We often think of truth, repentance and other concepts as core parts of the gospel that we “obviously” understand.
Take Repentance as an example. It turns out that Repentance has a different meaning in the koine Greek of the Bible than many sometimes give it. Sometimes simple language differences do make a difference in what we understand.
Other times, the original language fits our doctrine better than the words we often use or the way others use them.
Repentance in the Greek is a process rather than a single event which makes a good example.
To quote a scholar with a great deal more background than I have:
Now [the differences in the way the language is working], this might not be a big deal when we’re talking about sitting in a chair.
But suppose you’re translating a sacred text, and you’re working with a sentence like, oh, let’s say “I repent.”
So maybe in English that becomes “I am repenting.” Or “I repent.” Or “I keep repenting.”
But in each of these cases, the English suggests either a finite activity that is happening now but will either be over in a moment or (in the case of “I keep repenting”) a finite activity that will have to be repeated.
It’s a transactional activity: it happens, then it’s done. Unless you repeat it.
But maybe in the original language, the verb tense suggests an ongoing activity that you are continually engaged in—an ongoing process, a continuous transformation rather than a one-time or iterable transaction.From Stant Litore
At other times, the language difference is transformative, as in the case of the word for “Truth” which we use to translate the Greek word Aletheia.
“How different might our society be, if more communities of faith today experienced truth not as a list of intellectual positions or beliefs, but as the ongoing aletheia (unforgetting) of promises made, the unforgetting of relationships with God and with other human beings, whom God loves?
That gorgeous word aletheia doesn’t have a precise equivalent in modern English; we compromise by continuing to translate it “truth.”
William Tyndale and, later, the translation committee who produced the Authorized Version commissioned by King James I settled on our word troth or truth, which at the time meant “a promise” in English.
That meaning still exists today in our word betrothed—one who is promised to another—or in the archaic phrase “to pledge our troth.” Truth (a promise) is something you pledge to another or something pledged to you, to which you hold fast.
We have kept the word over the centuries in our Bible because that word has become sacred to us. But English has changed over the centuries.
When we hear the word truth now, we no longer hear a “promise”—”—Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible, and A Way of Reading the Bible as a Call to Adventure by Stant Litore
The impact of the meaning of the word we now translate as “Truth” is strong when we look at core doctrinal statements.
“When Jesus says “I am the Truth” in John 14: 6, he is not saying ‘I am the Fact’ or ‘I am a List of Things for You to Believe.’
In the Greek text, he is saying “I am the Unforgetting”: I am the incarnation of the Unforgetting of God and his promises; I am literally God’s Unforgetting of you, in my birth and in my death and resurrection. I am the unconcealing and unforgetting of God; I am the opposite of Lethe because I am not the water of forgetting but the water of life, the water that fills you so you need not thirst; I am the Resurrection and the Life.”
The word that means unforgetting and unconcealing also can mean remembering and revealing. Thus the scriptural references to God revealed in Christ and the promises in the Bible that God will not forget us are tied to the concept of “God is a God of Truth” and an approach that is not about lists of facts or things or knowledge.
I’ve kept my citations and the quotes limited in number in order to keep this post short and to keep it more focused.
While I think that just about all of our readers will have had the experience of being taught and thinking about repentance as a process how many of our readers thought of Christ “as the way, the truth and the light” being “the way, the revealing and remembering, the light”?
What other meanings have you found in studying the scriptures that come up when you look at translations and what the words meant, vs. how they are often used now?
What do you think?
For reference, see https://biblehub.com/john/14-6.htm and how not a single translation sees a need to recapture the original meaning of the word now translated as truth.