Linguistic Relevance and Reading the Bible

Do you struggle with understanding the Bible? Do you find it hard to read? Do you wonder if it is still relevant today?

Linguistics are the study of language form, meaning, and context. The Bible may have been written to people primarily in an agrarian context, but everything in the Bible has relevance in our modern context as well. This relevance of course, can be hard to see, especially if you are not familiar with the ancient context or if you are reading a Bible beyond your current scope of understanding.

In the study of how to interpret the Bible (Hermeneutics), there is a question as to the best way in which to translate the Hebrew and Greek from the original language of the texts into modern languages. Typically, the result is that a translation attempts to be either formal or functional. A formal translation is intended to a be a word-for-word translation of the original language into the modern language. A good example of this in English is the New American Standard Bible (NASB). A functional translation is intended to convey the meaning of the text in the modern language. A good example of this in English is the New International Version (NIV). This version of the Bible, takes a whole phrase in the original Greek or Hebrew and then attempts to state it in English in the way that best conveys the meaning of the original text.

The debate between formal and functional translation according to many should be a both/and way of doing things. Many scholars see value in creating a  word-for-word modern representation of the Bible. These same scholars see value in creating a functional translation as well because these translations often help people know how to rightly believe what the Bible teaches.

Mardel has created a chart to help people know what translation would be best for a reader given reading comprehension level, type of translation, and target audience. This guide can be found here:

The point of this post today is to ask why it is important for Bible’s to be linguistically relevant in order for readers to comprehend the Word of God.

It is important to comprehend God’s Word for at least three reasons:

  1. If the Bible is truly the Word of God revealed to us it shares all we are expected to know about God, about life, and about salvation.
  2. If the Bible is truly the Word of God, we have a responsibility to obey the commands of God revealed in his Word. In order to obey God’s commands, we must understand them in light of their original context and in light of our own context.
  3. If the Bible is truly the Word of God, understanding it will affect how we live. It will affect how we view the world, our place in the world, our purpose in the world, and our mission in the world.

The Bible can be a difficult book to understand, but it is not impossible to understand. Thanks to a plethora of translations, there is one available on just about every level geared towards helping people comprehend the word of God in their cultural context. The task before each of us now is finding the translation that best fits our situation so that we can best be equipped to know God and so that we can know how to live in obedience to him.