Lost In Translation

May 26, 2006
by John Stuart

John 5:39-40 – You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (NIV)

For six long years, I studied Hebrew at Glasgow University and became known for translating the Psalms into Glaswegian slang, or as my father used to call it, Scottish guttural. I enjoyed poring over the Scriptures, looking at the different tenses and root forms of the original Hebrew and Aramaic phrases, in order to rewrite them in "common street talk". Some of my Old Testament professors looked forward to grading my papers because of the unique approach that I adopted, and some of my translations ended up being published in Church of Scotland magazines and the Iona Community's monthly publications.

I loved translating Hebrew, which is a beautiful language, but I almost fell into the trap of admiring my own translations, instead of worshipping the God Who was revealed through them. Night after night, I would study the Psalms and the prophets, looking for new ways to express them in Glaswegian idioms and everyday sayings. It was like a game to me, and it almost caused me to lose my faith. I was very proud at what I had accomplished, but I had forgotten the very reason that the Scriptures existed.

Before I left seminary, I stopped translating Hebrew and began to re-read the Bible. That's when I came across the New International Version, and it has stuck with me ever since. It's easy to understand, and it's the version from which I preach, because of its simplicity and style. After my experience in college, I never again wanted to fall into the trap of idolizing my own translations, because, as Jesus implied, I couldn't possess eternal life by diligently studying the Scriptures, especially when they testify about Him and not my own cleverness.

These daily devotionals are meant to reveal to us each day a wee bit more about God, and should bring us closer to Christ. That's their purpose. That's their message. That's why God inspired them in the first place. We could read the Bible a thousand times over, in as many languages as we like, but if in the end we had no faith, all of that reading and translating would count for nothing. Jesus is revealed to us through Scripture, but our loving, eternal relationship with Him does not depend upon how much Scripture we know. It depends upon how much faith we place in the Author of Life, and not His book.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are the living Word of God, and only through You can we possess eternal life. The Old and New Testaments reveal to us Who You are, and we thank You for their testimony. But we are very aware that our living relationship with You is based upon our faith in You alone. Help us to live in faithful ways that express Your words and presence to other people through our loving acts and caring deeds. In Your holy name, we pray. Amen.

About the author:

John Stuart <traqair@aol.com>
Knoxville, Tennessee, USA

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