The second discussion question in Acts of the Messengers in the Early Church says: “The original Greek text has no chapter breaks, numbered verses, or paragraphs. There weren’t even spaces between the words. How might this make our interpretation of Scripture difficult?”
Here are a few insights that are now posted on the website:
Nobody today speaks the ancient Greek language that the apostle Paul used. We have no audio recordings or Greek dictionaries from 2,000 years ago. But we do have thousands of scholars who have spent countless hours doing their best to put the message into word forms that we can understand.
An ancient Medieval Latin proverb says, Graecum est. Non potest legi.” That is, This is Greek, which can’t be read. That concept prevails today when we say, “It’s Greek to me,” meaning the message is beyond our capacity to understand.
When the Ethiopian eunuch was asked if he understood the Hebrew text he was reading, he wasn’t sure who the prophet Isaiah was referring to, himself or someone else (Acts 8:34). A scribe who had copied the prophet’s words many times would not have given the answer that Philip gave about Jesus. From this we should understand that a word-for-word translation isn’t always enough to reveal the truth. We often need help with the interpretation that reveals the meaning.
Jesus reprimanded Jews who had studied Scripture all their lives, yet they didn’t recognize who he was (John 5:39-40). Therefore, without the help of the Holy Spirit, we might doubt whether we could recognize truth at all (John 16:13).
In all languages, words have different meanings, and only one of them is intended by the author. In English, we even have contranyms, the same word but with opposite meanings, such as cleave, meaning “cut apart” or “join together.” If we dust the surface, we either “remove fine particles” or we “cover with fine particles.” We must know the context to determine what meaning is correct.
No matter whether we consider a scholarly work a translation or a paraphrase, the excellence is best measured by how well the interpretation agrees with what the author would say to us today.