in the drawing.
I’m really quite intrigued to see this on this blog…
In general, it’s okay for a pastor to expand on a certain word or phrase in the original language to demonstrate nuances that may not be obvious to the English reader, but when the pastor crosses the line and implies that people’s Bibles cannot be trusted as accurate translations, he’s on VERY shaky ground. What’s more, it’s very likely that the pastor who does this is trying to read a preconceived meaning into the text, and should be very very cautious about checking his presuppositions at the door.
I’m with you 100% on being careful and wise about how to talk about it, but the fact is that if you’ve spent 30 hours considering the meaning of a few words in a text during the week, you’ve probably got a few nuances to add that the translators would have loved to have added had they not had to settle on one form of one word.
This seems to me to be pretty fundamental to a commitment to the exposition of God’s Word.
I fully understand what you’re saying (here and below), but I think the comic still works. As one who’s studied greek for bajillions of academic hours at the undergrad and grad level, I cringe when most pastors start talking about Greek. Too often, I think it’s either a (a) a power play to support a stance not actually supported by the Greek (e.g., “you would understand this controversial point also if you were smart like me and knew Greek”), or (b) linguistic nonsense employed to spice up the sermon (e.g., “in Greek there are 4 words for love that each mean something very distinct . . . . ” “).
Despite all that, I do think there’s a place for pointing out where the greek may leave open a few options and why you (and hopefully a few other scholars) prefer one option to another. In general though, one should have enough humility to question one’s motives when referring to the Greek or Hebrew, especially if the same point could be made with the English text. There’s definitely a danger of having people inappropriately devalue the study of their native language translations.
Exegetical Snake Oil. Works every time.
So, then, just stick to the allegorical approach this morning?
I don’t mind the occasional note about a Greek word or phrase now and then, provided it’s accurate and clarifies an important point in the passage, but even that can be over done. But once (in a GARBC church) the pastor was preaching from 1 Thess. 4, and when he came to the phrase “to meet the Lord in the air,” he said, “In the Greek, that word is “aer” and it means “air”. I don’t think anyone there was liberal enough or stupid enough to think it meant anything else. Embarrassingly undisguised grandstanding.
Thankfully God took us out of it but we attended a word faith “church” for three years. The “original Greek” card was often used to justify a complete mangling of Scripture. Along with “divine revelation” to get where no teacher/preacher/student of the Word had ever gone before. Rightly used an explanation of some original Greek word can bring a real richness but as Daniel said it can also just be used to grandstand.
HOWEVER….Every so often, a careful scholar-pastor is capable of seeing where the church’s preferred translation goes wrong. It doesn’t happen so often as to be a big problem, but sometimes the ESV just mangles passages to death, missing how a particular author uses a word, etc.
Good thing is, there’s always a translation somewhere that will agree with you. It’s best to refer to that translation rather than your own supposed mad language skills.
As long as you don’t do the search every possible translation/paraphrase and what have you to find the one that says what you want it to say like certain rather well known pastors are prone to do. ;-)
May I ask what translation you feel is best. In my church most ppl use ESV or NASV and they both seem to be much more true in my opinion but which would you say
Having read all that, the 90 scholars and 11 PhDs can still get it wrong. Not that it is likely that one pastor with a few years of Greeks is going to catch that, I know I wouldn’t, although there are places where I will prefer a different translations take on a particular passage from the one I usually use, but then I am resting on the other 90 scholars and 11 PhDs who did that translation and their choices.
The likely hood that a pastor would do better than the highly-trained academic is very slim IMO. A real pastor-scholar is very, very rate.
every pastor should be a scholar of God’s word. not a seminary graduate, but a scholar. if a man will not submit himself to the work of biblical scholarship, that man is a fool to claim to be a teacher of God’s word. i fear for him, and no one should sit under his teaching.
