Comparison of translation choices

I have been reading ESV for a few weeks. I am posting just some random translation choices of ESV and comparing it to other translations. The first two examples have to do with seemingly awkward (oral) translation choices. The last example has to do with the difference between translation approaches: formal equivalent and functional equivalent (other terms have been used to express the differences in approaches)

Formal equivalent: reasonably equivalent words and phrases while following the forms of the source language [Greek in this case] as closely as possible. Sometimes called “word-for-word” translation. Examples include ESV, NAS, NKJV, and MEV.

Functional equivalent: This type of translation reflects the thought of the writer in the source language rather than the words and forms. Sometimes called “meaning based translation.” Examples include: GW, NLT.

Combination: Then there some translations that fall somewhere between these classifications, namely CSB, which leans toward Formal equivalent, and NIV, which shifts between the two approaches (without any signal that such a change is taking place).

Deuteronomy 4:39

ESV know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.

NAS Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the Lord, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other.

NKJV Therefore know this day, and consider it in your heart, that the Lord Himself is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.

CSB Today, recognize and keep in mind that the Lord is God in heaven above and on earth below; there is no other.

NIV Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other.

MEV Know therefore today, and consider it in your heart, that the Lord, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other.

“Lay it to your heart” just sounds odd, and I am not familiar with any other contemporary use of that phrase in English.

Deuteronomy 5:3

ESV Not with our fathers did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today.

NAS The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, with all those of us alive here today.

NKJV The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive.

CSB He did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with all of us who are alive here today

NIV  It was not with our ancestors that the Lord made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today.

MEV The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, we who are living now and here today.

GW He didn’t make this promise to our ancestors, but to all of us who are alive here today.

The translation “but with us, who are all of us here alive today” is awkward English and hence problematic for oral reading. Surprisingly CSB follows ESV closely, only shifting the word “all.”

Interestingly NKJV adjusts the word order to make it more comprehensible but also flowing better for oral reading. MEV goes about it differently to achieve the same result.

Ephesians 1:3-14

This is one section in which the formal equivalent and dynamic equivalent translations show marked differences even in where to put sentence stops (periods).

Ephesians 1:3-14 is one of the more difficult passages, partly because it depends on how sentences are divided in the entire section, 1:3-14. Here are the number of sentences (in parentheses) in each text:

NA28 (Greek text, 4): 1:3-6, 7-10, 11-12, 13-14

ESV (4) 1:3-6, 7-10, 11-12, 13-14

NKJV (4) 1:3-6, 7-10, 11-12, 13-14

MEV (4): 1:3-6, 7-10, 11-12, 13-14

NAS (5) 1:3-6, 7-8a, 8b-10, 11-12, 13-14

==========

CSB (8) 1:3, 4, 5-6, 7-8, 9-10, 11-12, 13, 14

NIV (8) 1:3, 4, 5-6, 7-8, 9-10, 11-12, 13a, 13b-14

==========

GW (14): 3, 4, 5-6, 7, 8, 8-9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 13, 14, 14, 14

NLT (15) 1:3, 4, 5, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 13, 14, 14

You can see the division of sentences relative to Formal (ESV, NAS, NKJV, MEV) and Functional (NIV, GW, NLT) translations.  Interestingly CSB and NIV sit in the middle of sentence division choices but for different reasons. CSB (and predecessor HCSB) tend toward Formal equivalence, while NIV sometimes alternates the translation decision between Formal and Functional (without noting which is being followed in a particular text).

ESV 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

NAS  7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth.

NKJV 7  In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, 9 having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, 10 that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth

CSB 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he richly poured out on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9 He made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he purposed in Christ 10 as a plan for the right time—to bring everything together in Christ, both things in heaven and things on earth in him.

NIV 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

MEV 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood and the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace, 8 which He lavished on us in all wisdom and insight, 9 making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Himself, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Christ, which are in heaven and on earth.

GW 7 Through the blood of his Son, we are set free from our sins. God forgives our failures because of his overflowing kindness. 8 He poured out his kindness by giving us every kind of wisdom and insight 9 when he revealed the mystery of his plan to us. He had decided to do this through Christ. 10 He planned to bring all of history to its goal in Christ. Then Christ would be the head of everything in heaven and on earth.

