Why You Need to Read Different Bible Translations

As I read through the Bible this year, I’m primarily using the New International Version. Since 2007, however, the English Standard Version (ESV) has been my primary translation of choice.

But at some point late last year, conviction hit me in the face and I felt I had become a Bible translation snob. The ESV had become the Bible. Other translations were less than. And that’s not a good disposition to have.

Here was my mistake: I had forgotten the point of a Bible translation: different Bible translations have different purposes.

All translations should try to make the Bible understandable to the receiver (i.e. the person reading). However, some try to translate thought behind the original text. Others try to translate what the original text essentially said. Still others offer a paraphrase.

This is important to remember. What’s more important is that no translation is perfect. No translation is word-for-word or literal. No translation is unbiased. Why? Because it’s a translation, produced by translators who are, by definition, flawed people who are imperfect and, yes, biased.

Translators make choices and those choices affect the way we see a particular text. It could be a rigid commitment to use an outdated word, using “he/him” when “mankind/people” is what the first readers would have understood, or even a particular preposition which changes the emphasis or insight of a sentence.

This shouldn’t cast doubt on whether or not you can trust the Bible. Most Bible translations are actually incredibly similar. And these choices translators make don’t affect our essential beliefs as Christians (the Trinity, sin, the gospel, salvation, etc.). But, without getting specific, these choices do influence some of our secondary or even peripheral beliefs. And if you only read one translation, you’ll be blind to it.

This is why reading several translations is valuable and, I would argue, necessary.

So if you’ve only been reading one Bible version for a year, or longer, what’s keeping you from picking up another one?

Life Reviews

Review: Gospel Transformation Bible

Gospel Transformation Bible. Edited by Bryan Chapell and Dane Ortlund. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013. $25.93 (Amazon). 1904 pp.

Five years ago this month the ESV Study Bible–the “Lexus” of study Bibles, a friend once said–was first published. It has served thousands of Christians well. Now, Crossway has published a new type of application Bible with the same, beloved ESV text: the Gospel Transformation Bible.

Bryan Chapell and Dane Ortlund teamed up to edit this new volume, and over fifty scholars, pastors, and ministry practitioners wrote the application notes. In the introduction, Chapell stated that the goal of the GTB is two-fold: to identify gospel themes in every text and help readers apply gospel truths to their everyday lives.

The first thing to know is that this is not an expository study guide for Biblical passages. You will probably not want to run to this book if you want to know what a specific verse means. It also is not a book that tells you specifically what to do in life situations unlike, perhaps, older application-based study Bibles.

The GTB is somewhere in-between the two. It is intensely theological, but also heartily practical. You may not agree with every application, but that’s okay. You wouldn’t agree with every note in an academic study Bible either. What the GTB will do is help you understand the flow of redemptive history from Genesis to Revelation. It will equip you to discern how every text reveals some aspect of God’s grace, fully realized in Jesus Christ. But it will also point you toward gospel-centered motivations for personal and corporate holiness as it displays how grace, not self-empowered determination, changes us from the inside-out.

Gospeliscious Features
The book is pretty simple–there are four main features that will help you in your pursuit of gospel transformation as you read and study the Bible.

  • The Introduction. Chapell’s seven page introduction will probably be as valuable to readers as the actual passage notes. In the introduction, Chapell explains the importance of putting every text into its redemptive-historical context if we want to understand how that passage points us to Jesus. “[This] does not mean that every text mentions Jesus,” he writes. “Rather, every text relates some aspect of God’s redeeming grace that finds its fullest expression in Christ” (viii). He proposes four categories for identifying this grace in all of Scripture. He states that we must “identify how God’s Word predicts, prepares for, reflects, or results from the person and/or work of Christ” (ix). The notes for the Scriptures are tethered to these categories, but are by no means enslaved to them. Approaching Scripture with this framework will propel us beyond good interpretation toward “stimulation of a profound love for God that bears holy fruit, as pleasing the One we love above all brings our most profound and compelling joy” (xii).
  • A Gospel Roadmap. Each biblical book is introduced with a gospel roadmap (my word, not the GTB’s) for that particular book. This will help readers look out for the book’s major gospel themes. So, for example, the introduction to 1-2 Chronicles reveals that “[The genealogies] represent the carefully crafted lens through which we observe the one plan of God’s redemption. They teach us to rest in the unwavering commitment of God to fulfill all of his covenant promises” (489). Or take the introduction to Jude: “First and most pervasively, Jude displays the ‘photo negative’ of the gospel, giving us a vivid and dark picture of those who twist the lavish grace of the gospel into a license to sin” (1719).
  • The Notes. The notes on the Scriptures are going to connect the themes of Scripture together and show how only Christ can bring them to full resolution. They are going to show us how to apply the gospel in every aspect of life. When we turn to a typical study Bible, we are going to see what the text meant to the original hearers. In a typical application Bible, we are going to learn what to do. The GTB, however, is going to pave the way to see how God’s grace in Christ redeems us from our sin and empowers us to follow Christ and what our motivation is for doing so.
  • Topical Index. At the end there is a lengthy topical index that will help readers “see the way themes are picked up and developed throughout the Bible” (1755). From Abraham to Zion, and everything in between, this will greatly help readers understand how the Bible brings these topics to climax in Jesus. This will, no doubt, be useful for everyone from parents to Bible study leaders to preachers.

