W. Robert Gilbert Jr.
If the Bible is translated for us already, why do word studies? After years of teaching Inductive Bible Study with Precept Ministries International, here are two things I have learned.
The Meaning of Words Change over Time
We usually understand words only in our current context. English dictionaries reveal how words have changed in meaning over time in our language. For example, the English word ‘adequate’ historically meant “sufficient for a specific requirement,” but is now understood as “barely sufficient.”1 Likewise, Greek words in the New Testament era often had a different meaning before and after the New Testament period—this makes context key.
Translating Always Has Its Challenges
For several years, I lived in Latin America as a Spanish-speaking missionary. I quickly learned that many words in English do not have an exact equivalent in Spanish. The same is true with the original languages the Bible was written in: Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew.
Let’s look at the Greek word translated ‘adequate’ (αρτιος, artios) in 2 Tim 3:17—“so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (NASB). This word has been translated differently in other English translations, ranging from ‘competent’ to ‘perfect.’ What is the correct translation? ‘Correct,’ in this instance, is in the eye of the beholder. Since the meaning of ‘adequate’ in the English language has shifted, translators have had to compensate by choosing different words. To determine the meaning of the Greek behind the English (and all the ambiguities in the Greek), you need to conduct a word study.
1. Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (1984).↩