words, words, words (part 1)

i have a number of issues with english bible translations, most going back to the latin vulgate, by way of the bishops bible and geneva bible translations of the 16th century.  bible translation mistakes are insidious because, almost inevitablly, somone will stand up in front of a church, or radio microphone, or tv camera and build a teaching on the peculiar reading the translator picked.  after that, said preacher will fight to the death any “correction” to that translation.

as a bunny-trail diversion down the “i said it so it must be right” path:   to this point in my life, 100% of people i’ve bumped into who are adamantly, actively pro-choice have either had an abortion or counseled someone to have an abortion.  after that, it’s more guilt than any of us can handle to say: “i killed my baby” or “i counseled my friend/daughter/girlfriend to kill her baby”. so the person becomes “pro-choice”.

i have no doubt i’ll eventually find a “pro-choice” person for whom this isn’t true, but i’m convinced they’re the minority.

so, back to the bible (i can picture my friend Kathy Johnson doing that airplane-circling-the-tower gesture and mouthing “the point.  what is the point? get back to the point”).

the greek word ἐπιθυμια (epithumia) is translated as both desire and lust in the most new testament translations.  same word in the original text, two different words in our english translations.  here are a couple examples of each, all from the 1995 New American Standard translation:

and He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” – Luke 22:15

For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. – Matthew 13:17


…but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. – Matthew 5:28

Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. – 2 Timothy 2:22

what this does, in my always-humble opinion, is give the appearance that the bible counts desire and lust as distinct categories.  it fits our western culture perfectly. we believe it’s ok to desire physical gratification, an extravagent lifestyle and adulterous relationships; as long as we don’t “let it slip over to the area of lust”.  “she is so hot!”  “oh, me?  i wound never be unfaithful to my wife”

what the translators should have done

they should have consistently translated ἐπιθυμια as desire.  is this harder to handle spiritually?  you betcha!  but it is what the bible writers actually wrote.  try swapping out desire where it says lust in the two examples i gave earlier.  or, try this on for size:

For all that is in the world, the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its desires; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. – 1 John 2:16-17

John isn’t saying there is some special class of desire called lust that belongs to this world and is going to come to an end.  he’s saying that IT ALL is.

just as an obtw: the septuagint (the greek translation of the hebrew old testament – the bible that was commonly in use when Jesus was on the earth and that he most often quoted from) uses the same word, ἐπιθυμια, in the 10th commandment in exodus 20:17 and deuteronomy 5:21:

‘You shall not covet [desire] your neighbor’s wife, and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field or his male servant or his female servant, his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.’

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