If you’ve ever tried to learn a new language, you’ll know that it can be a humbling experience. For my sins, I’ve been trying to learn Italian. I once tried to order a cheese gelato when I was trying to order a strawberry gelato. The waitress’s face was my first clue that something was amiss. OK, so the only thing that formaggio and fragola have in common is the letter “f,” but I maintain that it was an understandable mistake.

Then there are the words that sound almost identical to the untrained ear but carry quite different meanings. If you’re trying to order pesce for dinner and you accidentally ask for pesche, you’ll get peaches instead of fish. And don’t even get me started on the “false friends”—words that are spelled exactly the same way in both languages but mean vastly different things. These are “false friends” because they lure the novice into a sense of false confidence. “Ah,” she says to herself. “I know what a piano is!” No, you don’t. This becomes obvious when someone tells you they live on the first piano. That’s how they refer to the floors of a building in Italy. Oops.

None of this should come as a surprise to me, since I’ve been translating Hebrew for over thirty years in my capacity as an Old Testament professor. Still, it has reminded me of just how much interpretation goes into translation.

In this series, I’d like to highlight a handful of words that may be translated in different ways, but which have very different meanings. This can make a huge difference for how we interpret a passage. In some cases, a bad choice can skew one’s entire theology. Words have power.

Curious? Then read this series. It’s called, “What a Difference a Word Makes.”


Carol M. Bechtel

P.S. If you have been reading these blogs faithfully from the get-go, you will notice that I am revisiting a few of my favorite “teachable moments.” Consider it a review! I’m hoping that it will be useful to group all of these key passages in one place.