Q&A

Which Modern Translation Is Best? (Part 4 of 4) | Q&A


Question:

Which is the most accurate translation of the Bible in contemporary English?

Answer (Part 4 of 4): New Testament Examples and Discussion

Please remember the “Disclaimer” in the first post.

It is necessary in a short post to give only a very few examples. I have chosen a few that illustrate very different lessons.  My previous post looked at examples from the Old Testament.

Accuracy

An Example from John 1:14.

ESV

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

NASB

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Here is a case where the ESV is not quite as good as other versions. Looking at NKJV and JND confirms that the NASB rendering is superior. Does it matter? (This is a question we always have to ask because many differences do not alter the meaning.) I think in this case it does.1 The phrase, “only-begotten” emphasizes the very important truth that the Word is of the same nature2,3 as the Father. It could be argued that “Son” carries that meaning as well. The difference is related to the force of the expression. Of course, later in this gospel this truth is emphatically declared, but here at the very beginning of John’s gospel it is good to see it declared.

An Example from Acts 8:37.

ESV, JND, NASB, etc.

        Omit this verse. JND includes a footnote: “Vs 37…is recognized as not genuine.”

NKJV

        Retains the verse.

This example shows how a spurious verse was included early in the history of the Church due to ritualistic tendencies. Because this verse is used to support erroneous teaching on the nature of water baptism, it has an outsized influence. The NKJV also retains 1 John 5:7 which is similarly spurious.4 

Readability

An Example from Matthew 15:24.

JND5

But he answering said, I have not been sent save to the lost sheep of Israel's house.

ESV

I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

This example is actually from my own recent experience. The word “save” reverses the meaning. I was reading the JND version and read the meaning backwards. I read this as “I have not been sent to the lost sheep of Israel.” I present this as an example of how even someone fluent in Shakespearean English can misread an expression which is not familiar. It was my familiarity with the passage and the correct meaning that caused me to pause and reread it. So, consider how easily a less experienced reader could misread this verse. The ESV gives the true meaning in a straightforward way.

An Example from Hebrews 7:3.

ESV

He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.

JND

without father, without mother, without genealogy; having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but assimilated to the Son of God, abides a priest continually.

FWG6 

without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like unto the Son of God, abideth a priest perpetually.

I give this example to show the value of including commentaries in your study. The word of interest in the ESV is “resembling.” JND has “assimilated”, which even today I have trouble assimilating. (Sorry, I just had to say that.7) FWG writes “made like.” To me FWG’s rendering is much more understandable and just as accurate. “Resembling” is too weak and ambiguous. This verse is important to understand because we say Melchizedek is a type of Christ and this is the verse we use to prove that.8 The very accurate use of  “assimilated” by JND is not generally grasped by the modern reader.

Concluding Comments 

The points that I want to insist on are these:

  1. It might not have been apparent because I have focused on differences, but if you compare translations you find very little difference. This is the primary point which unfortunately I could not make in a short space.
  2. In the first two posts I have tried to emphasize the amazing way in which God has in fact preserved Scripture for us without giving us an object to idolize. Associated with this is the requirement for humility and dependency on Him for understanding what He has given to us.
  3. Translations are human products made by godly servants who are still merely men. For that reason no one translation can be idolized. Several should be used. This encourages study and above all comparing Scripture with Scripture which is necessary for broad understanding and appreciation for the whole Word of God.
  4. There can be no real spiritual understanding without a spirit of dependence on the Spirit to guide (1 Jn. 2:27) and associated with this is the realization that God has raised up teachers to help.  

I am sure that you have had experiences with various translations that would be worth sharing. Please use the comment section to further this short discussion.

Resources

  • Archer, Gleason L., Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982).
  • Kelly, William, God’s Inspiration of the Scriptures. (London: C. A. Hammon Trust Bible Depot, 1966).
  • White, James R., The King James Only Controversy, 2nd Edition. (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2009).

[This book provides an introduction to textual criticism and translation, gives a history of early English translations of the Bible and examines many verses which provide a starting point for a list of verses you can use to compare your favorite translations.]


