Over the past few months we have been using HCSB and GW for the reading of Scriptures in public worship. GW is superb in this role; HCSB holds up quite well. We switched back to HCSB yesterday for that role, until Pentecost.
For Bible study we have several translations that people use: NAS, NKJV, ESV, NIV 1984, NIV 2011, HCSB, GW. And that can be helpful as we examine various texts.
On January 6 we started an afternoon class for “Basics of the Christian Faith.” This is meant for those interested in membership and for members who wish to review the central teachings of the Christian faith. It is here that GW presents the biggest challenges. We believe that the central teaching of the Christ faith is: “justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.” It is at this point that GW is weak as a study bible, because the critical items, justification and righteousness, are lost in GW. GW in the New Testament (and Genesis 15:6) translates it as: “God’s approval.” The problem is that the Hebrew word (צדך) and the Greek word (δικαιοσύνη) carry more than does the English “God’s approval” as an adequate translation. In effect, such a translation as GW requires (side) teaching to get these components into a consistency with the rest of the Biblical witness.
Interestingly, GW retains “righteousness” in the Old Testament as a translation of צדך in many critical texts that parallel the New Testament understanding (total of 130 times in OT). See a few examples:
Psalm 24:5 “‹This person› will receive a blessing from the Lord and righteousness from God, his savior.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Isaiah 59:17 “He puts on righteousness like a coat of armor and a helmet of salvation on his head.” (compare Ephesians 6:14)
Jeremiah 23:6 “In his lifetime, Judah will be saved, and Israel will live in safety. This is the name that he will be given: The Lord Our Righteousness.” (Compare 1 Corinthians 1:30)
Sadly the implications of “righteousness” in many of these texts is lost when GW translates as “God’s approval” in the New Testament.
In the predecessor translation NET (New Evangelical Translation—only New Testament was completed before the change to GW), these translations were not a problem. But between 1992-1995 the translation team changed and these translation choices were lost. I challenged those changes at the time and have repeatedly asked for a review and change back to the NET rendering.
One critical text is 2 Corinthians 5:21
GW: God had Christ, who was sinless, take our sin so that we might receive God’s approval through him.
NET: God made Him who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become righteous before God.
Note that “righteous before God” includes more than approval. It encompasses Jesus’ very own righteousness as ours.
Another example, consider Romans 3:21-28
21 Now, the way to receive God’s approval has been made plain in a way other than Moses’ Teachings. Moses’ Teachings and the Prophets tell us this. 22 Everyone who believes has God’s approval through faith in Jesus Christ.
There is no difference between people. 23 Because all people have sinned, they have fallen short of God’s glory. 24 They receive God’s approval freely by an act of his kindness through the price Christ Jesus paid to set us free ‹from sin›. 25 God showed that Christ is the throne of mercy where God’s approval is given through faith in Christ’s blood. In his patience God waited to deal with sins committed in the past. 26 He waited so that he could display his approval at the present time. This shows that he is a God of justice, a God who approves of people who believe in Jesus.
27 So, do we have anything to brag about? Bragging has been eliminated. On what basis was it eliminated? On the basis of our own efforts? No, indeed! Rather, it is eliminated on the basis of faith. 28 We conclude that a person has God’s approval by faith, not by his own efforts.
NET (New Evangelical Translation):
21 But now God has shown a righteousness that comes from Him—a righteousness apart from the Law—to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness by faith in Jesus Christ comes from God to all who believe.
There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and are without the praise that God gives. 24 They are justified [declared righteous] freely by His grace, through the ransom Christ Jesus paid. 25 God publicly displayed Him as the Atonement Cover through faith in His blood. ‹God did this› to show that He is just, even though in His patience He had left unpunished those sins which had been done in the past. 26 He wanted to show His justice at the present time, so that He might be righteous and the One who justifies [acquits] the person who believes in Jesus.
27 What, then, becomes of our pride? It is excluded. On what principle? On the principle of works? No, rather it is excluded on the principle of faith. 28 For we conclude that a person is justified [declared righteous] by faith—apart from the works of the Law.
The use of GW?
Because of this inconsistency of GW regarding “righteousness” and “God’s approval,” the connections cannot be made by the student using only GW. Thus, GW does not help in the context of detailed study. So, I have concluded that while GW is an excellent oral translation (for public reading) and an excellent devotional translation it lacks in critical areas to be an effective study Bible. Additionally, we use the Gospel of John (GW) as a handout to people who have no church or Bible background.
On the other hand, I find that GW is better than NLT and other similar translations. I certainly do not recommend The Message. Thus, I would recommend GW as a second translation to accompany a good study Bible (NAS, NKJV, HCSB).
Translation for Study?
So now what for study? In some ways NAS and NKJV are excellent study Bibles (I am not addressing the textual difference for each). So, in one sense I would use one of those two as primary study Bible and GW as a complement to that translation. But I would like to see a few updates on these translations. I was disappointed with some of the changes from the NAS 1977 to NAS 1995. Yes, the change from “thee” to “you” was to be commended. But some changes seemed unnecessary (in Ephesians 4:17 changing ουν from “therefore” to “so” which misses how Paul uses various conjunctions, especially in Ephesians). And finally, these translations still need work to move away from the woodenness of translation that makes oral comprehension difficult at best (i.e., Ephesians 1:3-14).
For this Basics class I have been using NIV 1984 (we have copies that were purchased a few years ago). For the most part these will suffice (except 1 Peter 3:21); I have evaluated NIV elsewhere. But until there is some resolution on this translation decision, that is the compromise that I will live with.
Since our public reading translation for the next three months is HCSB, I will be using that as the basis of preaching. It will be interesting to see how well that works. I will also begin using it more in teaching Bible classes. My guess is that it will work better for study than GW. Stayed tuned for more updates on HCSB and GW… and maybe other translations!