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Idioms

Every culture and community of people has its own mannerisms when it comes to language, dialects, and meaning of words and phrases. This hit home to me when I lived in Virginia in the early 1980ís.

When I moved to Virginia I soon learned not to ask for a cup of tea, because I never got what I asked for. Youíd think asking for a cup of tea would be a simple enough request, but cultural differences confused things. When I asked for tea in Virginia, I got what we call ice tea in Canada. If I wanted the "real thing" down there, I had to ask for hot tea. Well up here, by default tea is always hot. Tea is only cold when you call it ice tea. People in Virginia have it all backwards, but what can you expect from a state that never puts vinegar on its fries. Thatís French fries if youíre not sure what Iím talking about.

When thinking of words and phrases meaning something different depending on where they are used in the world, we think of idioms. An idiom is a figure of speech and doesnít have to be an exact representation of what youíre speaking about. For example, we speak of sunrise and sunset. This is a figure of speech. Just in case you donít know, let me tell you that the sun doesnít really rise or set. Itís the earth that does the moving, not the sun, yet this idiom conveys the idea we want to make.

If you were raised in an evangelical church family you heard the phrase, "invite Jesus into your heart". This is an idiomatic phrase. Jesus doesnít really squeeze Himself into your heart to live. The word heart in this case doesnít refer to the muscle in your chest. It represents that inner spiritual place within you where the Holy Spirit can reside. Itís the centre, or core of your being. Since weíre thinking about words, you might want to note that I spelled centre the Canadian way, not the American way. Getting back to my point, weíre really asking Jesus to come into the very centre of who we are.

In some cultures the heart doesnít represent our inner being at all. Those people would think it quite strange to invite Jesus into their hearts. In these cultures theyíd invite Jesus into their kidney. Now that sounds gross to North Americans but the kidney in some cultures represents the inner most being of a person. This can be seen in Rev. 2:23. Our English versions say, "then all the churches will know that I am He who searches hearts and mindsÖ" (NIV). The actual Greek word that is translated as "hearts" should be translated "kidneys". Many people in Johnís day and culture understood their inner being to be represented by their kidneys.

To say that God searches our "kidneys" is meaningless to North Americans so the translators donít translate this word literally. They substitute kidney with heart to help us North Americans understand the point of this verse.

Thereís other places in the Bible that translators do such word exchanges as well. They donít translate the actual word as it should be translated because it would not make sense to us because of different cultural idioms.

So the whole idea of "idioms" is note-worthy when it comes to studying and interpreting the Bible. If you do any serious study, especially when looking into Greek and Hebrew words, youíll come across these things, and now youíll know why some words are translated as they are.

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