Jesus didn’t speak English (Part 3)

Bible verse used in the podcast

  • John 21:15-17
  • Acts 2:1-4
  • John 2:19-23
  • Matthew 2:1-2 

So why do we care?

So why do we care about translational stuff; who cares if we have multiple English translated? It turns out, they add some nuance that you wouldn’t notice. It can take a whole sentence to describe one Greek word. For instance take the following passage:

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

John 21:15-17 ESV

Why did Peter cry the third time? Nothing changed because he just said I love you 3 times. You might say it’s because Peter denied him three times and Jesus is restoring him. There is nothing wrong with that interpretation and in a symbolic way, that is what is going on. Well it turns out in Greek, he says two different words for love. The first two times is ἀγαπάω (agapaō) which is which is the general form of love used in the bible, the kind we are all supposed to love one another with. The second time he uses φιλέω (phileō) which is a personal or brotherly love. This second time Jesus took it from a general sense to a more personal level. Now keep in mind, most of these translational differences do not impact the overall meaning of what is being intended but give smaller insights into what was being expressed. Because of this, no English translation is going to be one hundred percent accurate in every place because different translators will have different biases in what they think about emphasis, how readable they are trying to make it or how technical it is. Often Greek word order does not always match up with English, some words we do not have direct translations of and some Greek grammar does not exist in English. 

Let’s talk about the following Paradox that occurs in the new testament. When did the disciples receive the holy spirit? Often people will point to the day of Pentecost sighting the following passage:

1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Act 2:1-4 ESV

This is a perfectly reasonable answer; but what happens if you start cross referencing the bible? Was there any other time that it seemed this happened? You end up coming to a passage in John 20 that causes a lot of problems:

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. 23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.

John 2:19-23 ESV

So which is true? Did they receive the holy spirit in Acts or in John? There are several thoughts on this. Some think what Jesus gave in John was some gifts of the spirit and in acts he gave others. This is problematic because the text doesn’t say that and it goes against 1 Corinthians 12:4, John 3:31-36, 1 Corinthians 12:4, John 14:16, Ephesians 1:13-14, Now there are diversities of gifts*, but the same Spirit. Others would say that this event is just symbolic and Jesus is just teaching them a lesson in a dramatic way. Again the text doesn’t say this and personal interpretation if being placed over the bible. Some say this was a temporary gift of the spirit. 

What can we say for sure? This is where I said it is a paradox, where it seems like a contradiction but it can be explained how it is not. The word used in John 20:22 for recieve is Λαμβάνω (lambanō), the root word means to receive, take, have or catch so there is no new insight here. The insight is understanding that greek grammar is not like english grammar. The word is in the Aorist tense, “ there is no definition of the kind of action, the emphasis is upon the fact of the action rather than the duration of the action.” We do not have this tense in english so when translating it, either you translate it in a way that doesn’t indicate what it really means using proper english tenses, or you find a way to add notes to indicat what is happening.  Now when looking at this, Jesus is not indicating that this is when they receive it, but rather stating a fact of some kind. The main point is that it did not happen in John grammatically so there is no contradiction.

There are some things you should know about translations. Because other languages do not all have the same words that English uses or the same grammatical usage; some words need to be added to help the text make sense to the English reader. You might think this is crazy “how could you add to the word of God?” You would think that until you realize simple words like ‘of,’ ‘the’, ‘a’, ‘for’ and so on are often added otherwise you wouldn’t understand the context of what is being said. Often bible translation will try to find ways to indicate this to readers by having words be in italics or they will use [brackets] and try to come up with ways to show this. Take the following verse from several translations for an example (Matthew 2:1-2):

  • [Mat 2:1-3 KJV] 1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. 3 When Herod the king had heard [these things], he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
  • [Mat 2:1-3 NKJV] 1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard [this], he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
  • [Mat 2:1-3 ESV] 1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;
  • [Mat 2:1-3 NASB] 1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard [this,] he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
  • [Mat 2:1-3 WEB] 1 Now, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 2 Saying, Where is he that is born king of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and have come to worship him. 3 When Herod the king had heard [these things], he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

Something else to know, there are three major thought processes that are used to translate the greek or hebrew. The first is a formal or literal translation. This tries to take the literal language and translate it word for word as close to the original language as possible. Generally this can be hard because word order and grammar in the original language don’t always line up with english. This can cause some issue whether or not you rearrange the sentence structure or do you use one word for each greek word or do you allow synonyms?

Another way is a thought for thought translation which tries to get an idea of what the writer is saying and express it into english. This helps produce a readable translation that is nice in english. The problem is you need to interpret this and you bring in translation bias based on doctrinal or other bias.

Sometimes they try to make a Dynamic translation which tries to keep the text word for word but update measurements or terms that we don’t have. Such as a denir being a measure of money after working for some time. So instead of this, translate it based on the idea of what the measurement is or translate things into distances that are familiar with imperial units.

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