Archive for September, 2014

Difficulties arise whenever ancient writings are translated into other languages. Many words may not have an exact equivalent, and the meaning of some words may be unknown. In such cases the original word may be adopted into the new language. The translators will attempt to represent the pronunciation of the word, to whatever degree it is known, using letters of their own alphabet. Even this can be a challenge because of the lack of exact equivalents.

The result is often a variety of spellings. As an example, the name of the river “Pishon,” in Genesis 2:11 of the Bible (ref. Rivers of Eden in my October 2011 archives), comes to us from the Hebrew language. The Hebrew letters Pe (or Phe), Yowd, Siyn (or Shiyn) Vav, and Nuwn, are used in the spelling.

Even the spellings representing pronunciations of foreign letters vary, and sometimes arguments develop over their correctness. Pe may be written “pey,” and yowd may be “yud,” “yod,” or “jod.” Siyn and shiyn become “sin” and “shin,” and vav becomes “vau,” or “waw.” Nuwn becomes “Nun.” Note that we are not using the Hebrew alphabetical symbols here, but an English transliteration of the symbols.

Multiple spellings of Pishon exist; Pison (King James Version), Phisom (Septuagint), Phison (Josephus), and others. All of these are recognizable representations of the original word, and such differences usually aren’t very important. A serious disagreement develops however, over the transliteration of the Lord’s Hebrew name Yahweh, into the English Jehovah. I hope to write something on that subject soon.

Procedures of transliteration used when adopting foreign words vary over periods of time, and also depend upon the languages which the words pass through. Information sometimes reaches us that is a translation of earlier translations, and we may be altering marks of authenticity whenever we attempt to harmonize spellings and content of various records.

Human speech was first given to man by God, though Adam soon began to adapt his language. For instance, God allowed Adam to give names to the animals (Genesis 2:19). At the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), God translated man’s original language into several branches, and Genesis 10:32 tells us that the nations were divided according to their families.

More than simply a monument to man, the tower represented an uprising against God. I also intend to write more on this later. Anyway, the building of the tower ceased when suddenly, the workers could no longer understand each other. God has many ways of performing that which we call miracles, but in the final analysis, he’s using some principle of science in some way that we don’t currently understand. He has created the rules of science, and has the ability to circumvent them. Science is aware of these possibilities.

Keeping the tower of Babel in mind, and the miracle of the second chapter of Acts involving several different languages, it would be interesting to study the human brain searching for a scientific mechanism that might have been involved. Such scientific knowledge would be a very dangerous thing in the hands of man however.

Computers, with access to the right programs and information, can perform either encryption, or translation tasks quickly, so accepting the event of the confusion of languages should not present any great challenge, even to an atheist. Atheists should also easily understand the motives of the designers of the tower. While the confusion of languages ended the futile attempt at building a “tower to heaven,” it also made Bible translation a necessity.

If we can learn a little about the Hebrew and Greek languages of the ancient Bible, and the history of its translation, we’ll have a fuller understanding of it. Actually, I think that would apply to translations in all languages. It could be easier for a particular people, because of their language, to grasp some facet of understanding. Some people are quick to point out to me, that we don’t have to know any of this stuff, but only to have faith. I understand that, but I think that some people also need to understand more about that Bible before they can believe it. Faith and understanding go hand in hand.

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