Endnotes

1. There may be reasons for the ESV to be considered correct. However, this discussion is simplified for the sake of this post. A more detailed analysis of this and similar verses is in the addendum as the 5th post in this series.

2. “The Glory beheld was of an Only-begotten with the Father: One in whom the divine nature was, not as what might be in some true sense communicable to the creature, but in a way unique, peculiar to Himself; not derived, therefore, from the Manhood He assumed, but [derived from] His relationship in the Godhead; “with the Father” implying that communion in the Godhead, [which was] the necessary result of this.” Frederick W Grant, The Numerical Bible: Matthew to John (Neptune: Loizeaux Brothers, 1897), 476.

3. I also include this useful note from my editor. “Interestingly, ESV uses “begotten” elsewhere (Ps. 2:7, Heb. 1:5, 5:5), so it is unfortunate they didn’t use it in John 1:14. There is another example from John 1:18, where the Greek text some modern translators use has “only begotten God” (monogenes Theos), which carries theological and doctrinal implications. Various versions struggle with the wording for this verse. I believe Darby is correct, here, and uses begotten Son as found consistently throughout the New Testament (Jn. 1:18, 3:16, 3:18, Heb. 11:17, 1 Jn. 4:19).” (Daniel Hayes)

4. William Kelly, An Exposition of the Epistles of John the Apostle (Sunbury: Believers Bookshelf, 1970), 367-369.

5. The New Darby Version reads identically.

6. Frederick W Grant, The Numerical Bible: Hebrews to Revelation (Neptune: Loizeaux Brothers, 1932), 41.

7. In case you might miss it, the humor is in equivocating on JND’s usage with common usage today.

8. In contrast, some argue that Melchizedek is a theophany, an appearance of God in a physical form.  

2 Comments

  • Avatar

    Aaron

    Couple questions for clarification.

    First, for John 1:14, can you briefly address the underlying translation issue behind “only begotten.” I understand the debate between the ESV’s rendering and others, relates back to a Greek word which doesn’t have an equivalent use or expression in modern English? Since “only begotten” isn’t common use in modern English, what are some other phrases or expressions that might capture the meaning for a modern reader?

    Second, for Hebrews 7:3, can you speak more to why “resemble” is not a good translation in the ESV, especially since this entire passage about Melchizedek is sometimes confusing for new students of the Bible?

    To recap, in Genesis 14, Melchizedek is presented with no natural details that would “tie him down” to a natural life. His own name probably means “righteousness,” his kingdom’s name means “peace,” he appears as a king and priest at exactly the time of Abram’s (Abraham’s) need (Genesis 14:17-24), and Abram honors him in response. And then he disappears from the record again, until Hebrews shows that both the details recorded about him, and the details NOT recorded, are fully intended to present Melchizedek as a type or model of someone greater.

    So in that sense he “resembles” the Son of God, but since the Old Testament expression “angel of Jehovah” does not appear in that passage of Genesis, we conclude he was still a man on earth, yes? (Albeit a very honored and godly man.) So, same question as before: in what way does “resemble” fall short of translating the correct thought from the original Greek, and what word or expression might better capture the meaning for a modern reader?

  • Roy Touzeau

    Roy Touzeau

    Thank you Aaron for a couple of really good comments.
    1. I hope you will not mind if I defer the discussion of John 1:14 to the next post, which I am calling an “addendum.” In that post, I will take up this issue in more detail as well as some other loose ends.
    2. I have to admit that my comment was more of a quibble than an objection. Nevertheless, the use of “resemble” does not carry the force of intentionality that “assimilated” or “made like” does. When dealing with types in the Old Testament it is important to realize that the history given is specifically shaped by God to convey spiritual lessons. This is really what a type is. So, “resemble” allows for the thought of an accidental similarity. In the case of Melchizedek, it was not that the ancestors and progeny were overlooked, or that Melchizedek was a theophany, but that the author was guided by the Spirit specifically to give us a type of the Lord Jesus by omitting ancestors and progeny. Of course, my purpose was also to encourage use of good commentaries.

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