There is no such thing

I overheard a conversation at a coffee shop yesterday morning.  The one guy had clearly been indoctrinated by some KJV-touting pastor.  “Yeah, my pastor said there was somewhere in Romans or Revelation that said we already have the best translation.  I forget where it is, but it’s not one of these modern translations.”  (There is no such verse, of course.)

The other guy sitting with him was having to be really patient as his friend regurgitated the silliness that had been passed on to him.  I surely wish the first young man could have heard the quote below.

Translations can be considered a basic form of commentary.  Whether we realize it or not, the translators of scripture have to make interpretive decisions.  It is impossible to translate from one language to another without interpreting at a basic level.  There are no word-for-word translations.  If you know more than one language, you know that it is impossible to translate a long string of text word-for-word.  That fact shouldn’t shake our confidence in the translations of the Bible we have.

~ via software training video from Corporation
[scroll down to Video #8, “Parallel Passages”]

Not that I need to reiterate, but I the main points here are these:

  • There is no such thing as an entirely word-for-word Bible translation.
  • All translation involves interpretation and, therefore, “commentary” on the text.



18 thoughts on “There is no such thing

  1. lehunt 01/10/2016 / 1:00 pm

    Excellent point. I think this sort of thing would be more obvious to us, culturally, if we stressed the learning of foreign languages early on in our education.


  2. Brian Casey 01/10/2016 / 3:34 pm

    Thanks. Personally, I didn’t come to grips with this connection between languages and Bible translation until a decade or so ago, even though I had been in touch w/French since 8th grade and Greek for a couple of decades. I was slow. 🙂 Seems to me that the idea of precise, “verbal, plenary inspiration” should have been stricken after Babel, because the existence of various languages precludes that kind of precision in translation.


  3. Arthur 01/10/2016 / 10:46 pm

    At the same time some translations are much more reliable and helpful than others (e.g. ESV). Some translations are manipulative and theologically based (e.g. the Watchtower translation) and ignore basic linguistic consistency. I believe that my comments on Mark Ward’s thread are also helpful here: You mentioned that followers of Jesus should “develop their own skill in Bible reading” to help us avoid the “wolves”. I would like to emphasize two issues of “skill in Bible reading” that are sometimes overlooked in our society (in contrast to China or South Korea.) The first issue is our need to stop and pray to the Father to use the Holy Spirit to help us understand and apply the passage we are about to read. 2 Peter 1:19 urges us to pay attention to the prophetic word as to a lamp shining in a dark place. That means we need the word now to keep from stumbling around in the dark. Peter then explains that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation, because no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. If we want to keep text in context (and avoid “cons”) no one can help us like the Holy Spirit Who produced the text and context in the first place. 1 John 2:26-27 says, I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive [trick] you. “But the anointing that you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you” [to avoid the cons]. “But as His anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in Him.” Abiding in Him means talking to Him and asking for His help. 1 John 4:1-6 gives us more guidance about recognizing “the Spirit of God” speaking to us. The second issue about “skill in Bible reading” is respect for the Bible itself. The Bible is not just another book. It is not our pastor’s book. God’s precious Word to us in not a career/means of making money (you can’t serve God and money) or an ego-booster (I know something you don’t know). God’s Word is about me and God’s expectations of me and whether I’ll receive a “well done” because I “received” that Word. 2 Tim.3:16-17 says, “Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” That means the Scripture tells me what is expected of me, warns me if I get off the path, helps me to get back on the path, and helps me stay on the path so that I will be ready for whatever comes next in my life. The word of God helps me to understand the “thoughts and intentions” of my own heart (Heb.4:12). Memorizing Psalm 119 can be a good place to start in respecting the Bible. Respecting the power of the Bible is necessary for me to avoid a wasted life. My intellect and logic are necessary but not sufficient to keep me from taking the text out of context.


