LEARNING TO DISCERN THE MEANING OF WORDS

 

LEARNING TO DISCERN THE MEANING OF WORDS

Many times I have heard discussions over the meaning of words in the original language of Scripture, especially over topics that are not clear at first sight.

The tendency of many, familiar with Greek and Hebrew, it is to subject the open interpretations, to the strict literal meaning of a main word, submitting all surrounding context to it, but ignoring the context in the process of translation.

This may seem to many, but thank God not to the experts, the natural procedure to come to understand the meaning of a passage, beyond empty speculations; however, in the amateur enthusiasm, basic reality is forgotten, and left aside in the search of a accurate meaning.

Like in any other language, the biblical languages also contain synonymous, local expressions, and not specific terminology in many cases. Let us see some examples:

One example is 2Thessalonians 2:15, where St Paul encourages the Thessalonians to keep the ‘traditions’ they learned from him. Traditional Churches, in order to hold onto magisterial power, claim that the term παραδόσεις, which literarily means ‘traditions’ in modern language, contains secret doctrines and practices legated only to the church, and are kept alive in the midst of the Curia. It is in basis of these ‘secret’ or ‘private’ doctrines that they base all the extra biblical beliefs they have.

Really speaking, that meaning of Paradosis, it is etymologically correct, but does not mean what they say it means. Protestant translators go to the other extreme and translate Paradosis as teachings, which is διδασκαλίες. In a literal discussion, the translation freely given by protestants, will end up losing, for the simple fact that they are not translating the original word, but another that it is not in the text.

However, judging the word within the context, we can see that Paul is speaking about the bad influence of false believers, who preached an adulterated gospel (2Thessalonians 2:1-3), and after praising his audience, assuring them of their election, he encourages them to maintain the ‘traditions’ he taught them, before these heretics arrived, by ‘word and letter’.  He even mentions that what he just wrote to them, he had also already explained orally to them before (2Thessalonians 2:5). In summary, he had taught them doctrinal lessons, teachings, clearly orally, as well as through practical example (2Thessalonians 3:7-9).

This body of teachings, is what Paul calls ‘paradosis’. Not dances, or ceremonies, or dressmaking, or any secret doctrine, but simply Christian doctrine, available to anyone who wants to know, and moral life-example.

This is clear, and it is made evident through the bigger context where the term paradoses is mentioned. But also Paul could have written ‘didaskalies’, since what he was clearly referring to was all the teachings he had already given verbally and written, like this letter or the first one,

In this context, we have that the words ‘paradosis-traditions’, and ‘didaskalies – teachings’, to be referring to the same idea, and are treated as synonymous, even though literally they are not; and this is why modern reformed translators, render the word ‘teachings’ instead of traditions, even though, the original Greek do not have the Greek term ‘teachings’ in it, and it is perfectibility correct.

The same occur with Κεχαριτωμένη (Luke 1:28), Θεὸς (John 1:1) or the many times the neutral pronouns are translated as a male subject when speaking about the Holy Spirit.

Understanding a language requires considerations that go beyond the strict literal meanings of words.  It is not the same to say, ‘the world is ending’ than ‘my world ending’, even though the word ‘ending’ means a fatal final in any modern language; and this needs to be considered before we do any  hermeneutical reading. 

Omar Flores

 

 

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