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The Value of Multiple Translations

Studying a portion of Scripture in various translations has become much easier with the advent of personal computers and handheld devices. Olive Tree offers a wide array of English and other Bible translations for you to search and compare, over 80 in all. "What possible use could I have for so many translations," one might ask? Read on to find out.

Serious Bible students agree that having access to a variety of Bible translations enriches ones understanding of the Scriptures. For this reason, parallel Bibles with multiple translations have been a popular tool for decades. In this article, which explores the value of using multiple translations to uncover Bible truths, you will learn how the various translations of God's word provide unique perspectives on the meaning of the original Hebrew and Greek texts. With numerous translations to look at, one can more greatly appreciate the profound depth of God's revelation of Himself in the Bible.

Only One Divine Revelation

God has given us only one revelation of Himself, a collection of sixty-six books written over a period of 2500 years by at least 25 authors, yet wrought with such consistency that, despite the employment of human hearts and hands to record the Spirit's utterances, this book could be none other than the work of the Holy Spirit Himself, for every word is God-breathed (2 Tim.3:16) and the pulsation of one divine and eternal throbbing heart is unmistakable from Genesis to Revelation.

The Preservation and Translation of that Revelation

Throughout history, the Lord has sovereignly and miraculously preserved this revelation, first through the meticulous work of the Hebrew Scribes and later through His New Testament saints. When the Dead Sea Scrolls, hidden in remote caves in a divinely climate-controlled environment for almost a thousand years, were brought to light in the 1950's, careful comparison of the texts of these manuscripts, some dating from 250 BC, with what were until then the oldest known manuscripts, dating from around 900 AD, disclosed only slight and insignificant differences. The consistency of the Bible manuscripts is so much greater than of those of any other ancient documents as to defy comparison.

Under the sovereign eye of God, thousands of scholars have labored to produce for modern readers the most accurate and precise Hebrew and Greek texts; meanwhile, scores of experts have endeavored to produce accurate and meaningful translations into English and other languages. While no translation completely captures the sense of the original texts, each has its special value; and when considered together, the wealth of revelation contained in the English and other Bible translations is immeasurable.

Unearthing New Testament Treasures in the Old

I think it was Augustine who said, regarding the Bible's two testaments, "The new is in the old concealed; the old is in the new revealed." Nowhere is the truth of this statement more clearly seen than in Genesis chapter 2. We will look at the presentation of the bride to Adam in this chapter as a first example of the value of using multiple translations to explore the Bible.

Probably we all know the story of how God, knowing that it was not good for the man He created to be alone, decided to make a helper suitable for Adam. Interestingly, He first brought to the man all the living creatures of every sort to see what he would call them. Adam gave names to all the cattle, birds, and beasts, but among them, the Scripture says, a suitable helper was not found. Surely, God knew this would be the case, but He must have wanted Adam to know it.

Then God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep, took a rib from Adam's side, closed up the flesh, fashioned the rib into a woman, and brought her to the man. Adam's expression of joy on finding that this one was bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh constitutes the very first poem in the Bible, Gen.2:23, rendered in Hebrew in verse form. Returning to prose form, the Scripture goes on to say, "For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh" (Gen.2:24, NKJV).

Remember: the new is in the old concealed; the old is in the new revealed. Paul, in his well known chapter about the presentation of the bride to Christ, Ephesians 5, directly quotes Gen.2:24, then says, "This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church" (Eph.5:32, NKJV). If we allow Paul to interpret Genesis 2 for us, we will see that the Lord God's presentation of Eve to Adam is a picture of the glorious church being brought to Christ (Eph.5:23-32). Adam's deep sleep is the death of the cross (Eph.5:25); God's fashioning the woman out of Adam's rib is His formation of the church out of the very substance and essence of Christ Himself (bone of His bones-compare Eph.5:30); the man's joyful recognition that this one is a match for him shows Christ's delight that the Bride has made herself ready (Rev.19:7; 21:2) and actually bears the glory of God (Eph.5:27; Rev.21:9-11). What an awesome revelation!

