The Bible was not originally written in English. Instead, the Old Testament used Hebrew and the New Testament was composed in Ancient Greek. Any English Bible we might come across today is a translation of those writings, and there are many different translations available.
Translations are susceptible to error, in one of two ways. Firstly, the translator might simply make mistakes in his work. Or secondly, he might struggle to accurately copy across an idea or an expression from one language to another. This is especially true with idioms, which are very hard to translate. If you were trying to say “It’s raining cats and dogs” in Spanish, or “I’m dead tired” in French, you would have to change some of the words to make sure it still made sense in the new language, and you might lose some of the force of the phrase. Sometimes the translator has to guess what the original writer meant, and may get it wrong. If you have a margin in your Bible, you might see some of the alternatives that the translators have left in when they’re not sure.
The Bible is the inspired Word of God, but only in the languages it was first written in. There are a few errors, and bits that translators have added in, in English versions. More on this to come in future posts!
That’s why it might be interesting for you to have a go at learning Hebrew or Greek, because it helps you to get closer to what the Bible really says, and to pick up wonderful new details and allusions that any translated Bible cannot replicate. For example, did you know that in Psalm 119, each of the 22 stanzas takes one letter of the Hebrew alphabet to start each line in the stanza? There are also lots of occasions where meanings of names are very appropriate, and the words are even played on. For example, Jesus was crucified instead of the prisoner who was released – Barabbas – whose name means Son of the Father, just as Jesus was!
There are plenty of online resources to help you – here’s a good one to start with. And bear in mind, you don’t need to be fluent to find this useful, just a little bit of understanding will help your Bible study no end.