Which ‘word’?

In the beginning was ‘the word’ (Jn 1:1a in many Bibles). Which word was it? ‘Hello!’ ‘Create!’ ‘Big Bang!’ No, that’s two words.

What about carrying a thick book around under your arm that’s labelled ‘God’s Word’? Shouldn’t that be called ‘God’s Words’? Surely there’s a lot of words in those 2,000 odd pages?

If you grew up in and around churches and Bibles like me, then you probably didn’t think about those questions either? In fact, it’s only now that I’m in my later years that I’ve even thought twice about it. We can be so used to speaking in our own Christianese dialect that we forget that normal people don’t speak like that.

The Greek word λόγος (logos—but not the plural of logo) does NOT mean ‘word’ as the word ‘word’ is normally used in modern English. It would be usually better translated as ‘saying’, ‘message’, ‘discourse’, ‘statement’, ‘account’, ‘address’, ‘matter’, ‘idea’, ‘report’, ‘presentation’, or similar. Just read some of the Greek lexicons (for Strong’s #3056) and you’ll quickly discover that.

Now it’s true that the mother of a the rebellious teenager might tell him/her: “I’d like to have a word with you about the language that you’ve been using.” Or someone might ask, “What’s the word on the street about which Bible translation is best?” So yes, some of that older usage still lingers on in certain contexts. But would your president or prime-minister give ‘a word’ to the press about the new tax policy? Probably not.

The Bible is still often called ‘The Word of God’. That’s simply archaic English. The word ‘word’ in our English nearly always refers to these groups of letters on this page separated by spaces. It’s time that God started speaking our language in English Bibles. At least ‘The Message’ translation gave some thought as to how modern readers talk (some two decades ago now).

There’s a lot of other hang-over vocabulary that only Christians now use. For example, have you been delivered from your evil habits? Talking to a gang member on the street, he’s not likely to tell you that he’s hoping his brother will be delivered out of prison this month. In mainstream English we still use ‘delivered’ for pizzas and babies, but no longer for chains and prisons. Being delivered is retained in other contexts as a form of church jargon—talking like someone out of a previous century. Nowadays we are more likely to use ‘set free’ for prisons and sins.

Churches have ‘Seeker services’ but when did you last ask someone in the supermarket what they were seeking there in the aisles? No. we use ‘looking for’ now in mainstream English.

And don’t start me talking about what an epistle is. I’m too busy writing letters—no actually, I moved on past letters to mostly emails over a decade ago.

The Open English Translation is a new, exciting, modern-English translation designed especially to make it easier for you to share the good message to those on the street. Oh, and did I say it’s provocative (as in provoking you to think)? Join us and help.

Robert Hunt, August 2023.
Street evangelist, public school chaplain, prison Bible-study leader, Bible teacher/preacher, and Bible translator.