Strong Ability in Biblical Languages

Strong Ability in Biblical Languages September 24, 2015

As I sought feedback on the Swahili lyrics of Baba Yetu recently, one of the most crucial kinds of feedback I received was of the sort that said “X rather than Y sounds more natural to a native speaker.”

As Bill Mounce pointed out in a recent blog post, this is the kind of instinctive knowledge that only comes with great proficiency in a language. And it is why people who look up words in Strong’s Concordance and pretend to be offering an informed decision about the Biblical texts in their original languages are an abomination – in the original underlying sense of the Hebrew word, of course.


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  • Phil Ledgerwood

    Man, if I had a nickel for every wag who used Strong’s Concordance as the beginning and end of their linguistic analysis….

  • Judy Redman

    Yes! However, I read Mounce’s blog post and disagreed with this:

    “There were two Sundays in a row where I had to correct its
    interpretation to make what I thought was the true point of the passage.
    After the service a new Christian came to me and asked, “Can I not
    trust my Bible?” Ouch! So here is one of the big no-noes from the
    pulpit. Do not correct the English Bible. Ever! Never say, “the translators got this wrong.” The damage you can do to a person’s trust in Scripture is unimaginable.”

    What you actually do (or should do if you handle it properly) is to help people to see that they should not place their trust in one particular English translation of Scripture, and I think that this is probably a very helpful thing that you can do for their faith. I think that Christians need to understand that what is recorded in the Bible that they read is not Jesus’ actual words, but at best a translation thereof, so they should at least read several different translations before deciding to base their faith and actions on particular verses.

    • arcseconds

      isn’t that pretty much what Mounce suggests himself a couple of paragraphs below the one you quote?

      • Judy Redman

        Yes and no. He says ‘do not correct the English Bible’ as though there is only one. Certainly a couple of paragraphs down, he talks about drawing people’s attention to the fact that version X and version Y disagree, but in his response to one of the comments he says:

        ‘Have you ever had a person from the congregation ask you how they can trust their Bible when you are showing on a repeated basis that the translation they use and love makes errors? You may want to think through the pastoral implications of that first.

        ‘It is not bibliolatry. There are many ways to help people see the
        correct and/or fuller meaning of the text without making them distrust the only form of the Bible they are able to read and understand. This was the point of my blog, but you have taken it out of context; I wonder whose statement is truly “dangerous.”’

        I certainly don’t agree that what Mounce is doing is ‘bibliolatry’, but he is saying that there are pastoral implications in showing them that the *translation* that they know and love makes errors, whereas I would say that there are pastoral implications in *not* doing that. He then talks about ‘the only form of the Bible they are able to read’, and, while most people are only able to read the Bible in translation, in English there are many translations available, so ‘the translation that they know and love’ is not their only option. They can, as I said above, and as he says, check several different translations, but his response seems to me to be suggesting that just because your average member of the congregation can’t read Greek, they can’t cope with the fact that what they are reading is not the actual literal words of Jesus.