By David Kowalski
Misrepresenting the meaning of the original languages of Scripture is one of the easiest ways to mislead those with little if any training in those languages. Someone can easily claim that what the Greek or Hebrew “really means” is something you have never heard before. If these self-appointed experts use Greek or Hebrew characters and refer to principles of Greek or Hebrew grammar one is unfamiliar with, it is tempting to accept what the alleged authority says if one is not sufficiently knowledgeable to challenge them. Even if one Is not a scholar trained in biblical languages, however, there are simple ways to test what is being alleged about the Greek or Hebrew.
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1) Check what is being said against a variety of translations. Even if you do not own many different translations in hard copy, you can access 44 different English translations on Bible Gateway . See how many translations agree with the assertions of the “expert.” 1 Most translations are put together by teams of renowned scholars who check one another’s work along the way. If none of these teams of renowned scholars supports the claim of your “expert,” you can be certain his or her unique claim regarding what the Greek or Hebrew “really means” is not reliable, or at the least not respected by most scholars.
2) Have some easy to use but well-respected word-study books available to you — something more advanced than Strong’s dictionary and Vine’s but not something that requires a knowledge of Greek or Hebrew if you are not trained in these languages. Some works will provide an index giving the English equivalent to the word along with the location of the book’s definition and discussion of the word. There are also many reference works keyed to the Strong’s numbers. Knowing the number from the concordance will enable you to find an advanced discussion of the word or words in question. There are a large number of such sources available. I’ll give just two examples of scholarly word-study books that are accessible to the non-specialist.
For the Old Testament, the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament has its own numbering system but provides a section that converts Strong’s numbers to TWOT numbers. One does not need to know Hebrew to understand the meaning of the entries, but they will at the same time be treated to a scholarly analysis of the word(s) in question.
For the New Testament, the one volume Theological Dictionary of the New Testament provides an index of both Greek and English words from which one may find a respected treatment of any Greek words in question. The dictionary is considered an advanced work but one does not need to know Greek to use it meaningfully.
I find most internet sources on Greek and Hebrew to be of questionable quality and usefulness. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, for example is often found keyed to Strong’s numbers but Thayer was not always the most reliable scholar and almost every online Thayer’s (it is now in the public domain) is abridged in an irresponsible way that sometimes completely misrepresents Thayer’s original intent.
3) It is also helpful to have commentaries available that address scholarly issues such as the one that you may be investigating. Online commentaries will almost certainly not do so but there are contemporary commentaries available that can be of help. The New International Commentary is one such set (Old Testament series, New Testament series) . Purchasing the set will stretch most people’s budget but it is a worthwhile expense for those who plan to study the Bible for a lifetime.
If the assertion about the “real meaning” of the Greek or Hebrew does not stand up to the scrutiny of comparison to respected translations, the explanations found in good, word-study books, and the analysis in reliable and scholarly commentaries, one should consider the alleged expert’s assertion to be lacking in authority and thus not useful in understanding the true meaning of Scripture.
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