Watch Your Tongue #2

It’s a Fact: you can’t translate Language A into Language B without understanding how A’s first readers understood the message. Simply finding equivalent words won’t do, as “Tongue” in today’s title illustrates. Tongue has many definitions.  A thousand years from now, how would a translator deal with “watch your tongue?”

The manager of a small commercial airport received an FAA directive to fence off the runway. He sent a note to his maintenance man and left on vacation. On his return, the manager found not the six-foot chain link barrier he had pictured, but lovely white picket fence with geranium beds.

I studied Hebrew and Greek in seminary. Hebrew barely took, but I gained a fair grasp of Greek syntax and grammar, enough to use the study tools. I soon learned English has no one-word equivalent of the subtleties of Greek tenses and prepositions. Hebrew’s sparse vocabulary encumbers many words with multiple meanings, depending on the setting. Greek’s has a vast vocabulary, contributing many words to English.

A preacher friend latched onto “power” in Romans 1:16: “the power of God unto salvation.” We borrowed that power to name dynamite. Declared my friend repeatedly, God’s word is an explosive force! That’s Bible abuse.

Languages change over time. Consider what happened to English since Shakespeare. What language did Moses employ to record his early history of the Hebrews? What language did the Hebrews speak through their 400 years in Egypt and 400 years under the Judges? They still lived as independent tribes.

Scripture writers followed literary rules of their time, employing normal literary devices, including non-literal figures of speech. Then came layer after layer of human copying and editing before finally reaching us. The Bible is an anthology. The 66 segments were never designed to form one book.

The Old Testament promised a Redeemer; the New Testament recorded the fulfilment of that promise. We worship the Living Word, not the written word.

Old Grandpa Lloyd