The Holy Words and the Dangers of Semantic Range
Inspiration and Translation
Holy Words relate to verbal inspiration of the Scriptures. This short note highlights the dangers of semantic range in the translation of God’s Holy Words.
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Men being carried by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. Those men spoke “Holy Words” given to them by the will of God. The will of man (“θελήματι ἀνθρώπου”) played no part in producing those words. The original autographs of the Bible contain only Holy Words, which are not the product of human will. The Holy Words came as direct revelations from God, Who cannot lie. Yahweh told Jeremiah to speak for Him and not to omit a single word (“אַל־תִּגְרַ֖ע דָּבָֽר“) (Jeremiah 26:2). Often a single word, or even a part of a word, conveys exact meaning from God. I will use the term “Holy Words” to mean the words God breathed out in the original autographs, which men, being carried by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. God reveals truths we would not know without His communications in Holy Words produced by the Holy Spirit. One Holy Word may convey tremendous information, such as tense, voice, mood, person, and gender. It may also have prefixes and suffixes that communicate critical information.
All words are symbols, designed to communicate complex things by using familiar symbols (which we call words). Yet, the Holy Words convey revealed truth about both temporal (seen) and eternal (unseen) things. God communicated infinite things using finite things (words). God cannot lie and never misrepresents the truth. When anyone tells you the original autographs of the Bible do not get all the dates right, or the order of events right, or that the autographs of the Bible do not contain the exact words attributed to Jesus in quotations of Jesus, remember they are saying that: (1) God did not inspire that passage in the original autographs; or (2) the words in the original autographs are not accurate reflections of eternal or temporal reality. Truth matters and the Holy Words always accurately represent both temporal and eternal reality. God deals in just one reality, but things we see are temporal, but the things unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18). Therefore, because God communicates eternal truths, He never misleads us by communicating error or by lying. So when people tell you that we do not have the exact words of Jesus, even when the Bible said that Jesus said those exact words, then you know that person is lying about God and His veracity. God will always be true, even if every man is a liar. Do not let people with special training or degrees lead you into the doctrinal errors they imbibed at some school and now spew forth in Bible translations that have no fidelity to the inspired words. They affirm belief in verbal inspiration, but deny it in practice, often using the cloak of “semantic range” to produce interpretations and commentaries they call Bible translations which they sell for profit.
Words certainly have a semantic range. Holy Words, however, deserve special caution when translating them. Regarding the original autographs of the Bible, context often plays a role in understanding the particular word at issue. Problems quickly arise when humans start substituting human words for Holy Words. God wrote the Bible in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. God wrote many words, using many people being carried by the Holy Spirit to write down His words. The words they wrote sounded like Moses, Jeremiah, Paul and John. They each had their different styles of writing, with God using each writer to communicate His exact words, not just the thoughts. Remember that the will of man played no part in producing Holy Words.
Verbal inspiration refers to the words of Scripture. Many Bible translations display no fidelity to the original words of Scripture. They start with the notion that they cannot even know what words Moses, Abraham or Jesus said, because no one had video or audio recording instruments. They treat the writers (not the authors–God was always the author) of Holy Words as if they were secular writers of secular texts beset with all the infirmities and biases of their secular contemporaries writing uninspired history. Let me be clear: the inspiration comes from God breathing out the words through the writer. The inspiration produced the words. The writer was not inspired because the writer did nothing from human will. Instead, men being carried (“φερόμενοι”) by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1:21).
Every translation of Holy Words produces some degree of commentary. The translator must make judgments about the best word to translate the Holy Word. Yet, if the translator recognizes the nature of the Holy Words, then they will translate with greater fidelity to the original text. They will be less likely to change the Holy Words by claiming a broad semantic range for that particular word. Because God used Holy Words, we can now use computer programs to view every use of that particular Holy Word. In many cases, the semantic range is only one word, and one word covers every occurrence very well. Furthermore, because the Holy Word may be translated by the same word across many passages, the reader of that translation can understand the semantic range of the Holy Word, because the Holy Word has been preserved in that translation. Many people do not have access or understanding of original languages used in the Bible and so must rely upon others to produce accurate translations of Holy Words.
In conclusion, when the people in pews trust people who do not believe in Holy Words to produce Bible translations, they can rest assured they are reading words produced by human will, corrupted by sin, and spreading lies about God and His Holy Words. Many people claim that this view of Holy Words amounts to idolatry, because they falsely claim calling the words of the original autographs Holy Words amounts to worshiping the Bible, instead of God. Such claims amount to false, evil attacks upon the Holy Words and God Himself, because we are not promoting worship of the Bible, but we always proclaim the worship of the only true God, described with His Holy Words in the original autographs of the Bible. Without His Holy Words, we could not worship Him in spirit and in truth. The Holy Words of Jesus are eternal life, which give life and sanctify all saints, the holy ones of God, redeemed by the blood of Jesus, and made effective for salvation by grace through faith in God our Savior.