Translating the Scriptures is hard work. Whether it be the 1611 King James Bible, The Amplified, the New International Version, the Christian Standard Bible, the nuances of multiple languages (Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic) along with cultural overlays, makes it incredibly difficult.
Then you have the literal translations, the “thought” translations, the “concept” translations, and some that try do it all. What the intent is (i.e., transparent, understandable, etc.) also deeply affects the translation. On top of that, there is the motivation behind the translation that also gets into it.
It’s not that anyone is being disingenuous or deceptive, or even that the translation is necessarily false. Often times translations are similar to the 4 Gospels. 4 different writers with similarities, and also differences. Translations often work the same way.
This seems to be a long introduction, but, as you will see, it can make a difference.
In the NRSV, Matthew 13:52 reads, “And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’”
In the CEB, Matthew 13:52 reads, “Then he said to them, ‘Therefore, every legal expert who has been trained as a disciple for the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings old and new things out of their treasure chest.’”
In the NIV, Matthew 13:52 reads, “He said to them, ‘Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.’”
At first glance, and even second, or third, these sound pretty similar. There is a key phrase that needs some focus, for it is different in each translation, and may result in completely different understandings.
“…every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven…” (NRSV)
“…every legal expert who has been trained as a disciple for the kingdom of heaven…” (CEB)
“…every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven…” (NIV)
Can you see the difference? While it is a nuance, however, it seems to cover the history of the church in the 20th and the 21st Centuries (so far). The translations above are not in chronological order, for the record.
[NRSV] For generations, people were trained for the Kingdom. They had lots of knowledge. Sunday School really developed into in-depth readings of the Bible (this is a good thing). Lots of head knowledge is great. What is done with it, or not done with it, is something else entirely.
[CEB] The church, as a whole, did begin to realize something was wrong, for we had lost the concept of discipleship. The church began to recover the concept of discipleship but had not quite let loose the reins of knowledge.
[NIV] Especially in these times of COVID, there are many conversations of what it means to be a disciple of Christ, without the boundaries (some say limitations) of the building that was so central to church life. The concept of only pouring knowledge into people doesn’t work. They need to be on the mission for the Kingdom. They need to be disciples.
Lastly, the Amplified Bible combines all 3 of the thoughts above into 1 massive verse, “He said to them, ‘Therefore every teacher and interpreter of the Sacred Writings who has been instructed about and trained for the kingdom of heaven and has become a disciple is like a householder who brings forth out of his storehouse treasure that is new and [treasure that is] old [the fresh as well as the familiar].’”
Before anyone thinks that these are all in conflict, that really isn’t the case. The nuances of Greek are deep. It is definitely an understanding of what the Greek means. This verse, like many, are open to multiple equally valid interpretations. Besides, we have plenty of our own translation issues even when it comes to English-to-English.
Lord, your 12 disciples asked you to teach them to prayer. We ask that you teach us to be your disciples. Amen.
1) What is your preferred translation? Why?
2) In what ways do you see the differences above as concerning or interesting?
3) How does having different voices (translations) helps us to understand God better?
For an overview, here is the Church of the Nazarene’s stance on the Scriptures:
We believe in the plenary inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, by which we understand the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, given by divine inspiration, inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation, so that whatever is not contained therein is not to be enjoined as an article of faith.
Despite the in-joke of the NIV being the Nazarene Institutionalized Version, the denomination does not hold a particular translation as a standard. Being an international denomination, doing so would diminish our brothers and sisters in Christ who do not use an English translation.