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It’s all in the name

How easy is it to colour Holy Scripture with opinions and agendas?

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. (Acts 2:1)

An interesting verse, because, strictly speaking, when they were all together in one place, it wasn’t Pentecost, despite what it says in the original Greek. As we explored in the previous article, it was the Jewish festival of Shavuot, the ‘feast of weeks’. It became Pentecost in the same way that Joseph and Mary didn’t arrive at Bethlehem at Christmas time. Rather, it became Christmas time as a result of the events that happened then.

The word ‘Pentecost’ has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit, it’s simply derived from the Greek word for ‘50’. Words are interesting, aren’t they? Sometimes they have very different meanings to what has been generally accepted. Also these meanings can serve to add texture to what we have read. For instance, why did the writer of Acts, use the Greek word for ‘50’ in the above verse, rather than the word for ‘weeks’? It tells us that, even by that time, the Christian message was becoming geared to the Gentile world. The English translators of the King James Version could have attempted to put this right by reverting to Shavuot, the original Hebrew name for the festival but they chose not to do so and, instead, used the word Pentecost, an approximation of the Greek equivalent of the original Hebrew word.

There is an agenda here, though most don’t spot it. We see it in the decision behind the naming of a certain book of the New Testament. A clue is in the original Greek word, Iakobos. It is a man’s name. Jacob is the original English translation, that we read in the Old Testament. You can see the connection between the two words. It is the same name. Yet the New Testament translation is James, as in ‘the King James Bible’. It acts to give the reader an unconscious idea that there is separation between the Jewish Old Testament and the Christian New Testament. This idea actually comes from a second century heresy called Marcionism, that attempted to diminish the Jewish aspects of the Bible and it has never really gone away. Here’s another example to illustrate that point. It comes from the same book:

Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. (James 2:2)

All fairly innocuous until you look at the Greek word that is translated here as ‘meeting’. It is synagoga. It changes the complexion of the whole verse, doesn’t it? Correctly translated as "synagogue", it would remind us of the Jewish context of the early Church. It could, of course, be argued, that the translators simply wanted to make it understandable to a contemporary audience. But could there be other motives? Isn’t this the Word of God that is being manipulated here? Whose decision was it to add a spin to the original and what made them think they were following God’s Will by doing so?

Words are interesting, but God’s Word is precious. We need to tread carefully.

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