    • Brian Casey 01/11/2016 / 11:55 am

      Thanks for your comments. Comments on Mark Ward’s post were many, and it appears you have attributed to me something someone else said. I appreciate the reminder that some versions are better than others — definitely, yes! — but even the better English ones can give rise to all sorts of stupidity in discussions if people build their cases based on one word in, say, the NIV. Also, your emphasis on praying to understand is good.

      Although there is obviously a lot of continuity and internal relationship, I prefer to think of the Bible as a collection of books, not a single book. 2Peter’s unusual mention of prophecy, then, may or may not have relationship to what I understand from Isaiah, and neither of them may speak directly to the written scriptures. “Word” in Hebrews may have little to do with “scripture” of 2Timothy.

      Loved the pithy remark about keeping text in context and avoiding “cons”!


    • Arthur Gregory 01/14/2016 / 1:01 am

      I am a little confused and disoriented by your idea that “the Bible as a collection of books, not a single book” which reinterprets what a translation is making a commentary on. (Please forgive my dangling preposition.) The Church has believed for about 2000 years that the Holy Spirit was the author of all 66 sections or “books” of the Bible and that the Bible as a whole is God’s “Word” or “message” or “communication” about what He wants us to know and how He wants us to act. The Church has rejected (although sometimes allowing for the helpfulness of) other ancient writings that sometimes purported or pretended to be messages from God. Internally, these 66 sections often claimed to be direct messages from God. Jeremiah 29 is one good example where Jeremiah claims (16 times) to be writing to communicate YHWH’s message (settle down and wait for YHWH to fulfill future promises 70 years from the time of writing) and that Shemaiah, Ahab, Zedekiah, and other false prophets were not speaking by the power of the Holy Spirit (in YHWH’s name) when they predicted a shorter waiting period. The Church rejected the Didache as not being inspired by the Holy Spirit even though they said it was helpful and the Holy Spirit could work through its teachings without including it in the cannon. Please clarify for me what you believe was the role of the Holy Spirit in composing the 66 sections of the Bible. (Certainly a translator must be aware of how vocabulary was used at different periods of history, but that doesn’t make each section a “stand-alone” composition.)

      On a very separate (and less important) issue, a translator must also pay attention to textual variations in making the “translation/commentary” in a new language. Many of the competing texts in the New Testament are the result of Latin changes during the Middle Ages. Some Latin changes were used to “correct” the original Greek texts (e.g. 1 John 5:7 and Acts 14:34). [The Clementine Latin Vulgate(1589), which was the basis of the KJV (through Erasmus) and the Douay-Rheims translations, has substantial differences from what we know of Jerome’s Latin translation in 382 and the 6000 (according to Logos) earlier Greek documents.]
      A third issue is that “word-for-word” translations often ignore the lack of equivalency of vocabulary in any two languages. In some Viet Namese mountain tribes, there is no word for “Lamb” because these people have never seen any sheep (which makes it difficult to translate “the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world”). In some Eskimo tribes, there are over 30 competing words for “snow”. This problem also exists in Greek-English or Hebrew-English translations. I have made a list of over 300 English words that have multiple Greek words (with different meanings) from which they are translated (or vice versa; e.g. life, crown, door, stone, mind, word, etc.) Of course, this problem could be solved by choosing more specific terms (such as “spoken-word” for rhema or “message” for logos ) but few “word-for-word” translators go to that trouble.
      I would argue (if I had 30 pages) that from my perspective, “Word of God”, “Scripture”, Prophecy (in the sense of the written Word of God in the OT), and Law are often used interchangeably in the New Testament and the nuances of their use only emphasize the big picture. That’s just me.
      Finally, what is a Jesus-follower to do, if she doesn’t know Greek and Hebrew but wants to be sure that of receiving the right message? I already suggested praying to receive guidance and starting with respect for God’s desire to communicate from His side. I might add to that comparing different translations, reading commentaries, and most importantly, “comparing Scripture with Scripture”. My recommendation for English-readers in 2016, is starting with the ESV translation.
      Brian, my critical question to you is, what is the role of the Holy Spirit in all this?


