It’s a Sign of the Apocalypse!

2011/01/four-horsemen_600.jpg Photo ©Copyright/Courtesty of The Funny Times

Only a couple more fun with words, and then we’ll move on to fun with archaeology! I’m taking an archaeology class this semester and I absolutely love it so far. I’m learning about ancient Middle East earliest civilization right now, and have an awesome parallel to share with you next week sometime. But for now…put on your Bible thinking cap once more so you can crack the codes and understand your Bible readings more clearly.

I recently learned that the word frequently translated “tribulation” in the Bible to convey horrible, terrible, catastrophic, apocalyptic prophecy actually comes from the Greek word, “thlipsis (Strong’s #2347),” which simply means “to press.” If you do a little research, you will find that this word is associated with pressing of grapes in a winepress and it is used, for example, in these corrected verses:

Rom. 2:9: “There will be pressing and ‘small space’ for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek” (More Literal Translation, MLT).

James 1:27: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their pressing (distress), and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (MLT).

Funny how translators use “tribulation” in places where thlipsis occurs, especially when referring to the fate of the wicked, but in this passage they rendered it, “distress.”

What is really fascinating is that Strong’s first definition is “a pressing,” yet not once is it translated this way in modern Bibles.

Why it Matters?

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First of all, there’s been a whole mini-doctrine created around the word “tribulation” of some special catastrophic event that lasts for seven years. But I see it as just a word that means being put through a time of distress for testing, growing, and learning. Sure, there are times in history of widespread “pressing” (and probably will be again), but I don’t believe this word conveys a one-time, formal event. There are many forms and occurrences of the pressing of mankind. Consider these verses:

Romans 2:9: “There will be tribulation (pressing) and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek…”

Romans 8:35: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation (pressing), or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”

Romans 12:12: “…rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation (pressing), devoted to prayer…”

Secondly, it matters because this word is another carry-over theme from the Old Testament, speaking of the “harvest of mankind.” The point of pressing and the winepress is that grapes have tough skin and have to be pressed in order to yield their juice, but wine is often considered the most favorable and desirable part of a crop. It’s all about making difficult or rebellious people worthy for the Kingdom, not utter destruction.

“And he said to me, ‘These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation (pressing), and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’” (Rev. 7:14).

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  • Damian Masters

    I like. I haven't had it explained like this before. It goes right along with the plan of God. Everthing for our good. Thanks.

    • jferwerd

      Right on! What'dya think of the cartoon? Pretty funny huh?

  • Brian

    LMAO those cartoons where just what the Dr. ordered for me today.
    This was certianly another good example of how the words are twisted to fit a bisas and bring the masses into line with someones twisted teachings of God's word.

  • Chester

    I think touting a purposive conspiracy is a little much, Brian.

  • Ranjit

    [quote]Funny how translators use “tribulation” in places where thlipsis occurs, especially when referring to the fate of the wicked, but in this passage they rendered it, “distress.”

    What is really fascinating is that Strong’s first definition is “a pressing,” yet not once is it translated this way in modern Bibles.[/quote]

    I may be grabbing too much here…but from Brian's answer I would be guessing that the fact that the word is written as "distress" and that modern Bibles don't agree with Strong's is the indication of some conspiracy in your mind (it seems to be in Brian's mind)?

    Julie, do you feel that current translators are in cahoots to control the masses or are they doing it because they don't love truth or they can make more money that way? I'm being confused as to there motivation.

    What do the modern translators that you've talked to about these issues say about these words? It seems to me that either 1) they are in a global conspiracy as you seem to be hinting at or 2) they have have some explanation which may be more or less reasonable but seems reasonable to them. I would be thinking you would want to talk to some of them unless your mind was already decided. The charge of a global conspiracy seems to set a high jump bar of truth if it should be believed.

    Again…I am not seeing your entire argument or your upcoming book but I would think your arguments would be stronger if you talked directly with peoples that you think are part of the conspiracy and you included that in your writing. "I talked to these four respected Bible translators and they said x and y".

    I know you are having good reason for the assumptions you have for your views…but I think you are leaving out some of the parts and that makes your arguments weaker to me. Perhaps you are trying to talk to people who already "know" that there is a conspiracy and so they are not needing to be convinced that there is a conspiracy. I guess I am always doubtful when people say there is a conspiracy. :)

    • jferwerd

      Hey Ranjit. Nice to have you back! I can't attempt to decide the motives of translators and I'm sure over the course of 1800 years that it's evolved and added to, but I'm not going to be the one to say WHY they make the mistakes they do. But do they know it? How can they not? I've demonstrated many words that are completely slaughtered when that's not what they say in the Greek. I've studied enough of Greek to know that there is no plausible excuse of why a translator (whether from the 1500s or the 1900s) would translate a noun or a plural noun into an adverb or an adjective. Is this agenda? Is it ignorance? Is it both? I'll let the Judge decide.

