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Should I Be Reading Modern Bible Translations? (Y1.T2.D45)

Unsplash; "Debie Hudson"


The answer is a definitive yes.

This emphatic response might surprise you if you read the previous post about being open to choosing a church. While how you worship comes in different flavors, Bible translations do not. Accurately understanding what God said is necessary to finding salvation as well as our purpose.

I do realize that you might be attending a church that recommends a particular translation. However, it’s important to remember the original texts were not written in English, and the best way to understand what's written in a foreign language is to examine it from multiple sources.

I learned this from an early age. I had a friend who had deaf parents and was hard-of-hearing herself. She taught me enough sign language to communicate with her but I never mastered American Sign Language (ASL).

Later in my life, our church hired a sign language interpreter. Since I had no ASL training, I was invited to help by going to choir rehearsal and memorizing the songs that would be performed on Sunday. I quickly found how word-for-word translations didn't always make sense—like how the song, "Hold On, Help Is on the Way” needed to be broken down.

In English, the phrase “hold on” has two meanings: the physical act of grasping onto something, or the mental task of waiting.

The same is true for “on the way.” This phrase can refer to something physically laying on the wayside, or it can refer to something that is coming.

The most accurate translation I determined was “Wait, help coming," while adding a look of optimism on my face (since facial expressions are part of signing).

In addition to conceptual issues, if you remember from our post about Passion Week, words in a living language change as we use them. So while you might really enjoy the poetic sound of the King James Version (KJV), not all of the words within it have the same meaning as they do today.

If you are interested in reading more about this, I recommend Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, by Mark Ward. Consider what reviewer, Brian Collins said on Books at a Glance:

Ward’s book is a real contribution to the debate surrounding the KJV. If you use the KJV as your primary Bible translation, Authorized is a plea to at least supplement your Bible reading with a readable, modern language translation. If you have friends or family who hold to a King James only position, this is a book worth sharing with them. Ward sought feedback from leaders in those circles while writing the book, and he deals respectfully with those he disagrees with. He is not asking anyone to abandon their preferred textual tradition. He is pleading for people to use a translation in their own language, a translation that they can understand.

And I agree.

For those of us who lack proficiency in ancient Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, our next best source to understanding God's Word is to openly compare reliable translations against each other in the language we are most fluent in.

If you are not sure where to start, begin with the most recognizable translations—NRSV, NIV, or AMP. If you are following this experience, I've chosen the World English Bible (WEB) for copyright reasons, and it is considered a good modern translation.

Remember, God wants you to enjoy spending time with him. And this includes the time you spend reading what he’s written. And the best way to do that is in a language you know well.

Let's Read

Mark 12:41–44, Luke 21:1–4

37 Every day Jesus was teaching in the temple, and every night he would go out and spend the night on the mountain that is called Olivet. 38 All the people came early in the morning to him in the temple to hear him. (Luke 21:37–38)

1 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to his disciples, 2 saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. 3 All things therefore whatever they tell you to observe, observe and do, but don’t do their works; for they say, and don’t do. 4 For they bind heavy burdens that are grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not lift a finger to help them. 5 But they do all their works to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the fringes of their garments, 6 and love the place of honor at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, 7 the salutations in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi, Rabbi by men. 8 But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi’, for one is your teacher, the Christ, and all of you are brothers. 9 Call no man on the earth your father, for one is your Father, he who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called masters, for one is your master, the Christ. 11 But he who is greatest among you will be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

13 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and as a pretense you make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.

14 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you shut up the Kingdom of Heaven against men; for you don’t enter in yourselves, neither do you allow those who are entering in to enter. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel around by sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of Gehenna as yourselves.

16 “Woe to you, you blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obligated.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold? 18 And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obligated?’ 19 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifies the gift? 20 He therefore who swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it. 21 He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by him who has been living in it. 22 He who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by him who sits on it.

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith. But you ought to have done these, and not to have left the other undone. 24 You blind guides, who strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel!

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and unrighteousness. 26 You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the platter, that its outside may become clean also.

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitened tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but inwardly are full of dead men’s bones and of all uncleanness. 28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the tombs of the righteous, 30 and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we wouldn’t have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Therefore you testify to yourselves that you are children of those who killed the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you offspring of vipers, how will you escape the judgment of Gehenna? 34 Therefore, behold, I send to you prophets, wise men, and scribes. Some of them you will kill and crucify; and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, 35 that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zachariah son of Barachiah, whom you killed between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Most certainly I tell you, all these things will come upon this generation. (Matthew 23:1–36)

Meditation Moment

Dear God,

Thank You that my life is not sustained by bread only but by every word that proceeds out of Your mouth (Deuteronomy 8:3). Your Word is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword. It pierces and divides soul from spirit and discerns the thoughts and intentions of the human heart (Hebrews 4:12). And even after heaven and earth pass away, Your words will not (Matthew 24:35). Give me a desire to study them more.


Meditation Music Link


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