    • Brian Casey 01/14/2016 / 8:33 am

      You led with “confused and disoriented,” and I’m sorry if you feel those things on one hand, but I do get that. I am still there in some areas and probably always will be. I think a certain amount of disorientation is necessary in phases of our life. The scenario you describe with regard to translations and “canon” is a commonly held view, yet the real scenario is much more complex than a simple list of 66 books. Here ( is a pretty fair starter page. There are *multiple *canons, for instance; I only recently began to come to grips with the fact that the Septuagint’s “canon” (if indeed those translators thought in terms of canon in the same way most Christians do) included the “apocrypha,” for instance. Does it shake my faith that Jews living in the time of Jesus respected the book of Enoch or others? No, but it does give my faith more information.

      The most fundamental realization for me continues to be that each “book” is a textual document in and of itself. Once that reality is accepted, it’s appropriate then to begin to study intertextual connections between books. There are obvious, strong connections — e.g., between Matthew and Isaiah, Jesus and Psalms, Revelation and Daniel (which has some shaky ground to stand on canonically, by the way). But we have far more interpretation problems that stem from meshing disconnected texts together than we do from keeping them distinct, so I prefer to emphasize that we need to think of each “Bible book” on its own first. Each author was, I believe, guided in some sense by God, but rarely if ever would those authors have understood that they were producing writings that would later be thought of as “Bible” or even as “scripture” by faith communities. It’s more about the inspiration of people and groups of people by God, although I would also certainly say that scripture was God-intended.

      The “theopneustos” or “God-breathing” of scripture in 2Tim 3:16 is a unique idea, coined by Paul, and must be taken as highly metaphoric, it seems to me. In other words, God is not literally “breathing scripture” here — a metaphysical aberration that involves a breathed gas of a Spirit-being becoming ink on parchment? I could accept that by faith, but I don’t need to. 🙂 Since this is not a repeated idea, in order to interpret it, I want to pay rapt attention to its book-level context (2Timothy only, and then perhaps giving a little attention to 1Timothy and Titus than to other Pauline connections, etc.). I haven’t studied 2Timothy exegetically, but I currently understand this idea as God’s having somehow “breathed the essence of Himself” into the scriptures that generally became the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. (I doubt Paul had the sense of having produced some writings that we would call “scripture” in the NT.)

      In saying all this, I am in no way attempting to remove God from scripture. Far from it. I’m saying, rather, that God cares very deeply about the texts, and He worked through people to produce them so the faith communities would have those texts. I’m not comfortable with raising “Church Tradition” (with a capital “C” and “T”!) to the level that a lot of high-church believers (e.g., Lutherans, Roman Catholics) do, but I do think that there is a human component in the production of scripture. In saying humans were involved, I am not devaluing the scriptures in the slightest. I have spent much time in the scriptures, studying their construction and of of their original languages, teaching them, and showing by my commitments and emphases that I respect them greatly. I simply don’t want to claim for them something that they don’t claim for themselves. One of the things people have claimed — that the scriptures themselves do not claim — is that the constitution of the Bible as a library of books is itself a concern. In other words, nowhere do we read in OT prophecy, in OT or NT history, or hear in the mouth of Jesus or the apostles, that The Bible is coming, and it will contain X number of books, and then it will be a complete thing.

      A “translation” of a text block (or passage or entire document) *interprets *and in a sense *comments on* that specific text. I used the word “translation” more narrowly than you read it, I perhaps. My statement was this:

      All translation involves interpretation and, therefore, “commentary” on the text.

      ​I meant “all translating of anything involves interpreting and, resultantly, commenting​ on, any text of whatever length.” Maybe that makes it more clear? I appreciated this statement of yours and couldn’t have said it better: “A third issue is that ​’​word-for-word​’​ translations often ignore the lack of equivalency of vocabulary in any two languages.​”​ That was really the whole point of my post on Sunday. Your list of 300 words is an admirable collection! I imagine many more exist. One of my recent purchase was a book about NT idioms. The problems of translating are legendary, but in the end, I believe any person of faith gets what s/he needs by reading any reasonable translation. Personally, I’m not content with the surface, so I keep digging. Sounds like you have a lot of healthy discontent, too!

