Why Translations Matter


I was reminded recently why getting a good Bible translation for study and getting the full sense of the text matters. While reading the book of Judges I was reading the story of Samson. The English Standard Version in talking about Samson's desire for the woman at Timnah says, "But Samson said to his father, 'Get her for me for she is right in my eyes.'" The NIV translates the same verse, "But Samson said to his father, 'Get her for me. She's the right one for me."

The ESV in staying true to the original immediately calls our mind to the theme that we find at the end of the book, "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes." Judges 21.24-25 ESV This connection helps us see that Samson is nothing less than a picture of Israel. He does what is right in his own eyes instead of following after God and God's commandments. His lack of following God finally leads to his destruction. To get that connection it is really helpful to have the words of the text tie things together. (By the way the NIV translates Judges 2.25 as "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit." So it further obscures the connection).

But the importance of the connection does not stop here. The writer of Chronicles picks up on the theme of "in his own eyes" when David becomes king. When it is time for the Ark to come back David calls the people together and they decide together as a community to bring the Ark back into the cultic center of Israel. The ESV reads, 1 Chr. 13:4 "All the assembly agreed to do so, for the thing was right in the eyes of all the people." The connection back to Judges is made. Israel now has a king, people no longer do what is right in their own eyes, they live in community with a king who leads and who desires to make God central. They make wise decisions together under the leadership of a godly king. (The NIV reads, 1Chr. 13:4 "The whole assembly agreed to do this, because it seemed right to all the people.")

While the NIV is a wonderful translation for worship, for ease of understanding and for memorization some of the choices it makes for translation obscure vital connections both within a book and to other parts of Scripture. If you are contemplating digging more deeply into Scripture the NIV is not the best choice. For that kind of work you need to head to the ESV or the NASB.

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Good article, Larry.