Accuracy in Translation

If a person were to study the subject of wine from most any English translation of the Bible, that person might come away with an idea that the Bible condones a moderate use of alcohol.  The Bible clearly condemns drunkenness (Lk. 21:34; Rom. 13:13; Gal. 5:21; 1 Pet. 4:3).  Yet, certain passages sound like they approve of the consumption of intoxicating beverages (Deut. 14:26; Prov. 31:6; Hos. 4:11; Lk. 5:37-39; 7:33-35; Jn. 2:1-11; 1 Cor. 11:21-22; Eph. 5:18; 1 Tim. 3:8; 5:23) while other passages condemn the very use of intoxicating wine (Lev. 10:8-11; Judg. 13:3-4; Prov. 31:4-5; 23:31; 20:1; 1 Tim. 3:2-3).  It appears that the use of alcoholic beverages are not clearly condemned or clearly condoned consistently throughout the Bible.

This problem can be traced back to the earliest English translations of the Bible.  Accuracy in translation was often sacrificed for more palatable words.  The King James translators; in particular, were more interested in producing a version that everyone would accept than producing a version that was consistent.  They purposely published a version that would not appear biased toward any particular doctrine.

The most blatant example of this is the creation of the English word “baptism.”   The Greek word means immersion.  However, the earliest English translation of the New Testament was produced by a Catholic priest named John Wycliffe.  Wycliffe along with the Catholic Church practiced sprinkling rather than immersion.  The transliterated Greek word for “baptisma” became a new English word that had no definition except what was consequently created.  Hence, the English word baptism includes in its definition dipping, sprinkling, pouring or washing.

The English word “wine” serves as another example of inconsistent translation.  There are at least 13 different Hebrew and Greek words that have been translated into the single English word “wine.”  Surely, the English language is not so limited that the translators couldn’t differentiate 13 different words.  This discrepancy is not acceptable especially when we consider how the King James Version of the Bible avoided uniformity in the translation.

Concerning the translation of the King James Version of the Bible: “They said they did not think it right to honor some words by giving them a place forever in the Bible, while they virtually said to other equally good words: Get ye hence and be banished forever.  They quote a “certain great philosopher” who said that those logs were happy which became images and were worshipped, while, other logs as good as they were laid behind the fire to be burned.  So they sought to use as many English words, familiar in speech and commonly understood, as they might, lest they should impoverish the language, and so lose out of use good words.” (McAfee, “The Making of the King James Version; Its Characteristics,” www.bible-researcher.com)

A lack of consistency in favor of diversity in word choice suggests an ill intent when we find, in fact, a lack of diversity in word choice in favor of inconsistency when it comes to the word “wine.”  The intentional inconsistencies in translation of our English Bibles have produced versions that are not truly accurate.  We must be wise to the misleading way many words were used because the translators were purposely trying to prevent disagreements and controversies. In essence, they willingly used “politically correct” terms when the subject matter was in question.

Great care must be taken to insure a proper understanding of the words that were chosen to represent the original text.  For example, the English word “sober” is used to represent two different Greek words in the Bible.  We understand “sober” has three definitions when it is applied to the subject of intoxicating beverages.  It could mean not intoxicated, someone less than drunk or someone who is thinking clearly.  However, only one definition was actually in the mind of the author when he wrote it.  Could the word “sober” ever be defined as less than drunk in any passage of the Bible (Rom. 12:3; 2 Cor. 5:13; 1 Thes.  5:6, 8; 1 Tim. 3:11; Tit. 2:2, 12; 1 Pet. 1:13; 5:8)?

Christians are commanded to be sober (1 Thes. 5:6, 8; 1 Pet. 1:13; 4:7; 5:8).  Sobriety occurs in both mind and body.  Someone who is sober in body (not intoxicated) is also sober in mind.  Impaired thinking would not be considered sober even if the impairment did not reach the civil definition of drunk. Obviously, any amount of alcohol impairs a person’s sobriety.

It should also be noted that King James was a heavy drinker, the head of the Church of England and the one who commissioned the King James Version of the Bible.  Was there any motivation to treat the subject of wine delicately by the translators?

By Steve A. Hamilton
shamilton@rap.midco.net

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