Often we discuss the scriptures and whether or not they are translated correctly, but we rarely look at the actual translations or how they are affected by the changes in language.
Most of the New Testament was originally written in what is referred to as Kione, which Paul and others used. In moving the text to the Vulgate Latin, there are often serious cultural shifts that occurred, due to the words not quite being the same thing. The Vulgate Latin is the formative language that many, many theologians worked with and that really forms the basis of the way most people read the scriptures.
That leads to a distance between the meanings of the text as written and the text as translated into Latin and thence to other languages.
For example, the word translated as “head” in the Kione was originally closer in meaning to “source” or support. In Latin, the same term is closer in meaning to “boss” or “leader.” In the Kione, to be the head of a family is to be one who supports it. In Latin, it is to be in charge. There is a significant difference in meaning when you move across the languages, which tends to change the entire way a scripture is applied.
Another change is that in Kione, the word “faith” is a verb, an action. To discuss “faith” and “works” is to discuss what type of action faith requires, not whether or not faith has action at all.
In modern English, “faith” is a noun, a thing that one has, rather than a thing that one does. That definitely changes the way it is applied, understood and related to in the scriptures we use. Suddenly there is a huge contrast between faith (a possession) and works (an action). Not only that, but as a “thing” faith becomes something that is seen as unchanging or merely increasing in amount, rather than a process or a way of acting.
Another change in words from Kione to Latin is the word for “peace.” In Kione, it means weaving together, harmonizing. In Latin it means more to be calm. “Peace and quiet” go together in Latin and we tend to think of peace from the gospel meaning a lack of diversity or differences, rather than something that reconciles or harmonizes. In a Latin peace, there are no harmonies, only the melody, so to speak.
Further, in the Old Testament, “peace” or the Kione word “eirene” often is used to mean “wholeness” and in the New Testament it has a collateral meaning of “welfare” or “health.” How often do you think of “peace” and “welfare” or “health” in the same thought? Or think of peace weaving things together or creating harmonies?
eirene from verb eiro = to join or bind together that which has been separated) literally pictures the binding or joining together again of that which had been separated or divided and thus setting at one again, a meaning convey by the common expression of one “having it all together”.https://www.preceptaustin.org/peace_eirene
In our English usage of “peace” we often read into the New Testament our own usage or theology when the term in used. We lose the original perspectives and shades of meaning.
In picking the illustrations for this post I’ve taken the liberty of using some quotes that agree with my readings (as do we all) but I have been reflecting on just how much we’ve lost by turning faith into a noun instead of a verb, or of treating peace as an absence of difference rather than a joining together and creating harmony from different voices.
I’ve also started to think about how far astray we go when we misuse the word “head”.
For more on the Kione word head, see:
- “Christian egalitarians believe kephalē in the Apostle Paul’s Epistles more likely means “source” or “origin” since the Genesis 2:24 account of Creation indicates that the man was the “source” of the woman since she was described in Genesis 2:21-22 as having been created from Adam’s “side”, the Hebrew word tsela (צְלָעֹת)”
Perspectives and words can make a difference. Sometimes we see a sunrise, sometimes a sunset. Those can be very different things.
Further, sometimes we find things that are precious and important when we look at translations and the way they change the meaning of the words, as much as the difference in language as the difference in the culture that the language is used in. Often the original is plain and simple as well as significant.
If you’ve looked at the meaning of words and translations, or in reflection on this essay:
- What things do you thing were plain and precious that we seem to have lost?
- How has your understanding of the scriptures changed the more you study?
- Should our political or national culture come first, or should the gospel? Why? How?
- How does D&C 121:39 provide perspective on why someone would want to use the Latin meaning of head instead of the Kione meaning?
- What other thoughts do you have on how the scriptures are used?