Why Should I Care About Bible Translations?

If there is one thing I could say that my biblical studies over the last 10 months have affirmed repeatedly, it’s how desperately we need properly translated texts today. Why? I’ve discovered that many passages in the Bible are often completely skewed in order to reflect a specific theological view. The majority of these cases, these views represent those that are most prevalent in North America; Dispensationalism, Calvinism, etc.

Perhaps one of the most startling examples of this that I came across as I’ve worked on my three-part series on Revelation was found in 2 Peter. This is a well-known passage, and one that causes either polarization or confusion in many church circles. People will either cling to this passage to support their “fire and brimstone” views, or reinterpret it to mean something entirely different. Here is the the Scripture:

“…the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?” 2 Peter 3:10-12 NKJV

Whatever your view has been of what this passage is saying, allow me to interject and propose another option for interpretation. What if I suggested to you that the words you have just read are in fact mistranslated, perhaps even skewed? Allow me to explain.

First, instead of reading from the Greek I’ve chosen to translate from the Aramaic. As Irenaeus wrote, “Matthew issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect…”, Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 1. The native tongue of the Apostles was Aramaic. This was the language they spoke growing up, and the language he would have conversed with Jesus during the Messiah’s earthly ministry. Therefore, I will venture to suggest that, save for Luke, much of the New Testament may have been first written in Aramaic.

Second, both Greek and Aramaic translations have words that can be interpreted in various ways. But the Aramaic seems to have a more direct reading with less nuance. This will be illustrated below with my translation of the same passage from the Aramaic text.

My translation:

“then heaven will suddenly[1] remove[2] (…)[3] the bondage[4] thereupon when[5] it (Israel)[6] be set on fire[7] and the bonds loosed[8], and the land (of Israel)[9] and the deeds done upon it will be uncovered[10].

Wherefore hence, all of these bonds having been loosed[11], for [the sake of] those who are (living) justly[12], (and) those who are in holy conduct, fearing God.[13] Wherefore, be anticipating, be desiring[14], the coming Day of God, out from heaven, wherefore through having refining by fire[15], and bonds of imprisonment having been loosed[16], (it be) set ablaze and consumed[17] (the land of Israel)[18].”

The traditional view based on the King James reading of the Greek text is that God is going to destroy all of the universe with fire. This in turn has led to the creation of some very ‘interesting’ views of what’s to come. Yet if we combine historical context with proper exegesis (interpretation and translation) we arrive at a very different reading of this text.

God made every provision available in order that the ones under the Law of Moses would embrace the New Covenant. He even provided them with a long period of time, that they might reconsider. This period of time (lasting from 30 to 70 AD) was so long, in fact, that Christians were beginning to wonder if Jesus’ words regarding the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple were in fact going to come to pass.

So much so in fact that both Paul and Peter, in the year of their martyrdom (67 AD), each spoke to these doubts and concerns in their final letters. They made repeated references to ‘false teachers’, some of which were part of the circumcision party, also known the Judaizers[1]. There were also arrogant Jewish teachers who continually mocked the followers of Jesus, because they kept saying that Jesus’ words spoken again the religious leaders would come to pass. Yet 30+ years later nothing had happened. In this context, Peter writes to encourage his predominately Jewish brethren in Christ in the letter we call 2 Peter.

Therefore, speaking of the destruction of the Land of Israel, the Temple and the conclusion of the Mosaic Age, he wrote the words which we just read. What we are reading then is a response to the outcry of Believing Jews who suffered persecution and torment under religious leaders and Jewish zealots in the ancient boarders of the Holy Land (Judea, Samaria, Galilee). And this persecution was also felt around the Roman Empire by Jews and Gentiles who came to Christ. They too faced aggressive opposition from Judaizers.

It was to these that Peter wrote to bring comfort and assurance that Jesus would indeed bring an end to the Mosaic Era, the power of the religious leaders in Jerusalem and the authority of the Temple system. And these things were accomplished in 70 AD through the Roman invasion of Judea. This Scripture has been fulfilled for over 1900 years. In light of these things, I invite you to scroll up and read the passage again. Make more sense now, right?

