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.
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?
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.