The most viable answer to this question is because the Holy Word of God was given to humanity in the original manuscripts of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek—not in English or any other human language. Neither the Latin Vulgate, Wycliffe’s Bible (the first complete translation from the Latin into English), Tyndale’s Bible (the first translation into English from the original languages), the King James Version (KJV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the New International Version (NIV), the New King James Version (NKJV), nor any other translation appeared until centuries after the original manuscripts were written. The very fact that there are so many translations might indicate the frustration man has experienced in attempting to transfer God’s original communication into a “foreign” language.
Every attempted translation of the original languages of Scripture has been the human interpretation of God’s thinking as it was originally recorded in His choice of three specific languages. In other words, each translation of the Bible attempts to transfer the Author/Originator’s original thoughts into the languages of the audience—Latin, German, English, Swahili, or any other language. An interpretation can be attempted by utilizing either of two academic methods:
1. The first method is “formal equivalence,” in which the selection of each SINGLE WORD in the target language is what the translator subjectively believes is the closest to the intended meaning of each SINGLE word in the original language. I met several times with the late Dr. John Beekman, who was the Head Translation Coordinator of Wycliffe Bible Translators/Summer Institute of Linguistics for over twenty-five years. Wycliffe is a ministry that has been responsible for translating the Bible into thousands of languages and dialects to the glory of God. Dr. Beekman agreed that the very rules of formal equivalence work against the possibility of conveying the most accurate meaning from one language to another. At best, this method is an attempt at producing a literal, word-for-word, translation. The major problem is that thoughts from either the originating language or the target language often require more than a single word to convey exact meanings.
Note: I would recommend finding and reading the now out-of-print book, Translating the Word of God, by Drs. John Beekman and John Callow (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1974), to help grasp the extreme challenges of translating any writing from one language to another.
2. The second and more modern method of Bible interpretation is called “dynamic equivalence.” In this approach, the translator attempts to interpret an author’s words into words or phrases which he believes most accurately communicate the author’s intended meaning into today’s vernacular of the targeted language (The Living Bible and the NIV are examples of this type of translation). This method can tempt even the most honest interpreter to eisegete (read into the text) whatever subjective thoughts or philosophical positions he may hold. There indeed should be the legitimate observance of linguistic discourse (contextual considerations), but only as governed by the strict laws of a Bible-based hermeneutic. This method includes both accurate grammatical exegesis (reading the meaning out of the text) and confirmed agreement from the Scriptures.
The bottom line is this: There is no current translation of the Word of God (and there may never be one) that is exactly able to convey what God has said or precisely to interpret what He meant. This fact does not mean that a believer cannot understand anything that God has said in Scripture through existing translations. As will be illustrated throughout this study, understanding Scripture is similar to the peeling of an onion. We each can receive illumination by the Holy Spirit to understand it layer by layer, depending on our spiritual condition and personal readiness. Certainly, God does communicate the Gospel to an unbeliever who is searching to know Him (see Jeremiah 29:13; Mathew 7:7; 16:25; Acts 17:27; and Romans 2:7; 10:13, 17). Consider how many souls have been brought to Christ through any one of the many translations. Also, even an infant believer can understand the basic teachings of God’s Word. I have personally witnessed believers being taught by the Holy Spirit through a pastor who in his teaching was totally missing the most-specific meaning of a particular passage (even though he may have been teaching from the original languages). We can trust that, in the justice and love of His character, God will communicate to those who are willing to receive His Word, even if it takes the use of stones (Luke 19:40), a donkey (2 Peter 2:16), or a deficient translation.
If you are one whose soul “pants” (Psalm 42:1, 2) to really know God—what He has said and means—you will desire to seek Him in the depths of His Word (Psalm 119:97–104). Allow me to give you a personal example of how this intense desire took control of my life. After 27 years of living in rebellion against the teaching of my parents and the God Who I knew existed, I was introduced to the person of Jesus Christ and God’s plan of salvation. After battling with my pride and my unworthiness for many months, I finally submitted my will to God in accepting Jesus Christ by faith. The Bible teaches that I then received the gift of salvation, eternal life, and a new spiritual life through God’s grace and the Holy Spirit. At the time, my wife and I were attending a fundamental Bible church where the teaching was consistently based on the original languages of Scripture. Within one week, I told my wife (who had accepted Christ several months before me) that I believed God was calling me to public Christian service. I told her that the call might be to become an evangelist (an important one, of course, since I still had plenty of pride left in “the old man”). Almost immediately, I fell in love with the Bible and desired to learn everything I could about God and His plan. I attended every Bible class I could, devoured hours of Bible instruction and became convinced that a believer could actually know everything the God of all Creation meant by what He had communicated for us to know. For the next five years, I was a part-time student of the languages and systematic theology, and then finally committed myself to serve God totally to do whatever and to go wherever He might call me. I taught myself the Greek alphabet and began utilizing an English concordance, an interlinear text, and a basic Greek grammar for my almost daily Bible studies. Several years later (1977), I founded the Foundation for Biblical Research to
- Perform technical research in the original languages of Scripture,
- Develop, publish, and promote the technical tools produced by that research, and
- Perform Bible research on specific practical topics and publish books for use by all believers (and even some unbelievers who were known to be drawn to Christ through them).
