For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword…It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Hebrews 4:12 NLT
If God wants me to understand his love letter, why is it penned in such a difficult language?
I was in middle school when The Living Bible—a large olive-green monster that sat on a display in every store you could imagine—surfaced. And with its appearance came great controversy. Until then, the King James Version had reigned supreme, although a few had crossed over to other controversial translations: The Revised Standard Version and the American Standard Version. Rarely did I see anyone use either. My dad was a fundamentalist and never swayed from the KJV.
When The Living Bible emerged in 1971, Dad was immediately suspicious because it was a paraphrase, not a translation. Ken Taylor—author of The Living Bible—had no intention of watering down God’s Word. In fact, he initially began the paraphrase as a way of making the Bible more understandable to his children. The Living Bible became a best seller in the early 1970s and was well received by many in evangelical circles.
God wrote his Word to be understood. The Bible can be difficult to understand if I use a more literal translation or one that uses terms unfamiliar to my current manner of speech and understanding. Words change meanings, and not every word translates smoothly from Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic into English. In fact, some languages have no words to match a biblical word.
God’s Word is also just that—God’s Word. Since his ways are higher than mine, his assistance is crucial to a correct understanding—regardless of which translation I choose. God provides this assistance through his indwelling Spirit.
For me, the war over which translation is better or more accurate misses a more essential point. After all, Jesus spoke in the everyday language of the people. No doubt, some translations are closer to the original manuscripts than others. But then again, we don’t have any of the original manuscripts.
The intention, however, of all translations is the same: provide readers with an understandable copy of God’s Word so their lives can be changed. Which translation we use isn’t nearly as important as what we allow God to do in our lives through the rendering.