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Transliterations and Translations

Posted by on Oct 5, 2010 in NT Greek, scripture | 6 comments

Transliterations and Translations

Last week, in our Greek Study Club, someone said something like this: “I was surprised when I found out that the Greek term for ‘gospel’ (εὐαγγέλιον – euangelion) simply means ‘good news.’ I always thought it was a special word with religious connotations.”

And, it’s true. The word simply means “good news.” When a herald or representative of the government came into town with a decree from Caesar, he brought “good news” (Old English “gospel”, Greek εὐαγγέλιον – euangelion).

There are several words like “gospel” which are transliterated or carried over from an older language. For example, “gospel” comes from the Old English “gōd spell” which meant, simply, “good news.”

Something seems to happen, though, when we run across one of these words. We assume that the word itself must have some type of religious or theological or spiritual significance. In fact, most of these words are simple, everyday Greek (or Latin, or Old English, or German) words.

Here are some of the words that I’m talking about: gospel, apostle, presbyter, church, baptize, pastor, ministry (minister), deacon, and angel. (A transliteration, by the way, is a mapping of characters or sounds from one language into a new language which then creates a new word.)

I think that including transliterations like these in our translations actually leads to more confusion and misunderstanding than translating the words. So, why not use “good news,” “envoy/ambassador,” “older man,” “assembly,” “immerse,” “shepherd,” “service” (“servant”), “servant,” and “messenger”? Well, that’s a good question (I think). I know part of the reason – at least the part that included the translators of the KJV in 1611. But, I don’t know why modern translators continue to use transliterations.

I suppose the transliterations are simple and accepted. But, like I said before, I think they can also lead to confusion and the propagation of traditional meanings that are not actually part of the verbal meanings.

So, what do we do? I guess, for now, we have to explain what each words means as we come across it in our English translations of the New Testament. Each time we see the word “church,” for example, we have to explain that it cannot mean building, or organization, or clergy, or anything like that. Instead, it simply means an assembled group of people.

What do you think? Should translators keep using transliterations? What about words like “amen,” “Christ,” and “Messiah?” Can they be transliterated, or should we translate them as well? Can you think of other transliterations (from Greek, Latin, German, Old English, etc.) that may mislead the reader?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 10-5-2010

    Instead of “amen” I think we should say, “peace out”.


  2. 10-5-2010

    Why would you change Jesus’ last name? (really bad joke)

    By the way, I have seen in some churches, transliterations become popular and people use them as though they are loaded with fuller meaning, like “Shalom.”

  3. 10-5-2010

    Obey in Heb 13:17. I don’t know if it is a transliteration, but I believe it is a bad translation. That one word changes the whole concept of what biblical leadership is really about.

  4. 10-5-2010

    lew…. HEHEHEH

  5. 10-5-2010


    Amen! (I mean… peace out.)


    Shalom is a special kinda peace… I guess.


    Yes, I would say the ‘Obey’ in Heb 13:17 is a bad translation, but its not a transliteration.


    Lew is always good for a laugh. 🙂


  6. 10-11-2010

    well first I agree especially the word “church.” I also think that the word in context of the word is of equal importantance as is it’s translation.


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