Achieving Clarity and Revelation with Multiple Translations

Let us bring the light of multiple translations to bear on Gen.2 in order to achieve an even more focused appreciation of this passage as it reveals Christ and the church. Gen.2:22 says, "And the rib, which Jehovah God had taken from the man, made he a woman, and brought her to the man" (ASV). This translation renders the Hebrew verb pronounced banah as made in English. While this is not a bad or incorrect translation, it fails to bring out the primary meaning of banah, which is to build, build up, rebuild, or construct. The word refers in Gen. 11:4 to the building of a city, in Gen.33:17 to the building of a house, and in 1 Kings 3:1 to the building of the temple of Lord on earth (see Strong's 1129 in the Complete Word Study Bible, available from Olive Tree). Perhaps some translators of Gen.2:22 could not see the value of translating the verb literally concerning a woman "built" from the rib of a man. But look at the following:

Amplified And the rib...He built up and made into a woman...
Darby And Jehovah Elohim built the rib...into a woman...
Douay/Rheims And the Lord God built the rib... into a woman...
ESV And the rib...he made into a woman (note: Hebrew built)...
NASB The Lord God [Lit. built] fashioned into a woman the rib...
Rotherham And Yahweh God builded the rib...into a woman...
YLT And Jehovah God buildeth up the rib...into a woman...

Eve, a type of the church, was built out of the very substance of Adam, a type of Christ, just as the church, which is God's house, God's building, and ultimately God's holy city for eternity, has Jesus Christ Himself as her foundation (1 Cor.3:11), cornerstone (Eph.2:20), and top-stone (Zech.4:7)-in short, Christ is all in all for God's building (Eph.1:23; Col.3:11).

We already mentioned Adam's excitement in Gen.2:23. Here is the verse in the NKJV in poetic format:

And the man said,
"This is now bone of my bone
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man."

Although the New King James is an outstanding translation, it lacks here the expressiveness of the original Hebrew. A Hebrew teacher I once had pointed out that the demonstrative pronoun zot, meaning this, is used not just one time in this verse, as one might assume by reading the NKJV above, but three times in all, creating the impression that Adam is beside himself with joy. After all the animals were brought to him and named by him, THIS ONE, unlike all those other creatures, actually matches him. This one is his counterpart, his "other half." Notice how the following translations, being more literal, tend to capture Adam's exuberant recognition of this fact about his bride:

Darby And Man said, This time it is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh: this shall be called Woman because this was taken out of a man.
NRSV Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken."
Rotherham And the man said, This one, now, is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh! This one shall be called Woman, for out of man hath this one been taken.
Tanakh Then the man said, "This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This one shall be called Woman, for from man was she taken.
YLT And the man saith, "This [is] the [proper] step! bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!' for this it is called Woman, for from man hath this been taken.
Ostervald Et Adam dit: Celle-ci enfin est os de mes os, st chair de ma cheir. Celle-ci sera nominée femme (en hébreu Isha), car elle a été prise de l'homme (en hébreu Ish).

Comprehending a Great Mystery

Without a range of translations like these, how easy it would be to miss the window that is opened to us by the Hebrew word for build and the enthusiasm of verse 23. Clearly, Adam's desire for Eve, and her being taken from His own side, out of his own substance, then built up, and presented to him as a helpmeet, is a picture of Christ and the church, the great mystery mentioned in Ephesians 5. To summarize again, Adam represents Christ, his sleep represents the cross, the bone typifies resurrection life, the building up of Eve out of Adam's own substance foreshadows the building up of the church out of Christ's own essence, and the presentation of Eve to Adam prefigures the presentation of the church to Christ as a glorious church without spot or wrinkle. Adam's instant recognition of his own essence and nature in Eve speaks of Christ's recognition of Himself with His own essence and nature in the church. All these wonderful parallels might not occur to readers of English Bibles that did not bring out the literal meaning of the word build in verse 22 and the elation suggested by the repetition of the words "this time" and "this one" in verse 23. If such unreserved delight characterizes the affections of a mortal man for his counterpart, how much greater is the rapturous love of the Lord Jesus for His glorious Bride the church!

