Tom Pittman's WebLog

2015 June 8 -- KJV vs Greek

Long long ago, in a far-away place, I went to seminary so that God could call me to be a pastor (He didn't), but mostly so I could read the Bible in the original Greek and Hebrew. I forgot from disuse most of the Hebrew, but I kept the Greek up, and eventually got to the place that I only read the New Testament in Greek at church. One pastor, seeing the brick-red book in my hand, commented that "Seeing The Red Book in church strikes terror in the heart of every pastor," the implication being that anybody in the pew able to read the original Greek can verify what is being preached. Some preachers say they want the congregation to read it for themselves, but few really hope for it.

A few years ago I bought an interlinear Hebrew Bible, which I now carry to church, but like I said, I lost most of my knowledge of Hebrew, so I mostly look at the English gloss line. But I got brave, and two years ago I started my daily Bible readings in the interlinear Hebrew. After a few months I was able to cover the English glosses and peek only for the words I don't yet know. Some books that's now only once or twice per verse; others (mostly poetry) use a lot of infrequent words, so I'm looking all the time. But I'm getting better at it. It goes a lot slower than reading English, so my mind is seeing the text at a different pace, with different insights.

Anyway, I still am looking at the Greek (and Hebrew, but this preacher doesn't refer to the Old Testament very often) during the sermon. One thing I learned is that the preacher (he refuses to refer to himself as "pastor") at this church claims to read Greek, but he doesn't, at least not very much. Yesterday the sermon was from 2Tim.2:15 (in the NIV it reads "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved..."). You can tell a KJV-only preacher when he preaches a Bible-study sermon from this verse. Only the King James Bible translates as "study" the Greek verb SPOUDAZW ('spudazo' which really means "work hard"). Some 4000 words in the English language have changed meaning since the KJV was translated, with the result that the text is essentially unintelligible to the average modern reader, and in many cases (like this one) just plain wrong. There are places in the Bible that teach Bible study, but this isn't one of them. The guy who gave the closing prayer was obviously one of the confused, because (in reference to what we should have learned from this sermon) he asked God to help us "try hard..." (which words he got from his own Bible, not KJV), then hesitated, then added the words from the sermon "to study..." before continuing the rest of his prayer.

In his sermon on Bible study, to illustrate how not to do it, the preacher referred to 1Cor.7:10,11, where the Apostle teaches that divorce is wrong. He didn't say so, but there are two ways for that to happen to a person: they can initiate the legal action themselves (Paul uses the Greek word AFIENAI "release"), or it can be done to them (Greek word CWRIZW "separate" used in the passive). Both are forbidden, but if you are the stuckee through no fault of your own, then don't remarry (either remain single, or else and hopefully be reconciled). Serial polygamy is not permitted by this text. In the first century, when Paul wrote this, only men were allowed to divorce their spouses, so he quite reasonably told the men not to initiate and the women to avoid letting it happen to them, but if it did, and so on. In our increasingly genderless culture, either party can initiate or be victim, so the proper interpretation of these two verses is as I described it above: don't. Bible translators sometimes need to choose which sense of a verse with multiple senses to carry into English, when the double meaning cannot be preserved. Maybe they chose wrong for this verse, because they preserved the man-woman distinction, but not the active-passive distinction. The result, as this guy pointed out, comes off as "Don't separate yourself, but if you do, then..." which is foolish. It's like telling kids, "Don't have sex, but if you do, use a condom." That gives them implicit permission to ignore the prohibition. However, because he did not read this verse in the Greek, this guy chose to resolve the contradiction by inventing a past tense for the "if you do" clause, reading it as "if it already happened to you (before you saw this command), then..." There is a Greek tense (perfect) for something that already happened with lingering results, but it's not used in this verse. Both times CWRIZW is (simple action) Aorist passive, with the same implied time frame. Don't let it happen, but (because you may not be in control), if it happens, then..."

The guy means well, but because he gets his theology from the KJV text (and perhaps also his denomination-friendly commentaries) and not from the Greek text, he makes blunders like this, and only people reading The Red Book can know. A couple months ago he was preaching on deacons, and claimed that Acts 6 is not about deacons "because the word 'deacon' is not used there." The Greek word DIAKONOS is usually translated "deacon" but it really means "servant" and its verb form (usually translated "serve") is in that passage twice, and again as an abstract noun ("service"). People who insist that Acts 6 is about deacons in the church obviously were reading it in Greek; this guy was not.

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