Few things have caused more damage in churches than when pastors say things like:
“In the originals, the word here really means_____”
“The Greek word for this is______”
“A better rending of the originals would be_____”
Churchgoers have heard these sayings for so long they have now become calloused to it! This is a real problem.
So, what is the problem? Here are a few.
There are no originals
When the pastor says, “in the originals”, it is guaranteed that a majority of the people in his Sunday morning church audience thinks he means the original autographs. What he said was misleading.
The dirty little secret that everyone in seminary knows but no one talks about is that there are no original autographs. Not a single original writing from any apostle, prophet, or tablet of stone exists today. We have thousands of copies (apographs), but not a single true original autograph. Many textual critics think it is impossible to believe the Bible is divinely inspired because of this very point. Bible believers have known this for centuries and understand by faith God preserves his words through copies and translations and not the original autographs.
When the pastor refers to the “originals” in church, he means a copy of a Greek text that was sold to him in the first Greek class he took. Most likely that Greek text did not exist anywhere in history before it was compiled in the last couple centuries.
No one speaks Greek and Hebrew
When the pastor says this in church, he is not speaking to a room of experts in ancient near eastern languages. Some in the audience may have learned the alphabet, or memorized verb tenses in Bible college, or spent a few years in elementary language learning, but the majority can not even tell if what he says is true. Why is it that those pastors who claim the audience should use Bibles in the language of the people think it is helpful to speak foreign languages to them?
It changes the Bible text
The number one reason pastors go back to the original Greek, Hebrew, Latin, or Aramaic is because they want to retranslate the text to align with their holy outline. If it is only a matter of definition then why don’t they use an English dictionary to clarify? Instead, the English word is seen as insufficient and needs retranslated. This gives the lesson to everyone in the audience that there are mistakes in the Bible, and it is acceptable to retranslate the Bible to make a point. The ends justify the means.
It begets pride and reopens the translation process
Speaking in other languages puffs people up. The Bible has already been translated into English from Greek, Hebrew, and with other translations diligently compared and revised. When the pastor raises the issue of translation he not only claims to correct all the translators of the Bible everyone is holding, but also leaves the translation process open for anyone to do the same thing. How is anyone supposed to know when the process of retranslating/correcting/revising the Bible is complete? In the eyes of most seminary trained textual critics, it will never be finished, because they are constantly finding new manuscripts in the dirt. They do not believe they have God’s words inspired or preserved in a single book.
It robs the audience of God’s words
The most serious problem with pastors saying these things is that it robs the audience of the authority of the Bible in their hands. The Bible in their hands says one thing, but suddenly they need the pastor to tell them what the Bible really should say. What happens when they go home after the meeting and continue reading in the book they hold? Now they will have a doubt, even if small, concerning the very words on the printed page. Since the pastor has declared that at least in one place it is incorrect, how can they trust it enough to teach their children and family at home? Now multiply this by the hundreds of times pastors refer to “the originals” and you might start to understand one reason why people don’t feel confident to study the Bible for themselves.
This needs to stop. People ought to be encouraged to believe the Bible, starting with the one they have, and not the one a pastor retranslates or cherry picks from his own sanctified opinion.
Do we need Greek and Hebrew?
You can live your whole life not knowing a single Greek or Hebrew word and be made perfect unto all good works by all scripture preserved in the English language (2 Tim 3:16-17). If someone tells you otherwise, then you have found someone who wants dominion over your faith.
We already have God’s preserved words in English, but we do need translators. We need faithful workmen to study Bible translation from a Bible believing perspective so that we can help preserve God’s words in languages all across the world that do not have a Bible. If this is your ministry then you will need to study other languages and utilize the translations that have been a part of God’s preservation process through history.
What Do I Do?
If you hear your pastor say “The Greek word here really means…” have the courage to speak up for the weaker brothers around you and say, “Stick to God’s words in English pastor!” Better yet, find some place where the leadership seeks to encourage Bible belief instead of critiquing scripture when it doesn’t suit their doctrinal preferences.
We need to be sensitive to the critique, editing, and imposition of doubt upon God’s word. It is enough to hear it from without the church, must we hear it from within as well? Don’t let someone who has studied other languages stop you from understanding and trusting God’s word in your own language.
“…let God be true, but every man a liar;…” – Romans 3:4