Advent is now upon us, and just as there are a plethora of ways to celebrate Advent, in this season especially we ask the question— Why are there so many differing translations of the Christmas story? Of the making of new translations there is no end…. and you may be surprised to hear me say this is a good thing, though for the laity it also is confusing. There are several good reasons why we continue to need fresh translations of the Bible: 1) there is the ongoing work of discovery of new manuscripts, and if the goal is to present us with just the words of the original inspired writers and editors of the Bible, plus no later additions or subtractions, then we need new translations as we get closer and closer to the original texts of the Bible through manuscript discoveries; 2) English is a living language, not a dead one like Latin. And all living languages change and morph over time with some words completely changing in meaning, for example take the word ‘awful’. Originally, and in the time when the KJV was done ‘aweful’ meant full of awe and wonder. In other words, it was not a negative term. Today it has the opposite meaning— something really bad. In short, we don’t want a translation in English that requires the English itself to be explained and translated in regard to its actual meaning!; 3) every translation is already an interpretation, not least because words really only have meaning in contexts, and so interpretation is not just a matter of looking up the possible meanings of a word, it involves asking what this word means in combination with other words that form phrases and sentences and paragraphs etc. It involves asking how this or that author uses certain words. For these and other reasons we should always welcome fresh translations done by diligent scholars who are trying to give us the original meanings of these texts.
I personally prefer neither broad paraphrases (which add too much yeast to the dough, and too much interpretation into the very translation), nor woodenly literal translations (which do the opposite, ignoring the considerable differences in grammar, syntax, vocabulary between Greek or Hebrew and English). Good idiomatic sense translations that strive to get the meaning of words, phrases, sentences exactly right and render them into intelligible English are the best all purpose translations. And one such recent translation is the NET BIBLE (not to be confused with the Nets translation of the LXX). This translation has been worked on now for a quarter of a century and more, and has now resulted in a first rate study Bible The NET Bible full notes edition. While this Bible doesn’t have the sort of excellent illustrations laced through the text that say the ESV study bible does, and so is not as visually alluring, it more than makes up for it by having very copious and excellent notes— text critical notes, grammar notes, notes on the meaning of difficult phrases and indeed on all important phrases. And the translation itself is very good indeed, even going with the faithfulness of Christ rendering of ‘pistis Christou’ in Gal.2 for instance. It is evident that the translators have paid attention to the trajectory of recent scholarly discussions about the meaning of even debated phrases and verses. Furthermore, the translators have sought to use inclusive language (humankind rather than mankind) where appropriate. Of course no translation is perfect (I’m not happy with the rendering of Heb. 12.1-3– particularly the translation ‘the pioneer and perfector of OUR faith’ when the word ‘our’ is not in any Greek manuscript and Christ is being presented as the ultimate example of one who trusted God and was faithful even unto death on the cross, ‘despising the shame’. He’s the climax of the hall of faith). But overall, this is a very helpful translation with many, many helpful notes to aid our comprehension (and prevent misuse and misunderstanding of a passage), and those who worked hard on this Bible are to be highly commended. Add this one to your collection of Bibles during this Christmas season, and read away, including reading the notes. There will be considerable enlightenment.