I’m going to have to kindly disagree with you. My pastor never went to school to be a preacher and He is literally one of the best preachers I know. I feel it is very close minded to say that they have to go to the links of being a scholar. We have many theologically sound ppl in our church one of my friends is in seminary in Dallas and no one has ever said he should not be allowed to preach. I agree. I feel that anyone can be called to preach and do so very well. Our preacher graduated from Harvard with I think honors and he is an extremely intelligent man and very good at preaching. He is an astounding man. Although, I do not want it to sound like I worship my preacher, the preacher is not what makes the church, it is the ppl so if he were to leave we would of course pick a very good preacher to take his place but the church should not stand on who the preacher is bc that’s idolatry. He’s an excellent preacher. I would have never guessed he hadn’t been to seminary until someone told me because he is better than most preachers who have been. He does know Greek and many of the men in our church know Greek as well. He does not flaunt it like some do. When he brings up the Greek it’s to clarify what the Greek means because it is lost in translation.
That’s why we have study helps. A translator may set out seven possible ways to translate something, all of which have merit, and have to narrow it down to “the” one. To expand on the single form he settled on is appropriate, provided it is backed by proper education and careful study.
This has me going “yeah… but”.
1) Sometimes the church’s translation is bad. My church used to have an old translation universally recognised as bad.
2) Languages come from cultures and there isn’t always a one-to-one correspondence, so translators (rightly) pick the closest fit.
3) Translations are sometimes aimed at particular audiences (eg. NIV at ‘internationals’ – its original purpose) and therefore deliberately simplify stuff. Normally the literal word is there in the footnotes though.
It’s annoying when it’s done every week but done sensitively, and like Jim and Tyler say.
Never do that- it’s the height of pastoral arrogance. I’m not there to present myself as clever or great, but to uplift Christ as our great Savior. People aren’t impressed by that stuff anyway.
It’s not about impressing the people. It’s about treating them like grown ups. If the text is ambiguous and I had to make some calls on the interpretation, I want to respect the people enough to tell them what calls I made and why. And that may require explaining the complexity behind a particular choice of translation.
Ultimately, it’s about treating God’s Word with the dignity it deserves. Pretending it was written in English is dangerous. Visit a KJV-only church if you doubt me.
Thank you!!!! lol you two took the words right outta my mouth
It is always the height of pastoral arrogance? There are often multiple word variants for a single word and the translators had to settle on one, sometimes a passage is a double-entente in the original, but not in the English…should we ignore that?
The Bible never means less than what is said in the plain English, but it could mean more…why is it “arrogant” to bring that out? Could it be arrogant? Sure, but so could calling every pastor who does this arrogant.
personally, i have found much richness in studying the original greek or hebrew. both languages have such poetry, so many nuances, etc. that english just doesn’t capture. i don’t think it’s arrogant to want to pass that richness on to people that haven’t yet studied the original language for themselves. perhaps that will encourage them in that direction.
I like it when preachers help demonstrate the deeper meaning in a word–like has been mentioned above, translators often have to sacrifice some of the nuance in Greek in order to render it readable in English. But people with a tiny bit of Greek knowledge (i.e. most non-translators/non-linguists) can’t expect to arrive at a “more right” translation than the scholars do.
I’ve been studying Koine for about six months now, and if anything, it has given me loads more understanding of the bogglingly difficult job translators have and the vast amounts of time and energy it takes to actually get ahold of the language.
I was fortunate enough to spend about ten years in a church with a “biblical scholar” as pastor. In fact, the old pastor had helped in translating for the NIV bible(http://www.theopedia.com/S._Lewis_Johnson).
And what if the exposition of the original word, expanding on or perhaps even contradicting that particular translation, is itself also drawn from eminent scholarship? Many lexicons, concordances, and biblical resources demonstrate where certain translations fail… and those publications are also produced by people of great learning. And we know there are definitely ‘translations’ proven to be inaccurate or biased, if not utterly incapable of rendering the original depth of the original words. We know that thanks to scholars who were willing to say ‘let’s look in a different direction instead of accept the status quo on this verse.’ Thank goodness for those people!
You have no idea how many times I heard that EXACT sentence while growing up.
Thanks for triggering my PTSD. :)
lol That was my exact response.
Stick World left out one thing…the congregant sleeping.
This reminds me of something one of my theology professors said to us: “Your Greek and Hebrew knowledge is like your homiletic underwear – it’s important that you wear it, but you don’t need to show it to everyone.”
That advice has stuck with me, and I remember it every time I’m in a sermon situation like the one in that comic…
I absolutely loved Steffi’s post! Abraham, did you have any clue that your little cartoon post would have caused such a hailstorm of comment? :-)
yes. just. yes.
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