Most English Bibles do a pretty good job of accurately translating the Greek and Hebrew concepts into corresponding English words, some better (like the NLB), some worse (like the KJV, but mostly because the language has changed so much in the last 400 years). But there are a very few Greek and Hebrew words that translators consistently get wrong -- especially in the more literalistic (less accurate) "translations" like the NASB. My rule-of-thumb is, "If there's an 'S' in the name, it's less accurate." There are other words Christians often use and assume are in the Bible, but they aren't, because the translators got that part right. The recent translations -- including the ones falsely ridiculed as "paraphrases" -- are mostly good.
I used to have two "litmus" verses that I often use to validate a new
translation, Rev.6:8 and Matt.12:37.
So why did John the Revelator color that horse green? Well, part of the reason is chromatic: the four primary colors in Greek thinking are Black and White, Red and Green. Those are also the four colors in nearly every human language when they have exactly four color words. When they have only two such words, they represent light and dark; if there are three, the third color is red or reddish. The fourth color is green. English has a zillion colors, so we don't appreciate this limit.
The second, and more important, reason is that green is the color of death. No, not today in 21st century western civilization with antiseptic hospitals and morgues with refrigerators for the corpses and heavy makeup on the open-casket corpses, but it was in the first century when John wrote this book. What color does "aged" beef turn? Green. What color does a foot turn when it dies and goes gangrene? Yup, green. What color does that steak or casserole turn when you leave it in the fridge too long? Same color. What color do corpses turn in the grave without expensive embalming? The body is essentially meat. When it dies, it turns green and smells bad. Everybody knows that. Everybody, that is, except us moderns, who never see a dead body that hasn't been filled with plastics to keep it from turning green.
Green is the color of death in every culture but ours. So the translators
did exactly the right thing by translating it "gray" or "pale", which are
the modern colors for Death. You see, it's not about what color the horse
is, it's about who the rider is, and the rider is Death. Death is not green
There is another reason for understanding this verse as being judged on the basis of our own accountings, and it is linguistic. Whenever, and in whatever language, if there are two similar words that mean nearly the same thing, and a speaker or writer says something involving both words used to refer to different things in that context, then uses one of those two words again in the same context, it always refers to the same thing it did in the previous usage. For an English example, how do you understand this story:
A red car hit a blue van. There were ten people in the car and they all were killed.Were the ten dead people in the red vehicle or the blue one? No question about it! They were all crammed in the red car, as unlikely as that might otherwise seem. I had one translator justify his particular translation by the fact that "accounts" are never in plural. I guess he never heard of "accounts payable". Jesus said you give a separate account for every single idle word; if there are many words, there will be many accounts (plural).
It's not like this is a big deal if you misunderstand this one verse.
The verse helps us to understand that God is exceedingly just, and He does
not arbitrarily condemn people because he doesn't like your vocabulary.
You yourself will agree that the condemnation is just. If you miss it in
this verse, you might get it in Romans 2:14-16, where Paul makes the same
point. If you miss the point entirely, that will not cost your your eternal
salvation, because it's not about what you know, it's about Who is Lord.
There is one context in English that preserves the basic meaning of the Greek word musterion (mysterion), and that is a "mystery novel." Is a mystery novel about some deep unknowable? Hardly. It's about some secret -- perhaps who done it, who committed the murder -- that is unknown at the beginning, but fully explained by the end of the story. Stories that don't tell you their secrets are no fun to read; the appeal of the mystery novel is to see if you can guess the secret before the author gets around to telling you. That is basically what the Greek word means, except that you don't need to guess.
Some modern Bibles correctly translate musterion
as "secret" or "secret now revealed" and the rest of the Bibles leave you
confused and mistakenly believing that there is no way you can possibly
understand what the Second Coming is going to be like. Paul is telling
the secret, we will not all die, but we will all be changed, suddenly,
like an eyeblink. It's not some deep unknown and unknowable, he already
told us. It will be like those "Mutant-X" people that change shape, except
they are fiction, for us it will be real.
Two very different Greek words unfortunately get translated by the same
English word "crown" with consequent confusion. Diadem (DIADHMA)
is the kind of crown kings wear. Most of the crowns in the New Testament
-- especially all the reward crowns -- are the Stephen (STEFANOS)
variety, a laurel
wreath awarded to victors in the Games and more accurately translated
into English as "medal". These, not diadems, are what the 24 Elders lay
at the feet of Jesus. All of the crowns given to believers are wreath/medals,
symbols of victory, not symbols of ruling. There is only one Ruler, Jesus.
As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold... Daniel 3:5It's not the worshippers who are making music, they only hear it as a cue to fall on their faces before the gold image. In the other reference, at the dedication of Solomon's temple in 2Chr.7, all the people worship God with their faces to the ground, then when they finish worshipping, they stand up and the music starts.
