What’s the most important verse for Bible translations?

Posted: 28th May 2008 by ElShaddai Edwards in Uncategorized

A recent post on TC’s blog recently struck me in a funny way and caused me to reflect a little on the criteria I used in my Bible search. In doing so, the title question of this post rolled out: What’s the most important verse for Bible translations?

I don’t mean this question in terms of a proof text by which we “judge” whether a translation is acceptable or not. But, rather, which verse in the Bible might have the biggest impact on how a translation is conceived and made?

An obvious answer might be 2 Timothy 3:16-17 for the literalist —

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (HCSB)

Or perhaps the ever popular Isaiah 40:8 for the inerrantist —

The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God remains forever. (HCSB)

But I submit that another verse has more meaning and impact on the process of translation. That is, Luke 24:25-27 —

He said to them, “How unwise and slow you are to believe in your hearts all that the prophets have spoken! Didn’t the Messiah have to suffer these things and enter into His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. (HCSB)

If Jesus himself provided interpretation, should we be using Christian Bibles? That is, Bibles that emphasize and underscore the connections of Christ between OT/NT rather than separate them into the partial and perfect. Do we need two versions of the Hebrew texts? One for original context studies and one for Christian interpretation?

What does it say about non-evangelical Bibles like the RSV, NRSV, NET, REB, etc. that don’t deliberately draw this out? The context of Christ is the OT; the context of Christianity is the NT. How many times has a translation been rejected or criticized because the translators didn’t “jump to Jesus” and interpret messianic fulfillment back into the (OT) Scriptures? Are they not Christian Bibles? Or should that be, not Christ Bibles?

And if interpretation and “a certain point of view” is at the heart of the “Christ Bible”, then why are we so quick to dismiss interpretative translation? It seems that those translations that stretch, reach out and grasp new ways of understanding the meaning of Scripture are to be preferred for their challenge and motivation.

You hear the prophets speaking, but do you understand? You read your literal Bibles, but do you understand? What does it mean?!

  1. Peter Kirk says:

    Jesus interpreted the Scriptures, he didn’t rewrite them about himself. We too should not rewrite the Old Testament to be about Jesus, but we should keep his interpretation separate in the New Testament, and (as far as possible) our own interpretation separate in our churches and our non-biblical Christian books.

  2. TCR says:

    Amen! Elshaddai, thanks for this post. I really enjoyed reading it. I quite agree with your statements: “The context of Christ is the OT; the context of Christianity is the NT.” How could this have been lost upon some translators?

    These days I’ve been looking into the NRSV as a first or even second Bible. I still love my TNIV, but your post and other factors have me thing now.

  3. Nathan Stitt says:

    Hmm, that is a lot to ponder. I’m a bit wiped out, but I have a few comments to add when I can collect my thoughts.

  4. @Peter: what’s the difference between interpreting and rewriting? And if Christ is the head of our church, isn’t his interpretation the most important one for us to have? I’m playing a little Devil’s advocate here since I’ve been as big an advocate for not evangelizing the OT as any, but TC’s final thoughts in his post have been weighing on my mind:

    All of Scripture points to Jesus the Messiah: The Old Testament says he’s coming. The New Testament says he came, and he’s coming again. All roads lead to Jesus as Messiah…

    @TC: Thanks for the comments – I think I lost track of my train of thought in the midst of it, so I’m glad you were able to find some value. The “context” thought came to me in the middle of writing and I just flopped it in there. I’ve been following your investigation of the NRSV vs TNIV with some interest – please keep posting on your discoveries!

    @Nathan: Thanks for the reading – I’ll look forward to your comments when you’re able.

  5. Well, is not the Bible about Christ? As John Stott says Christ is the Focus of History, the Center of Scripture, the Heart of Mission.

    If the NT writers interpreted the OT in light of Christ – can not we? If Jesus himself interpreted the OT in the light of himself – cannot we?

    I suppose it all goes back to what Gordon Fee talks about in his book How to Read the Bible for all its Worth – do we put down what Paul said or what Paul meant?

    Some prefer to put down what Paul said and let the church wrestle with the meaning – note for example how sarx in Gal 5 is sinful nature in the NIV and flesh in the NAS – the NIV cuts to the chase (or doesit?) and the NAS lets you wrestle with it.

    Should this be the same with the OT and how it is translated? Should we just translate it and let the church interpret it?

    I am understanding this the right way?

  6. David Ker says:

    One correction, it should be 3 Titus 3:16-17.

    I’ll be honest. I do look at 1 Tim 2 because it has a lot of stuff in it, key terms, discourse features and the dreaded anthropos/aner distinction (not to mention the last verse!). Also, I read the Psalms and if they make me gag I head elsewhere.

