By Trevin Wax, with Rachel Poel
Shopping for a book about a foreign country is a much different experience if you’re planning to move there.
I know this firsthand. When I was just out of high school and sensing the Lord calling me to Romania, I knew it wouldn’t be enough for me to learn about Romanian culture and history from a documentary on television or from a best-selling novel with a Romanian hero. No, I needed something more.
Before moving to Romania, I bought language and culture books that helped me understand what I would encounter. I needed to hear from people who knew both my culture and the Romanian culture well and could guide me to the important things to know.
In the months before I bought a one-way ticket to Eastern Europe, I wore out my language and culture books in preparation for the adventure.
If we believe what God says about His Word, that’s how we should approach the Bible.
As Christians, we are called to live in obedience to God. In His Word we find the great story of our world and instruction on how to live. As Christians, we are the foreigners—strangers and exiles—in a world that is often hostile to biblical truth.
How should we live? How should we interact with our neighbors, pursue our careers, and love our family? How should we grieve? Where do we find hope?
The Bible doesn’t answer these questions from a merely academic perspective. It tells us the story of God and His people. It unveils the plan of redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ. It tells us what the future holds. The Bible is God’s Word to us.
But if we are to live under the authority of God’s Word, we need to understand what God’s Word is saying. For this reason, we need a translation we can rely on, one that faithfully reflects the original manuscripts and clearly communicates with readers today.
Translation errors can have profound consequences. Consider the difference between “do penance” and “repent.” When John Wycliffe first translated the Bible into English, he started with the Latin Vulgate, the translation of the Catholic Church at the time.
That meant using “do penance” to talk about the Christian response to our sin. According to this understanding, Jesus preached that the kingdom of God had drawn near, and the response was to perform acts of penance.
What Wycliffe didn’t know at the time was the Latin Vulgate was riddled with problems. When Renaissance scholars like Erasmus later studied the Latin Vulgate in comparison with original manuscripts, they found it had considerable departures from the original manuscripts. This prompted Erasmus to publish a Greek New Testament based on the original manuscripts.
As that translation reached Reformers like Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin, it became the source for new translations into the common languages of the time. Luther hoped his German translation would enable people to “seize and taste the clear, pure Word of God itself and hold onto it.” That’s exactly what happened.
As the Reformation spread, William Tyndale began another English translation of the Bible, this time drawing on the more accurate Greek texts. “Do penance” was more accurately rendered “repent,” which is about a heart change away from sin and toward God, not the accumulation of good deeds.
This is just one translation choice, but consider the impact it makes when we’re basing our lives on God’s Word! Within those words, we move from works to a heart attitude. Within those words, we see grace flourishing through the forgiveness of the cross.
A reliable translation of the Bible is vitally important for Christian growth. In order to base our lives on God’s Word, we need to be able to clearly understand what God is saying through it, without losing the power of the original words.
Unfortunately, some Christians fall easily into dichotomies regarding translation theory. Some say the translation should be so close to the original that it doesn’t matter if people can read and understand it. Meanwhile, others say readability should be the most important feature, even if the translation strays from the form and words of the original.
But why choose between the two? If reading the Bible were simply an academic exercise, then we could select “scholarship” as our priority. If it were simply an advertising tool, we might choose “exciting” or “modern-sounding” as our top goal.
But we read the Bible to know God, to be made more like Him, and to share His good news with others. And that means we need to know what He’s saying. That requires a translation we can clearly understand, but one that clearly reflects the original manuscripts. It should be reliable for both the pastor in the pulpit and the person in the pew.
There are plenty of good translations on the market, but the balanced approach of the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) is one reason I love it. As the Bible publisher for Lifeway, I am proud to represent a translation that we hope will serve the global church, for the salvation of the world.
As a pastor who preaches from this translation every week, I am thankful for a translation that is the optimal blend of accuracy and readability. I can trust it during study and sermon preparation, and I can give it to people in my church and trust they can read and understand it for themselves.
Regardless of what Bible translation you prefer, may you wear it out reading, studying, and applying it, trusting that the faithful and true Word of God still changes lives and still empowers God’s people to fulfill their mission!
TREVIN WAX (@TrevinWax) is Lifeway’s Bible and Reference publisher and pastor of Third Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.