The book to read is not the one which thinks for you, but the one which makes you think. No book in the world equals the Bible for that. (Harper Lee)
“…We know that a person isn’t made righteous by the works of the Law but rather through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 2:16; context)
Day four of New Testament week is upon us, and I want to touch on something about translation. I’ll begin with a short comparison between the Bible and the Koran. One of the biggest structural differences between the two is that the Koran cannot be translated. If you’ve read an English version of the Koran, then you haven’t read the Koran, because it exists in Arabic only. This single language transmission of the text keeps the purity of the original, but creates a barrier to those who don’t speak Arabic. As far as the Bible is concerned (at least since Latin released its stranglehold), the text has been translated into hundreds of languages. This makes for wonderful coverage across the world, but at the cost of having a layer of interpretation between the original and us.
What’s this mean for the New Testament? Well, I’m not going to ask you to become a Greek scholar, but I will invite you to read more than one translation whenever you engage in Bible study. This practice allows you to see the assumptions and choices that different translators make and to choose the one that makes the most sense for you. The Internet has several great websites through which you can compare various translations.
Here’s just one example of what I mean. Read the verse above again (from the CEB), and then read these three parallels from other translations.
“We…know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.” (NIV)
“We know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” (NRSV)
“…Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ…” (KJV).
Notice the CEB and KJV talk about the faith(fulness) of Jesus Christ, while the NIV and NRSV talk about faith in Jesus Christ. The Greek word could be either, and the translators made their choices. But this choice drastically changes the meaning of the passage! Is it Jesus’ faith or our faith in him that is operative? Or both? If you don’t have mastery of the Greek text (and let’s be honest, that’s very few people, and I’m not one of them), then reading in multiple translations is the way to go. It can cause some discomfort when you read a familiar passage with new words. But this discomfort is often where new growth comes from.
Dear God, you encounter each of us through the Bible just where we are and in the languages we speak. Help me to go deeply into the texts of the Bible to encounter the truth of the word in my life. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.
I leave this moment with you, God, having faith that you have touched my life with your Word, knowing that I can read it in my heart and speak it on my lips.