Authority of Lexicons, pt. 2

Translation Myths, Use of Lexicons continued.

As mentioned in the earlier post, translators often when questioned pull out some lexicon reference to “authorize” their translation. This seems to be the panecia to all questions. Virtually none of them pull out verses from the Hebrew or Greek text to support their particular translation. That would be too easy to show them up, so that is usually avoided like the plague.

In our history of manuscript criticism, preservation and translation, many names stand out as being “pioneers” in the field. One of those names is Tregelles. For those not familiar with him, I suggest a further google search.

One of the important works of Dr. Tregelles was a Hebrew grammar. In his grammar Dr. Tregelles discusses the very subject of our first post on the use of lexicons. Determining meaning by dogmatical bias, etc. was the focal point of his comment. Here is what he had to say, and it applies to the Greek of the Bible as well as to the Hebrew.

Hence arises the peculiar importance mentioned above, of properly attending to Hebrew philogy. A real acquaintance with that language, or even the ability of properly using the works of competent writers, will often show that the dogmatic assertion that something very peculiar must be the meaning of a Hebrew word or sentence, is only a petitio principii devised for the sake of certain deductions which are intended to be drawn. It may be seen by any competent scholar, not only that such strange signification is not necessary, but also that it is often inadmissible, unless we are allowed to resort to the most arbitrary conjectures . . . The mode in which some have introduced difficulties into the department of Hebrew philology, has been by assigning new and strange meanings to Hebrew words, by affirming that such meanings must be right in particular passages (although nowhere else), and by limiting the sense of a root or a term, so as to imply that some incorrectness of statement is found on the part of the Sacred writers.”

There you have another authority stating the obvious. The bottom line from this boils down to one thing, how the manuscripts, or rather the authors of those manuscripts, use the words within those manuscripts, and nowhere else, is the only real answer to what the words mean. We’ll discuss this in more depth later.

Although the answer to the first myth, i.e. the over use of lexicons, grammars, etc. to support “personal preference” translations is overly obvious and simple, it is NOT one of the truly accepted ways of translating, or should I say, “interpreting” a word, or words from the Bible texts. Some think, and argue, that the one organization that places heavy emphasis on “concordant” studies of the texts is not presenting a “universal” case. So, for this post, let’s steer away from that organization’s solution, and stick more with the “commonly accepted” sources.

But, however difficult the task may be, this may not deter the interpreter. If necessary, he must make a thorough study of a word for himself. And, the only way in which he can do it is by the inductive method. It will be INCUMBENT ON HIM (a) to ascertain, by the aid of Hebrew and Greek CONCORDANCES, where the word is found; (b) to determine the meaning of the word in EACH ONE OF THE CONNECTIONS IN WHICH IT OCCURS; and (c) to do this by means of INTERNAL rather than EXTERNAL helps.

In the pursuance of such a study, the various significations of a word will gradually become apparent. The interpreter must beware, however, of hasty conclusions, and should never base his induction on only a part of the data at hand. Such inductive study may enable him (a) to determine whether a certain meaning, confidently ascribed to a word BY THE LEXICON, is indeed correct or (b) to obtain certainty respecting a signification that was represented as doubtful in the Lexicon; or (c) to discover a meaning that had never been ascribed to the word before. ibid, p. 70

Now, here is where it can get a little blunt. It appears on very close examination, that just as the KJV, and most other modern translations, the Holy Bible in its Original Order, does not use this “concordant” method in translation. If that is the case, as I feel can reasonably be proven, then much will need to be done to encourage a “more literal” and accurate translation in future printings.

Author: Bob Petry

Student of the Bible since 1953. And am still learning.