      By the way, I'm not hinting at global conspiracy as you have suggested, but more the idea of "traditions of men" that have continued the twists on Scriptures through translators down the centuries. Again, the motive of these traditions could be many fold–money, position, pride, control…I can't begin to guess at them. A great example is to read some of the literal translations like Young's Literal, and you will easily see the widespread biases that have worked their way into practically all modern bibles. YLT does a lot better job of preserving some accurate word translations on many words other modern Bibles mess up.

      Does that clear up anything for you Ranjit?

      • Ranjit

        [quote]I've studied enough of Greek to know that there is no plausible excuse of why a translator (whether from the 1500s or the 1900s) would translate a noun or a plural noun into an adverb or an adjective.[/quote]

        I am being too glad you have that level of faith in your person Greek knowledge, but since you are coming to your conclusions without talking to any of the translators who most people trust it leaves me skeptical that you have done the due diligence. I could read atomic writings but if I asserted that all current nuclear physicists are wrong based on my reading as a non-atomic scientist it would be fair, I am thinking, for someone to ask me to talk to the current "experts" about why they are all wrong and to lay out there counter discussion side next to side for all to see.

        You are asking readers to trust your knowledge of Greek and your reading of Young's Literal more than all translators…which seems a lot to ask without your interacting with respected translators. No offense. Perhaps you have come to your conclusions by faith based on your study and the evidence is good for you but hard for other peoples to take the same by faith just on your word. But I am still reading. :)

        • jferwerd

          You are right Ranjit. Silly me for not being more forthright with my research from the translators themselves. In regard to translating certain nouns into adverbs (eon/eons (ages) >>> forever and ever), a total blight on the record of the translators, here is a list of modern, well respected commentators and translators who have admitted to the blunder:

          Modern, Well-Known Commentaries on Aion and its Derivatives
          •Ellicott’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. Matt. 25:46: Everlasting punishment—life eternal. The two adjectives represent the same Greek word (aionion) aionios; it must be admitted (1) that the Greek word which is rendered “eternal” does not, in itself, involve endlessness, but rather, duration, whether through an age or succession of ages, and that it is therefore applied in the N.T. to periods of time that have had both a beginning and an ending (Rom. 16:25), where the Greek is “from aeonian times;” our version giving “since the world began.” (Comp. 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 1:3)—strictly speaking, therefore, the word, as such, apart from its association with any qualifying substantive, implies a vast undefined duration, rather than one in the full sense of the word “infinite.”
          •The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. IV: (Page 643) Time: The O.T. and the N.T. are not acquainted with the conception of eternity as timelessness. The O.T. has not developed a special term for “eternity.” The word aion originally meant “vital force,” “life;” then “age,” “lifetime.” It is, however, also used generally of a (limited or unlimited long space of time. The use of the word aion is determined very much by the O.T. and the LXX. Aion means “long distant uninterrupted time” in the past (Luke 1:10), as well as in the future (John 4:14).
          •Lange’s Commentary American Edition, Vol. V: (Page 48) On Ecclesiastes 1:4. The preacher, in contending with the universalist, or restorationist, would commit an error, and, it may be, suffer a failure in his argument, should he lay the whole stress of it on the etymological or historical significance of the words, aion, aionios, and attempt to prove that, of themselves, they necessarily carry the meaning of endless duration.
          •The Parkhurst Lexicon: Olam (aeon) seems to be used much more for an indefinite than for an infinite time.
          •G. Campbell Morgan (Moody Institute), God’s Methods With Men: (Page 185—186) Let me say to Bible students that we must be very careful how we use the word “eternity.” We have fallen into great error in our constant usage of that word. There is no word in the whole Book of God corresponding with our “eternal,” which as commonly used among us, means absolutely without end.
          •Dr. Alford Plumer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew: (Page 351—352) It is often pointed out that “eternal” (aionios) in “eternal punishment” must have the same meaning as in “eternal life.” No doubt, but that does not give us the right to say that “eternal” in both cases means “endless.”
          •Dr. (Prof.) Marvin Vincent, Word Studies of the New Testament, Vol. IV: (Page 59) The adjective aionios in like manner carries the idea of time. Neither the noun nor the adjective in themselves carries the sense of “endless” or “everlasting.” aionios means enduring through or pertaining to a period of time. Out of the 150 instances in the LXX (Septuagint), four-fifths imply limited duration. (Page 291, about 2 Tim. 1:9) “Before the world began” (pro chronon aionion) Lit. Before eternal times. If it is insisted that aionion means everlasting, this statement is absurd. It is impossible that anything should take place before everlasting times.
          •Charles H. Welch, editor of The Berean Expositor, An Alphabetical Analysis, Vol. I:
          •(Page 52) What we have to learn is that the Bible does not speak of eternity. It is not written to tell us of eternity. Such a consideration is entirely outside the scope of revelation.
          •(Page 279) Eternity is not a Biblical theme.
          •Dr. R.F. Weymouth, The New Testament in Modern Speech: (Page 657) Eternal: Greek: “aeonion,” i.e., “of the ages.” Etymologically this adjective, like others similarly formed, does not signify “during,” but “belonging to” the aeons or ages.