The challenge in a passage like Ephesians 1:3-14 is to provide a translation that reflects the original Greek, and yet make it understandable in an English context. Very difficult to do. That is why I recommend to those who do not know the original languages to choose one from each type of translations (i.e. NAS and GW, or other combination).

PS: As an experiment, try to orally read each translation of Ephesians 1:3-14. And compare your ability to faithfully read and then understand.

Further Notes:

Keep in mind that there are many factors in translation choices. Those decisions can be much more complex than I have indicated. This only looks at one of two of those choices.

I have carefully avoided the evaluation and comparison terms (“better” “best” “worst”) in this post. I think it more appropriate to evaluate based on understandability of the English used in the translation.

CSB In Congregational Use

In this post I will not discuss the translation itself. Rather I will observe things about actually using the CSB translation in church settings.

I began using CSB for our lectionary readings beginning with Lent, for both Sunday and Wednesday worship. Generally, the lectors have done a good job. Sentence structure and oral comprehension aid the listener to understand the text.

Sentence Structure and Readability

At the same time, our Saturday morning Bible class has studied 1 John (6 weeks, then continue after Easter). I would pass out one chapter of CSB each week printed so that each participant could write notes in the right hand column.

I conducted the class differently than all previous studies. This six week study was focused only on what the text says. We used only that text, no study aids, etc, nor other translations. This proved effective because we all had the same text, and we had to wrestle with what the text stated. It also allowed each participant to see connections in the texts.

The sentence structure of CSB helped in this approach. Sentences were not overly long, which aided students in reading the thought progression. If questions arose, everyone was seeing the same thing in the text. That formed the basis of the study. The CSB translation was a positive experience for all participants.

After Easter, we will return to 1 John, for a more extensive examination, but this time focusing on application of the text.

Font Size—Text

My edition is: CSB Large Print Ultrathin Reference Bible.

While I like the font size for personal study, I found that 9.5 font size was too small for me to use in a preaching and teaching environment. This particular edition says it is “Large Print.”  Here is the description from CSBible.com

I looked at the CSB web site for other options. They have a Giant Print edition with 14.75 point size. That is too big for my purposes.

I have several other translations and many publishers have a size in between that is Large Print, namely 11 pt. That is exactly the size I find comfortable for reading in public, for preaching, and for teaching (my NAS Reference Bible is that size font).

Corrected: CSB publishers do offer a true Large Print Bible with 11 pt font size; but it is not available on their web site; found it on Amazon. (Special thanks to Diego and Gary)

Strange that CSB offers several different font sizes, all identified at Large Print:

8 pt [Compact]
9.5 pt [Ultrathin Reference], and
11.25 pt [Larger Print Personal Size]).

That is less than helpful. I would think that Large Print from the same publisher would designate all Bibles regardless of the edition.

Font Size—References

Despite this being a “Large Print” edition, and the text size is not true large print, the real problem comes with the cross references. Sadly I have to use a magnifying glass for most of the cross reference texts. We have two other people in the congregation who use the same Bible. Their first comment after talking about liking the translation is on the size of the cross references.

Sadly, these cross references are essentially useless, whether personal reading or especially when teaching/preaching and looking for a cross reference.

Single Column Text

Over the past several years I have picked up 3-4 translations (ESV, NKJV, GW) in single column format. It really is much easier to read in that format. This is especially true in poetic sections in the Old Testament. Because of the narrower columns in a double-column format, it is harder to follow the thought and connection.

CSB for Isaiah 64

God’s Word translation still offers the best single column format with indentation in poetic sections that makes reading silently and orally much easier. Here is Isaiah 64 in GW:

GW Layout Design: Isaiah 64

Suggestion/Request

I think CSB would be much more user friendly in offering a single column edition in 11 point font size with cross references that are readable and with indentation in poetic sections to clarify relationships and help readers.

Who heard and was troubled?

I again have the privilege of teaching Matthew this quarter in our seminary. As part of my preparation I read four chapters a day, hence the entire book of Matthew every week. Each week I use a different translation. So this week (starting on Friday) I began reading in God’s Word (GW) Matt. 1-4.

