Every Bible student should know the difference between translation and transliteration.

Watch this study instead of reading it.

One thing every Bible student should know is the difference between translation and transliteration. 

The Bible was originally written in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. The large majority of the world depends on a translation to read God’s word, and we should all be thankful for the linguists and scholars who have worked hard to give us good Bible translations. Translation is taking a word or phrase in one language and finding its closest equivalent in another language. For example, βασιλεία in Koine Greek translates to kingdom in English. Those words don’t look or sound similar, but they mean the same thing. Some words and phrases are harder to translate than others. 

Transliteration, on the other hand, is when the sounds of a word are transferred from one language to another. For example βάπτισμα in Koine Greek can be translated as immersion, since that’s what the word means. However, it has also been transliterated as baptism in English. βάπτισμα/baptism—notice how those words appear similar (we recommend you watch the video to hear the pronunciation of these words)? Prior to the transliteration of this word, English did not have the word baptism in its vocabulary. Other biblical words that have been transliterated into English include: manna, apostle, Satan, deacon, angel, Sabbath, evangelist, and many more. There are a variety of reasons why linguists and scholars choose to transliterate rather than translate. Some reasons are good. Others come with an agenda.

One of the most common areas of speech transliteration occurs in the Bible is with names or titles of places and people. Πέτρος is the name of one of Jesus’ apostles. His name translates to rock or stone; however our English Bibles don’t call him Stone. They, and consequently we, call him Peter. Πέτρος/Peter. Similarly, Παῦλος (which is of Latin origin) is Paul. Χριστός, although this word translates to anointed, it is transliterated to Christ. And we’ve received the word Bethlehem from the Greek Βηθλεέμ, which itself is a transliteration from Hebrew. 

Now you know the difference between translation and transliteration—one more tool to help you study your Bible.

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