Bible Question:

Should we use other Bible passages to help us translate a verse?

Bible Answer:

Meaning of Greek word graphe

No. Other passages cannot be used to help us translate a passage, sentence, verse or word in the Bible. Translation from one language into another language is not an art where we apply a theological viewpoint or the meaning from another passage in the translation process. Translation is a science and not an opinion or an art. Nehemiah 8:8 tells us that Ezra translated the Law so that everyone could understand.

They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. Nehemiah 8:8 (NASB)

Biblical Translation Requires Skill and Knowledge

Translation requires skill and knowledge. It is not an opinion or an art. Only the dishonest translator allows his or her perspective to influence the translation. Excellent translation requires that one understands the meaning of each individual Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek word before he or she can translate a phrase or a sentence. Bible translation requires much time and patience. It is not something that one does quickly or superficially. Accurate translation requires a knowledge of the original language and an understanding of how the word was used in the culture of the time. Accurate translation requires knowledge of the semantic range of the word. Greek translation requires that the student understands the meaning of a word in Koine Greek, and not in Classical Greek since the Bible was written in Koine Greek. The translator must also know how the word is used in the Bible and sometimes in the Septuagint.

The Complexities of Words

The term semantic range refers to the breadth of the meaning of a word. For example, the “bill” in the English language can refer to a one-dollar bill, the bill of a bird, the bill of a baseball cap, a bill that one receives from the utility company or even the name of a man called Bill. Words have a breadth of meaning and the context helps one determine how to understand the word “bill”. Consequently, when we try to translate a Koine Greek word into English, we may have to use multiple words to convey the correct meaning. This problem occurs in any translation such as from Spanish to English. Sometimes a translator will discover that an English word does not exist with the same exact meaning of a Spanish word. Therefore, the translator must use multiple words to convey the meaning. At times this is difficult.

Unfortunately, an inexperienced Bible student may not be aware of this problem. Therefore, the student picks up Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance and looks up Strong’s number for a Koine Greek word and thinks he or she has the meaning, a one-word definition. Then maybe on Sunday their pastor states the Greek word has another meaning and they are confused. Maybe they even criticize the pastor. The Bible student does not realize that the pastor studied the meaning of the word using a variety of scholarly tools: Greek grammars or lexicons. It is important to note that Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance word meanings rarely give the complete and correct sense of the Greek word. Strong’s meanings are often less than precise.

Bible Translation Is Not for the Quick

Translation requires an extensive knowledge of the original language Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek. Unfortunately, many eager Bible students who want to understand the original Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek seek a shortcut approach to understanding the Bible. Therefore, they look for a website that provides a quick and easy Greek-to-English translation or they buy Bible software. The unsuspecting student does not realize that often websites or Bible software use Strong’s’ Exhaustive Concordance word meanings. As my Greek professor once stated, “Young’s Exhaustive Concordance is for the young. Cruden’s Complete Concordance is for the crude, and Strong’s is for the strong” but it is not good enough for serious Bible translation. Strong’s word definitions are general, terse and less than precise. The serious Bible student will avoid Strong’s, Young’s, Cruden’s and Spiros Zodhiates quick translation tools.   Spiros Zodhiates uses Strong’s word definitions.

Serious Bible Translation

The serious student will take at least a two-year course on Koine Greek and not Classical Greek. Classical Greek is commonly taught in our universities and colleges. Bible colleges, Bible universities and seminaries usually teach Koine Greek. Koine Greek is the Greek of the Bible. The student will also purchase several reputable Greek textbooks and multiple Greek-to-English lexicons. The student will discover one Greek-English lexicon may provide a slight shade of meaning that another Greek-English lexicon may miss. The serious student will continue studying Koine Greek in order to learn the riches and nuances of the language.

Recommended Hebrew Grammar and Word Tools

Here is a list of some recommended and reputable textbooks for learning Biblical Hebrew:

– Biblical Hebrew. Baker Book House. 1997. (2 volumes)

The following Biblical Hebrew lexicons or dictionaries are recommended:

– Brown, Driver & Briggs. The Brown, Driver & Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Hendrickson Publishing. 1996.

– Harris, Archer & Waltke. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Moody Press. 1980. (2 volumes)

– Willem VanGemeren. Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis. Zondervan Publishing. 1997. (5 volumes)

– Claus Westermann. Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament. Hendrickson Publishing. 1997.

 Recommended Koine Greek Grammar and Word Tools

Here is a list of some recommended and reputable textbooks for learning Koine Greek:

– Dana & Mantley. A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament. MacMillian.

– New Testament Greek. MacMillian Co.

– William D. Mounce. Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar. Zondervan Publishing. 1999.

The following is a list of some recommended Koine Greek lexicons or dictionaries:

– The New Testament Greek-English Lexicon. Christian Copyrights. 1983. (1 volume)

– Colin & Brown. Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Regency Reference Library. 1975. (3 volumes)

– Louw & Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. United Bible Societies. (2 volumes)

– The Blaz and Schneider. Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1994. (3 volumes)

– Ceslas Spicq. Theological Lexicon of the New Testament. Hendrickson Publishing. 1994. (3 volumes)

The authority on Greek word meanings is a 10-volume set called Kittel’s. The explanation of one Greek word takes 120 pages.

– Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Eerdmans. 1995. (12 volumes)

The serious student will also purchase commentaries published by Biblical Greek scholars, that is, scholars who understand Koine Greek.


Bible translation starts with an understanding of the range of meanings of the Hebrew, Aramaic or individual Greek words in a sentence. Then and only then can the student of the Bible understand the meaning of the sentence. After that the translator can then ask what is the application? Many students of the Bible make the serious mistake of jumping to the application before understanding what the words or the sentence actually means.

The error is even worse when someone uses another verse or passage to explain how a verse or word should be translated. Students who take this approach need to ask themselves, “Does this verse provide additional information that I have missed?” Our goal is to seek the truth. Our goal should never be to twist a passage of the Bible in order to reinforce what one believes or, even worse, wants the passage to say.


Reference Links:

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