Matthew 2:3

Appropriately I read the section that fits with the Epiphany (January 6), namely the visit of the wise men to Jesus in Bethlehem. I noticed something different about this verse:

Matt. 2:3 When King Herod and all Jerusalem heard about this, they became disturbed. (GW)

So, it appears according to this translation that King Herod and all Jerusalem were together in hearing and reacting to what they heard. But is that accurate? Looking at the Greek text,

ἀκούσας δὲ ὁ βασιλεὺς Ἡρῴδης ἐταράχθη καὶ  °πᾶσα Ἱεροσόλυμα μετ᾿ αὐτοῦ, (NA28)

The first word is an aorist participle, nominative singular (“having heard” implying “he” or a singular noun of the sentence).  After the conjunction, δὲ (“now” “when”) we find the subject of the sentence: “[The] King Herod,” which is followed by the main verb (ἐταράχθη) which is aorist indicative, singular, “he was troubled.” So we could easily translate the first part of the sentence:

“When having heard [about the wise men] King Herod was troubled.”

The second part of the sentence is an additional clause, not a complete sentence, which can be translated:

“and all Jerusalem with him.”

This suggests that “all Jerusalem” did not hear [the report] but was reacting to King Herod who heard and was troubled. When the king is troubled, then all Jerusalem is troubled with him. Thus, the threat of a king-challenger is of immediate concern to Herod. It is a troubled Herod that is of immediate concern for the people.

Other translations:

I could find only one other translation that was even close to GW, namely NLT:

NLT King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem.

Unfortunately the way the sentence is awkwardly constructed in NLT, the additional clause at the end is closely connected with “hearing” and not “deeply disturbed.” Yet the helping verb (“was”) suggests a relationship with “deep disturbed.” But who would stop and analyze that structure?

The following translations catch the sense of the Greek sentence, that Herod heard the report, and that was troubling to him, and that then as troubling to all Jerusalem, contrary to GW (and NLT).

NAS When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

NET When King Herod heard this he was alarmed, and all Jerusalem with him.

NIV When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.

HCSB When King Herod heard this, he was deeply disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.

NAB When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

NJB When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem.

REB King Herod was greatly perturbed when he heard this, and so was the whole of Jerusalem.

It seems that GW (and somewhat NLT) confuses the problem by making Herod and the people as the ones equally who heard and are troubled.

English translations and word choices

Some translation oddities

Reading the daily lectionary, I have found some odd translation choices in terms of English usage in some different translations. The following readings come from today’s (Sep. 21) readings. With earlier readings from other days I noticed other odd or awkward phrasings. My goal is not to extensively deal with each text, but look at the English word choice and style used to translate the Hebrew.

Nehemiah 5:6-7 

Hebrew: וַיִּמָּלֵ֨ךְ לִבִּ֜י עָלַ֗י, roughly “my heart was counseled upon me.”

NAS  I consulted with myself

ESV I took counsel with myself

NRSV After thinking it over

NAB After some deliberation

HCSB After seriously considering the matter

NIV  pondered them in my mind

NET I considered these things carefully

NLT After thinking it over

GW After thinking it over

Lutheran Study Bible using the ESV has this alternative in a footnote: “mulled over in his mind what to do” (p. 745).

NAS and ESV maintain the Hebrew sense, but in the process provide an awkward/unusual rendering in English to do so. Most of the other translations adapt the thought into common English usage.

Nehemiah 6:16

Hebrew: וַיִּפְּל֥וּ מְאֹ֖ד בְּעֵינֵיהֶ֑ם, roughly “their eyes fell greatly”

NAS  they lost their confidence;

ESV  fell greatly in their own esteem

NRSV (so also RSV-RCC) fell greatly in their own esteem

NAB our enemies lost much face in the eyes of the nations

HCSB lost their confidence

NIV lost their self-confidence

NET they were greatly disheartened

NLT they were frightened and humiliated

GW lost their self-confidence

Note that ESV/NRSV/RSV-RCC use an odd way to express the Hebrew text. Most of the others show the reflexive (Niphal) sense, with “lost confidence.” NAB is unique in that the focus is not their own eyes that matter, but the eyes of the nations.

