Friday, December 01, 2006

Bible Translations--What's the Difference?

I work with an interdenominational college students’ Bible study that meets once a week. My job is to arrange the food—we always feed them dinner. That’s very important to a college student who is away from Mama’s cooking! I assure you, they are HUNGRY. Different churches in our community help out by providing food.

They are hungry in other ways, too. They need spiritual food. Four of our leaders take turns teaching from the Bible once a week. They need more help than that, so we decided to send out a mid-week something with devotional thoughts. My friend Janet has the job of group communications; she writes weekly devotionals for them. She takes this job seriously and does it prayerfully. I asked her to let me share last week’s mid-week devotional with you because it talks about some important things:

Janet wrote:

"Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself." Can you guess who said that? Dr. Phil? Oprah? Nice sentiment. But who said it? What? Matthew 16:25? You’re kidding. I don’t remember Jesus saying ANYthing about finding yourself.

These were my thoughts when I first encountered this verse from The Message. No, it is not a bible. It is a paraphrase. But it has been used liberally by writers, most notably Rick Warren, to establish the authority of their viewpoints. Paraphrases should never be used as a substitute for the Bible, but used like a commentary along with it as an aid.

But what aid? Can you trust a paraphrase that turns this: "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.—Matt 16:25 NASB--into a self-actualization message? We are talking about eternal life, here, not finding your groove or getting the most out of this life!

The plethora of translations and paraphrases can cause confusion, especially to outsiders who gleefully conclude that the Bible is too “tampered with” to have any relevance to their lives. But what are believers to make of all of it?

I believe that we can say with confidence that the original manuscripts are the inerrant word of God. There have been enough manuscripts found to give us additional confidence that we are dealing with inspired words divinely preserved for us. There is much evidence to confirm the Scriptures as divine. But what of translations? There is no assurance that they are divinely inspired, thus each believer has to exercise some discernment. Each translation (not paraphrase) has a body of scholars who undertake their assignment with a set of underlying assumptions. The NASB, for example, attempts to be faithful on a word by word basis to the original text, while the NIV uses the meaning of the word from the original text to find a common English equivalent in order to make the text more modern and understandable.

Both approaches have merit, and you will benefit from reading both when you study. Just as we are not supposed to form our doctrinal beliefs upon only one verse from the Bible (called proof-texting), we should not ignore the fact that translations include biases from the people who labored over them, and so consult other translations (including also the NKJ and NEV) frequently.

The Scriptures themselves warn us not to take God’s word lightly (Rev 22:18-19). Your faithful attendance to a weekly Bible study shows how much you value God’s word. Pray for continued guidance and discernment as the Word is attacked by those who would deny its power. For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.—Hebrews 4:12 NKJV

The worst attacks are the subtle ones from within. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.—2 Timothy 4:3 NIV

The more you know your Bible, the less likely it will be that you will be misled. Difficult verses often have to be interpreted in light of what the rest of the Bible says. Not surprisingly, we recommend the hard work of daily Bible study as a remedy for itching ears!

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