A Reader Asks

“Hi there! I’m starting my journey with Christ and started in the gospels with Matthew. In the New Living Translation it says “Two women will be grinding flour at the mill” I just wanted to make sure I was not taking it out of context!”

Hi Brianna — I love this question! So much that I may need two or three posts to answer you. But don’t worry. I’ll start with the main thing you’ve brought up.

There is a difference between Luke 17:35 and the version in Matthew, and you seem to want to know why. There are a lot of reasons why, far more than I will ever know. But I will begin with a really short response first.

First, no word like flour (or grain or wheat) is in the Greek of Matthew 24:41. The word mill is there, however.

Second, the word mill was added by one of the teams of writers who worked specifically on writing Matthew. A more original version of this verse is Luke 17:35, which does not have a mill. Luke reads, “Two women shall be grinding together.”

Something I haven’t mentioned much is how the New America Standard Bible translates Luke’s version of that verse.

“There will be two women grinding at the same place.”

Talk about ambiguous. Not just grinding together, but grinding at the same place.

You quoted from the NLT. The NLT translators didn’t like that kind of ambiguity, so they added a word they say was for clarity, the word flour. That word flour, as I said, is not in the Greek text of Luke 17:35.

By itself, adding a word is not the end of the world.  Translators have to find good words for their translation work all the time, no matter the text, no matter the languages, no matter the age of the text.

What happens is that many people who read, use and translate the Bible often have political convictions and various moral priorities in addition to their day job.

These translators with different political convictions and different moral priorities all know there are several words they could use to translate an original word. So they all consider the effect the different words they choose will have on the readers. They consider the consequences of their translation.

For example, the word doulos is used all through the New Testament. Doulos means slave. But most contemporary translations don’t use the word slave. They use the word servant.

To continue using the word slave would be bad in various situations. Take for example Kenya, where Islam is 10% of the population and growing.

It happens that slavery still exists in much of the world. The Quran emphasizes that the Prophet Muhammed ended slavery in devout nations. A Bible that records Jesus and Paul discussing slavery in accepting and uncritical language might not be helpful for Christian pastors and missionaries in a country like Kenya, which deals with popular Islam.

Or consider the West. The Christian world-view is steadily losing credibility in the face of discoveries in Astrophysics and Paleontology. As in Kenya, it is a major waste of energy for employees of Christendom to have to repeatedly disavow slavery.

But a more literal translation of doulos would still be slave.

Unfortunate for some pastors, this problem of uncertainty muddies the water for their claim that the Bible is “the authoritative Word of God.”

“How can we be certain of God’s will if we don’t have God’s exact words?”

“Gee, how can we really trust the Bible if it’s all so complicated?”

One last word before I pause. The Bible says, “All scripture is inspired by God, and is useful” in in many contexts, so that “you may be thoroughly equipped for any good work.”

Brianna, if you feel God has called you to proclaim something like inerrancy, that’s not my business. But if you.want to be equipped for living your life the you know God wants, the Bible is a good place to begin.

Remember, giving someone a cup of water doesn’t require that you can even read.

I’m going to stop now, Brianna, I’m pretty sure I’ll have more to write about your question soon. Please ask more questions when they come up.

About Ron Goetz

My first wife used to say, "There's nothing so sacred that Ron won't pick it apart." My desire to be a pastor -- that was a temperamental mismatch. She was so patient. If my birth mother had lived somewhere else, maybe I would've become a cold case detective. But I would have had to be J instead of a P, I think. And that mid-life reevaluation, starting adolescence as a GARB fundamentalist and transitioning to a non-theist, that gave me an unusual skill set.
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