When I was in seminary a man I knew came up to me in the
library asking me how to pronounce some Greek words out of Revelation 2. I did my best without thinking twice. Later I realized he wanted to say the Greek
correctly in a sermon. He didn’t know
It’s a situation I hope never to be a part of again and it still makes my stomach turn thinking about it.
"But in the Greek it says…” I
am sure you have heard it before or possibly even said it. You know the pastor (or you!) is getting
serious when they do.
It is here where I want to throw a whole lot of
caution. It’s a dangerous thing to utter
such a phrase in a sermon. So what follows are five cautions to think about
if you dare venture to use this phrase.
- If you have to say, “But in the Greek…” a lot,
you probably are preaching from a bad translation. I have a friend who teaches Greek at an Evangelical seminary who, when he hears anyone say, “But in the Greek…” he says
to himself, “Then why didn’t the translators say that.” You are not using a good translation if you
feel the urge to go this way often.
- You probably only know enough Greek to be
dangerous. Of course, it’s
hard to know when you know enough!
Reading Exegetical Fallacies
is a good start, but that is just the tip
of the iceberg! You are most likely getting insight from a commentary, which you probably do not understand fully. Be slow to think you understand Greek.
- Knowing the original languages is a gift from
God, but it is also elite knowledge. 99%
of Christians don’t know it and when you quote the Greek you undermine the
translation in their hands, which is their only access to Scripture. It sets you a part and can turn you into, at least in the eyes of your church, a professional.
- If you really feel there is such an egregious
error in the translation, maybe it would be best to say, “I am really helped by
another translation here that translates this passage…” There is no reference
to Greek and it still allows a thoughtful Christian to think and appreciate the
text you are talking about more deeply.
- Consider your audience. If you have a bunch of farmers, you might
want to steer clear. If you have a bunch
of academics, you might dare mention “Greek.” You just need to be careful. Not mentioning Greek does not mean your preaching is shallow. Academic does not mean more godly. Deep preaching does not mean more intellectually stimulating.
These are not excuses to be lazy. Seminaries don’t teach Greek and Hebrew so
their students can forget and discard what they have learned. Knowing
the original languages for most of us is a life-long process which takes a lot
of discipline and hard work. We are average
linguists at best, but are afforded the benefit and joy of reading the Word of
God in it’s original. That is
AMAZING. Just be careful how you wield
The work of Bible translators around the world is to be
applauded. The Bible has been translated into many different languages and as a
result, people in their tribes have the Bible in their mother tongue. It is a
beautiful thing, for a grandmother, who cannot read, to have a book in her
house and have someone read it to her in her own dialect. There is no doubt
that this brings them closer to the word of God and creates an even greater interest
in seeking to hear more of it. So, the work of Bible translation is to be
applauded and encouraged at all costs.
There is a lingering question in my mind, though, when I
look at the work of Bible translation and consider its impact on the target people
group. Here are my questions: What is the goal of Bible translation? Is it (a)
to have a Bible in a particular people group’s mother tongue so that they can
read it and hear God’s word in their dialect or (b) is it to have the people in
that people group actually understand what is said in the Bible
(interpretation) and thereby not only hear God’s word read but understand what
God, through the authors of the Bible, intended to communicate, or (c) is it
both. The answer to this question will impact the direction taken in the
process of Bible translation and will determine where resources are poured.
Before I state what I believe a helpful approach or answer
to this question, I want to briefly explain the situation in my own tribe, the
people of Kom, Cameroon, West Africa. The Kom people have had the Bible
translated into their own language and that is a wonderful thing. It is good to
have the Word of God read in church in your own dialect. The work of literacy
is ongoing, seeking to teach Kom people how to read the Kom Bible. That is a
worthy cause as well. So, we have a Bible in the Kom dialect and people who can
read it. What is missing? As helpful as this process of Bible translation and
literacy is, it is only a small part of the work. Anyone in the Kom tribe will
be quick to point to the need for proper Bible interpretation for people to
actually understand the word of God and for the need for well-prepared pastors
who can proclaim the Word of God to them. It would seem that Bible translation,
literacy programs, and the training of church leaders in properly handling the
word of truth need to go hand in hand. I know one would object that Bible
translators are doing their part and others should do their own part in the
preparation of pastors to interpret the Word. Fair objection. Is it happening?
Is there a way to use the resources at our disposal to do both? Could we not
only translate the Bible but also train national leaders whose job it will be
to help their people not just hear but also understand the content of the
The goal of Bible translation, then, should be twofold: 1)
To make the Bible available in a peoples’ mother tongue (translation) and 2) to
make God’s word understandable to the particular people group (interpretation).
The first goal will require men and women gifted in linguistics to take on the
task of Bible translation. The second goal will require a conscious effort to
prepare people who can interpret the translated word of God. When these two are
combined, the result is powerful: the Bible in a people’s language and a people
who do not only hear what the Bible says but understand what God is saying to
them through the written word. This second goal involves an interest in
theological education. It means that as
the Bible translation progresses, there is at the same time progress in the
training of national Bible interpreters. Oh, for the day when the dedication of
a Bible translation is done at the same time as the dedication of those who
have been prepared to proclaim faithfully the truth of the word of God.
