Seeking Biblical Truth – Part 1: Truth and Tradition

Posted: March 19, 2013 in Researching the Bible

Throughout my studies of scripture, I have found many examples of traditional accounts conflicting with what the Bible actually teaches. For example, it is traditionally taught that Adam and Eve ate an apple and that was basically what encompassed the first sin. In reality, the Bible never says exactly what type of fruit was eaten. We read in Genesis chapter 3 that it is referred to only as “fruit”. In Genesis 3:7 it says Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together to make aprons to hide their nakedness. The only indication we can speculate from this account is that the fruit was more than likely a fig, not an apple. At the very least, we can say there is more evidence pointing toward the fruit being a fig than it being an apple. This is just one small example, out of many, where traditional teaching conflicts with biblical teaching.

Another example of a traditional teaching is what is sometimes known as “divine translation”. Basically what this means is that, though the texts that are found in the Bible were originally written in Hebrew and Greek, our English translation of the Bible is perfect. This means that, when the original texts were translated to English for the King James Bible, God made it so that it was translated perfectly with no mistakes or errors. This teaching goes on to say that since the original Hebrew and Greek texts are exactly equal with the English translation, it is not important to learn the original languages or use a concordance to find out what is in the original texts.

I will say that I do agree with this, but only to a certain point. I do agree that God had a hand in the translation of the King James Bible and I do believe that the King James Bible is the most accurate English translation we have today. I also believe that there are no mistakes or contradictions in the Bible. I have had many supposed contradictions brought to my attention and I have never seen anything that was a legitimate problem with the Bible. These apparent contradictions are usually a misunderstanding of the texts or a problem with the interpretation of the verses in question. Many times it’s a result of taking a verse out of context by not reading what the entire chapter is saying. It is easy to misinterpret a verse of the Bible if it is read in that way.

While I agree with certain aspects of the divine translation viewpoint, I do disagree with others. I do believe it is important for us to discover what the original languages say and how they were translated. While there are no mistakes in translations, not every Hebrew or Greek word can be translated perfectly to English. This does not mean there are problems with God’s Word. When we think about it though, God’s Word does not reside only in the English-translated Bibles. God’s infallible Word resides within all properly translated Bibles. God’s Word is not the specific words themselves, but the ideas, messages, and teachings they convey. God’s message to us transcends all language barriers. A language’s letters and words are only tools used to carry that message.

The fact is that Greek, Hebrew, and English are different languages and sometimes certain revelations can be lost in the translation. A great example of this is the word “love” in the New Testament. There are actually three Greek words that were all translated to our English word “love” in the Bible. While these three Greek words are each representing a type of love, they are still more different than we might
imagine. This shows us that Greek words do not always translate perfectly to English without losing any of the meaning. No matter what Greek word for “love” is used, it is still a form of love and still literally means love. The translation of those Greek words into the English word “love” is still correct, though when we look to the original Greek, we see the deeper meaning of the words.

The three Greek words used for “love” in the Bible are “agapao”, “storge”, and “phileo”. They each represent a different type of love. The word “agapao” is used for the highest form of love, such as the perfect love of God. This is the word used in John 3:16, which reads…

“For God so loved the world…”

The word “storge” is used for the love within a family, such as for a brother, sister, mother, or father. An example of this is found in Romans 12:10, which reads…

“Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another.”

Lastly, the word “phileo” is used for more of a strong liking, such as the love shared between close friends.

In the John 21:15-17 account we can see how knowing the real meanings of these Greek words can add insight to what is being said. In the passage, Jesus asked Simon Peter three times if he loved Him. The first two times Jesus asked, He used the word “agapao” and both times Simon Peter used the word “phileo” to answer Him. Finally the last time Jesus asked, He used the word “phileo” and Simon Peter answered with “phileo”. To fully understand this concept, we need to look at the conversation as it is written. With the definitions of “love” that I have included, John 21:15-17 reads…

“So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest (agapao – perfect love) thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love (phileo – friendship love) thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith unto him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest (agapao – perfect love) thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love (phileo – friendship love) thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest (phileo – friendship love) thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest (phileo – friendship love) thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love (phileo – friendship love) thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.”

I believe that Simon Peter was grieved because the third time Jesus changed the word from God’s perfect love to the more human friendship kind of love. I believe it grieved Simon Peter to know he did not have God’s perfect love for Jesus because he desperately wanted to know that kind of love. Simon Peter was honest with Jesus, though, and told Him the level of love he was capable of at that time. Simon Peter was only human and could not feel for Jesus the perfect love of God. This is, after all, speaking of the love between Jesus and God.

This account begs the question, with us all being human and flawed, can any of us experience that perfect love for God that He has for us? Are any of us fully able to reciprocate the same level of love God shows us? Was Jesus showing how to move from human love to perfect love by telling Peter to feed His sheep? Can loving Jesus at least enough to do His work grow into a more perfect love? Or, in this human existence and fallen world, is “phileo” the strongest love we can feel for God without direct intervention of the Holy Spirit? Without looking to the original Greek language, these questions would never be asked, as the proper definitions of “love” in the Bible would never be realized. It is definitely something to think about.

When we look at what the Greek really says about this particular story, we can see how the true meaning of one word translated from the original language can give us a more accurate insight into what was being said, what is being taught, and what we are supposed to take away from it. This is just one example of many I will share throughout this book that shows the importance of understanding what was written in the original languages of the scriptures. To utilize this, you do not need to learn the Hebrew or Greek language. You can simply pick up a concordance, such as the Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of The Bible. I recommend this concordance because it is simple to use and has all the valuable information needed for this type of study. It is important for us to use any tools available to help correctly understand the Bible, but it is even more important for us to remember never to lift those tools, even our own logic, above the Word of God.


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