God’s Word translation – history and challenges

A New Direction for a Potentially Great Translation

I have had the privilege of reviewing and using God’s Word (and its predecessors) since 1986. As originally envisioned, it would be an update of William Beck’s Bible (An American Translation [AAT], OT in 1966 and NT in 1976). The 1988 edition (New Testament only) made significant steps forward in making the Bible understandable in contemporary English. At the same time it remained connected with the historic translations of Christianity. The 1992 edition offered more changes, and the OT pericopes were added for each quarter of the liturgical church year. GW was finally published in final form in 1995.

There are many positive features of GW translation. This is the best oral translation next to the KJV in its era. The visual layout (single column, with indents for selected poetic passages, size of the font, etc.) enhanced its usability. I really liked it and from 1993-mid 1995 we used it for every Sunday reading in the congregation, and it was well received by congregational members and visitors. I also preached from GW every Sunday.

Changes: Good and Not so Good

In 1991/1992 many changes were made at the publishing company and the translation team. This resulted in some positive changes for the translation, but in other cases less so. The translation team now included an English stylist (very positive move), and the translation team provided congregation tests of the use of certain words that were being considered for use in the translation (also very positive).

However, this approach also led to a few unfortunate choices for English words as translations for Hebrew/Greek words. For this note, I will limit my comments to the Greek NT. Perhaps the most notable problem was how to translate δικαιοσουνη (and verbal cognates). For traditional translations, it was generally/consistently rendered with “righteousness.” While the GW polls showed that many people did not “understand” righteousness, the translation team moved to use “God’s approval” as the translation. The reasoning is that people could understand that more readily that righteousness. However, after use in the congregation, I found the exact opposite. For most people “God’s approval” focused on a person’s performance, which in many cases was the exact opposite of the meaning intended in the Greek text.

Even more disheartening was to realize that in the OT GW retained “righteousness” as a common translation of צדק (tsedek), again commonly rendered “righteousness” (not always, see Gen. 30:33). But in critical passages where there is a link between the OT concept and the NT reference, it becomes important to retain the same term. Consider Romans when Paul quotes Habakkuk:

Habakkuk 2:4b (GW): But the righteous person will live because of his faithfulness.

Romans 1:17b (GW): God’s approval is revealed in this Good News. This approval begins and ends with faith as Scripture says, “The person who has God’s approval will live by faith.”

By using two different terms in a critical passage, GW has not helped the reader understand the text. It may very well be that the current understanding of “God’s approval” becomes the interpretive grid for understanding “righteousness.” But is that any further help to the student who does not read Hebrew/Greek? To me it would be better for the translation to use “righteousness” and then the pastor/teacher can help the reader. Yes, even a detailed footnote could be used (or since it is a frequent term, have it explained in a glossary, and the footnote refer to that).

Even familiar texts for liturgical seasons, i.e. Isaiah 9:7, shows the value of retaining “righteousness” as the translation of צדק (tsedek).

Isaiah 9:7 (GW): He will establish David’s throne and kingdom.
He will uphold it with justice and righteousness now and forever.

But I don’t want to dwell only on that word, because it can detract from the benefits of the entire translation.

Conclusion

Overall, GW is an admirable translation. Perfect? No. Best? I think that might need qualification. I think that GW is the best complement translation to the traditional ones: NAS/NKJV/NRSV to give the English reader a better sense of the meaning of the original language texts. I think it is also best translation for English as a second language group. Hence I would rank it above NLT, CEB (from my review of Matthew), and other similar translations in terms of faithfulness and accuracy.

I look forward to what Baker Publishing Group brings to the translation experience and distribution of GW. I pray that God would use the translation and Baker to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to many people.

Advertisements

About exegete77

disciple of Jesus Christ, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, teacher, and theologian
This entry was posted in Translations. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to God’s Word translation – history and challenges

  1. Wayne Leman says:

    I am glad that Baker is open to receiving revision suggestions for GW. I have a nice list started already. However, like you, I consider that the pluses of GW far outweigh its negatives. I have been getting re-acquainted with it and I like how smoothly it usually reads. And, so far, I don’t get the feeling that accuracy has been sacrificed for naturalness of English.

    It’s going to take a lot of skillful marketing, however, for GW to make gains on the NLT, which is another translation I appreciate these days. I’m hoping I can do some accuracy comparisons between NLT and GW since they strike me as having about the same kind of natural English and similar reading levels, both a little above CEV and NCV.

    Like

Comments are closed.