The modern English/American word "worship" is not about posture, it's about the warm fuzzies you get when you think about God. That often happens when you hear or sing so-called "praise and worship" music. We have a church service on Sunday mornings (and sometimes other times in the week) that is called "worship"; what about the service constitutes "worship"? The hymns? The rock band music? The sermon? Sometimes the pastor will invite people to "worship God with their tithes and offerings," but most people don't think of putting money in the offering plate as "worship". Worship is what happens when the awesome music plays, and the hair on the back of your neck stands up. That is what "worship" means in our language and culture.
Don't get me wrong, that kind of "worship" is in the Bible, and it's a good thing for us to do, but in the Bible it's called "praise", not "worship".
It turns out we do have a perfectly good English word that means almost
exactly what the Biblical "worship" means. That word is "grovel". Does
God want us to grovel before Him? You betcha. He is God, and you are not
god. You grovel. But we don't like that word. It implies that God is somehow
dominant. Guess what? He is.
Somehow we have gotten the notion that forgiveness is getting rid of the bitter resentment at being hurt and feeling good about the relationship. That's a good and useful (and Biblical) thing to do, but the Bible does not call it "forgiveness". Forgiveness is the specific and Godly response to a person's repentance; it is neither commanded nor reasonable to cancel the debt for (that is, forgive) somebody who continues in their destructive behavior. It is commanded to love your enemies and pray for them and not seek revenge -- but that is never called "forgiveness" in the Bible. For a longer exposition on what it means to "forgive as God forgave us" see my essay on Forgiveness.
The anger, resentment, and bitterness is an emotional response, and
we can choose to control our emotions. Unlike reconciliation, which only
happens if both parties want it, how you choose to feel about the other
person is entirely up to you. Bitterness will eat your gut (literally,
in the form of ulcers and colitis) and you must get past it. Doing good
for the other person -- especially when they don't deserve it -- is a wonderful
way to change your attitude. Doing it in secret, without them knowing who
did it, is wonderful fun and a great way to get past the bitterness. But
if we insist on calling this process "forgiveness" then we need a different
word to translate the Greek word used in the Bible.
What about the heart? It's not about emotions, it's the core of your being, the center of your will. When Jeremiah tells us that "the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked," he's not saying something about our emotions. When we lie (being deceitful) or do wickedly, it's not because our emotions carried us away, it's because we choose to do wrong. It's because the very core of our being is deceitful and wicked. We no longer have an unambiguous body part to represent what "heart" means in Hebrew and Greek, but maybe "backbone" comes close.
It's interesting, that most modern translations (correctly) substitute
the English word "heart" for the Greek and Hebrew words for gut as the
seat of emotions, but they all fail to make an appropriate substitution
for the heart organ when it refers to your spine, the center of your being.
The result is that the modern Bibles seem to make everything an emotional
response, when it's not.
So what is it? The great "love chapter" in the Bible is 1Cor.13, and none of the modern translations accurately capture the meaning of the Greek word agaph (agape). As bad and outdated as it is, I think the King James Version comes closest with "charity". Charity is what you do for other people who don't deserve it, and who don't do anything for you. It's what you do because you are a good Christian and Christians do that kind of thing. It's not an emotional response to the plight of the poor -- oh, it might be -- but usually it's a thoughtful choice of how to spend a little of the bounty God gives every one of us, so to help out people less fortunate than we are. "Charity suffers long. Charity is not proud,..." This is not about your emotions, it's about what you choose to do.
Husbands must choose to treat their wives with courtesy and self-giving
sacrifice, just as Christ chose to do it for His church. The First great
commandment is not about having a warm feeling in your (ahem) heart, it's
about choosing to obey God and make Him first in every part of your life
-- even when God does not apparently return the favor. The book
of Job explores what it means to give God first place when He doesn't seem
to deserve it. Job passed the test. Can you? The Second great commandment
is like the first, to give other people the same first-place consideration
you naturally give yourself. You don't have to like them to do the right
thing for them. Whether God actually likes us, the Bible says very little
about. Are you likeable by God? You can do something about that, if you
want to. That's what loving God is all about.
The dictionary defines "relationship" as a connection, often a family
connection ("relative"). Real people mostly use the word to refer to a
sexual liason, and "relative" or "relation" for other family connections.
"Relationship" as a sexual liason is in 1Co.6:16, but none of the translations
use the word there. "Relationship" as a family connection is all through
the Bible, but individual kinship terms like "father" or "son" are always
more precise. For more general notions of kinship, "kin" or "relative"
is more accurate. "Relationship" as a connection other than family is in
John 15:4 and elsewhere, but that is not what Relationshipists have in
mind when they use the word. So the word is not in the Bible at all. That's
actually a good thing. The absence of this word in Bible translations accurately
reflects the fact that the concept of "relationship" (whatever definition
you prefer) is not what the Bible teaches.
