I have recently experienced a growing interest in Bible translations. This interest was sparked by a conversation I had with my cousin Wes last Thanksgiving. He (a full-time minister) and I were talking about the history of the Bible, and at one point he mentioned the Septuagint. If you’re like I was, you might not know what the Septuagint is. So that you and I are on the same page, the Septuagint is the earliest translation of Scripture, from the original Hebrew texts into Greek.
Wes told me how the Jewish people, in the two centuries before Christ, lost their general proficiency with Hebrew as a language. This was a result of being taken over by the Greeks led by Alexander the Great. Needing to communicate the scriptures to the people, the Jewish leaders selected seventy Jewish scholars (because there were seventy scholars, the Septuagint is often denoted by the mark ‘LXX’) and sent them off to individually translate the texts.
Sidenote: Legend says that, upon reconvening, the scholars’ translations were identical! Divine intervention, right? This is a great story, but we know it to be a legend because, as Wes informed me, not all of the scholars made it back to compare their efforts, and the translations weren’t identical. Still, it’s a great legend :).
Wes continued, telling me that the Greek Orthodox Church still uses the Septuagint as its Old Testament, and since most Orthodox Christians in English-speaking countries speak English, local Greek Orthodox churches use an English translation of a Greek translation of the original Hebrew Scriptures. Fascinating! This certainly piqued the interest of a history and language lover like me.
As if all this knowledge weren’t enough, Wes ended by sharing an illustration from an upcoming sermon. This illustration is easily what propelled me most into studying translations. He pulled out a Bible and told me to turn to Romans 15:12. Here, Paul writes:
And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.” (Romans 15:12 NIV, 1984)
Paul is quoting Isaiah 11:10. So, Wes told me to hold my place in Romans while he flipped another Bible open to Isaiah 11:10. He read the passage as I followed along in Romans.
In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious. (Isaiah 11:10 NIV, 1984)
Though vaguely similar, the passages, both from the NIV, are ultimately very different. I was surprised – never having compared New Testament references to their Old Testament counterparts, I suppose I expected them to be more alike. At this point, to complete the illustration, Wes and I would’ve examined the LXX to see how Isaiah 11:10 in it compares to the NIV’s Romans 15:12. Though we didn’t have the LXX available, Wes said that Paul’s words would line up quite nicely. I had to check it out.
So, when I got back home, I bought a copy of the Orthodox Study Bible and cracked it open to Isaiah 11:10. It reads:
It shall come to pass in that day that there shall be a Root of Jesse who shall arise to rule nations. The Gentiles shall hope in Him, and His resting place shall be honorable. (LXX, Orthodox Study Bible)
Isn’t that interesting? The LXX translation of Isaiah 11:10 lines up more perfectly with the NIV’s Romans 15:12 than does the NIV translation of Isaiah 11:10!
The point is, if you or I compared Romans 15:12 to Isaiah 11:10 in our copy of the NIV, ESV, NASB, KJV or any other modern translation, we might be flummoxed by the lack of similarity. ‘Did Paul get the quote wrong?’ we might ask. ‘Can the Bible be trusted??’ we might wonder. In the absence of good answers, such questions could lead to tremendous doubt and worry.
But, by understanding different translations, and we can see that Paul isn’t misquoting Isaiah but merely quoting a different version of Isaiah 11:10. This little illustration from Wes opened my eyes to the wonder of Bible translations.
I think studying different translations is vitally important to the Christian walk. Dr. Hugo McCord, himself an eminent translator, famously wrote these words in the foreword to his interpretation of the Scriptures The Everlasting Gospel:
Are you married to one translation of the Bible “until death doth us part?” Monogamy is right in marriage; but, in the area of Bible translations, a wise person will be a polygamist. Similarly, though an elder must be a “one woman man”, a wise person will not be a “one translation student.” G.C. Brewer often said that one of the best commentaries on the Bible is the use of a number of translations. The scholars who translated the King James Version gave the same advice in the preface of their 1611 edition: ‘A variety of translations is profitable for finding out the sense of scripture.’”
Anyway, I guess I’m trying to be as much of a Bible-polygamist as I possibly can. Though I have a multitude of versions in my YouVersion Bible app, I’m having fun acquiring physical copies of as many different translations as possible. Some of my favorites so far are the New English Bible, the New American Standard and the New American Bible: Revised Edition. I’ve already noticed some interesting differences, so I’ll try to remember to share interesting revelations going forward. Until then…
Grant Stevens is a guy who likes to read, write, play basketball and watch movies. He also enjoys apologetics, and he plays music. He is also the Supreme Dictator of the Use Ironic Correctly Society.