      You asserted the interchangeability of “Word of God” and “prophecy,” “scripture,” and the like. This is a crucial area for consideration — life-changing, even — and I find far more significance in the nuancing than you’ve indicated that you find. I don’t want to downplay the differentiation at all, thinking that I had missed so much for so many years because I wasn’t even starting to get the differences. “Word of God” less frequently refers directly to written things, for instance, but there would be a conceptual connection between a word of God spoken through a prophet and things later written *about *that word. Gary Collier, in the book captioned below, says this: “. . . the Word of God was not about format (whether speech, act, or text) but substance.” It seems to me that Christians (and perhaps others) mush words like “scripture” and “Bible” and “word” together in our hindsight, sometimes missing the unique import of an individual text in which, e.g., the term “word of God” is used.

      On these topics, I would recommend this book very highly: Scripture, Canon, and Inspiration by Dr. Gary D. Collier. Here are two links: Amazon. CoffeeWithPaul site. If the first shows a price higher than $30, then start at the second one instead.


  4. Marshall 01/12/2016 / 6:48 pm

    There are word-for-word English Bible translations, known as concordant or “mechanical” translation. Most popular English translation is adverse to word-for-word, either via drawing from many possible English words and/or by incorporating paraphrase techniques, Traditional translation tends to mellow or soften the text, reducing emphasis, compressing or dropping details while often substituting modern (i.e., abstract) word-ideas for which there be no source language equivalents.


    • Brian Casey 01/13/2016 / 6:38 am

      I’d be interested in knowing the names of one or more of those “mechanical” translations. I wonder if what you’re describing is more of an interlinear or reverse-interlinear, which might be described as “mechanical.” I grew up on the NASB and frequently used to describe it as a “*more-*word-for-word” translation, as compared to others I knew. Then I learned more of life, met a few folks who had never seen a white man before, and, more lately, did some serious translating of my own. I recalled some of my high school French, did graduate research, and became acquainted with others far more educated in biblical languages. I simply can’t conceive, at this point, of word-for-word translation, but please do share a title or two if you can. I agree with you that most English translation tends to render the original less potent, dropping important emphatic details and that certain elements have no equivalents from language to language.


    • Marshall 01/14/2016 / 2:01 pm

      * Jeff Benner’s website:
      (also available for E-Sword)

      * A.E. Knock’s Concordant method:
      (note: Knock doesn’t always strictly follow his own word-for-word dictionary)

      additionally with mechanical form of translation, there is less a temptation to omit or add words which are not already apportioned within each cross-language word.

      mechanical translation can also be employed to update grammar within the same language branch (i.e., KJV “thou” and terms which are no longer commonly recognized for English today.)


    • Brian Casey 01/15/2016 / 9:03 am

      Marshall, thank you for these URLs. While the sites and titles where wholly unfamiliar to me, the methods are not. The “Mechanical Translation” demo video seems to present those translations as somehow more authoritative or accurate, yet lexical sources always allow for ranges of meaning. The translated passages that flashed in front of my eyes might very well be examples of good possible renderings, but not the definitive renderings in any case, and very likely no more “accurate.” The MT (interesting that it has the same abbrev. as Masoretic Text!) is a curiosity and doubtless has proven to be a boon to the faith of its author and some others who have digged into the cracks between the words in Hebrew texts.

      The Concordant Version seems good for its time, and inasmuch as it is a dynamic method that allows for updates, as you suggest, is good. However, its format is so odd that it inhibits understanding of the contextual flow of a passage.

      All in all, on first glance, both of these methods/products strike me as 1) useful, much along the lines of Young’s Literal or the Amplified or the much-less-known Authentic NT by Hugh Schonfield, but 2) not groundbreaking, and a trifle presumptuous. Any translation that purports, on the whole, to be word-for-word or “accurate” seems presumptuous to me.