Psalm 55:19 

Hebrew:  יִשְׁמַ֤ע ׀ אֵ֨ל ׀ וְֽיַעֲנֵם֮, roughly “God hears and will afflict them”

NAS  God will hear and answer them (footnote: “afflict them”)

ESV (so also RSV-RCC) God will give ear and humble them

NRSV God…will hear, and will humble them

NAB God…will hear me and humble them

HCSB God…will hear and will humiliate them

NIV God…he will hear them and humble them

NET God,…will hear and humiliate them

NLT God…will hear me and humble them

GW God will listen. The one…will deal with them

Most translations offer a readable and understandable English rendering of the Hebrew. But notice ESV and RSV-RCC “God will give ear.” Aside from the original RSV and now lately ESV, I have never heard the use of “God will give ear.” My first humorous thought is “how many ears does God have.” With some practice, a reader might catch what is written. But what of an oral reading (i.e. in worship), will that communicate clearly and easily?

Concluding Thoughts

This is not an academic exploration but a simple look at translation choices and how that fits the register of understandable (and primarily oral) English. Over the past several years as I have reviewed translations, I have found that ESV is problematic in this specific area. And it follows the RSV, NRSV, and RSV (RCC) pattern. This also makes me more aware of how I preach and teach and at what level (vocabulary, etc.) I do so.

Hope to explore more on this topic.

Psalm 7:6 translation

In daily readings through the Bible, I also include the Psalm related to the day in multiples of 30 (7, 37, 67, etc.); so reading one Psalm a day I can cover the entire Psalmody in five months (days with 31 days I read Psalm 119). Yesterday (03/07) I read Psalm 7, and came across an unusual expression. Try reading aloud and see how it sounds, then ask others to listen (only).

Arise, O LORD, in your anger;
lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies;
awake for me; you have appointed a judgment. (Ps. 7:6 ESV)

Surprisingly HCSB and NAB have the same:

awake for me; You have ordained a judgment. (HCSB)

Wake to judge as you have decreed. (NAB)

It is the last line that caught my attention, because it is awkward at best. It doesn’t even make sense in context, and seems incomplete at best (filling too many gaps required). English style does not lend itself to such a translation. So I checked some other translations of that last line:

And arouse Yourself for me; You have appointed judgment. (NAS)

Rise up for me to the judgment You have commanded! (NKJV)

awake, O my God; you have appointed a judgment. (NRSV)

Wake up for my sake and execute the judgment you have decreed for them! (NET)

Awake, my God; decree justice. (NIV 2011)

Wake up, my God, and bring justice!  (NLT)

Wake up, my God. You have already pronounced judgment. (GW)

Awake, my God, you demand judgement. (NJB)

My God who ordered justice to be done, awake. (REB)

Notice that several still use “awake” or “wake up” but add the intended recipient, i.e. God, which makes it a little easier to understand. I checked other uses of the Hebrew word (עור) and found most of them provide better translations in both ESV and HCSB.

This is not a major issue, but for readability and oral comprehension, I think a rewrite for ESV and HCSB is needed.

Translating confuses connections

Translating any text from one language to another faces many challenges. Simplisticly some want one word in language A to match perfectly with language B. Some might be tempted to say this is the most “literal” translation. Interlinear translations follow this technique. However, it doesn’t take more than a couple examples to demonstrate why this approach fails.

Another approach claims a “general gist” of the original work, commonly known as “paraphrases.” These translations remove any semblance of translation (word context). Perhaps the two most common are The Living Bible from the 1970s and The Message of more recent vintage. Neither would be good for serious study.

In between those extremes we have two general groups of Bible translation approaches:

1. Formal Equivalence (sometimes called Word-for-word, but that is a misnomer)

The following translations represent this approach: NAS, NKJV, ESV, RSV, NRSV, HCSB, NET

2. Functional Equivalence (or meaning based)

The following translations represent this approach: GW, NLT

Some translations are difficult to categorize. Probably NIV is the best example. Sometimes the translation follows the Formal Equivalence and sometimes Functional Equivalence. Unfortunately the translators provide no basis to understand which approach is being used in a specific context and why the change. In that sense, NIV fits somewhere between the two groups.

Translation choices and connections made by the reader

This post is specifically about how a translation choice may be acceptable, but cause confusion about the connections between the thoughts of the text. I have chosen 1 Peter 3:21 as an example of where the connection can fail based on translation choices.

Greek: ὃ καὶ ⸁ὑμᾶς ἀντίτυπον νῦν σῴζει βάπτισμα, οὐ σαρκὸς ἀπόθεσις ῥύπου ἀλλὰ συνειδήσεως ἀγαθῆς ἐπερώτημα εἰς θεόν, δι᾿ ἀναστάσεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ

I have given several translation choices and grouped the translations based on that word choice.

