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All languages of the world, both ancient and modern, have idioms, metaphors and mannerisms of speech. This style of speech is called colloquialism. An idiom is a saying that foreigners cannot understand without being trained and is often taken literally and therefore misunderstood. This is because when we use an idiom we say one thing, but we mean another. For example, in Aramaic we say, "If your hand offends you, cut it off," which means, "If you have a habit of stealing, cut it out." An English idiom, "He is in a pickle," really means, "He is in trouble." Therefore, idioms and colloquialisms are not to be taken literally. A student must know their true meanings in order to translate them accurately into another language.
Idioms, metaphors and figures of speech constitute a great barrier in mastering a foreign language. Translators from one language into another have always been cognizant of these difficulties. This is one reason why the Bible is misunderstood and has been subjected to revision throughout the centuries. The sixteenth century translators of the Holy Bible did not understand the idioms of the languages from which they translated. Therefore they translated idioms literally and their true meanings were lost. This is not all, they were also unfamiliar with the Eastern customs and manners which constitute the background of the Bible. All the authors of the Bible were born and reared in the East, and they spoke the Semitic languages of Aramaic and Hebrew.
Invariably, people throughout the world think and express themselves differently. Moreover, their customs andmanners are varied. Nevertheless, what they say in their own language is well-understood by their own people. But, when translated into an alien tongue, many words and phrases lose their meanings completely and others are obscured. These varied differences in speech cannot be learned by the means of text books or dictionaries. One has to live with an alien people in order to understand their idioms and mannerisms of speech.
Years ago I was surprised to read in a newspaper that a U.S. navy yard was firing twenty-five hundred workers because they had no jobs for them. My little pocket dictionary stated, "Fire: to shoot; to set on fire." This idiom horrified me whenever I came across it. I also did not understand the use of the word, "fresh," such as "fresh food," and "a fresh man." The word "fair" was confusing too, such as, "a fair judge," and "a fair woman."
Today, thousands of foreign students in our colleges and universities are puzzled just as I was when they come across some of the American idioms and colloquialisms with so many meanings. For example, "He has been an underdog;" "He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth;" "He is in a jam;" "He is in hot water;" "To give the bride a shower." In the East, brides are bathed before the nuptials. I thought the Americans had the same custom as in the Holy Land. When a lady invited me to her apartment and said, "We will have a shower," I said, "No thank you, I always take my bath in the morning."
There are about five-hundred words in the English language which have more than five-thousand meanings. Now if English, which is a comparatively modern language, has so many idioms and words with different meanings, then we must realize that ancient languages have more idioms than English, and are much more difficult to understand. As an example, a man said to Jesus, "Let me bury my father." This expression means, "Let me first take care of my father until he dies." But foreign scholars took it for granted that this man's father was dead and that Jesus was not interested in his burial. Such an ancient idiom is still used in Eastern languages everyday and is easily understood, even by the common and illiterate people. Also, in Philemon 1:18, we read that Paul told Philemon, one of his converts, to receive back his servant who had stolen some money from him and had run away. Paul wrote to him, "Whatever he owes you, put it on my account," which in Aramaic means, "Forget it," or as Americans say in English, "Put it on the cuff." Western commentators have portrayed Philemon as the world's first banker from whom Paul borrowed money. This idiom is still used daily in several languages in the Middle East. Paul tells Philemon that he owes him a great deal because he had converted him to Christ.
As I have said before, students of a foreign language take every word exactly as written. They do not know which is an idiom and which is not an idiom. The English idiom, "A man born with a silver spoon in his mouth," would be taken literally by Easterners to mean, "Being born miraculously."
The author of this book, while translating the Holy Scriptures from the ancient Aramaic language into English, became cognizant of the importance of the idioms and metaphors of the Bible. Therefore, he compiled nearly one-thousand idioms from the Scriptures to facilitate the reading and understanding of the Holy Bible. It must be remembered that just as Shakespeare, Milton and Browning wrote for the English-speaking people, so Moses, the prophets and the apostles wrote to their own people. They used their own idioms and metaphors, which were well-understood and still are understood in their original context.
I am sure this volume will be of great assistance to readers of the Holy Bible, regardless of their religious affiliation. The idioms translated in this book will help to elucidate hundreds of obscure and obtuse passages and make the Word of God so plain that even simple people will understand it. God commanded the prophets to write in a plain language so that the unlearned people might understand His Word.
Deut. 27:8, "And you shall write upon the stones all the words of..."Idioms in the Bible Explained and A Key to the Original Gospels. Copyright © by George M. Lamsa. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.