          • Chester

            Interesting stuff. I would be curious to know the opinion of experts on some of the other mistranslations you've identified. It would also be interesting to see the opinion of the 'dissenters', ie those who continue to 'mistranslate', and hear their justifications.

            Perhaps I am missing something here, but I don't see a vast difference between "indefinite" and "eternal". At least in mathematics, they are functionally the same.

  • Chester

    Agenda/ignorance might be plausible explanations over a limited time-frame, but not over "1800 years". If there really was a significant whistle to blow, it puzzles me that the opportunity hasn't been used more frequently.

    Besides, an argument that asserts that certain words and passages are twisted by human interference casts doubt on the entire Biblical canon — not just the passages that seem questionable or underlie orthodox theology. How do you have any guarantees that the 'original' Greek and Hebrew text is original at all? If distortion is not only possible, but frequent, these original texts would surely have been miscopied or distorted as well. Even if you possessed the original texts (which you do not), one could use your argument to claim that human actors such as Paul deliberately misstated certain truths according to the "traditions of men"

    From my perspective, I believe that God is just, and that He wouldn't allow millions of people to believe a "twisted" or "distorted" truth for nearly two thousand years. The same intuition that tells you that the 'original' Bible is true should inform your subsequent readings — God does not obscure truth.

    • jferwerd

      Mark 4:10–12. “As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. And He was saying to them, ‘To you (disciples) has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven.’”

    • jferwerd

      John 12:38-40: This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: "LORD , WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT? AND TO WHOM HAS THE ARM OF THE LORD BEEN REVEALED?" 39 For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, 40 "HE HAS BLINDED THEIR EYES AND HE HARDENED THEIR HEART, SO THAT THEY WOULD NOT SEE WITH THEIR EYES AND PERCEIVE WITH THEIR HEART, AND BE CONVERTED AND I HEAL THEM."

      • Chester

        None of these passages support the contention that God would obscure truth and reveal it to only those who possessed the original texts and a knowledge of Hebrew/Greek.

        And to be consistent, shouldn't you be using a literal translation for these verses?

  • Jack Johnson

    There are some interesting thoughts being tossed back and forth here. I have a few thoughts in light of what has been said here:

    (1) The meaning of biblical words always depends upon context, both immediate and canonical. Literal, denotational meanings are often not the right translation, and indeed there are usually many meanings for one word. Context is determinative.

    (2) One has to be careful when going against the majority of what the church has always taught on central matters. God promised that His Holy Spirit would guide His church into all truth, and it would actually falsify Christianity if nearly all of the church got some of the central issues of the faith wrong. This is not to say that the church cannot learn or ever be wrong: I believe it has gotten some things wrong (slavery, other issues), but they are outgrowths of those fundamental convictions of the faith. I'm not opposed in principle to the idea that the church would learn something new that it got wrong in the past, but those who assert this surely bear the burden of proof.

    (3) Every translation is interpretive in some sense, even our own personal translations. This is why we must interpret the Bible within the canonical tradition of the church and with those who have come before us.

    (4) Plenty of translators of modern Bibles care about nothing but truth, and I'm sure that they have reasons for translating as they have. You may disagree, but I don't think it is as easy as going to the Greek text and saying, "Aha! It is clear that everyone must be wrong." Biblical translation is never that easy, and it involves much more than word studies.

    (5) The meaning of aionios is indeed disputed in some passages, for it can have a qualitative sense (of the realm of God, the eternal, without beginning or end) or a quantitative one (forever). But I'm pretty sure many believe it is properly translated "forever" in some contexts.