Some of the results of FBR have been
- The Standard Writer’s Guide for Greek and Hebrew Exegesis, which has been endorsed by many seminary professors as an extremely competent and thorough guide for grammatical exegesis.
- The Exegetical Bible, which is incomplete at this time (Several seminary graduates completed approximately 800 of the 8,000 hours necessary for this project before FBR was no longer able to fund the project. This project is planned for resumption in 2014.)
- Bible-Based Hermeneutics. The first edition of this work was published in 2007.
- The Dictionary of Bible-Based Word Meanings. (Currently, about 10% of the research required to complete this project is in rough-draft form. Some of the results of that research are included in the Bible-Based Hermeneutics text) I intend to dedicate the rest of my life in completing this project.
- Five Facets of the Balanced Christian Life: Volumes I, II, and III. The first editions of these works were completed and published successively from 2008 through 2014 as our initial presentation of FBR’s Bible-Based Theology.
Also, the following non-technical books for all believers were written based on the above research, both to demonstrate the kind of practical results that can be derived from exacting research and to help fund the completion of FBR’s other planned projects:
Mine books were, What the Bible Says about Child Training, book and workbook, What the Bible Says About Being A Man, What the Bible Says About Suffering, Successful Home Schooling, Will Early Education Ruin Your Child?, No Place like Home . . . School.
And my wife’s contributions were, On the Other Side of the Garden book and workbook as well as, the Victorious Women book. These two books have now been combined into On the Other Side of the Garden of Eden book and workbook.
If you also hunger to know God beyond the translations (the outer layer of His revelation to man), you can study this text to begin your journey. Your search will require that you first learn and then consistently utilize Bible-Based Hermeneutics. Even before you become competent to exegete Scripture for yourself from the original languages, you can begin to apply the rules of hermeneutics presented in this text. These hermeneutical rules, combined with the many technical language tools available today, can enable you to begin having layer upon layer of His Word illuminated to you. These introductory sections have been designed primarily to present the philosophy behind a thoroughly inductive, Bible-based method for obtaining the most accurate interpretation of Scripture possible. Future sections will acquaint you with the tools by which you can experience the depth of God’s communication beneath the surface layer of your native language. The unique point of this philosophy is simply this: We can know what God has said and what he actually means by what he has said. As a result, we can better understand how His Word should apply to our lives.
Sadly, many young men have attended Bible colleges and seminaries with a sincere desire to learn about God, just to leave more confused and discouraged than they began. A common response from these graduating students is that they often became convinced no one could ever really know what God’s Word means. The scholarly pursuit of academic data and the multitude of contradictory opinions of man often usurp a simple reliance on the Holy Spirit’s illuminating Ministry. Why is it that students cannot merely attend a “good” institution, simply learn its stated Theology, and accept it unquestionably? They could do that, and many have. They learn certain theological positions, repeat them as truth, and often become defensive when anyone asks an analytical question that their accepted theology does not answer logically from Scripture. The Sadducees faced this problem when Jesus confronted them with the correct interpretations of Scripture. The Catholic Church reacted violently when Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. John Calvin was known to become very aggressive against those who challenged his personal interpretations of Scripture. Some present-day Reformed Theologians can be driven to fits of anger when their doctrine of TULIP[i] is challenged with the Scriptural passages to which they refuse to submit their positions. (In fact, it seems that those who are the most capable of understanding that their positions are incorrect, often put up the most vehement fight against providing sound proof from Scripture. They are the ones who should be the most accountable due to their advanced academic knowledge of the original languages, but they often refuse to accept that accountability.) Just the fact that a Theological position can be stated, learned, and accepted by its religious hierarchy does not make it correct. Every Theological position must be subject to a Bible-based hermeneutics, not popular opinion or secularly influenced scholarship.
The ONLY theology that is fitting for a man to learn and to base his teaching on is one that can be totally substantiated by Scripture. This comment is not suggesting that all existing theologies are incorrect. It only means that any systematic theology or fragment thereof a student accepts as truth must be able to stand up to honest evaluation based on a hermeneutically correct Scriptural analysis. Am I insinuating that man does not know anything about God’s Word at this time? Absolutely not! However, every humanly developed theology has sprung forth, at least partially, from the mind of man and therefore has potentially been tainted by man’s fallen nature. Some have even been developed as a response to challenges from unbelievers or an apostate, heretical, or misguided Christian. The challenges of Gnosticism, Arminianism, and other heresies have been the impetus for much theological research. Sadly, some theologies are more anti-positions than positions developed by an objective attempt to research and rightly discern “the mind of Christ.” What I am saying is that NO doctrinal position can be blindly accepted as truth, especially by those who are called to preach to others. God commended the Bereans as Acts 17:11 declares [based on this author’s interpretation of the Greek]:
“They welcomed [Paul’s teaching] with all eagerness, carefully examining the Scriptures daily, [wishing][ii] to find those things [the things that were said] were so [in the degree or manner stated].”
