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’ (Îµá½Î±Î³Î³ÎÎ»Î¹Î¿Î½ – 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 Îµá½Î±Î³Î³ÎÎ»Î¹Î¿Î½ – 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 “gÅd 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?