Some Challenges of Reading the Bible in English

The Apostle Paul wrote,
For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.
(Philippians 1:8 KJV)
What a curious thing to say. Paul wants Jesus to eat us all!

No, really. It says so right there.

Wait. That's not what Paul meant, you say?

Well, of course not. It doesn't make any sense. It's easy to see that the original intent isn't what it seems to be in plain English, so we know that Paul was using an expression that just didn't translate well. With a little thought, we can work out that he actually meant "with the heart/affection of Jesus".

Every language uses metaphors and colloquialisms that can be difficult to translate. In the case of Philippians 1:8, the King James translators used English words that people of the 17th century were likely to understand, but that have changed meaning over the centuries or fallen out of usage altogether.

When reading the King James Version and other older English Bibles, we need always to keep in mind that the original text must undergo two translations before it can be understood: Once from Greek and Hebrew into early Modern English, and once again from early Modern English into our own dialects.

Even more importantly, whenever we read *any* English Bible, we must always be aware that the text has already undergone one or more translations from the original, and if we sometimes need to pause in order to understand one another's English, how much more difficult is it to understand a foreign text separated from us by thousands of years and largely unknown cultural differences?

You don't need to be a linguist, anthropologist, or philologist to be able to understand the Bible, but you do need to be aware that the words you read are usually only a close approximation to the original intent, and sometimes they are only educated guesses. You also need to be aware that English words often have multiple meanings or implications that were never part of the original intent of the Biblical texts.

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