Ambiguity (rightly author’s intended meaning is not immediately clear) in Literal Bible Translations

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Ecclesiastes 11:1-2 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
11 Send[1] out your bread on the waters,
for in many days you will find it.
Give a portion to seven, or even to eight,
for you do not know what disaster may happen on earth.

(Heb. shalach) does not mean to throw out or scatter but to “send,” to “let go.”

What does it mean to ‘send out bread’?

Edward D. Andrews
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored 160+ books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

Bread is the provision, a sustainer of life, very valuable. To send it out on “waters” is not an act of charity, but rather to part with something valuable as an investment. Yet, “in many days you will find it,” for in an unexpected but sure way your sacrifice will be repaid. Metaphorically speaking, this is an act of devoting time, effort, money, or energy to a particular undertaking with the strong belief of a worthwhile result or return.

The meaning of bread is many among the commentaries. Some take it as I have, an investment, which is what the context demands. Some are more specific on the investment in that they take bread metaphorically as merchandise. The Good News Translation (GNT) reds, “Invest your money in foreign trade.” The common Jewish interpretation is to be more generous. Some believe it means riches.  The New English Bible (NEB) reads, “Send your grain across the seas.”

Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament

Eccles. 11:1. “Let thy bread go forth over the watery mirror: for in the course of many days shalt thou find it.” Most interpreters, chiefly the Talm., Midrash, and Targ., regard this as an exhortation to charity, which although practiced without expectation of reward, does not yet remain unrewarded at last. An Aram. proverb of Ben Sira’s (vid., Buxtorf’s Florilegium, p. 171) proceeds on this interpretation: “Scatter thy bread on the water and on the dry land; in the end of the days thou findest it again.” Knobel quotes a similar Arab. proverb from Diez’ Denkwürdigkeiten von Asien (Souvenirs of Asia), II 106: “Do good; cast thy bread into the water: thou shalt be repaid some day.”[2]

The P52 PROJECT THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS 4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS

So, how do we decide here on the meaning? First, we stay with the literal ambiguous translation, allowing the reader the right to determine the meaning for himself or herself. The Good News Translation and the New English Bible and other dynamic equivalent translations remove interpretative possibilities from the reader by replacing them as the interpreter and an interpretive translation.

Our primary purpose in translating the Bible from the original language into a modern-day language is to give the Bible readers what God said by way of his human authors, not what a translator thinks God meant in its place. Truth Matters! Our primary goal is to be accurate and faithful to the original text. The meaning of a word is the responsibility of the interpreter (i.e., reader), not the translator. Translating Truth!

APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot APOSTOLIC FATHERS

Ecclesiastes 11:1-2 begins with two parallel pieces of guidance. Therefore, each of these must be saying something similar or in a complement of each other, so we use them to get at the meaning, as well as the context (See vs. 6, prospering financially). Hence, “send out your bread” and “give a portion” are parallel thoughts. Bread is not so narrow in meaning as to represent riches or seeds specifically. Bread is a provision, a sustainer of life, very valuable.

Therefore, here, bread can refer to ‘giving a portion,’ devoting time, effort, money, energy, some aspect of one’s life to a particular undertaking with the strong belief of a worthwhile result or return. Jesus offered us a similar way of thinking, “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal.” (Matt. 6:20) In other words, invest in your eternal future by giving a portion of bread, that is, your valuable things with the hope of a return. Thus, bread represents whatever we give away as an investment that is of value to us. This is especially true when we give our investment to “seven, or even to eight, for you, do not know what disaster may happen on earth” (vs 2), which may impact two or three of those that you have given your valuables to when you were seeking a result or return.

9781949586121 BIBLE DIFFICULTIES THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS

Duane A. Garrett writes,

While Ecclesiastes is concerned with oppression, it nowhere else takes up the issue of charitable giving. Also v. 6 confirms that this context concerns personal financial strategy. For a good discussion see Gordis, Koheleth, 329–30.[3]

The interpretive effort that has gone into this article is the right of every Bible reader. The author of this article has read the original Hebrew, looked at many commentaries, lexicons (word dictionaries), and Bible dictionaries or encyclopedias. All readers of the Bible have the right to have before them the Word of God in their modern language, so they too can buy out the time to discover what the author meant by the words that he used. What they do not need is what a translator thinks God meant in its place, the meaning of the word in the translation instead of the word itself.

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[1] (Heb. shalach) does not mean to throw out or scatter but to “send,” to “let go.”
[2] Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 6 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 780.
[3] Duane A. Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, vol. 14, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993).

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