      The whole, off-base notion of “word-for-word” translations’ being possible is the culprit here. Both of these examples seem to assume it is possible, while I believe it is impossible.


    • Marshall 01/15/2016 / 12:48 pm

      Brian, thank you for your reply and assessment of these.
      about a year ago, I was pressed to abandon the idea of a static translation as an ideal; though not to consider such a thing to be “impossible”… Rather, how that static translation defies language norms, in that language itself maintains a dynamic. the sub-linear format has been helpful toward more dynamic or “on-demand” translation into any immediate setting. In this way, any needful portion of Scripture text can be offered into any setting — even for where no “version” translation exists for a language, or for where the hearer may have acquired dialect offsets.

      though a translation format seem “odd”, even this can prove of lesser consequence when the “odd” translation becomes effective to uproot division or confusion among brothers. [example: Ephesians 1 | καταβολη.] Even a tough-to-chew morsel can set a malnourished man to praise!

      you write: “…lexical sources always allow for ranges of meaning.”, while this factor continues to be frightfully abused within all of the most popular English Bible translations. With so many choices, it is simply too easy to make our new Bible say whatever we think. Little might discredit the Bible more than as when someone upturns a particular theology or marketing-plan behind translation work.


    • Brian Casey 01/16/2016 / 9:57 am

      Marshall, I like the idea of abandoning “static translation,” because, after all, God is a living God. I don’t see that “static” is really the culprit in translation processes or products. There are worse enemies, and one of them, I think, is the idea of “verbal, plenary inspiration,” as though the verbalizations of one language could ever be umbrella wordings for all people, in all languages, in all times. God is above language, yet language must be used to communicate in our current sphere, so I am left with the conclusion that God’s thoughts and concepts are what’s needed in translation, not specific wordings.

      In saying that, I must clarify that getting back to the original is of great importance to me. English translations are better, or worse, depending. (I don’t have experience with multiple Spanish or French or Russian translations.) If I depend on a mediocre one without light and opportunity to go deeper, I will still be OK. If I depend on one of the best English ones, the same applies. If I learn some intricacies of Hebrew or Koine Greek and can dig into the nitty gritty, I will gain immeasurably. If I get insight into the rhetorical structure of, say Ephesians or Mark, I may gain even more than I gained from learning Greek vocabulary and different types of genitives and middle voices. All the tools we have, used in the best ways we can, toward understanding God’s messages!

      I have little grasp of your concern with the lexical “range of meaning” comment. It’s a given that people and translations have gone afield here and there. (Most denominations are woefully off-base, I’d say. I completely agree, as well, that marketing concerns have trumped biblical exegesis and sound theology at many turns.) Yet it is just as serious a hermeneutical error to force a single meaning of a word on a text because it’s the first one in BDAG, or because that meaning appears somewhere in Young’s or Vine’s. Coming to understand the range of possibilities for a given use of a given word is key in making an informed translation decision. This investigation should include not only lexical source work, but also observing the use of that word a) in that selfsame document and then b) by a single author in his other documents. Ex.: Paul’s “patient endurance” may or may not have the same import as James’s.


    • Marshall 01/16/2016 / 3:57 pm

      (curiously, there is a substantial Greek & Hebrew legacy with English.) Yet have seldom found word-for-word to be problematic, Brian, IF we are allowing for English hyphenation. εις to example, often translated “into”, while “onto” or “on to” would be closer, so then, “on-to”. Hermeneutics tend to strangle the power/energy from a text, often tugging of thought to the right or to the left, and as I have been increasingly pressed to permit Christ as the only true & worthy hermeneutic.

