I have many times heard a preacher or teacher substitute one word for another in a verse or set of verses. For example
because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved[emphasis added]. (Rom 10:9 ESV)
The teacher might say that instead of saying “saved” just use the word “changed”. Is that okay? Or they might say instead of reading “glory” in a verse use the word “beauty”. It really happens a lot in sermons just like in day to day conversation it is common to offer a different word when someone sees someone struggling to understand what is said.
Translating words to more accurate terms is a good thing as long as the replacement term is more accurate. I am going to say that in my experience sometimes the preacher’s choice of a replacement word is great, and other times, not so much. I am confident the teacher is not intending to misrepresent God’s word and the Lord knows we all stumble with words at times. But it is the word of God we are talking about. Yes, use a synonym that translates something better but be accurate! If you are not good with languages including biblical languages then you are not the one to be re-translating words. Get some help. Even if you think your spirit has received the true meaning test it. I John says:
Beloved, don’t believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1Jn 4:1 WEB)
What aren’t we supposed to just believe here? The answer is words that we think are from the spirit of God. That could be words that someone else has said came from the Spirit, or it could be words in our head that we think are from the Spirit of God. Even on the fly when there isn’t time to check with someone you can run some checks in your head. Does what you have heard line up with what you know from scripture. If it is changing a word does it fit when substituted in other scriptures using the same word?
Let the prophets speak, two or three, and let the others discern. (1Co 14:29 WEB)
When prophets speak, and that is anyone saying that they received something from the spirit that they are communicating, other prophets observing are supposed to evaluate if the message is genuine. I see a lot of people saying that they believe the Spirit communicated this or that, but I don’t always see some checking.
So, research it in the lexicons and concordances, or find someone good with translations and languages to back up your re-translation
By now we should be well aware of the scriptural admonition in Deuteronomy:
You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you. (Deu 4:2 ESV)
In my previous article, T1.31 More on Paul’s Decision To Go To Jerusalem, How Tradition Can Affect Translation And Meaning, Accepting Deliverance When Available I show how Agabus’ prophecy that the Jews would “deliver” Paul into the hands of the Gentiles is the Greek word paradidomi, which means surrender or yield up and so “deliver” might be misleading. In fact, in numerous articles, I do the same thing where I see the translation might be misleading. When there is a word that is possibly misleading or hard to understand, my pattern is to show the Greek word, as well as meaning in English as well as some alternative translations.
However, I have also heard preachers just use other words, that is, just translate on the fly, in order to talk in terms that they think that their audience will better understand than the word or words in scripture. When I hear that I wonder if it is the preacher just trying to make it more understandable for the believers or that he doesn’t understand the term well enough himself and just substitutes words that he feels more comfortable with. Unfortunately, that becomes private interpretation, something we are warned not to do:
knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of private interpretation. For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke, being moved by the Holy Spirit. (2Pe 1:20-21 WEB)
Private interpretation is literally one’s own explanation or interpretation. The prophets were warned not to do that and neither should we. The difference is between just saying what we think it means and what the words in the actual message are. Anyone with kids knows scenarios like this. The parent says the child can’t go out until their homework is done. In frustration, the child says “you never let me do anything.” It’s an extreme example but you get the point. The child is interpreting what was said from “I can’t go out until my homework is done” to “I’m can’t do anything.” It’s actually close to what the parent said, but it’s not what they said.
If we are going to satisfy the scriptural mandate not to add or subtract from scripture, and we want to deliver the meaning of the scripture, in our language instead of the original, then we need to teach the true meaning of the term in the original. If we think the translation isn’t really accurate then we need to translate it ourselves more accurately. That means work. That means nerdy stuff like researching. One way is to do a word study, and see how the word is translated in other places as we did in Doing a Word Study To Determine a Word’s Meaning in the Original language.
While we are on this topic it should be obvious by now that since we are talking about translations that only the words in the original are the ones that matter. I have seen people refer to an English translation and then use an English dictionary or thesaurus to define word(s) or substitute others. If the original word is not translated accurately then this is just a compounding of one error on another. In the New Testament, we are dealing with primarily Greek texts. That means we have to look at the meanings of the Greek words for possible synonyms, and not just substitute English words for other English words based on their modern English meanings.
Once we have the real meaning of the word in the original language then it is up to the teacher, and even the preacher, to teach what that word really means. Teaching a word study isn’t something that everyone in the pew is going to lap up; the teacher does it and shares enough in teachings to help people better understand without boring them to sleep. I’ll grant you it’s not always an easy task.
For example, the word saved mentioned above, I have heard replaced with the word changed among other things. How accurate is that? A word study of the word saved shows that it appears 57 times in the KJV. Looking at Strong’s Concordance we see that the Greek word for save(d), sozo, has been assigned the number G4982. And a search of G4982 shows that it has been translated 103 times in the KJV meaning that it has been translated something other than saved 46 times.
