The Vocabulary Method
A.E. Knoch

The concordant method has been used in a fragmentary way for a century. So far as we know, the CONCORDANT VERSION is the first attempt to employ it systematically and exhaustively by applying it to the complete vocabulary of the sacred text. From this has sprung the complementary "vocabulary" method. It insists, not on uniformity, but the opposite. If PLACE-CARE means foundation, and its elements and contexts clearly agree with that meaning, then DOWN-CASTing, which our versions so translate, does not mean foundation. In some languages we may not always have enough words to cover all cases, but English certainly ought to furnish sufficient. In this extreme example, the words are totally unlike in elements, association and contexts. One means foundation, the other disruption.
The meaning or usage of one word is necessarily distinct from that of all other words. If we have placed all the words in the vocabulary of the Greek scriptures but one, we have a vast fund of information as to what it does not mean. This, of course, is not necessary with many words, but it is of the utmost value in dealing with words of similar or related meaning. Let any on study a passage in our accepted versions in which a number of synonyms are used together and he will find that our translators were forced to better work by the presence of words of nearly the same signification. What a pity they did not use such renderings elsewhere!
Let us take an example from the so called Authorized Version. It translates twenty-one words depart. We will give the CONCORDANT standard of each and a passage, if possible, where they agree:

UP-LEAD they render led up (Mt.4:1) and departed (Ac.28:10).

UP-LOOSE is both return (Lu.12:36) and depart (Phil.1:23).

UP-SPACE, meaning retire, they render departed (Mt.2:12).

FROM-CHANGE, meaning clear, is departed (Ac.19:12).

FROM-COME, meaning pass away (Re.21:4) is depart (Mt.8:18).

FROM-LOOSE, meaning release (Mt.27:26) or dismiss (Ac.15:30) is sometimes depart (Ac.28:25).

FROM-SPACE is always correctly depart (Mt.7:23 Lu.9:39 Ac.13:13) as also in the CONCORDANT VERSION.

FROM-SPACEize they have tried to distinguish on one occasion by adding asunder (Ac.15:39), but in its other occurrences departed (Re.6:14). It means recoil.

FROM-STAND, withdraw (1Ti.6:5) is usually rendered departed (Lu.2:37)

THRU-SPACEize, sever, they make depart also (Lu.9:33)

THRU-COME, pass through (Lu.4:30) is once depart (Ac.13:14).

OUT-BE, be off, is twice depart (Ac.17:15).

OUT-COME, come out, (Mt.5:26) is depart (Mt.9:31) a few times.

OUT-GO, go out, is depart (Mt. 20:29).

DOWN-COME, come down (Lu.4:31) is once depart (Ac.13:4).

WITH-(after)-GO, proceed, is usually depart.

WITH-LIFT, withdraw, is also depart (Mt.13:53).

BESIDE-LEAD, pass by (Mk.2:14) is once departed (Mt.9:27).

GO (Mt.2:8) is occasionally varied to depart (Mt.2:9).

UNDER-LEAD, go away (Jn.14:28) is rendered depart (Mk.6:33).

SPACEize, separate (Ro.8:35) they have, on good grounds, rendered depart when it refers to a place (Ac.1:4; 18:1,2), and the English seems to have no nearer term, and the Greek word differs but slightly from FROM-SPACE.