These were not those Jews who were negative to Paul’s teaching and challenged what he said; they sought the truth and readily anticipated that it would be proven out of Scripture. Every doctrine should be so investigated before it is accepted, and especially before it is taught to others.
A simple procedure that might help restrict man’s desire to promote any doctrine beyond the extent of Scriptural support would be to relegate doctrines into three categories as absolute, probable, or possible.
- Absolute doctrines would be those that have been proved and accepted with no known Scriptural conflict.
- Probable positions would be those that are apparently correct and can be accepted as a working thesis but having incomplete evidence in Scripture to answer all unresolved disputes.
- Possible suppositions would be for logical deductions based on probable positions or absolute doctrines as defined above.
Many important categories of theology have already been developed solely from Scripture and are generally accepted as absolute doctrine by most informed believers. The spiritual source and authority of the Bible, sin, the fallen nature of man, angels, the work and person of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, and many other foundational topics are some of these categories. Sound exegesis and reasonable categorization have been accomplished on these key doctrines in harmony with all Scripture and substantiated by a literal, historical, and logical hermeneutic. Nevertheless, there is still need for improvement in substantiating a complete Bible-based, Systematic Theology. Every Systematic Theology—from the Institutes of Calvin to the standard texts of Darby, Hodge, or Chafer—states dogmas, which need to be classified and substantiated thoroughly by Scripture. Some of these dogmas concern the source and interpretation of Scripture, the way man becomes saved, eschatology, eternal security and perseverance, covenants and dispensations, determinism versus human volition, church government, and similar categories. Also, doctrinal positions concerning personal Spirituality, maturity, worship, prayer, parenting, marriage, and many practical aspects of Christian living are currently a matter mostly of personal opinions or various ecclesiological decrees.
Do you believe you might be one who possesses the integrity and logical approach necessary to help ferret out this worthy objective? Are you interested in determining ONLY the truth, above attempting to support anyone’s preconceived opinions? I have learned over the past 40+ years of studying Scripture exclusively in the original languages that God will reveal whatever a believer needs to know about His person, His plan, and His ways when Scripture is approached in the correct manner and with the attitude of submission to the Holy Spirit and the Word.
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened (Matthew 7:7–8).
For “who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16).
As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue (2 Peter 1:3).
The following are a few examples of the types of important results you can immediately begin to see with the proper use of Bible-Based Hermeneutics,
- Why we need to determine who is speaking to whom about what, when, where, and why in every passage of Scripture,
- How knowing the morphology of each single word in Scripture can prevent incorrect interpretations and might even lead to doctrinal unity in the Church,
- Why defending the faith against the objections or attacks from unbelievers, heretics, or apostates is not what Scripture teaches as the correct meaning of apologetics,
- Why Matthew 18:19–20 is not a verse on group prayer, but the final part of a local church’s judgment of a sinning believer as well as the practical means for resolution of disputes between believers,
- Which one of the multiple words used in any translation for prayer and worship actually means what God desires from believers (and what those other incorrectly translated words really mean), and
- Differences between the meanings of words such as disobedience and rebellion; or punishment and chastisement.
Does the prospect of learning these things inspire you to learn more of how to interpret God’s Word more accurately? Then, may God encourage you to apply yourself to the study of this text with all diligence for His Glory and the sake of Christ our Savior!
Praise God! This Bible-Based Hermeneutics textbook forms the basis of a Bible College level course that will be available this year through Grace Biblical Seminary’s distance-learning program. If interested, explore this institution at, http://www.gracebiblicalseminary.org/.
[i] T.U.L.I.P. is an acronym that represents the five points of Calvinism: T = Total Depravity (meaning that man cannot do anything to deserve or earn acceptance by God and that man has no ability even to respond positively to God); U = Unconditional Election (meaning that each member of the human race is in an unconditional state of either being elect or non-elect by God’s decree); L = Limited Atonement (meaning that Christ died to save a certain portion of mankind, namely “the elect,” and that He died only for these and that they alone can be saved); I = Irresistible Grace (meaning that only “the elect” for whom Christ died will have their eyes opened to their sinful state and their need for salvation, and will, without fail or choice, come to Christ) and; P = Perseverance of the saints (meaning that the life of the true believer will be marked by holiness and increasing sanctification; not perfection, but, over the course of a lifetime, be a life lived in constant pursuit of God. Thus, it is believed that a true saint, by virtue of the power of God, will never completely fall away from true faith into ultimate and final apostasy). (There are many ways to word this definition; this is just this author’s rendition.)
[ii] This verse contains an excellent example of how God’s choice of even the mood of a verb is important in determining the most accurate interpretation of Scripture. In this Greek text, the particle (ei) is used with the optative mood of (echō) indicating the conditional phrase: “if it is true, as in a remote possibility.” In this context, it is clear that these Bereans truly desired to find that those things Paul taught were actually verifiable by Scripture. They welcomed Paul’s teaching eagerly; they examined the Scriptures diligently (daily), and they searched to find if what he taught could possibly be true (wishing to find it so). This interpretation corrects the false concept that a teacher’s students should challenge his teaching with a critical attitude.