Here are some verses where it was translated save(d):
She shall give birth to a son. You shall call his name Jesus, for it is he who shall save his people from their sins.” (Mat 1:21 WEB)
They came to him, and woke him up, saying, “Save us, Lord! We are dying!” (Mat 8:25 WEB)
For the Son of Man came to save that which was lost. (Mat 18:11 WEB)
that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart, one believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Rom 10:9-10 WEB)
It will be that whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ (Act 2:21 WEB)
These are familiar verses. Please note that the word salvation has the same root word as saved, salvation being the state of being saved.
But “saved” isn’t really a term people commonly use outside of church that much. So what is a better translation? Let’s look at some of the other ways it has been translated as well as the context around those verses and see if those translations communicate better.
And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. (Mat 9:20-22 ESV)
Made well in the verses above is G4982. That’s pretty understandable and looks correct in the context. How about this one?
And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. (Mar 6:56 ESV)
Again, sozo has been translated as “made well”. They were ill, now they are healthy. Instead of “made well”, these verses are translated “made whole” in the KJV. And look at this one in the MKJV:
And Jesus said to him, Go, your faith has healed you. And instantly he saw again, and he followed Jesus in the way. (Mar 10:52 MKJV)
The translators of the MKJV used the word “healed” for G4982, sozo.
Look at this verse. Guess which word is sozo?
And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me for his heavenly Kingdom; to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (2Ti 4:18 WEB)
Did you guess deliver? That is actually the Greek word rhuomai (G4506), which means rescue. In the above verse “preserve” is sozo, and means kept healthy or kept whole.
So, by now, it is pretty obvious that translating sozo as “made whole” or healed makes a lot of sense in those verses. In fact, made whole or made well is a pretty good replacement for saved in general.
A concordance is a listing of words in a text. Strong’s is the one that we have been referring to, but there is another concordance that I have used for many years and that is Youngs Analytical Concordance of the Bible. It doesn’t have its own numbering system. But it does list all the words used in the bible, and it has something else, index-lexicons. These tools list the Hebrew and Greek words with all the ways that they are translated in the KJV. In the index-lexicons, it also cites Strong’s number for each word enabling you to use Young’s along with Strong’s to get a more complete picture.
Regarding the word sozo, Young’s tells us that it was translated
heal 3 (times)
make whole 9
Passive: be whole 2
do well 1
save one’s self 1
Participle: save one’s self 1
There is also a sense of rescue in saved and saved in modern terms can mean being rescued. When someone is in danger, that is damaging to them. They are put under stress. Their life is negatively affected. Saving them makes them whole or well so that their life is not negatively affected. The people in the boat asked Jesus to make them whole by removing the danger to their lives.
So, do you see the word changed in any of those translations? No. But, is “changed” a legitimate substitute for saved?
A legitimate substitute is a word that is a synonym, a word that can pretty much replace the original term without any loss of meaning. Funny and humorous are synonyms. You can use funny everywhere you use humorous and not lose anything. Likewise for industrious and hard-working. You can use hardworking everywhere for industrious and not make a mistake.
Saved and changed are not universally synonymous because while being saved is always being changed, being changed is not always being saved. Being saved is always a good thing. It is being healed, being made whole or well. Changed can be a good thing or a bad thing. A person can be saved and is now a healthy person. A person can be changed and is dying. Changes can come in degrees. Saved gives the connotation of a complete restoration. A better word than changed would be restored.
By the way, I have heard the word “changed” substituted for saved in different groups so it may be a lesson that has made the rounds. I will say this, one time I heard it the teacher explained why he was using the word changed. He said he saw people coming to meetings and nothing appeared to be happening to them. His point, he said, is that that if you get the Lord in your life there should be some good change to see, and if there isn’t, we need to look at what is really going on with this person. That is a very valid point. I agree that we can say that part of being saved is that a person is changed for the better, and there should be some evidence of that. That is much closer to the definition of sozo.
So, is this nitpicking? If it is, then Deut 4:2 is nitpicking. Scripture is a book of words, all it has is words. The scriptures we call the word of God are God’s words. The law and the prophets are holy men of God speaking as they were moved by the holy spirit. Who are we to idly change God’s words? While certainly, part of the ministry of a teacher is to make sense of what is written, we are charged with being diligent in searching the scriptures to find what God meant and present that accurately. The charge not to add or subtract is a necessary safeguard.
When we find that the current word seems hard to understand, we need to be worthy workmen and diligently search out the meaning:
Study earnestly to present yourself approved to God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth. (2Ti 2:15 MKJV)
Word studies are key disciplines in rightly dividing the word of truth and getting the words right.
last edited 1/18/2022