As it is the work of the translator to convey the real sense of the Hebrew and Greek into English, so the interpreter’s is to apprehend and communicate the precise ideas which the language of the Bible was meant to impart. As the renowned Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687-1752) so well expressed it,
„An expositor should be like the maker of a well: who puts no water into it, but makes it his object to let the water flow, without diversion, stoppage, or defilement.“
In other words, he must not take the slightest liberty with the sacred text, nor give it a meaning which it will not legitimately bear; neither modifying its force nor superimposing upon it anything of his own, but seeking to give out its true import.
To comply with what has just been said calls for an unbiased approach, an honest heart, and a spirit of fidelity, on the part of the interpreter.
„Nothing should be elicited from the text but what is yielded by the fair and grammatical explanation of its language“ (P. Fairbaim).
It is easy to assent to that dictum, but often difficult to put it into practice.
A personal shrinking from what condemns the preacher, a sectarian bias of mind, the desire to please his hearers, have caused not a few to evade the plain force of certain passages, and to foist on them significations which are quite foreign to their meaning. Said Martin Luther,
„We must not make God’s Word mean what we wish. We must not bend it, but allow it to bend us, and give it the honor of being better than we can make it.“
Anything other than that is highly reprehensible. Great care needs ever to be taken that we do not expound our own minds instead of God’s. Nothing can be more blameworthy than for a man to profess to be uttering a „Thus saith the Lord“ when he is merely expressing his own thoughts. Yet who is there who has not, unwittingly, done so?
If the druggist is required by law to follow exactly the doctor’s prescription, if military officers must transmit the orders of their commanders verbatim or suffer severe penalties, how much more incumbent is it for one dealing with Divine and eternal things to adhere strictly to his text book!
The interpreter’s task is to emulate those described in Nehemiah 8:8, of whom it is said
„they read in the book in the law of the Lord God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.“
The reference is to those who had returned to Palestine from Babylon. While in captivity they had gradually ceased to use Hebrew as their spoken language. Aramaic displacing it. Hence there was a real need to explain the Hebrew words in which the Law was written (cf. Nehemiah 13:23, 24). Yet the recording of this incident intimates that it is of permanent importance, and has a message for us.
In the good providence of God there is little need today for the preacher to explain the Hebrew and the Greek, since we already possess a reliable translation of them into our own mother tongue — though occasionally, yet very sparingly, he may do so.
But the preacher’s principal business is to „give the sense“ of the English Bible and cause his hearers to „understand“ ITS contents.
His responsibility is to adhere strictly to that injunction, „let him speak My word faithfully. What is the chaff of the wheat? saith the Lord“ (Jeremiah 23:28).