Cumberland Times-News

April 15, 2014

Translations differ, but the message is eternal

To the Editor:
Cumberland Times-News

— This letter is in response to a recent letter titled “One cannot compromise on God’s word” (April 13 Times-News). I had previously written a letter titled “Why are compromises so difficult to achieve” (April 7).

I agree that Christ was not one to compromise. I too also do believe that Jesus took upon himself the sin of all of creation, and that through his life, death and resurrection, we are all saved from our own, sinful self.

There is a lot more to Martin Luther and the Reformation than “Here I stand, so help me God!”

Luther’s intent was not to split the church, but rather through discussion on certain issues, such as the sale of indulgences, the Bible only being available in Latin and to the priesthood, the misuse of power within the church and a few other things; Luther’s intention was to rather through conversation to bring the church back on track, and to the understanding that ONLY by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, are we made right with God, not through buying indulgences, not through earning God’s grace or any other way.

Luther also proclaimed that the church is called to always reform, as in continually being made new. Luther also wanted for people to have the Bible available in their own language, so they could read the Bible for themselves, allowing for God’s Holy Spirit to work through God’s word.

And I guess this might be where the rub is: “God’s word.” The scriptures that have become our Bible, were not written in English, but rather Hebrew and Koine Greek, by human beings over thousands of years.  

Having studied Greek in seminary, I can assure you that Greek is an extremely complicated and difficult language, grammatically as well as the actual meaning of the various words, and it is virtually impossible to capture the full meaning of most words by translating it into one English word or phrase.

I did not learn Hebrew (Old Testament Language), but I have been told by those who did, that it is an equally difficult language to translate accurately.

Metanoia, by the way, is the Greek word from scripture often translated “repentance.” Many scholars have a problem with that translation, and many translators excuse by the fact that no English word can adequately convey the meaning of that Greek word.

So, it is a bit problematic, if one proclaims that one cannot compromise on God’s word. If we proclaim Jesus Christ as The Living Word of God, I can agree, because I believe that indeed to be true; God’s grace given to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We might need to compromise on the translated word of God; scholars have done so for thousands of years, and continue to do so, but I see no reason to compromise on God’s message of love and grace for all of us for eternity, nor Jesus command to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves.

The way we proclaim that love will always be contextual; cultures and the ways we live are always going to change, but the message of God’s love in Jesus is for eternity.

Maybe God’s Holy Spirit has a variety of ways to bring us that message.

Maybe we are too often the ones trying to fit God into a box that limits God to fit the way we want God to look like, rather than being open to the possibility that God can be so much bigger than anything we with our human minds can ever imagine.

Tormod Svensson, pastor

St. John’s Lutheran Church