From countless pulpits every week we hear an implicit message that has wormed its way into our minds: We lack the key to unlocking the secrets of Scripture because we don't know the original languages. Sure, we have translations of the Bible—a lot of them, in fact. But pastors tell us again and again that, unlike the term in the Bibles in our laps, the true meaning of any given term in the Old or New Testament is something quite different. It's a bit like pre-Reformation times, when illiterate believers had to depend on church authorities to tell them what the Bible said and meant.
A little overdrawn? Perhaps. But many Christians assume that they could glean a deeper and more profound meaning from Scripture if only they knew the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic.
As a working translator, I have studied translation for years. And though I would agree that knowing the original languages is key for any other text, when it comes to the Bible, I don't. In fact, I believe that translations of Scripture are not secondary fill-ins. Rather, they are integral to the ongoing and primary expression of God's message to us.
Words and Their Wiles
We all know that words are powerful. The words spoken to us in anger as children can haunt us, and the tender words of those who love us can provide remarkable comfort for years. But we may not realize how fickle words can be. They are fickle because language, at its root, represents a perception of reality—our perception, which isn't necessarily shared by anyone else.
Words reflect what we believe or make believe. There is no guarantee anyone will ever completely understand our words—and we know from experience how easily they are misunderstood. ...1