“antitpye”

NKJV: There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

“corresponding to”

NAS: Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you — not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience — through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

HCSB: Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

ESV: Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ

NJB: It is the baptism corresponding to this water which saves you now—not the washing off of physical dirt but the pledge of a good conscience given to God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

GW: Baptism, which is like that water, now saves you. Baptism doesn’t save by removing dirt from the body. Rather, baptism is a request to God for a clear conscience. It saves you through Jesus Christ, who came back from death to life.

“prefigured”

NRSV And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ

NET: And this prefigured baptism, which now saves you–not the washing off of physical dirt but the pledge of a good conscience to God—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

NAB: This prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ

NLT: And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“symbolizes”

NIV: and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God

REB: This water symbolized baptism, through which you are now brought to safety. Baptism is not the washing away of bodily impurities but the appeal made to God from a good conscience; and it brings salvation through the resurrection of Jesus Christ

WEB: This is a symbol of baptism, which now saves you – not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

As we look at each of the translations, it is apparent that word choice is not skewed based on the translation philosophy. Formal Equivalence and Functional Equivalence translations fall into the same choice (i.e. NAS and GW, or NIV and NET).

So what is the text in Greek saying? The Greek has ἀντίτυπον, transliterated as “antitype” in NKJV. Thus, something in the Old Testament serves as a “type” and points ahead to a greater fulfillment in the New Testament, the “antitype.” There are several examples:

David the Lord/King (type) —> Jesus as Lord/King (antitype) (Matthew 22:42)

temple in Jerusalem (type) —> Jesus is temple of God (antitype) (John 2:19-21)

Atonement sacrifices (type) —> Jesus is perfect sacrifice (antitype) (Romans 3:24-25; 1 John 2:2; Hebrews 9:23-26)

So, in the context of 1 Peter 3:21, we find that Peter is giving us the type as the saving of people through the water at the time of Noah.

For Christ also died for sins bonce for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. (1 Peter 3:18-20 NAS)

Thus our diagram would look like this:

Saving of eight people through water (type) —> Baptism now saves (antitype)

So, “Baptism now saves…” and is the antitype, which is a greater thing than the saving of the eight people in the flood. Note this from BDAG: “A Platonic perspective is not implied in the passage.”

So where is the confusion?

The confusion is exemplified by the NIV translation choice (“and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also.”). But because of the popularity of the NIV it  reflects a misunderstanding even for those who use other translations.

The text is often read this way:

Saving in the flood (type) —> baptism, which is a symbol of saving (antitype)

The conclusion is that baptism does not save because it is only a symbol of saving, not the real act of saving. Having taught this passage for the past 30+ years, I found everyone coming from a “baptism is a symbol of my action” background understands the text this way. Of course, there is another problem with this reading of the text, and that is the presupposition of the reader, prior to reading this text. The presupposition is that baptism is “my act showing my faith.” Unfortunately, this presupposition leads to different understanding this specific text, but also Acts 2:38-39; Romans 6:1-11; Ephesians 4:4-6;.

So, in this case a translation choice can easily be misunderstood to support a wrong view of baptism, hence, translating confuses connections.

Baptism really does save.

 

 

When God’s Approval Isn’t

Background on GW

I have written before about the God’s Word (GW) translation. This includes my background as serving pastor of three different congregations that were test congregations for checking readability, oral comprehension, etc. For the most part it is a very good translation, especially as it was being published from 1988 to 1992.

The interim published translation was called New Evangelical Translation (NET) first in 1988 and then 1992); it covered only the New Testament. From 1992 to 1995, when the entire Bible was published under the name God’s Word, the translation team shifted emphasis. The biggest change in the translation was to translate δικαιοσύνη as “God’s approval” instead of the previous “righteousness.” I protested that change during the testing phase (1992-1995), and I repeatedly have sent letters/emails since 1995. All to no avail.

The reason for the change was defended by the translators, noting that in contemporary usage “righteous” and “righteousness” had lost any semblance to its usage in the New Testament, so an alternative had to be found, and they chose “God’s approval.”