One Suggestion for Future Editions
In future editions, I think it would be wonderful to have some articles sprinkled in throughout the volume, or collected at the end of the book. One of the great things about the ESV Study Bible was that it had dozens of valuable articles on various biblical, theological, ethical, and historical issues. I think readers would be served well by expanding on the notes in articles that dig a bit deeper into some of the more significant gospel themes (covenant, creation, idolatry, atonement, etc.) and how God uses them to transform us.

A Home Run Resource
I highly recommend The Gospel Transformation Bible as you study the Scriptures. This is the study Bible you’ve been waiting for. Personally, I would love to get a copy into the hands of every person in our church.

If you need more convincing, watch this video of the GTB editors (16 minutes).

Life Theology

Does God give eternal life to those with faith or obedience?

He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. (Romans 2:6-10)

Paul tells us that the people who have eternal life are those “seek for glory and honor and immortality.”  How do they seek these things?  They seek glory, honor, and immortality “by patience in well-doing” or, also, “perseverance in a good work.”  In verse 10, Paul says that glory and honor and peace will be given to “everyone who does good.”  Later on in Romans, Paul will make clear that man is not justified on the basis of good works (3:20, 24, 28; 4:5; 5:1).  So what does he mean here?  Is Paul speaking of real obedience or hypothetical obedience?  The ESVSB writes that Paul is speaking of real obedience that is made possible by the Holy Spirit (i.e. heart circumcision; see 2:26-29).

If Paul is not speaking of actual obedience, then verse 6 should not be taken literally and therefore, there may not be a day of judgment according to works.  But that is not what the rest of the Bible teaches, and that is certainly not what Jesus taught (see Matt. 25 among other passages).  It is true that in the context of this section (1:18-3:20), Paul is clear that all people are unrighteous and sinful and no one is right before God.  However, as the ESVSB points out, the only way people can be righteous and blameless before God is one whose heart has been circumcised by the Spirit, not by obeying the law.  It is a complete reversal of logic: those who cannot obey the law are empowered to obey the law, not by trying harder, but by being transformed by the Holy Spirit. In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus explains that the good soil represents those people who have been saved by God and circumcised in the heart.  Jesus points out that these people have heard the word, hold it fast in an honest and god heart and “bear fruit with patience” (Lk. 8:15).

Douglas Moo, on the other hand, points out that another possible interpretation of this passage is that Paul is setting forth the biblical conditions of salvation apart from Christ.  Moo writes that “the stress in v. 6 on man’s work as the criterion in the determination of a person’s salvation or condemnation makes it difficult to fit grace into the situation at all (p. 142).   This is not convincing for me because 1) Scripture never tells us that God promised eternal life based on good works; 2) Paul does not say works are “the” criterion, he merely says that he will render a judgment “according to…works.”  This is not “on the basis of” or “because of the merits of.”  It is “in accordance with”; 3) In this chapter, Paul is not talking about hypothetical situations; he seems to be speaking in a very straightforward way about what will really happen to real people for all eternity; and 4) Paul, later in Romans and also in Galatians, says that eternal life that is given is in accordance with good works (see 6:22; 8:12-13; Gal. 6:8-9).

What Paul does not mean is that Christians are saved another way apart from faith (as we saw in the points above).  What Paul does mean is that truly justified, regenerate, Spirit-filled Christians obey God and do good works and will be rewarded accordingly.  Their good works are in accordance with their salvation, but not the foundation of salvation.  The “proof is in the pudding,” so to speak.

True Christians are those who continue to good with patience, for they must work with patience in this life because true, godly, Christ-centered good works in the economy of this world are seldom rewarded.  In their good works, a true Christian does not seek for recognition or self-gain or worldly success (though there may be remnants of those sins they battle against).  Instead, as Paul writes, they “seek for glory and honor and immortality.”  Not self-glory, for they want glory to go to their Father in heaven; not their honor, for they want Christ and his church to be honored; not immortality for the sake of escaping hell, for they want to be with Christ, in his presence and comfort, for all eternity.


ESV Wordle

I found this on Justin Taylor’s blog.  Wordle is a program that makes fancy word clouds from texts and puts the most prominent and frequent words in bigger, bolder font.  Here is the Wordle for the ESV New Testament.  Check out the Wordle for the entire ESV Bible.