Some translations of the Bible today, in an effort to make them as they state “easier to understand” (isn’t that the work of the Holy Spirit and one of the reasons we seek Him?), take too many liberties with God’s Word—to the point where some, or even many, passages have their meanings altered all together, leaving the believer either confused or with a wrong understanding. “The Message” and “The New Living Translation” come to mind.
Most others are written in one of two styles which are referred to as either “thought for thought” or word-for word.” I guess those in the above paragraph could be considered as the former, but there are some legitimate versions which don’t stray so far. Thought-for thought is an attempt to catch the essence of an idea or principle, allowing for more modern language and nuance. While word-for-word is a more literal translation staying as close to the original text—Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek—as possible. It is preferable. We want to take this approach as often as possible. After all, God is perfect (including His Word) so there’s no need to change it or add to it. If we don’t understand something, we must seek Him all the more diligently and ask for wisdom. He WILL reveal and illuminate it to us!
I use this introduction to explain what I consider to be an important translation issue. There are several instances in the Bible where a word is translated as “believe” when it should be more aptly articulated as “trust” The Greek word PISTEUO captures the necessary distinction. For instance, if we were to ask most people if they believed in God, they would most likely say “yes” even in this post-modern era we find ourselves. In contrast, if we pose the question in this way: Do you trust in God? Would their answer, or yours, be the same? At the worst, they would answer “no” and at the best, they might respond with “trust Him how?” or “trust Him with what?”
Take the scripture found in John 14:1 where the Lord Jesus says to His then disciples (followers), “Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Me.” If we choose this translation, it would seem moot for the Lord to say such a thing. Obviously, they believe in Him because they are following after Him and because they can see Him, so they believe in His existence. No, this translation here misses the mark.
Let’s also be sure to stick to the context. Our Savior precedes those words with, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” What He is saying is that they trust in God and so they should trust in Him. Close relationships cause trust to be developed. When someone of character says something and then does it, or makes a promise and follows through on it, we learn to trust. What He is further alluding to or equating is the issue of faith.
A great case in point is James 2:19 which says, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” The demons believe, yes, but do they trust? Trust what? Let’s get back to that Greek word PISTEUO (peest- yoo- oh). The understood nuance which does not exist in English in the word BELIEVE can be realized by changing the word to a phrase, “Do you trust (in Jesus) for the salvation of your soul?” Quite a different, but paramount, meaning!
Matthew 27:42, “…let Him come down now from the Cross, and we will believe in Him.”
“…LET HIM COME DOWN NOW FROM THE CROSS, AND WE WILL TRUST IN HIM FOR THE SALVATION OF OUR SOULS.”
1 John 5:1. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God…”
“EVERYONE WHO TRUSTS (HIM FOR THE SALVATION OF THEIR SOULS) THAT JESUS IS THE CHRIST HAS BEEN BORN OF GOD…”
John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
“FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD, THAT HE GAVE HIS ONLY SON, THAT WHOEVER TRUSTS IN HIM FOR THE SALVATION OF THEIR SOULS SHOULD NOT PERISH BUT HAVE ETERNAL LIFE.”
Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
“FOR I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL, FOR IT IS THE POWER OF GOD FOR SALVATION TO EVERYONE WHO TRUSTS IN HIM FOR THE SALVATION OF THEIR SOULS, TO THE JEW FIRST AND ALSO TO THE GREEK.”
John 3:18, “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
“WHOEVER TRUSTS IN HIM FOR THE SALVATION OF THEIR SOULS IS NOT CONDEMNED, BUT WHOEVER DOES NOT TRUST IN HIM FOR THE SALVATION OF THEIR SOULS IS CONDEMNED ALREADY BECAUSE HE HAS NOT TRUSTED IN THE NAME OF THE ONLY SON OF GOD.”
See the important difference? To use the word “believe” or to say yes to the question if you “trust” are worthy of distinction. One is a simple mental assent. Another leads to everlasting life. So let me ask you again, “Do you believe in God/ Jesus Christ?” or “Do you trust in Jesus for the salvation of your soul?” What is your answer now? What is your conviction?