I hope this example has caused you to at least reconsider your understanding of not only this passage, but the importance of Biblical translations. In my books on Revelation, I have often had to re-translated entire passages in order to bring clarity to a text. I look forward to sharing these with those who are interested when the books are released!

Grace and peace,

Leo De Siqueira

[1] These were the thorn in Paul’s flesh. See Judges 2:3; “thorn in the flesh” was a Hebrew expression for enemies of Israel that God did not remove from their midst.

[1] Aramaic, “$ly”, calm, suddenly.

[2] Aramaic, “bryn”, to transgress, to pass, to change, to remove.

[3] “with a great noise” is not found in the Aramaic text.

[4] Strong’s G4747. The Greek translates this as “elements”, and there is a translation for this in Aramaic as well. But the root word in Aramaic is 0:156, “to bind” or “imprison”. It is similar to the Hebrew word אָסַר (Strong’s H631). You will see that Galatians 4:3, 9; Colossians 2:8, 20 use the same word in the context of slavery and captivity. In those cases, the writer was saying he was “bound” (same word used here, but mistranslated as “elements” as well) and “enslaved” to the world system.

[5] Aramaic, Strong’s G5023, “when”, “after”, “just as”.

[6] Up until now, Israel has been the subject of discussion. It will also continue to be so. “Israel” is inserted here to help the reader maintain these words in context.

[7] Strong’s G4448, “set ablaze”. The Aramaic does not have, “dissolved” or “melt”.

[8] Strong’s G3089,G1955, “loosing bonds”. This is the translation in the Imperfect Ethpeal tense, which is the case here, and not “fervent heat”. The ones bound are the Jewish followers of Jesus in the Holy Land, as well as those facing persecution by Jewish opposition throughout the Roman Empire.

[9] The Aramaic, ˀăraˁ, (G1093, G5561) is similar to the Hebrew אֶרֶץ. Both mean land, country, or nation. Comparatively, the Greek word for “earth” γῆ (‘gē’) should almost always be translated, “land.” The words “world” and “universe” each have another Greek word. Upon purely lexical considerations, the use of “land” should be understood as referring to the Promised Land, the Land of Israel. Consider also a modern-day example: There is a major Israeli newspaper called, Haaretz, which is translated as, ‘the land’. The implication that ‘the land’ is to mean, ‘the Land of Israel’ is undisputed. What’s interesting is that Haaretz is the exact same word found in Genesis 1:1, הָאָֽרֶץ ‘the earth’.

[10] Aramaic, Strong’s G1410, “found out”, “uncovered”.

[11] Aramaic, Strong’s G3089,G1955, “loosing bonds”, Imperfect Ethpeal. The Saints of Christ were freed from Jewish oppression when the Temple and Jerusalem fell in 70 AD.

[12] The word “justify” is in the Peal Active Participle, implying an ongoing effort to follow the ways of Jesus Christ (Strong’s G1344,G2151).

[13] Peter is not asking a question or challenging his readers, like the NKJV suggests.

[14] These are both Peal Active Participles.

[15] Aramaic, Strong’s G2657, Participle Ethpeal.

[16] Combination of Strong’s G4747 and G3089, both in Imperfect Ethpeal. This is how Galatians 4:3, 9 and Colossians 2:8, 20 should be translated. NKJV reads, “heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt”.

[17] “Melting” is a possible translation but based on the Aramaic (and Hebrew affinity), Strong’s G3089 implies “consumed”, being “cut down”, or “torment”.

[18] Based on verses 10-12, there are only two options for who the recipient of the Day of God and the refining fire may be: 1. The righteous ones being held in bondage, 2. The land of Israel that is the unrighteous prison. The righteous one of Christ who were waiting for the Mosaic Age and the apostasy in Israel to end could not be the subject of the fire, so it could only have been Israel.

Leo De Siqueira