Understanding archaic definitions and difficulties in translation


So I’m reading through the New Testament at the moment, and I see Matthew 1:25 “but he knew her not until she had borne a son”. And of course, at first I understand ‘until’ as implying that the action took place after, not simply that it was a clarification of what came before the event. I found some clarity in this thread over the useage of the word ‘until’ in the bible:


Now, my question is, are there any other significant words that I should know about that might confuse me without knowing the proper context? I am guessing there are many. Do you know any resources where some of the more problematic words are clarified? Or perhaps you could post some of your own examples of words that initially tripped you up with your contemporary understanding of certain words?


This may not really answer your question, but I think it’s important to kleep in mind that Aramaic had slang terms, euphemisms, and idiomatic expressions, just like any other living language.

There are several languages early Christian writings were composed in - Aramaic, Koine Greek, Coptic (Egyptian),and Latin.

Translating from the language the original narratives were given in to the language they were written in and then subsequently translated in throughout the ages has led to some pretty interesting results.

A few common ones I can think of of the top of my head are 'forty days and fourty nights" - a common Aramaic and Hebrew idiomatic term meaning essentially “an indeterminate number of days”, i.e. “I/We have no clue how long exactly, but it was a pretty long time” - it never meant litterally forty days and forty nights.

An example of a mistranslation is the well known line “camel through the eye of a needle”. historically translated as “camel”, the original word in Aramaic (gamla) was written almost the same way as the word for the animal (g’mal).

The original word in Aramaic means “rope”, but it seems not just any rope. It was the term used for rope typically used to moor a boat (a ship’s “cable”, if you will). So not only does the saying make more sense, *gamla * would have been a word immediately recognizable to any fisherman or people living in a fishing community.

Euphemisms are found and are frequently sexual in nature.


As a result of encounters with Jehovah’s Witnessism, I had to figure out words like Hebrew ‘nephesh’ and Greek ‘pneuma’ - these and other words translated into English as “spirit,” “soul,” “son of man,” and words referring to virtues and to vices. An interlinear Bible helps a bit. Biblical Greek - English dictionaries are a big help. There are tremendously academic things like “Kittel’s” which analyses the words and gives their history and how they were used by Greek philosophers, by Old Testament Hebrews, by contemporary secular Greeks, and by the early Greek community. The first step, though, would be an interlinear Bible or a not so elaborate dictionary.

Now I still encounter words I’m not sure about. For those, and even for words I am pretty sure about but want to learn more, I go to websites that have Bible commentaries. And now and then I have bought a book, like those published by Macarthur and by Tyndale, commentaries on Hebrews, Ephesians, etc. They are pretty interesting and sometimes deal with a specific word.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.