Using Multiple Translations to Study an Apparent Scriptural Conflict

We will now look at a New Testament portion, where plain words are used rather than types and pictures. The words of James concerning faith, spoken in Chapter 2 of his epistle, may seem, at face value, to be at odds with Paul's teaching on the same subject. James says in verse 14, "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?" (KJV). An examination of the context, which is always wise, tells us that James was talking about the kind of person who claims to have real faith, but whose neglect of his brothers and sisters in the Lord betrays the fact that his profession of faith is not real. This agrees perfectly with both Paul in Gal.5:13-15 and John in 1 John 4:20. Nevertheless, James' strong statements about faith and works have been enough to raise questions with some readers, for his words seem to contradict the equally strong statements of Paul. Note the following verses in the KJV:


Rom.3:28 - Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

Gal.2:16 - Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

Rom.4:2-5 - For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.


James 2:17-18 - Even so faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.

2:20-24 - But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness...Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

2:26 - For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

All of these verses are the God-breathed word (2 Tim.3:16), and it matters not what you or I think; God saw fit to include them in the Bible, and there is certainly no conflict in God, so I am constrained to believe all of it if I want to know God. On the other hand, a look at several translations of James 2:14 will help us to see what I said above, that James is talking about a particular kind of faith when he seems to downplay faith in relation to works. He is talking about a faith that is in word only, which lacks the issuing works of grace and love that reveal its true character. In Gal.5:6, Paul says, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love" (KJV). Faith operates through love, and where love is missing, professed faith is suspect.

James, then, is talking about a certain kind of faith when he says, "Can faith save him?" The definite article before the word faith in this verse, not indicated by the King James translators, is key to understanding James' statement. Coming originally from the demonstrative pronoun, the article conveys a strong sense of identification, as the following translations aptly show:

ASV Can that faith save him?
Amplified Can [such] faith save [his soul]?
ERV Faith like that cannot save anyone.
ESV Can that faith save him?
God's Word Can this kind of faith save him?
ISV This kind of faith cannot save him, can it?
NASB Can that faith save him?
NetBible Can this kind of faith save him? Translator's note: Grk "The faith," referring to the kind of faith just described: faith without works. The article here is anaphoric, referring to the previous mention of the noun πιστις (pistis) in the verse.
NIV Can such faith save him?
NLT Can that kind of faith save him?
PDT ¿Lo podar salvar esa clase de fe?
DuSemeur Une telle foi peut-elle le sauver?
Phillips Could that sort of faith save anyone's soul?
Weymouth Can such faith save him?
Wuest The aforementioned faith (namely, that faith which does not result in good works) is not able to save him, is it?
YLT Is that faith able to save him?

One might ask why I listed so many translations when two or three would have made the point. It was to show how firmly rooted in the understanding of many Bible translators is the understanding that the definite article in Greek has demonstrative force in this passage. It is not difficult to see that the apparent discrepancy between Paul and James over the doctrine of salvation by faith is illusory and that James is writing, in Chapter 2 of his epistle, about a kind of faith that is in word only, a kind of faith that bears no evidence of being real faith, and is therefore not the kind of saving faith to which Paul refers.

Summing Up

By carefully examining multiple translations in two portions of Scripture, one from the Old Testament Hebrew, the other from the New Testament Greek, we have seen an important principle about studying the Bible. Because no translation can fully capture the essence of the original meaning, we do well to look at a number of them. We may not all be Greek and Hebrew scholars, and even if we were, it is impossible for any one person to fully appreciate the riches of this book. We comprehend what we can as members of His body, even as Paul prays that we may be strong to apprehend with all the saints the dimensions of Christ's knowledge-surpassing love (Eph. 3:17-18).

In the case of James 2:14, a seemingly irreconcilable doctrinal difference is resolved when an accurate understanding of the Greek is unveiled by numerous translators. In the case of Genesis 2, Adam's excitement upon finding a bride that matches him becomes a window into the Lord's own heart for His beloved Bride, the Church. Should we be blessed by God with the hunger to search out the deeper meaning of such passages, we will find that using multiple translations is one helpful way to dig a little deeper.

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