A Few Things; or, better late than never
This particular post was meant to go up very early, among the first three posts. It was meant to give some hints about other excellent sources. But, I somehow never hit ‘publish’, so it’s been languishing in ‘draft’ for nearly a year. My apologies. In particular, the bit about Great Treasures may help: I’ve made numerous references to my ‘crib’ translations; these are the standard English translations that I use for reference and cross-checking, in addition to the Latin Vulgate text. So, here’s what I should have told you last April. My apologies!
text of the post:
First: I would strongly suggest you become acquainted with the site Great Treasures.
UPDATE: The URL for this site has changed as the owners seek to upgrade the experience it provides. They are doing a bang-up job of it, too. Here is the new URL:
You have to create an account, but it’s free, and you don’t get nailed with spam or solicitations. It allows you to put up a number of different translations simultaneously, and you can see the Greek text at the same time. In addition, the Greek text is completely dissected; it gives you the word in Greek and the part of speech; if a verb, it provides tense, person, number, mood, and voice; if a noun, it provides number, gender, and case. Then, if you click on a word, it gives you a decent definition, plus it will give you a list of every time this word is used in the New Testatment. This way you can see how the word is translated in different circumstances. It’s surprising how much variety there can be.
Just for reference, the KJV, NASB, ESV, and NIV are the ones I use. The KJV is considered to be the inerrant translation by many Christians; it’s also usually the closest to the original Greek, so it most closely parallels my intent on sacrificing fluency in English to maintain a better sense of the Greek. The ESV and especially the NIV are more English-centric, in the sense that they are much more in the sort of casual idiom spoken in America. My favorite compromise is the NASB, as it seems to get the English correct without completely coming detached from the Greek.
Second: become familiar with Strong’s Concordance, and his numbers.
James Strong went through the entire Bible, and put both the Hebrew and Greek words in alphabetical order, then assigned each word a number. Then he indexed every place a word occurs; the OT and the NT have separate indices based on their different languages. It’s a very helpful means of comparing where words are used. You will find that the Great Treasures site will show you all the instances of a given Greek word in the NT; this is based on Strong’s words. And Strong did the same for instances of Hebrew words in the OT. Pity he didn’t do it for the Septuagint Greek translation of the OT.
You will also note that each post includes the text of the Latin Vulgate that corresponds to the Greek text being examined. In its earliest days, the Church was a largely Greek-speaking institution; virtually all of the earliest texts were initially composed in Greek. From the time of Alexander, Greek became the international language of the eastern Mediterranean. When this part of the world was incorporated into what became the Roman Empire, the Romans often used Greek-speaking slaves as tutors for their children who were taught the Greek classics in the original language, so that, in time, educated persons of the upper classes were essentially bilingual. International trade and commerce were largely conducted in Greek. This bilingualism persisted for about half a millennium. By the middle of the fourth century, however, the stresses on the Empire caused by the increasing concentration of wealth reduced the exchanges between east and west, with the result that language became bifurcated into a Latin West and a Greek East. As this was occurring, St Jerome realized that Western churchmen could not ready the Bible in Greek, so he translated it into Latin. This is the Vulgate, which means “common”, as in “common language”. Now, St Jerome was still bilingual, so he had an intimate experience of Greek as a spoken language. This gives him an understanding of the Greek that moderns cannot replicate. As such, when we come to a difficult part of the Greek, checking the Latin can provide insights into the intent of the Greek. There are places, however, where the Latin becomes largely divorced from the Greek because the latter is especially obscure, so one has to wonder whether St Jerome fell into the translation trap, of sacrificing faithfulness to the original in favour of a more comprehensible and readable translation. Indeed, this is the eternal question of translation between any two languages.
Finally, Greek is simply a very different thought process than English. It relies on participles–in various tenses–a lot more than English does, or can. Maintaining a sense of the original is often impossible for a lot of reasons.