In last week’s block I began addressing the challenge of choosing a Bible. Different Bibles translate the original languages differently. As I said last week, each Bible translation has been translated by a team of individuals according to a particular “translations philosophy.” First, there is “Formal Equivalence.” A Bible that has been translated according to formal equivalence is trying to give a word for word translation of the Greek and Hebrew. The second translation philosophy to be familiar with is “dynamic equivalence.” This is the method by which the NIV is translated allowing it to be so easy to read. This method of translation is not “word for word” but “thought for thought.” In the case of the NIV or similar translations, the translators read a phrase in the original Greek and ask themselves, “what does that phrase mean and how can we communicate the meaning of the phrase best in English?” They are not really interested in the literal meaning of each word, but the meaning of the whole phrase together.
Consider an example. In the formal equivalence translation of the New American Standard Bible, Colossians 2: 9-10 reads, “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority.” Now consider the same two verses in the NIV, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.” Did you notice the differences? The NIV changes “him” to “Christ” for clarity. It changes the word “dwells” which is literally what the Greek says to “lives” which 21st Century folks understand a little better. So it is a matter of preference. Both are the Word of God and fully reliable and trustworthy.
There is a third option. The paraphrase has become extremely popular over the last several years. The important thing to note about a paraphrase is that it is not a translation at all. It is a restating of a previous English translation in a more understandable way. The Living Bible is a paraphrase as is The Message. Consider how The Message paraphrases Colossions 2: 9-10, “Everything of God gets expressed in him, so you can see and hear him clearly. You don't need a telescope, a microscope, or a horoscope to realize the fullness of Christ, and the emptiness of the universe without him. When you come to him, that fullness comes together for you, too. His power extends over everything.” Wow, there is a lot of liberty taken there with the original language. But that is the point, the author of The Message is not translating but paraphrasing. Next week I will share with you the translation I personally prefer and some practical tips for picking a Bible.
We constantly emphasize that our only source of final authority is the Bible. We hold fast to the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura. There is no other authority in the life of the believer or the church than the Word of God. The Bible speaks of itself as a sword. Hebrews 4: 12-13 states, "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” So the Bible is our sword of spiritual warfare, therefore it would stand to reason that we ought to have the best and most accurate sword for battle. There are so many different translations to choose from (NASB, NIV, ESV, KJV, NKJV, CEV, HCSB, …), it’s enough to drive us crazy. I am asked often why I choose to preach from the English Standard Version. I am also asked why there are so many different translations of scripture. Over the next three weeks we will explore this issue.
I do think there are probably too many Bible translations. In some respects, making money has become much more important to some publishers than the noble goal of getting the Word to as many people as possible. But that does not mean there are not good reasons for having several different Bible translations. As you shop for a Bible to give as a gift or even to use in your own study, you should understand that different translations have different goals. Each Bible translation has been translated by a team of individuals according to a particular “translation philosophy.” There are basically three of these philosophies you should be aware of as you shop for a Bible. First, there is “Formal Equivalence.” A Bible that has been translated according to formal equivalence is trying to give a word for word translation of the Greek and Hebrew. Now that may sound very attractive to you because it sounds faithful to the original language. That is true, but the trade off is that the Bible might be a little “wooden.” In other words, it may be a little more difficult to read. That is because the English words that most closely fit the Greek and Hebrew words might not flow together so smoothly in English. For Bibles that are translated according to this “word for word” method, ease of reading is not what is most important. The best example of this kind of Bible is the New American Standard Bible (NASB). The NASB is the best at saying exactly what the Greek and Hebrew says, of course that means it reads at an 11th grade reading level as opposed to the NIV which reads at a 7th grade level. Next week I will address the second translation philosophy “dynamic equivalence.” This is the method by which the NIV is translated allowing it to be so easy to read.
I didn’t want to be the one to have to bring it up, but – You Smell. You read that right, according to Scripture you have a distinct smell. No, I am not talking about a physical odor, nor is it actually you that has the smell. It is God’s ministry through you. It is not an odor or stink at all, but an aroma. It is an aroma to God and to others. Consider the following passage of Scripture.
“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” 2 Corinthians 2: 14-16.
What a magnificent passage of Scripture! I am encouraged and invigorated just reading it. Did you notice the language Paul uses in describing God? He always leads us in triumphal procession. He spreads the fragrance – everywhere. Always and everywhere, not only is God accomplishing his will through your life, but he is doing it in “triumphal procession.” We should not take this truth lightly.
If in fact, the gospel shows forth in our lives, that has tremendous impact for our lives. If our witness is both a sweet aroma and a powerful stench, we should be aware of it. All of this is to remind us that we do not leave our faith in Christ at the exit door of the church building on Sunday morning, so we can take it up again the next Sunday. If the banner of Christ flies over your life, it does so seven days a week. That banner is sweet and wonderful to believers. It is bothersome and burdensome to those who are perishing. We never know how God is going to use us to bring someone to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. It may just be through your witness and life that someone who considered Christ a stench today, might consider him a sweet aroma tomorrow.
Dr. Blain Craig