      “verbal, plenary inspiration” suggests 100% effective symbols (language) UNLESS we are fully perceiving the universal necessity for the Holy Spirit to impart meaning to the symbols or phonetic in the moment, and in the memory, of the hearer. How the symbols interact with the Spirit appears significant, though surely not decisive.”so I am left with the conclusion that God’s thoughts and concepts are what’s needed in translation, not specific wordings.” …and for realization that the weave of this fabric is accomplished again and again, place to place, to His joy/grace.


    • Brian Casey 01/16/2016 / 4:31 pm

      Marshall, it has sometimes been difficult for me to follow your line of thinking. I wonder if entire lines of typing are getting cut out. Maybe I’m missing something, but I can’t see how English hyphenation has anything, substantively speaking, to do with what I thought we were talking about. As I presume you are aware, εις can mean something like any of these English words: in, into, toward, onto, until, up to, and more. In order to determine its most likely meaning, I must study the immediate, literary context. Even with this in mind, students and scholars with better minds than either of us have come to different conclusions.

      In any event, a Greek preposition isn’t likely to shed much light on the overall concern I had been attempting to highlight, namely, the translation of a block of text — a phrase, sentence, paragraph, or the like. It is often possible to approximate the meaning of one word by using another. A French chien, as I recall, is a dog, and that will convey pretty much the same meaning as the English word dog . . . although the French might or might not include “wolf” or “coyote” in their “chien” classification. More to the point here, they may or may not have idioms like being dog-tired, or a dog’s life or meaner than a junkyard dog or doggin’ it (not to mention the crass “she’s a dog”). If a French translator were to encounter one of those in my writing, s/he might have to give serious thought to a NON-word-for-word translation, agreed? What I was hoping to point up by sharing the original information was the fact that word-for-word translation is not a worthwhile goal for blocks of text.

      I was concerned that we may have a substantial disconnect in our assumptions about the operation of God’s Spirit in lives today, viz. reading and studying ancient texts. You referred to the “universal necessity for the Holy Spirit to impart meaning . . . in the moment.” If you are referring to a kind of dictation theory of verbal inspiration, i.e., God acting in the mind of the author or amanuensis, I would respectfully challenge that as any sort of necessary inference, although I allow that it could have occurred. If you believe God is directly, specifically acting on my brain each time I read something like εις τόν οἰκον, causing me to think “into the house” instead of “toward the building,” then we are light years apart in our assumptions — although not in our faith in God!


    • Marshall 01/17/2016 / 7:38 am

      Brian, you are writing, “I can’t see how English hyphenation has anything, substantively speaking, to do with what I thought we were talking about.”

      English hyphenation would be a ready tool to assist word-for-word translation, as it has long been a larger means for new compound words to be gracefully entering our primary language over time. such as: before there was the English word “something”, there was the hyphenated “some-thing”.

      you are writing further, “As I presume you are aware, εις can mean something like any of these English words: in, into, toward, onto, until, up to, and more. In order to determine its most likely meaning, I must study the immediate, literary context. Even with this in mind, students and scholars with better minds than either of us have come to different conclusions.”

      Yes, this is to the heart of what has become a primary impetus upon word-for-word translation. The traditional approach to Bible translation requires academics (a scholar) to build a foundation (i.e., rules) for translation, a sub-lexicon, etc. The disability thereby, of men having to select minds or “better minds” for a translation. Would the Apostles have employed scholarly translation of their pens or the writings of the Prophets or Psalms? Likely not so.
      [I Corinthians 1:20; 2:5-8; 3:18-21…]

      additionally, as to the example upon “εις”, koine Greek already maintains a word/preposition for “in” (εν), “toward” (προς), “until” (αχρι),… Why assume the source pens to be playing some kind of ‘solve by finding the correct literary context’ word game with us? With traditional cross-linking of so many different words (not only the prepositions), a large gateway has remained opened for the use of “literary context”, a la, ‘what I/we think the context is saying.’ The fruit of such a ‘Scrabble Lexicon’ approach has too often been to propping-up division among brethren alongside a Bible publishing industry of competing sectarian schools.

