The English language is a notoriously difficult one. As a matter of fact, some have said that the only true rule in English is that there is an exception to every rule. Others have argued that if one can learn the English language, nearly any other language is simple by comparison. We can say one word in our language and have it mean five completely different things. In our time, we have misused the language to the point that people look at you as odd if you actually utilize it correctly.
Therefore, we should all be eternally grateful that the New Testament was not originally written in English, but in Greek. Because, as imprecise as English is, the Greek is equally precise. If the Bible had originated in English, it would be truly confusing because of the myriad meanings we have placed within some of the simplest terms. However, in the Greek such confusion is not found. Yes, even in the Greek there are passages that are difficult to apply within the context; but the problems of grasping the actual statement of the passage is generally rather simple.
Let me give you an example. There are a number of religious groups who teach that the rendering of Peter’s statement: “for the remission of sins,” in Acts 2:38 means, “because of the remission of sins.” They argue that the word “for” can mean “because of,” or “in order to,” and thus they choose to render it as an order from Peter to baptize because those hearing have already been saved.
However, this is where the clarity of the Greek language becomes invaluable. If the Scriptures were given in English, the aforementioned interpreters would be correct, the interpretation could go either way; but they were not. In the original language, the term that is used in Acts 2:38 is the Greek word eis. It is a preposition that is universally understood to have only one meaning or usage. It means: “into,” “toward,” “to,” or “for” (in order to). It is a directional preposition pointing toward or into something else. Therefore, Peter’s statement cannot mean “because of” the remission of sins. Instead it has to mean, from the original language, that those to whom he was preaching had to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ “into” the remission of sins.
Additionally, it is interesting to note that if he had wanted to communicate that their sins had already been forgiven, it would have been quite simple. All he would have had to do is use the preposition dia. In its accusative form it means, quite simply, “because of” and it is utilized in such a manner in passages such as Mark 15:10 and many others. Therefore, it is impossible for the interpretation given by some to be the one Peter utilized or intended. The Scriptures are clear.
It is for this reason, and many other examples like it, that many preachers stress a knowledge and understanding of the principles of the Greek language. Where English muddies the waters, Greek gives clarity. This does not mean that one has to know Greek to be saved, or that one cannot understand the Bible without knowing Greek. Nevertheless, it does mean that a rudimentary knowledge of precise attributes of the Greek language can keep one from falling into the pits of misunderstanding that so many in the religious world have found.
God be thanked that the Scriptures did not originate in English, but were given in a language that was precise and clear; giving us a means to be able to state with confidence what God wants us to do and the reasons for it.