Is it not very evident that the translation of twenty words depart, when English has an abundant supply of synonyms, is in itself a departure from the dictates of reason and real reverence? How is it possible for the English reader to grasp twenty-one different ideas through the medium of one word? But the confusion is worse confounded by the fact that twenty different sets of contexts are throwing a false flood of light upon the word, and the light is darkness.
The vocabulary method, used in the CONCORDANT VERSION, insists that each of these distinct ideas be distinguished from each other by a special symbol, if that is possible. It will be seen that, in most cases, the Authorized Version itself uses the proper word on some occasions. No plea for pious or venerable diction will convince the honest truth seeker that their erratic renderings are justified.
In the trying task of transcribing the thoughts of another mind, which far transcends that of the translator, the ordinary methods of turning a human composition from one language into another are entirely inadequate. What a man has written a man can comprehend. The most effective course is to seize the foreign author's thought and express it afresh in a different tongue.
But once we acknowledge that God, and not man, is the Author of the revelation which we will call the Sacred Scriptures, we are face to face with a spiritual problem akin to that which the scientist encounters in the sphere of nature. He can apprehend some, but never comprehend all. It has been demonstrated mathematically that the distance from one branch to another of a very common weed cannot be measured by any human scale. It is in a ratio whose solution demands a square root which is incommensurable. Now if a mere weed baffles the human intellect, what shall we say of His highest and greatest work? The Scriptures are for our apprehension, but very far beyond our comprehension.
The ideal way of producing a perfect translation would be to find a man who could understand it all, fully and perfectly, and then have him turn it into English. But where is he? The staff of the CONCORDANT VERSION makes no claim whatever to such necessary knowledge and spiritual skill. On the contrary, the method employed is an admission on their part that such a task is entirely beyond the sphere of human attainment. The vital differences between the greatest of theologians make manifest the fact that no man or company of men can fully grasp divine revelation.
During the past decade an average of one new translation has appeared annually, yet all differ in numberless details. That there can be such variety in results shows that the translations partake largely of the mind which acted as a medium. The differences are not in the text.
Unless science had reduced its scattered facts into a system so that the human intellect could deal with its phenomena as the expression of law, it would still be groping in the dark domains of medieval philosophy. It would still be teaching that the heavier a stone, the faster it will fall. One single experiment would have demolished that dogma, but, in those days, "truth" rested on tradition and authority, not on fact. Science has made enormous strides ever since, despite the hindrance offered by unfounded theories. It resorts to experiment and founds truth on the regular recurrence of facts, that is, on law.
But theology is still largely dominated by tradition and dependent on authority. The extent to which translations agree with such tradition and authority rather than with the inspired autographs is the measure of infidelity to fact and distance from truth.
A true transcript of a divine revelation must be based on the laws of language rather than on the bias of theologians. What are these laws? How can they be applied? We will briefly consider them in this connection. We must remember, however, that English is not a pure language. It is a conglomeration of fragments from several languages. Sacred Greek, on the contrary, is one of the most perfect and law-abiding of all tongues. In English the same letters and sounds have a dozen distinct meanings. Each thought has a variety of close synonyms. Such difficulties are practically absent from the first century Greek.
Everything in nature and revelation is known to us by its relation to other objects. We know nothing absolutely, only relatively. The same is true of the symbols, spoken or written, which we use to represent ideas. Hence, in studying words and their meanings, we are not so much concerned with the sign for a word, as with the relation this sustains to other signs. The meaning of a word depends on its usage, that is the other words with which it is used; on its etymology, that is, the family from which it springs; and on the whole vocabulary of which it forms a part.
Certain simple and common-sense laws have been discovered and confirmed which are of the greatest help to the linguist, the infraction of which is fraught with the most confusing consequences. One is,

No word is the exact equivalent of any other word.

If a language, like English, is made up of several tongues, this rule seems to be contradicted. But such is the vitality of this law that such a condition refuses to be permanent. Many words once exactly alike, from the French and Anglo-Saxon, have gradually drifted apart, so that now no good writer will confuse them.
Pork en pig were once the very same. Now the pig is in the pen and the pork is on the table. One is a living animal, the other, the flesh of a dead one.
In the languages of inspiration such confusion is practically unknown. The few foreign words fill a vacant place. Each word stands for a definite idea. When, for instance, the divine Author wished to speak of life, what valid reason could be given if, occasionally, He should substitute the word soul? If He meant soul, why did He not use the symbols that expressed it? We are satisfied that He did not mean life when He used the symbols for soul.


The Law of Location
Every word in the original should have its own English equivalent.