      Brian, you have also written, “What I was hoping to point up by sharing the original information was the fact that word-for-word translation is not a worthwhile goal for blocks of text.”

      Yes, word-for-word is most helpful & effective upon the little potholes and blurs that have become woven by men into blocks of traditionally-translated text. consequently, when I receive a request to advise for a new translation, I respond, “no.” For today, the most effective application of word-for-word and/or sub-linear dynamic English translation is toward identifying & resolving trouble spots.

      to clarify: “universal necessity for the Holy Spirit to impart meaning . . . in the moment”, I’m referring to confirmation along-with the “one mind, one accord” in/by Christ of which we welcome. “Meaning” itself being very different than of literal words. Not about “dictation” in as far as I’m aware today.


    • Brian Casey 01/17/2016 / 4:36 pm

      I am picking up that English must not be your first language, and that your audiences and experiences may be quite different from my own (background sometimes helps to understand, as with ancient texts!). I do know that we are both attempting to serve the same Lord.

      I do use new hyphenations when they seem to communicate well, and one recent example is *theodidaktoi *in 1Thessalonians. This is a unique word, not found yet in any other literature, biblical or otherwise. It might be rendered “taught of God” or “instructed by God,” but the potency of this word (that Paul probably coined) is enhanced, in my opinion, with hyphenation: “God-taught ones.” If that’s the kind of thing you are referring to — using English hyphens to create new combinations in order to bring out emphatic words and sections of the original, I can definitely see more what you mean by the place of hyphenation, but those types of things appear to be etymological points of interest more than major considerations, seen in perspective of the overall picture of translation.

      I don’t know exactly how the apostles or other key figures conceived of the scriptures– that would be mind-reading — but I can understand some based on how they used other scripture. I do believe that scholarship was involved in the production of scripture — notably, the Septuagint, which was considered, rightly or wrongly, to have been inspired in and of itself. That scholarship was not the same what we think of today, but I think you might be painting with one broad brush all scholarship, where there are many hues. It is not all of the theologically liberal type, for instance. In this discussion, I assume “scholarship” to refer to good methods, archaeology, linguistics, research into rhetoric and and form analysis. All those things, and more, have aided my own understanding and interpretation.

      I can neither comprehend nor support a lack of regard for the place of scholarship today as we all attempt to understand and translate the scriptures. Your experiences may tell you that the majority of people using (what you think of as) scholarship have arrived at negative places. My experiences tell me that it is not typically the tools that are the problem; it’s the use of them. Even highly questionable, outdated tools such as Strong’s and Vine’s and Young’s can be used well, if their limitations are understood. If you are suggesting that someone should avoid judging among possible meanings (e.g., “born from above” instead of “born again” in John 3, where both are possible translations, but the former appears more contextually appropriate) in favor of some other method. Any other method seems wispy or even inconceivable.

      Your denigrating phrase “Scrabble lexicon” approach downplays the reality of translation. Words simply do not have pinpointable meanings; rather, a range of meaning is the reality, so we will do well to acknowledge that rather than to ignore it.

      Thank you for your attempt to clarify the last point. OK, I see that you’re not suggesting a verbal dictation by the Holy Spirit. I’m afraid I just can’t understand the syntax of what you ARE talking about. Are you possibly trying to use hyphenation and a kind of amplified translation to make a point? I’m sorry. I just don’t understand what you’re saying there.


  5. Art Gregory 01/15/2016 / 12:30 am

    I hope that none of my comments will be construed to mean that I don’t agree with your basic premise that all translating between two languages involves interpreting and, resultantly, commentary. I completely agree with that premise. However, even after your patient elaboration, I am still confused about your perspective on the role of the Holy Spirit in carrying or “moving along” humans to “speak out” or write down God’s Scriptures (without the initiative of their “will”), at least that part that can be defined as “prophecy” (e.g. the entire “Revelation of Jesus Christ”, the last of the 66 sections.) You said that God cares very deeply about the texts, and He worked through people to produce them so the faith communities would have those texts, but what “authority” do those texts have in our lives? After all, the Hindus claim that Lord Brahma cared very deeply about the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita, and worked through people to produce them so their faith community would benefit from those texts. How are the texts of the Bible any different from those texts or the Didache or the “Gospel of Thomas” or the texts of Josephus? How do I know which texts of the Bible apply to some other people, in another time, with circumstances very different from ours, and which texts I am obligated to obey?

