It Matters

I love Scripture. I don’t love it enough, but I’m starting to experience this deep longing for it. It’s kind of like when I’m away from my wife and son for more than a couple of days. Until we’re reunited, I don’t breathe as deep as I normally would. Maybe it’s more like a clove cigarette addiction – tension and anxiety builds between encounters because you know there is a fresh stick waiting on you somewhere. Insert another ridiculous metaphor. The point is….that with each step I take in the wilderness, trying to catch up with the glory of God, I develop a deeper and more intense obsession with the pages. It blows my mind that Will Smith’s inventor is published. 

I wish I knew the language of God. Take my word for it, it’s definitely not English…and probably not Spanish. It doesn’t matter though because finite tounges wouldn’t be able to utter a syllable of it anyway… so I would settle for Greek and Hebrew (the original languages). But until I learn them, English is my only ticket into the mind of Yahweh. So…I’ll be content with English, but I will not tolerate inaccuracy.

Check out these two passages…one from a paraphrase (“thought-for-thought” or “dynamic equivalence”) and one from a literal translation (“word-for-word” or “essentially literal”):

New Living Translation (thought-for-thought):

           “Such stupidity and ignorance! Their eyes are closed, and they cannot see. Their minds are shut, and they cannot think. The person who made the idol never stops to reflect, “Why, it’s just a block of wood! I burned half of it for heat and used it to bake my bread and roast my meat. How can the rest of it be a god? Should I bow down to worship a chunk of wood?” The poor, deluded fool feeds on ashes. He is trusting something that can give him no help at all. Yet he cannot bring himself to ask, “Is this thing, this idol that I’m holding in my hand, a lie?”

English Standard Version (word-for-word):

          “They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, “Half of it is burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?”

Don’t be afraid to read the whole chapter to get some context. But my point is that these two passages, if you cannot already tell, say two different things. Specifically, take notice of the first and last sentences. Of course, we are working under the assumption that Isaiah is referencing God when he uses the pronoun “he”. In his commentaries, Calvin believes that we can successfully assume that “he” does, in fact, reference the Almighty (his rationale is pretty compelling).

Please allow me to proclaim the gravity of this issue. Studying a translation that paints an accurate portrait of God is of colossal importance. Though I do agree with John Piper when he says, “God is willing to bless anything that approximates His regulation“, I know he would agree with me when I say that our Father cannot be misrepresented. Regarding the above passages, the ESV tells me something about the Creator that the thought-for-thought translation fails to communicate (for whatever reason).

Recently, I sat down with a friend who informed me of A.W. Tozer’s translation preference. Funny, huh. A mutual friend of ours sat down with the legend for a brief moment and had the opportunity to extract a bit of wisdom. Apparently, Tozer the Bulldozer (my affectionate nickname for him) has learned eight different languages so that he could study the Word of God in each one of them in hopes of gaining a deeper glimpse into the glory of God. I’ve barely mastered English. Tozer has also studied every accessible English translation. Anyway, the man knows his translations, and if you’re familiar with his works, the man obviously knows his God. He said that of them all, he prefers the ESV. Compelling.

The following is an abridged timeline of the English Standard Version’s lineage:

  • 1611 – King James Version 
  • 1901 – American Standard Version (kjv revision)
  • 1952 – Revised Standard Version (kjv & asv revision)
  • 1989 – New Revised Standard Version (rsv revision)
  • 1975 – New International Version (brand new – no lineage)
  • English Standard Version (Crossway bought rights to the RSV and fixed it)                                                                         

Verses with significant difference:

  • Romans 1.5
  • Romans 3.20
  • Romans 13.8
  • Hebrews 6.1
  • James 2.12
  • Romans 8.35

Though I am covinced that translation does matter, do not let this issue plague your thoughts for long. I urge you all to be wholly consumed with the utterances of our God, regardless of translation. 

Soli Deo Gloria!


5 Responses

  1. ESV has a new literary study Bible. I don’t know much about it but it sounds kind of cool.

  2. yeah…they have that journaling bible out as well. Have you seen that?

  3. my heart resonates with that post…. I have THE MESSAGE/REMIX and the ESV sitting on my table in the dorm room. The differences are clear. About the only time I read the MESSAGE is when I casually want a vague sense of a biblical story or some fresh thoughts on verses that I’ve read all my life. Sometimes after reading the MESSAGE I will get a thought about a verse in new light, which then drives me back to the ESV to delve deeper into God’s word. — then to actually learn from it and study it and apply my life to its words: The ESV is used everytime….

    but all in all, I’m glad that you put that Piper Quote in the post. What he said is so true…

  4. You can actually peruse the new ESV study Bible online in a free trial.

    I didn’t think the ESV was a true “word-for-word.” Piper seems to think the NASB is still a better “word-for-word,” but the ESV is more readable, so it’s his preferred translation.

    I wonder what languages Tozer knows? I agree with him, though, studying it in other languages gives you a better sense of the original, as you see how different languages/cultures approach it. Hearing that about him actually has inspired me today, thanks for that info.

  5. You’re right, brother. The NASB is still the most accurate to the original languages.

    How is your new life’s work?

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