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Inside Translation
Translating the Gospel (Part 9) : Lexical Equivalence
by Hart Wiens, CBS Director of Scripture Translation

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." (John 3.16 - NRSV)

In this installment we concentrate on the Greek word represented by the two English words "everyone who." The translators of the King James Version, writing in an older form of the English language, were able to use just one word, "whosoever." The Canadian Oxford Dictionary labels this word "archaic." More recent versions such as the New International and the Revised Standard have also tried to retain one-word equivalence, with "whoever." Unfortunately, in contemporary usage this has become a rather flippant slang expression for the youth culture in the same domain as "whatever." This contemporary usage of the term tends to diminish it's appropriateness to convey the meaning intended by the original Greek term.

The term used in the Greek actually means "all" or "every." When in the kind of grammatical construction used in this verse, it means "everyone who." This is exactly the rendering that the New Revised Standard Version and other meaning based versions such as the Good News Translation and the Contemporary English Version have chosen.

The function of this term in the overall message is to extend the invitation as widely as possible. It serves to challenge our human tendency to be ethnocentric. The early followers of Jesus were Jewish. They had grown up with the view that they were God's chosen people and therefore superior to the Gentiles, whom they considered as living outside of God's blessing and providence. They held this view even though in the covenant God made with their ancestor Abraham he had specifically indicated his intention to cause them to "be a blessing to all nations on earth" (Genesis 22.18, CEV). It is a very natural for us to regard ourselves and our ways as superior to those of other people. We tend to define God in our own image and to believe that he cares about us more than he does about others. Jesus and the Good News he introduced on earth challenged these assumptions. Jesus made it clear that he came to earth to love and rescue all people, regardless of their social, religious or ethnic origins.

It is the universal implication of the Good News that Jesus brought that motivates his followers to go to great lengths to ensure that this message is made available to all people in the language and style of communication that speaks to them most clearly. This is why the Canadian Bible Society, along with its many partners focuses significant resources on the support of Bible translation in Canada and around the world where people speaking over 3,000 languages still lack the ability to hear this Good News in a language they can really understand. We rely on your prayers and support to make this happen.

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