The people who like to use the word "legalism" or "legalist" to criticize other Christians trying to be good here and now, they seem to think they got the idea from the first three chapters of Paul's letter to the Galatians. But they don't read the whole epistle: two chapters later, the great Apostle launches into his own lists of do's and don'ts. Did he contradict himself? Hardly. The first half of the book is about clinging to the Jewish ceremonial laws, circumcision and special holy days and altar sacrifices. But Galatia is not in Israel, and those laws were not given to Gentiles. The rules given to the Church are about being good and doing for your neighbor (including the people you don't like) what you wish they would do for you. Because that's often hard to figure out, because most of us are too lazy to do the analysis of what that means, God and Moses and Jesus and Paul all gave us a bunch of do's and don'ts to explain it.
Jesus said "if you love me, you will do what I say" (follow the do's
and don'ts). So the word "legalist" really does mean "loves Jesus more
than I do." If you want to call me a legalist, I will wear the badge with
The Greek and Hebrew words translated "prophesy" and "prophet" and "prophecy" have only one possible meaning in those contexts (which includes false prophets), and that is people speaking (or sometimes acting) under the direct command of God (or else pretending to), without any personal involvement of the prophet other than moving his lips. He does not choose the words, God did -- or at least he wants you to believe it. There are other words for "preacher" and "messenger" (angel) that give the agent a choice in what to say and how to say it.
Except possibly for pentecostals, no preacher is going to tell you the
exact words of his sermon were dictated by God, but that's what "prophesy"
in the Bible means. We don't even make that claim of the Biblical text
-- except for the parts called "prophecy" -- but rather that God "inspired"
the (human) authors so that the words they chose were true and accurate.
I don't think the modern preachers are even willing to claim that much
of their sermons, so applying the term "prophesy" to their preaching debases
the Biblical word. Don't go there.
The Old English sense of "perfect" is preserved only in modern legal documents, where to "perfect a contract" means to fulfill the terms or to complete your part of the contract. Lawyers work very hard to make sure their contract wording is already without flaw, long before anybody starts to "perfect" it. Flaws in the contract means some lawyer did not do what he's paid for: he can be disbarred (lose his job permanently) for that. "Perfecting the contract" is what you want the other guy to do.
So why do modern translators preserve "perfect" as the incorrect translation of 'teleios'? I suspect they are beholden to their anti-charismatic theological presuppositions, wanting 1Cor.13:10 to refer to the "perfect" Bible replacing the imperfection of tongues and prophecy. But that verse never mentions Scripture, nor does it tell us what this perfection to arrive might be, but the Apostle Paul apparently thought it obvious. It is obvious in the other two verses of the same epistle where the same word is used, 2:6 (translated by the oNIV as "mature") and 14:20 (translated by the oNIV as "adults" -- even the KJV translators couldn't bring themselves to use "perfect" there, but instead rendered it "men"). Much of what Paul is telling the church in Corinth is that they are behaving in a childish manner and should grow up. The contrast makes it plain that the Greek adjective 'teleios' means "mature" or "grown-up" and has nothing to do with the absence of flaws or blemishes. 1Cor.13:10 reminds them that when they grow up, they don't need childish training wheels like tongues, and those childish things cease. Paul wrote to Corinth to deal with their current problems, not to make pronouncements about some future event after they were all dead. There are 11 references to Scripture in his letter, every one of them the Old Testament, either a direct quote or an oblique reference like "[Jesus] was resurrected according to the Scriptures." There are no future references to Scriptures anywhere in the Bible other than in the direct teaching of Jesus, because only he can give authority to any Scripture at all.
Hebrews 5:14 uses the same Greek word (again translated by the oNIV as "mature") in contrast with babies needing milk. Every place this Greek word is used, it either obviously means "mature" or else it could be a metaphorical use of maturity or completion.
The Greek word 'teleios' is an adjective, used in 1Cor.13:10 without a noun for it to modify. Nevertheless, Greek adjectives always must match the noun they modify, both in number and gender, even if the noun is only inferred. Here it is neuter singular, but Scripture (Greek 'graphe') is feminine, so it cannot be that. The Word (Jesus Christ in John's gospel, 'logos') is masculine, again no match. James applies the same adjective to the "Law of Liberty," which looks like a good candidate, except that Law (Greek 'nomos') is also masculine. There is a Greek "word" ('rhema') that is neuter, but it always refers to a spoken word, and that is obviously not what the Cessationists want us to believe of this verse. Greek often uses neuter for abstractions, so "maturity" is a good translation here, and consistent with the context.
For additional thoughts on 'teleios' in this verse, see also my blog
First Draft 2003 December 30
Revised 2007 May 17, 2014 May 26, 2016 Jan.18, July 1, Sept.27, 2017 Feb.27, 2020 Feb.5