The word "every," the Flood and people as spoils

Monday Musings for November 05, 2018

Good morning, Musers,

The challenges of reading ancient texts in modern times are many. Fortunately, hundreds of scholars have done the heavy lifting for us — and I’m comfortable with their results. But trying to bring the thoughts of an Ancient Near Eastern people into the contemporary idiom will always tax our reading skills.

Now… don’t get me wrong; we can certainly parse the translated sentences well enough to pass our Bible quizzes… but it’s the filters! Some are so basic to how we communicate that we might not be aware that we are using them to process a sentence’s data.

So I take comfort in knowing that different editions of the English Bible use different translation algorithms… like keeping the English text aligned with the Greek as much as possible or bringing it into the most contemporary and conversational English possible. That’s why we see the same text translated in so many different ways — and this bothers some people… but it shouldn’t. Instead, it should give them confidence in the translation process.

I frequently challenge people to compare translations using the website. They can compare upwards of 28 versions of the same verse on one page. Many renderings are the same, of course, but there are also variations… and when you read these variations, you’ll see that they are merely saying the same thing in different ways.

But the number of words in the English vocabulary is huge compared to the number in Hebrew and Greek, so translators have a lot of choices when they cross over into English. But one reason we have so many words is that we are a technological society… and anyone who has read a toaster manual is reading in a way that the ancients did not foresee… and this is one of the sneakier filters.

When the Bible uses words like “all” or “every,” the ancient writers did not have technical inclusiveness in view… like in mathematical sets, operating manuals and programming language… but this is often our assumption when we read these words.

This “word problem” is only one of today’s issues; the second has to do with Israel’s conquest of Canaan… and especially taking the women and children as part of the spoils in Deuteronomy 20. That’s a critic’s favorite, of course, because what kind of God would do that! But when we take a breath, we find that a merciful God did that… not a hateful or a capricious one.

This demonstrates the problem of complaining about a God you just don’t know… a trap that has captured many an earnest skeptic — and hey… even Christians give God short shrift! But we have the indwelling Holy Spirit, and he interfaces with us in special ways. He illuminates Scripture, he convicts us of sin, he changes our hearts… and hopefully… he motivates us to service.

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