    I would also appreciate your brief comments on why Jeremiah (in chapter 29) went to so much effort to emphasize that he was speaking “the words of YHWH” and the other words of prophecy in Babylon were lies.

    If you have time, I would also thank you for your comments on 2 Peter 3:16 where Peter declares that the “unstable” distort the “letters of Paul” in the same way that they distort “the rest of the Scriptures”. Does Peter believe that Paul’s letters are Scripture and what does he mean by “the rest of the Scriptures”? Thank you.


    • Brian Casey 01/16/2016 / 10:40 am

      Thanks for your persistence here, and I’m sorry to have muddied the water. (Not that my water is all that important to clear up — it’s all about God’s water, right?) 🙂 I prefer to speak less with the word-pair “Holy Spirit” than with other descriptions of God’s activeness. so, when I wrote, “Each author was, I believe, guided in some sense by God,” you might prefer to translate that this way: “Each author was, I believe, guided by the Holy Spirit as the Spirit willed.” Maybe that helps?

      If you could tell me why you thought I might not view the texts as authoritative in our lives, it would help me to know how to respond. I do believe they are, and I don’t know what it was that seemed to hint in another direction. I am something between curious and horrified if I have come across as not respecting the scriptures in this way. This may be a case of your not having enough context in my writing and thinking and living, i.e., I wasn’t careful enough in this particular blogpost to say what I meant, assuming falsely that every reader must be able to read the rest of my mind!

      Scanning Jeremiah 29 now … I’m not very familiar with this text, except for the oft-quoted 29:11, which of course is nearly always ripped unduly from its context. Again, if I knew the reason for your question, it might help me respond. The simple answer is that some messages are God’s, and Jeremiah was delivering God’s.

      The 2Peter reference is famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective!). First, you are probably aware that the canonicity of 2Peter was/is in question, as is its authenticity. It was not ascribed to Peter for a couple of centuries, and by that time, it seems to me, any real connections would have been fuzzy, leading me to suspect it is not likely authored by Peter. But, even assuming for the moment that this letter was Petrine in a real sense, it could be that Peter was beginning to think of some of Paul’s letters as scripture in the same sense as OT scripture.

      I don’t intend any of that to downplay the validity of the authentic NT documents. To suggest that perhaps 2Peter wasn’t original with Peter It only speaks to the developing conceptions around them. Put another way: the NT authors in the year 52 would likely have considered scripture (and the Kingdom of God, and eschatology, and a host of other things) differently from NT authors in 62 or 71. Another possibility is that the author of 2Peter wasn’t using the word “scripture” in a capital-C sense, and thus, wasn’t connecting it with OT scripture. To be frank, I simply don’t know what the author meant by “the rest of the scriptures.” I suppose that all we can assume is that he was referring to some body (whether literally collected or not) of writings. That body of writings might have, or might not have, included
      1) the gospels
      2) any 1st-century letters that had begun to be copied and to circulate
      3) the OT prophets
      4) the Torah
      5) 1 & 2 Maccabees, Enoch, etc.

      I doubt that scripture in 3:16 would have referred only to Paul’s known writings, but even that possibility exists — particularly if we understand “scriptures” simply as “writings” with a lower-case c. I performed a search for the lemma “scripture” in quasi-Petrine writings (Mark, 1/2 Peter, Jude). there are 6 results — three in Mark, one in 1Pet, and the two in 2Pet. In each of the other cases it seems likely that the referent is <strong>OT scriptures, so I doubt seriously that 2Pet 3:16 would have departed from that usage.

      Hope this has been helpful.


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