Hello! Welcome to a new week and a new post on Renaissance Woman.
One day last week, I perchanced to listen to a bit of a conversation on Bible translations. The two participants were talking about the dangers of reading translations done by just one person as opposed to other translations; ones that actually lived up to the word “translation” (as opposed to being called a “paraphrase”) because they were made by committees of scholars. One of the participants inferred bibles translated by a committee of scholars are more trustworthy than those translated by a single person but I don’t necessarily agree. I have found translators have an incredibly difficult time not translating the Bible according to what they think it ought to say rather than sticking to the meanings found in the original languages.
One such case in point is the NIV translation of the Bible. This is a popular translation. According to Amazon.com, since its publication in 1973; the NIV has sold 16o million copies1. I own a copy myself: a NIV Journal Bible because I find the columns an invaluable space to note the Greek words that have been translated by different English words: sometimes in the same sentence. Despite the NIV being translated by a committee of scholars and despite some key changes made in the 2011 update, given the choice, it is not a translation I would trust to be the only one I read.
But then, no translation is perfect. I have already pointed out how the translators of the King James Version were bothered by the word Elohim in Psalm 8:5 and chose to render it as “angels” rather than “God” despite there being the Hebrew malak translated angel or angels in numerous other passages. And yet, the KJV does translate Galatians 2:20 as “…the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God” rather than “”the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God” which is how the NKJV as well as many other translations renders it. It’s a small change-“of” to “in”-but it shifts the meaning and focus from His faith in us as our strength to live our lives to our having to have faith in Him.
Despite the inaccuracies and inconsistencies of the various translations, I love reading my Bible. I enjoy reading it in different translations because the rhythms resulting from the different word choices help me to look at passages in a different way. I honor my brothers and sisters who risk their lives by merely possessing a Bible and I am grateful I live in a country where I can possess as many copies in as many translations as I like. It is a privilege I never take for granted. I do have a favorite translation which I read the most because the language suits me. I think the best translation of the Bible for everyone is the one that suits that person. For example, the Action Bible does not appeal to me in any way. However, I get the Voice of the Martyrs magazine and recently read that the Action Bible is the version that is appealing to new believers in various regions of Africa. Just because it is not a version I care to read does not mean it is not a version the Holy Spirit would use to open others’ eyes to the truth of Jesus Christ. Who am I then to say what is good or evil?
Bible reading and the disagreements over translations have been weighing on my mind as I’ve conducted my study on evil. Just reading a translation, any translation, does not give a complete nor accurate picture of the meaning of evil. For example, let’s compare the Strong’s Concordance list of scriptures containing the word “evil” in the books of Matthew and Romans. There are 19 occurrences in the Book of Matthew. In all but three, “evil” is used to translate the Greek word poneros (G4190). Two exceptions are Matthew 24:48 and 27:23 where the Greek word is kakos (G2556) and the third is Matthew 6:34 where “evil” is used to translate kakia (G2549). The opposite is true in the Book of Romans. There are 17 occurrences in Romans and all but two are translations of kakos. Romans 14:16 does not have a reference number next to it in the Strong’s. The passage is “Then do not let your good be spoken evil of” and the word “evil” is supplied by the translators as they sought to make the meaning of blasphameo (G987) clear. The other exception is Romans 12:9 where we are to “abhor what is evil” and the Greek word there is poneros. We can glean a bit of the differences of meaning through a careful reading of the context of these scriptures but we cannot help but bring our own definition of “evil” to these passages. The words in the Greek mean very different things and I am convinced something is lost with a mere reliance on an English translation.
Poneros means “hurtful, bad, evil, grievous, lewd, malicious, wicked” and derives from ponos which means “toil”. It is a word that relates to effects rather than character and is the word translated “evil” in the scriptures describing deeds and works as well as the heart and eye (See Matt 9:4, 12:34, 15:19, 20:15, John 3:19, 7:7). It is also the Greek word found in the scriptures describing “evil spirits” and the “evil one” (See Mat. 5:37, 6:13, Luke 7:21, Luke 8:2, Luke 11:4, John 17:5, Acts 19:12). Kakos is a primary word and means “worthless, bad, evil, harm, ill, noisome, wicked” and-despite the definition-is not interchangeable with poneros in that kakos is intrinsic meaning the “badness” or “evil” belongs naturally to the subject being referred to. Kakos relates to character. This fascinated me because I would have expected kakos to be the word describing both evil spirits and the evil one and it is not. I need to take a much longer and deeper look at why this is so.
Just to be thorough, the Greek word kakia is the noun while kakos is the adjective. The words do not carry different meanings.
One more example because it makes me shake my head in wonder: “evil” appears three times in Titus and each time it translates a different Greek word. The passages are Titus 1:12, 2:8, and 3:2. The phrase in Titus 1:12 is “evil beasts” and the Greek word is kakos. Titus 2:8 says “…having nothing evil to say of you” and Titus 3:2 says “speak evil”. The Greek words are phaulos (G5337) and blasphemeo, respectively. I include this because I would not necessarily think the words all translated by “evil” had different meanings in the Greek based on context. The Strong’s Concordance is, of course, based off of the King James Version. Different translations have sometimes chosen to use different words in the passages I’ve listed but then they too end up having their own inaccuracies. Again, no translation is perfect.
Paul says two things to Timothy which will bring me to my material point. The first is in 2 Timothy 2:15 where Paul says, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” and, as I have heard that used to stress the importance of studying the Bible, I include it here. The second is 2 Timothy 3:16 where Paul says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” The NIV (ha!) but also the ESV as well as other translations have “god-breathed” instead of inspiration.
I don’t disagree. As I said, I love reading my Bible. I do so for enjoyment and I can’t put into words how my knowledge of the Lord has grown through studying the Bible. Looking beyond the language of my translations into the Hebrew, Greek, and even Aramaic is also invaluable to my increasing knowledge. But, I do not consider my reading and study a substitute for knowing God, personally and intimately. Paul also wrote, “our sufficiency is from God who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:5.-6). The Spirit gives life. I cannot say that too many times.
In recent days, the social media algorithms have sent me various posts which all have contained the same message: the number one way to grow closer to God is to read your Bible. That is not true. You can definitely come to know about God by reading your Bible but; to know Him, which in the original languages carry the intent of the same level of intimacy as the marriage relationship, is only possible in the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit alone who ministers life-the very life of Jesus Christ-to us by dwelling in us. My Bible Teacher recently pointed out the Persons of God are Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not Father, Son, and Holy Scripture. I am concerned that all I hear is a stressing of first and foremost reading the Bible. The Holy Spirit is not mentioned. Ever.
Do not allow yourself to be kept from living to the fullest the life of Christ Jesus which is yours now through the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit who inspired the writers of the Bible lives in you. So read your Bible in whatever translation you choose but take the time to close your Bible. Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you the truth of you in Christ and Christ in you. If you do not know your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit right now, ask Him to open your eyes to this reality. Do not settle for knowing about our God, but KNOW HIM!
May the Spirit of wisdom and revelation open the eyes of all our hearts.
Unless noted otherwise, all Scriptures are quoted from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1982
The New Testament in Four Versions, Christianity Today Edition, Washington, D.C. 1965
Strong, James, LL.D., S.T.D., The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1990