If no two words are precisely alike in meaning in the original, it should not be necessary to prove that accuracy demands that each Greek word be supplied with a distinct English equivalent. This, however, cannot be successfully done without a comprehensive system. It is not sufficient that we have the same number of different words in each vocabulary. Each English word should be the one which comes nearest to covering the same domain of thought as the original, and, more particularly, sustains the same relation to the other words of the language.
To make this clearer, we will compare the world of thought to the surface of the earth, and the words to the geographical and political divisions. There is, indeed, a signal instance - the ancient province of Asia - which shows how confusing its is to use geographical names in English which do not correspond with those in the Greek. Asia now includes a vast continent, and the English reader, unless warned, must get the idea that the entire territory of Asiatic Russia, China, Japan, Korea, Siam, India, Persia, Arabia, Palestine, and Asia Minor are included. So we have translated it "the province of Asia", for only a small part of the present Asia Minor is meant. In precisely the same way it is misleading to translate a general term for one that is specific.
Carrying out our figure, we will call this the Law of Location. If the geographer must not confound England with New Zealand, the lexicographer should not confuse yea and nay (A.V., 1Co.4:3;6:8), or pour out and fill (A.V., Rev 14:10;18:6).
But such accidents are rare and easily avoided. It is when two words are similar in meaning that the danger is greatest. Great Britain covers three countries but there are times when it is most important to distinguish between England, Scotland and Wales. Similarly, though all are sin, it is of the highest value to discriminate between injustice and transgression and offense.
This is practically impossible when one of them, offense, is rendered sin (Eph.1:7), trespass (Eph.2:1), which is practically the same as transgression, as well as the usual word offense. The translators were restrained from rendering it sin in the first verse of the second of Ephesians by the immediate presence of the real word sin. In the vocabulary method of the CONCORDANT VERSION this restraint is always present, and debars it from following their example and lapse in to sin in the fifth verse.
The only practical safeguard in apportioning to each Greek expression its most fitting English equivalent is to arrange the whole vocabulary in alphabetical order, so that any duplicates will immediately become apparent. If, for instance, we wish to translate FROM-LOOSing redemption, as it is ordinarily rendered, we will be confronted by the fact that this term is already appropriated by LOOSing. We then find that we need, not merely another word, but one which will register the difference indicated by the prefix FROM-. The word deliverance admirably performs this function.
The vocabulary used by a translator should be such that, when superimposed on the vocabulary of the original, it will not only coincide as far as possible, but clearly define the boundaries between the words and their relation to one another. Such a task is necessarily imperfect in its results, due to radical differences in the idioms of language and also to the usage of words. The question arises whether these imperfections can be removed and, if so, how it is to be done.
It is not enough, that each word should harmonize with its contexts. If a single English word seems to suit different sets of contexts, in which the original uses two expressions, that is evidence that we have failed to grasp the finer phases of concord. The difference is there, though we may not be aware of it. The vocabulary method is the only means of discovering what our dull senses otherwise overlook. We must find a word for each set of contexts which will fit that and no other. We must compare it with the whole vocabulary and so prove that there is not a better word for the place it fills.
This leads us to consider the greatest and most powerful of all the laws of language.

The Law of Reciprocation
Every thought symbol,
the moment that it is placed is connection with others,
both influences the meaning of its neighbors and is
itself modified by them.

Words antagonistic to each other will not associate. We never read of hot ice. If we did the word hot would gradually become chilled and lose its present meaning. If we did not know the meaning of cold, its close company with ice would soon assure us of its signification.
Words get their color from their contexts. Without any dictionary whatever, it is possible to determine the meaning of almost any word if it is seen in a dozen sentences. From this we may deduce the notable conclusion that the actual and understood meaning of an English word in the Bible is not necessarily its current of dictionary meaning, but that which it absorbs from the passages in which it is found. A dictionary simply records the usage of words as employed by careful writers.
We find, then, that we have discovered a law which will practically adjust the minor differences which exist between Greek and English equivalents. An English word will expand or contract, color or blanch, become purified or tainted, to conform to the thought environments which surround it in the Scriptures. If an English word is not an exact counterpart of the Greek, the contexts in which it consistently occurs will correct its inaccuracies. It will take on a special scriptural signification. This is why the uniform renderings of the CONCORDANT VERSION are the most valuable yet simple means of transferring the truth into English.

The Penalty of Lawlessness

But like all law, its benefits depend on its unvarying observance, and a penalty follows its infringement. If we inject into one English word all the virus of five false contexts, it will not only fail to furnish us with the truth, but it will reflect a false light when used in its proper place. A version which mixes its renderings subconsciously confuses its readers.
One example will suffice. The ecclesiastical meaning of "ordinance" is a religious rite or ceremony.
Five different Greek words are translated ordinance in the Authorized Version.
One of them means decree (Lu.2:1 Ac.16:4;17:7 Eph. 2:15 Col.2:14). In the first three passages they so render it. Why not in the last two?
Another is mandate (Ac.7:53 Ro.13:2). In the first they translate it disposition.
Another is statute (Heb.9:1,10).
Another is always translated creation or creature elsewhere (1Pt.2:13)
Another is uniformity tradition except in 1Co.11:2.

In no case does it mean a religious rite. Yet it injects this meaning into almost every passage. If the translators had used some of their own renderings consistently, or even a synonym, we should have been saved untold confusion. It is a flagrant violation of the laws of language to render five different words by one word, and, in each case, to translate these words by other terms as well. The truth is lost in such a maze.
So valuable and vital is the law of reciprocation that we believe its observance puts the CONCORDANT VERSION in a class by itself. We urge all who are sincerely desirous of knowing God to test this matter fully. The continuous use of a version which obeys this law bridges the gulf between God's thoughts and human apprehension; the constant use of a lawless version puts an impassable chasm between us and God. One is clear concord; the other is subconscious confusion.



from CONCORDANT GREEK TEXT © 1975 Concordant Publishing Concern