Why is this important? Several reasons:
- Having the Bible in one’s
own language is not enough. It is at the most the beginning. Those for
whom English is their first language still need to have the Word
interpreted by those trained to do so. If we need trained Bible
interpreters to help us understand our English Bible so that we hear what
God intended to communicate, how much more those who have a Bible in their
language, do not know how to read it, and do not have our level of
education to understand written speech?
- Teaching all that Jesus
commanded and declaring the whole counsel of God is key for building a
healthy church. What Jesus commanded includes all of Scripture since he
both fulfills it and it points to him (see Matt. 5:17-20; 1 Cor. 15:3-5
and Luke 24:25-27). The church will be stronger when the whole counsel of
God is proclaimed (Acts 20:26-35). This task is enhanced greatly when
properly trained teachers and preachers do so in the language of the
- In most oral settings, the
only chance people have to hear the Word of God is from their pastor on
Sunday, or what he may teach during the week. Knowing that the pastors are
the main sources of transmission of the Word of God to the people, it
makes sense to provide them with the tools that they need to properly
interpret the Word and preach it, so that the people can understand and
trust God and obey him.
The history of missions has been such that Bible translators
have done their thing and theological educators have done their thing. It has
somehow been assumed that the two will work out in the end. It has not worked.
There are theologically educated pastors who cannot even read the Bible in
their mother tongue, not to mention preaching from it. There are those without
theological education who can read their mother tongue well but cannot
interpret the word for their people. These two need to be brought together, so
that Bible translation goes hand in hand with the theological education of
those who will use that particular translation for their people. This will
involve not sending people off to a remote school somewhere removed from their
own people groups, but providing them with a solid theological education on
site. They can be learning both how to read their mother tongue and receiving
training in how to interpret Scripture in their mother tongue.
Here is something else to consider: who is a Christian in
these statistics? The statistics fail to explain their definition. Is one
counted as a Christian because he or she says he is, or because there is
evidence in the life of the individual that shows the presence of the Holy
Spirit? Usually the numbers are based on self-proclaimed Christians rather than
those who are truly converted. This is my rationale:
- The countries with the
highest percentage of Christians have a low percentage of evangelicals.
Take, for example, Angola, in which 94.1% of the population are Christians
but only 22.5% are evangelicals. Cameroon claims that 53% of the
population is Christian but only 9% is evangelical. Rwanda boasts that
89.1% are Christians, but only 26.9% is evangelical. While the percentage
of Christians is high, when looked at from an evangelical perspective, it
is low (17.7% of the total population of Africa compared to the 48.8% who
say they are Christians). The question is, are evangelicals serious enough
about their values to be disturbed about this low percentage of
evangelical Christians in Africa? Or, are we so misled by the statistics
of growth that we assume all is well? It is time that when we hear the
word “Christian” we should also ask, “Who is a Chrsitian?”
The countries with the highest percentage of Christians have a low percentage of evangelicals. - Tweet this
- Statistics measure the
external (numbers of Christians) but not the internal (the heart of the
person). The high percentage of Christians in Africa does not quite fit
with the evils that we have seen over the years. How can we explain the
genocide in Rwanda which is almost 90% Christian? What about the wars of
Angola (94% Christian), and the corruption in most of the African nations
which have a high percentage of Christians? It seems that there is a
discrepancy between being identified as a Christian and actually being a
Christian. Statistics that only measure the external are good for human
consumption but unhelpful for the kingdom work. We are misled by
statistics that say all is well (external appearance of Christian growth)
when all is really bad (internal nature of the heart).
- Although Mandryk gives
these high statistics on the growth of Christianity in Africa, in country
after country he highlights the need for leadership development and the
problem of corruption. The church continues to be permeated with false
belief and ignorance of the Bible. Witchcraft and animistic practices
continue to be a problem in the life of the church and individuals.
Nominal Christianity is a problem for many African churches. Again, these
problems beg the question of definition. “Who is a Christian according to
- The need for theological
education and leadership development raises a question about the
statistics. If 48.77% of Africans are Christians, with Africa being the
fastest growing context for evangelical Christianity, why is there such a
shortage of evangelical leaders and teachers? What has the Church been
growing on? Operation World emphasizes
the need for theological education as key for the well-being of the church
in Africa. So, although there is supposed numerical growth, there remains
a need for solid theological foundations to be laid for the Church. We see
that the percentage of Christians does not reflect the theological context
of the African Church. Yes, 48.77% of Africans is Christian, but how
healthy is their theological context?
Statistics on the growth of Christianity in Africa are
amazing at first but are actually misleading. They tell the story
superficially. Statistics look at the outward growth of institutions, but what
is needed is the inward growth of the individual Christians. The question is
not what percentage of Africans say that they are Christians, but rather what
percentage of Africans is truly born again? When we focus on the nurturing of
the heart, and on the need for firm theological foundations for the Church, we
begin to see that statistics do not matter so much as having healthy churches
in Africa, filled with God-fearing people, taught by God-fearing leaders, eager
to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who do not have it.