    I looked at ISV yesterday and it seemed pretty unexciting to me except for the annoying use of Messiah. And the rhyming stuff made me crazy. Hobbins is very pleased with the footnotes.

    I know people use Is. 7:14 and capitalization in Ps. 2, etc.

  7. @Brian: I suppose it all goes back to what Gordon Fee talks about in his book How to Read the Bible for all its Worth – do we put down what Paul said or what Paul meant?

    I’m wrestling with my recent preference for meaning-based translation vs. what I’ve been taught in terms of letting the OT speak for itself, without overlaying Christ into it to produce meaning. I think you’re understanding my question quite correctly.

    @David: that poor Titus, needing three letters to get things straightened out when Tim only needed two. Maybe some day we’ll find the other two letters… I’ve corrected the citation to 2 Timothy 3:16-17 — that’s what happens when your online lookup tool uses “Ti” as the book abbreviation.

    (Aside: doesn’t Titus seem to read like a Cliff Notes version of all of Paul’s letters put together? It feels like a “Best of Paul” or “Paul’s Greatest Hits” letter to me.)

    Re the ISV: I forgot about the rhyming – I remember reading a bit before and it made me think of the Limerick Bible. Though I did appreciate the “deeds of doom” choice in 2 Corinthians 11.

    @All – I appreciate your indulgence of my stream of consciousness posting. Every so often I am overcome with the need to just write and let words spill out. It is generally fruitless to try and edit these posts into a coherent essay.

  8. Nathan Stitt says:

    I usually check some of these things, in this order:

    -John ch.1
    -rendition of theology in Romans
    -how much is rendered poetry in OT?
    -how is the tetragr. handled in OT?

    I also randomly check other passages, or places I’ve just read in the past week. Sometimes the format, layout, typography makes a difference, and I hate red-letter editions… I have bought a few bibles just to have another translation of the deuterocanonicals as well.

  9. […] is a good one on selecting bible translations based on verses […]

  10. Peter Kirk says:

    Sorry to be slow getting back to this one.

    what’s the difference between interpreting and rewriting? And if Christ is the head of our church, isn’t his interpretation the most important one for us to have?

    The difference between interpreting and rewriting is that the results of your interpretation find their way into sermons, into Christian books, into Study Bible notes etc, whereas the results of rewriting find their way into the main text of the Bible. Interpret all you like, but be very careful what you write back into the text.

    Yes, Jesus’ interpretation of the Old Testament is the most important for us, and is rightly recorded for us in Scripture – in the New Testament. But it is not the only valid interpretation of the OT and should not be written back into the OT thereby erasing the original text of the OT. Thus, for example, Psalm 2 was written primarily about the son of the king of Israel or Judah, and this meaning should not be erased by imposing on it as the only possible interpretation the Messianic one – which is clear in the NT. By deleting OT passages and replacing them with NT ones we destroy the OT.

    Meanwhile Richard Fellows argues that Timothy and Titus are the same person, who presumably received three letters from Paul!

  11. Cool link, Peter – thanks for sharing that!

    As you know, I agree with you in principle on the matter of leaving the OT alone from a rewriting perspective. Is it your thought that the scope of OT scripture interpreted by Jesus on the road to Emmaus is fully referenced in the resulting canon of NT texts? That has some suggestive possibilities on the collaborative power of the Holy Spirit, or whatever divine inspiration guided each author’s contribution.

    Interpret all you like, but be very careful what you write back into the text.

    I assume then, that you also believe that the majority of Christian Bibles are in error when they add capitalization, change pronouns, etc. in order to bring out the Christ references?

  12. Peter Kirk says:

    Is it your thought that the scope of OT scripture interpreted by Jesus on the road to Emmaus is fully referenced in the resulting canon of NT texts?

    Well, maybe not completely, but surely all the things which God wanted to be written down as permanent teaching for the church found their way into the NT. As for what Jesus might have said on the road to Emmaus which is not recorded in the NT, we can only speculate, and that speculation is not a solid enough basis for us to change the inspired text of the OT to incorporate it.

    you also believe that the majority of Christian Bibles are in error …

    Yes, when they do this in the text of the OT. Not in serious error, but still doing the wrong thing. And I’m not sure this is “the majority”, but of course that depends how you count them. But it is a significant number, including NIV. I’m glad that TNIV has moved away from this practice, without completely abandoning it.

  13. I often wondered if those lists of “fulfilled prophecies” that are found in many Bibles are the result of a messianic scavenger hunt or represent a line of tradition stretching back to Emmaus…

  14. Peter Kirk says:

    I think most of the “fulfilled prophecies” had never been heard of before the 19th century invention of dispensationalism and sundry other eschatological -isms. That’s not to say that they are invalid, just that people were not fixated on them until then.

  15. scott says:

    google King James Bible, you guys are looking for reasons to not believe, so suit yourselves, but your wrong.