EXPERIENCED WORKERS VERSUS LANGUAGE THEORISTS
Accurate translation requires more than a knowledge of the two languages in question. There must be an understanding as well. Suppose, for example, you have a doctorate in language. You are asked to translate a manual for a computer you have never seen before. You read the manual and understand all the words, but you still have no idea how to make the computer work. The technical terms mean nothing to you. You need the help of the one who is experienced in operating the machine. He may not be very familiar with the manual, but he knows the machine. If you and he work together, you can come up with quite an accurate translation of the manual.
Those seven Western scholars are like the one asked to translate the manual. Their educational background, both in the biblical languages and in Chinese, was superior. Their Chinese assistants were also scholars in their own right. In spite of such rich literary knowledge, however, they did not know the machine they were working with!
We are the simple workers. Though lacking their background, we have been operating this machine for more than fifty years! When we looked at the manual they put out, even while appreciating their scholarship, we laughed at some of their renderings. From our experience we knew that Romans 8:16, for example, must refer to the spirit, not the heart. We were forced to track down the meaning of the original. This meant learning a little Greek. We began to check the reference works too and found out that the Greek word in Romans 8:16 was pneuma. Then we looked up the word heart, as in 2 Corinthians 3:16, “The veil is upon their heart.” We found out that this word is cardia. It is inadmissible to translate these two different words as though they meant the same thing. In scholarly background and literary style we cannot match those who did the Chinese version; but by the Lord’s grace, as far as experience is concerned, we have been touching this machine for many years and are more or less familiar with how it works!
Another example of a problem verse is John 7:39: “But this He said concerning the Spirit, Whom those who believed in Him were about to receive; for the Spirit was not yet, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” The Chinese translation of this verse again adds “Holy” before the word Spirit and, like the King James Version, has “was not yet given.”
At the time of the incarnation, the angel told Mary that the Holy Spirit would come upon her (Luke 1:35; cf. also Matt. 1:20). If the Holy Spirit came upon Mary, why thirty-three years later was the Holy Spirit “not yet given”? Again, the translators of the Chinese Bible betrayed their inadequate understanding of the Spirit; because of their unfamiliarity with the machine, they misunderstood the manual and therefore mistranslated some of the terms. Christ was speaking of the Spirit; it was the Spirit who was not yet, because the Lord had not yet been resurrected.
To some of you these words may sound strange. Are not the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit three in one? What does the term “the Spirit” mean? Am I adding a fourth one to the Trinity? Or, am I saying there were only two in the Trinity until the resurrection? By no means! Thirty years ago we saw this light concerning the Spirit. We saw that when the Lord Jesus arose from the dead, He became the Spirit. The Scripture clearly tells us that the last Adam, who is the Lord Jesus, became a life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45). Surely this Spirit cannot be one thing and the Holy Spirit another!
For many years I was groping to come to an understanding of this matter of the Spirit and particularly of John 7:39. To change the translation of the Bible because we do not understand it is inexcusable. Even with the correct translation, however, I still was not clear. The Bible is God’s revelation; it is to be expected that we would find some parts hard to grasp. To know the Bible only from a literary or linguistic point of view is to remain in ignorance of its true content. For many things in the Bible, we need God’s enlightening. Rather than lean to our own understanding, we must seek to experience what the Word says. Year after year I would keep asking the Lord, What is this matter of the Spirit? Why does the Word say, “The Spirit was not yet”?
(Life Messages, Vol. 2 (#42-75), Chapter 25, by Witness Lee)