Earlier this week, a friend at church asked me which translation of the Bible I preferred. When I teach, I don’t usually cite the translation I am quoting from and he couldn’t figure out why sometimes the verse I gave matched what he was reading and, at other times, didn’t.
The question of translations is a tricky one in many churches. I have colleagues who have told me stories of prior to preaching in a church that they could only use “___” translation. Many times that version is the KJV (or the NKJV), but, just as often, I’ve heard them being given a list of translations that they could NOT use (the implication, of course, being that this list of Bibles is OK, but these Bibles are not.) Time and space don’t allow for a full discussion of the merits or demerits of various translations or the process whereby they were accomplished, and, ultimately that isn’t the point of this post. Let me, first address my friend’s question.
I don’t use a particular translation. I use several. When doing sermon preparation and general Bible study, I use a computer program called E-Sword. I can, through this program access multiple translations at once in parallel view and compare these translations verse by verse. From this study I can use the software’s multiple add-ons to view commentaries, word studies and topical studies connected to whichever verse(s) I am viewing. I then select the translation that I think best conveys the point I am trying to make in a particular teaching. For example, let’s say I am referencing Romans 3:4:
4 God forbid:G1096 G3361 yea, let GodG2316 beG1096 true,G227 butG1161 everyG3956 manG444 a liar;G5583 asG2531 it is written,G1125 ThatG3704 thou mightest be justifiedG1344 G302 inG1722 thyG4675 sayings,G3056 andG2532 mightest overcomeG3528 when thouG4571 art judged.G2919
See all those G###’s? That’s the KJV+ translation in E-Sword. Those numbers link to a Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionary. But in the next column:
4 Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.”
This is the NIV column. The translation is, of course, a little different. My next column is worded:
4 No, indeed! God tells the truth, even if everyone else is a liar. The Scriptures say about God, “Your words will be proven true, and in court you will win your case.”
This is the CEV. This translation makes it a little clearer that the last phrases in the verse are specifically about God and not (necessarily) intended to be applied to believers in general. And in my last column:
4 Not on your life! Depend on it: God keeps his word even when the whole world is lying through its teeth. Scripture says the same: Your words stand fast and true; Rejection doesn’t faze you.
This is The Message translation. When teaching this passage, I might use this translation of this verse specifically because of the phrase “Rejection doesn’t faze you.” Maybe in the class or church I am teaching, this verse feels like it will best resonate with the listeners. And that leads me to the real point.
The “word” is often referred to in one of three ways: the grapho, the logos or the rhema. The Bible is the Word of God, but it is the grapho or “written” word. This doesn’t mean it isn’t important or is somehow less significant than anything else. The most famous use, of course, of logos is in the Gospel of John. Here Jesus is referred to as “The Word”. For me, this is, in many ways, a comforting thought. That is, to get “in the word” I have to get “in Jesus.” I like that. It makes sense to me, and, ultimately, places prominence where prominence is due.
Finally, there is the rhema; the LIVING WORD. This is when the word is made real to the reader (or listener) in a way that it wasn’t before. This happens when the promise Jesus made that the “Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth” occurs for the believer. And this is why I am comfortable using multiple translations. In prayer, I approach study of the Bible and beg God to grant me favor and make the grapho given through the ministry of the logos become rhema to me in my mind, in my heart and in my life. The way I look at it, every time I read a different translation, I am engaging with another believer (or set of believers) in a conversation about how they interpret Scripture. So, bring on the Bibles! After all… God is true even if EVERY MAN WOMAN AND CHILD is a liar! I don’t have to worry.
(For the record, the Bible I use for personal devotion/reading is the CEV. I just like it. There is no deep reason. I also like The Message – though the Psalms in that translation are abysmal. I’m also a fan of the NASB. I also really enjoy the Amplified Bible, and the ESV, the BBE, the NKJV, KJV, and….)