My objection to such a change was two-fold. 1) It is better to teach the concept of “righteousness” (δικαιοσύνη). Since teaching would be involved in understanding “God’s approval” why not teach regarding the use of “righteousness.”

2) The GW translators retained “righteousness” in the Old Testament for the Hebrew,  צְדָקָֽה , LXX (Greek OT) using δικαιοσύνη. So the supposed advantage of “God’s approval” fails in this inconsistency. Notice how this is problematic when looking at NT usage of an OT passage.

Romans 1:17 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.” (GW)

Notice that it quotes from the prophet:

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

So, how does a learning student of the Bible make the connection with how GW handles “righteousness” in Habakkuk vs. “God’s approval” in Romans? It actually leads to more confusion rather than clarity, because it makes a distinction between “righteousness” and “God’s approval.” Now, notice that when translating δικαιοσύνη as righteousness in Romans 1:17 the translation removes the additional layer of confusion, actually aiding the student in understanding.

Here is the NET (1992) translation of Romans 1:17

For it reveals the righteousness which comes from God by faith to bring people to faith, as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Thus, my theological and translational concerns about God’s Word choices still stand, and why the 1992 NET was far better. But now I have come across a practical reason to not use “God’s approval” as a translation for δικαιοσύνη.

Practical Implications

In Bible class recently this confusion caused by the use of “God’s approval” came to bear in a very personal way. One person has been caring for an elderly loved one for more than a decade. For many years the care was demanding but the elderly family member was her usual considerate loving self.

But in recent months the demeanor changed, and the burden on the caregiver with little sleep over the past few months (up every 1-2 hours). This meant the caregiver was working on the thin edge of care, and occasionally began to respond with less than kind words and attitude. The caregiver felt a heavy burden, because God was obviously not pleased (God did not approve of the attitude displayed).

The caregiver then was reading the usual GW translation Bible for comfort but kept running into “God’s approval.” The more the phrase appeared the more demanding it became, the more condemning it felt. The caregiver had come to the conclusion that God was not approving of the words and actions of the caregiver, leading to serious questions about God’s lack of approval. The person knew about righteousness but could never connect it to God’s approval. Other problematic texts in GW: Romans 3:22-24; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9.

Notice that in the process, the supposedly more helpful translation “God’s approval” was no longer speaking God’s approval, but the very opposite; “God’s approval” was not “God’s approval” for this person. The Good News of righteousness was replaced by the demands of a righteousness, earning God’s approval through performance that was flawed. And that was overwhelming. Thankfully this person asked the right question about that in Bible class. After the explanation of what righteousness is and what it means in many contexts, the tears of joy and relief flooded this person, the fear of not meeting “God’s approval” was gone.

For this person, “God’s approval” could only be understood in light of righteousness that is a gift from God. Thus the person is righteous by faith, not by performance. Others in the class began to understand the challenge and problem with GW’s use of “God’s approval.” Thus, the title, “When God’s Approval Isn’t.”

So I had to teach the concept of δικαιοσύνη, righteousness for the good news to sink in. How much longer it took than if the person had read “righteousness” in the translation GW?

What Next?

Of course, I realize that changing GW is impossible now. Twenty-three years have passed since I first opposed the use of “God’s approval” and I have repeatedly done so for 23 years. And still no acknowledgment that there is even a problem with the translation choice, “God’s approval.”

Sadly all the good points of GW (oral comprehension, Old Testament translations, etc.) cannot compensate for this translation problem. For that I am sad.

For the new realization and relief for this caregiver, that the person is righteous before God, not having to worry about God’s approval any more. In Jesus Christ, His righteousness has been accredited to the person’s account. And for that everything the person does is pleasing in God’s sight because of Christ’s work. God’s approval is not earned and no longer the cause of fear, discouragement, despair.

Nothing but joy and celebration when the good news truly becomes  good news.

 

”Testament” or “covenant”

We began our Lent observance on Ash Wednesday, which leads to Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The central place of the Lord’s Supper within the worshiping community is highlighted throughout Lent and culminates in Maundy Thursday. I serve a congregation that celebrates the Lord’s Supper every Sunday, every service, which reflects the importance of it among God’s people, and especially for our people.

As Lutherans we confess the Lord’s Supper that in it we receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, a teaching that is different from Protestants(the bread and wine are symbols/representatives of the body and blood, which are not present).