Statistics do not tell the whole story, and can even tell
the wrong story.
It is estimated that
48.77% of Africans (503,742,508) are
- 17.7% are evangelicals (182,442,247 people),
- 13.7% are charismatic
- 5.8% are Pentecostal (59,803,540 people).
1900 to 2010, the number of Christians in Africa grew from 9.1% (7.5 million)
to 48.77% (503,742,508) of the population.
The figures are even more
spectacular for evangelical growth, from 1.6 million (1.5%) in 1900 to 182
million (17.7%) in 2010. This gives Africa the largest evangelical population
of any continent. It is said that
“African evangelicals are increasing at a faster rate than any other continent”
Other readings on the growth of Christianity in Africa
confirm Mandryk’s analysis. One can conclude from these statistics that
Christianity is taking deep root in Africa, and that therefore the African
church is strong. Yet, the reality on the ground (the spiritual nature of the
African churches) and other statistics paint a different picture, and raise
serious questions about those statistics on the growth of Christianity in
Africa has 13 of the world’s 20 least-evangelized countries by percentage - Tweet this
A comment often made about the church in Africa is that it
(the African Church) is a mile wide and an inch deep. There is truth to this
statement. For example it is surprising that the statistics above are true, and
yet, “Africa has 13 of the world’s 20 least-evangelized countries by
percentage” (Mandryk, 38). So, although the growth of Christianity is
apparently vast, there is a disconnect between that growth and the mission of
the church to disciple nations (Matt. 28:18-20). The success of the growth of
the church in Africa needs to be measured not only numerically but evangelistically
as well. As the church grows, is there growth in the mission of the church to
reach the unreached of Africa?
The statistics in this post are taken from Jason Mandryk, Operation World: The Definitive Prayer Guide to Every Nation, 7th
ed. (Colorado Springs: CO, 2010).
This is a continuation of yesterday's post in response to this email question:
……..As for more
churches and organizatons for support… I will think and pray and let you know
if any come to mind. However, I would also like to ask you if you have done
your best to invite local churches in your area to contribute to your ministry.
Please don’t be offended by this question…. But I want you and the churches of
your area to experience the blessing and testimony of 2 Corinthians 8:1-5.
At the most fundamental level there is
little comparability between the typical India village church and the Western
church. Below are some areas of comparison (The following is from a Westerner missionary with more than 30 years of experience).
Level of believers
Perhaps 40% full time
near 100 % high
very low %
Care of widows and
Less/no care given
Cares for widows and orphans
Hand to mouth existence
prays, fasts and actively involved
involved in starting new
I'm sure there are many other areas of comparison.
I hope you understand my heart, I am not saying these things to judge which church is superior and which is not. But there is a general misunderstanding from the Churches in the West that we (Indian and Asian Churches ) only and always seek help from the West. I don't believe this is true for all the Churches. Frankly, it is a great exaggeration.
I am not denying the fact that, there are many who seek help including our own mission work, and also receive unbelievably large and generous support from the West. Praise the Lord! I also want to acknowledge that there is a dangerous side of being dependent on the West or on some other. But to think that the Church in India or elsewhere is existing only with the support of the West and there is no local support - is something that I firmly disagree because it is not true. In our contexts - that is in Andhra Pradesh rural area - (I may not be very accurate on this but I am guessing in general) I suppose that less than 25-30% church only receive help from outside of India .
The support that we seek from the west is to enhance or further the work of God more efficiently and faster. It is also because more than 75% of the wealth is in the hands of Western Christians (according to some mission statistics about 5-7 years ago). Someone said that if the Church in the West thinks that they are doing a favor to the Churches in developing countries by giving money and other things, then that is not a biblical attitude but an attitude of worldly superiority. Church belongs to God and God will raise His Church. But by supporting each other I believe we are doing our part in God’s family.
From this, I am in strong faith that the Church in India enjoys the joy of 2 Cor 1:5 much more like other Churches with similar contexts. Believers in Indian villages give to the Lord out of their extreme poverty and they give it willingly as said in the scriptures.
I hope to continue to dialogue on this and am willing to learn more on this. I just wrote what is in my heart with much prayer and reflection. These are my general feelings about the Church in the West but not particularly against any individual or Church. Please let me know what you think of this. I will be happy to hear from you.
My conclusion is this, please do not generalize and make hasty decisions based on some past experiences or because someone said it so, but rather, let the Western Church/Pastors/Mission leaders examine themselves if they too are dependent. Perhaps they are not seeing while pointing fingers at the Indigenous missionaries.
One last thing, I am saying this with much caution and love: I am not sure if a Western Pastor/Mission Executive/Leader/staff of a mission of organization would continue to serve and minister in the same ministry/organization if/when he knows that the next months check/money/support is not going to come or he will try to find another placement of job because he has a wife and children (I am not generalizing there may be exemptions)….But I know and am sure that almost all the Indigenous missionaries I personally know of in Asia or Africa will continue to serve the Lord no matter what may come…may it be persecution/famine/or anything.
Please do not misunderstand me for being harsh…I will be happy to hear and learn from you.