Transliteration versus Translation

A number of highly important words in translations of the Bible are in fact not translated at all, but merely transliterated. A translation is a rendering of the meaning of a text into a different language. A transliteration does not render the meaning of the word into the other language, but only represents its sound. βασιλεύς, for example, can be translated into English as king. Transliterated into English, it would be Basileus.

Clearly, transliterating this word into English would not make its meaning clear. It would, in essence, hide the meaning and give us a new English word, which we would then have to explain to readers of the text. This is exactly what happened with quite a few theologically important words in the earliest English translations of the Bible. Rather than translating them into English, the earliest translators chose to transliterate them, representing their sound rather than their meaning in English.  In most cases, these transliterations were accepted by the churches of the time and became traditional usage in the new languages into which the Bible was translated, with the church providing new “official” meanings for these words. 

Four examples of such transliteration still found in our modern English Bibles are shown below.

Original Language Word Translation Transliteration
βαπτίζειν dip, wash, rinse baptize
χριστός anointed Christ
מַשִׁיחַ anointed Messiah
χριστιανός of the party of the anointed Christian

Why do you think the earliest translators chose not to translate these word, but to transliterate them? What could happen if we chose now to actually translate them rather than continuing to use the transliterations given to us by those early translators?

Ἐγὼ μὲν ὑμᾶς βαπτίζω ἐν ὕδατι εἰς μετάνοιαν (Matthew 3:11)
I dip you in water for repentance
I wash you with water for repentance 
I rinse you with water for repentance

At the very least, in the case of βαπτίζω, we would have to think very hard about which English word best represents the sense of the Greek word in each particular context. Continuing to use the transliteration baptize hides this problem from us