Lost in Translation

I am hesitant to read a Biblical phrase literally if it seems inconsistent with the remainder of God’s Word or Jesus’ teachings because of the possibility that something was lost in translation.

Jesus is Aramaic

There is a joke that a priest and a parishioner were arguing over what Jesus meant by a certain phrase: The priest referred to the Greek meaning of a word during the argument. In exasperation, the parishioner replied: “What does Greek have to do with anything? If English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me!” The humor lies in the fact that Jesus never spoke English.

Most scholars and historians believe that Jesus and His disciples primarily spoke Aramaic. Aramaic was the primary language of the Hebrews during Jesus’ lifetime. Aramaic was also the primary language in Judea where Jesus lived — at the time when Jesus lived. Most scholars and historians believe it was possible that Jesus may also have spoken Greek to converse with people who were not native to Palestine and that He also may have known Hebrew.

Important things that were written in Aramaic during that period were translated into Greek for the benefit of the Romans who ruled Judea. (Latin and Greek were the official languages of the Roman Empire.) A minority of scholars and historians believe that the New Testament was first written in Aramaic; others believe it was first written in Greek based on an oral narrative in Aramaic or documents originally written in Aramaic. The majority of scholars and historians believe that the New Testament was first written in Greek, but believe some Aramaic writings may have been relied upon in doing so.

What does this mean to me?  It means I realize the Bible I am reading has been translated from ancient Aramaic/Hebrew and ancient Greek to modern-day, American English. Although I read my Bible carefully including footnoted words and phrases, I am hesitant to read a Biblical phrase literally if it seems inconsistent with the remainder of God’s Word or Jesus’ teachings because of the possibility that something was lost in translation. I also recognize that different versions of the Bible can differ from one another.

I do not judge Christians who hold to a literal reading of every phrase of their Bible, but I do not always hold to a literal reading. What is important to me is that we read the Bible and pray to God that we each understand it’s meaning in accordance with God’s will. With God’s grace and the help of the Holy Spirit, we’ll be able to get it right.

 

Above Image: “Jesus” in Aramaic

 

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