By Archie England, NOBTS
Question: Are all (major) translations of the Old Testament essentially the same? (Or, why should my pastor study the Hebrew and Greek for preaching God’s Word?)
Archie England responds: Basically, most major translations sufficiently relay the meaning of God’s word. But at times, some serious understatements or overstatements occur – and the biblically untrained readers can’t see these unless shown by someone knowledgeable in the original languages. Pastors, study the Greek and Hebrew Bible to show yourself approved. Christians, accept nothing less than God’s best from your pastors.
Let’s examine a few of these issues.
Just one word can make a significant difference. In Isaiah 7:14, most major translations render the baby’s mother as a “virgin.”
Though that’s clearly the expectation for a young Hebrew girl about to get married, it’s not the point emphasized by the Hebrew. Avoided here is the specific word for virgin (which fits any female of any age who has never had sexual relations) and uses a far less common word for a girl who’s come of age for marriage.
The rendering of this idea as virgin comes from the Greek Septuagint, which was a translation of the Old Testament hundreds of years later, after the time of Isaiah. Does this mean the girl wasn’t a virgin?
NO! It means her age, not her virtue, was the intended emphasis.
In Ezra 10:2, major translations (except the KJV) have the leaders of Israel “marrying” foreign women. But that’s not what the particular verb used means; it means they had “bedded or cohabitated with” these foreign women. These relationships were not sanctioned covenant unions!
In Ruth 3:1-5, Naomi instructs Ruth to “go and uncover his feet,” but the verb there is better understood as intransitive (uncover yourself there) rather than transitive (uncover him). This change produces a whole new flavor to the proposed action (and your pastor ought to know this)!
Finally, quite a few places exist where translations have added words to help make sense of the original text (and your pastor ought to know this) such as 1 Samuel 13:1, where Saul is “one year old … when he reigned for two years as king over Israel.”
Most translations provide a specific age for Saul (30 or 32 years old) – and again, this is something your pastor ought to know.
Churches, take good care of your pastor so that your pastor can rightly divide God’s word and take good care of you!
Archie England, Ph.D., is Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, and Director of the Baptist College Partnership Program, both at NOBTS.