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Bibles, Translation and Interpretation.

It’s been a while -about six weeks in fact. Partly that was because I needed to think - I didn’t really feel as though I had much to say. We were away a lot too. On top of that, I’ve been finding life tough, mentally and physically. I’ve been a bit ‘off-colour’ physically, which is probably not unconnected to mentally struggling with ‘life’.

This post follows on closely from the one before. When we read our bibles we cannot really know the writers’ intentions. They were diverse people, from diverse times and places. They had different experiences of life and different spiritual experiences. They spoke, and wrote, different languages, and they lived within different cultures. And they lived a very long time ago.

That means that it’s very hard to understand what they meant to say, unless we believe the bible was literally written by God (more on that thorny little issue a little later), and that all subsequent translations have also been performed by God, and that somehow he made those ancient writers write in such a way that what they wrote would be perfectly intelligible to people living in different cultures, thousands of years later. There are those who believe that is exactly what God did. I used to count myself among their number, but many years of careful study have shown me that it can’t be true. There’s too much 'wrong with' the bible for it to have been authored by an omniscient, omnipotent God. And it doesn't, once you really begin to examine what it says, say the same things to 'us now' as it did to ‘them then’ - we each come at the words with our own ‘cultural baggage’, our own expectations, etc., and those things all colour how we read, and the interpretations we place on the text.

The Word of God?

The first five verses of John’s gospel tell us:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The Greek word which our English bibles translate, rather baldly, as ‘word’ (or frequently ‘Word’), is Λόγος (Logos). The translation actually does the word a huge disservice - it reduces it to a mere collection of letters on a page, or a spoken element. But…

Logos has a huge ‘back-story’, which our translations conveniently ignore. Our translations allow us, mostly (with the notable exception of the passage quoted above), to propagate the fiction that the bible is the Logos - and why wouldn’t it? After all, the English word has, effectively, just that one familiar meaning - and even using it to refer to a book (or, rather, collection of books) feels like a bit of a stretch.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2022