One issue related to the Lord’s Supper is how to understand διαθήκη (diatheke) and how to translate it, whether “testament” or “covenant.” As I have been reflecting on this heritage of theology, some history of translation is helpful. In 1963 William Beck published his NT translation called An American Translation (AAT), but popularly know as Beck’s Bible (Beck died in 1966, but his OT was published in 1976 with two scholars [Schmick and Kiehl] finishing his work). In 1963 I was a freshman in high school, and our church began using Beck’s NT for Sunday School. Rather different than KJV for understandability!

Regarding this topic, the KJV used the word “testament” for διαθήκη. In 1986 the process of revising AAT began. Soon, the project became known as God’s Word to the Nations. I remember the “testament/covenant” issue that faced the translators of God’s Word to the Nations (GWN, 1986-1988), later New Evangelical Translation (NET 1988-1992), and eventually God’s Word (GW 1995).

I had the privilege of serving congregations from 1987-1995 that were testers for GWN, later NET, eventually GW. In 1992 there was a change in translation direction, much to my frustration about translating specific words in context. So when it was finally published as God’s Word (GW 1995), I opposed several of these changes because I thought they weakened the translation and changed the focus of the underlying Greek. Beginning in 1992 I had written repeatedly over the years  to ask that the GW translators revert back to the 1992 NET renderings.

Several critical changes: (original refers to the NET; change refers to the GW move in 1992-1995).

διαθήκη original: “last will and testament” changed to “promise”

χάρις original: “grace” changed to “good will”

ἅγιοι original: “saints” changed to “holy people” or “God’s people” or “believers”

This article explains the reasoning for using “testament” in the NT rather than “covenant” as a translation of διαθήκη.

Translating διαθηκη in NET

Here is the NET (New Evangelical Translation) of Matthew 26:26-28

While they were eating, Jesus took bread and gave thanks. He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take and eat; this is My body.”

Then He took a cup and spoke a prayers of thanks. He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you. For this is My blood of the last will and testament, which is being poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

So, what is the significance of translating διαθήκη as “last will and testament” (or “testament” as in KJV)  rather than “covenant.” I think it becomes clear in Matthew 26:26-28 (and parallels and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26) regarding the Lord’s Supper. It is also why when speaking the words of institution, I use “testament” (and occasionally “last will and testament” —with explanation) not “covenant.”

Regardless of this discussion, in the Lord’s Supper Jesus offers his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. For that we rejoice.

TBS-Koine-Greek-New-Testament-001

LordsSupper

God made flesh

Some discussion abounds on the internet about whether Dec. 25 is the actual birth date of Jesus. We don’t know the actual date; Scripture does not tell us. If a Christian does not want to celebrate this day, that is okay. But if a Christian denies who was born in Bethlehem and the importance of that in the Christian faith, then that is not okay.imgres

In freedom, this day is set aside to remember the fact that God did take on human flesh, becoming human (incarnation). This is one of the mysteries of the Christian faith (along with the Trinity). The incarnation is a stumbling block for many. But it is part of the foundation of the Christian faith.

C.S. Lewis wrote on the Incarnation of Christ:

In the Incarnation God the Son takes the body and human soul of Jesus, and, through that, the whole environment of Nature, all the creaturely predicament, into His own being. So that “He came down from Heaven” can almost be transposed into ”Heaven drew earth up into it,” and locality, limitation, sleep, sweat, footsore weariness, frustration, pain, doubt, and death, are, from before all worlds, known by God from within. The pure light walks the earth; the darkness, received into the heart of Deity, is there swallowed up. Where, except in uncreated light, can the darkness be drowned?

Likewise, as Christians we are not called upon to prove the incarnation, nor can we. Rather, we take this opportunity to proclaim the birth of Jesus. So, let’s return to the text of Scripture and read/hear this once again. And rejoice with the angels, the shepherds, Mary, and Joseph. And then rejoice in how this fits into all of God’s plan for redeeming humans.

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 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising Goda for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.  (Luke 2:1-20 NIV)

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The fact and importance of God taking on flesh appears throughout the New Testament.

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In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:philippians-2-5-11

Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing

by taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

by becoming obedient to death—

even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11 NIV)

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But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. (Galatians 4:4-5 NIV)

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But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7 NIV)

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Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, a fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:14-18 NIV)

Christmas Greeting