Functional equivalence comparison #3: Romans 7:15-16

Finally, the comparison between functional equivalent translations continues with Romans, ch. 7.

I have been on a blogging hiatus for a while but I’ve finally found some time to catch my breath. I like doing these translation comparisons but they take a lot of time to prepare. I have found that comparing eight different translations is just too much, so to simplify things, I will limit the number of translations I am comparing to these six: NLT, NCV, NIrV, GW, CEV and GNT.

Romans 7:15

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. (NLT)

I do not understand the things I do. I do not do what I want to do, and I do the things I hate. (NCV)

I don’t understand what I do. I don’t do what I want to do. Instead, I do what I hate to do. (NIrV)

I don’t realize what I’m doing. I don’t do what I want to do. Instead, I do what I hate. (God’s Word)

In fact, I don’t understand why I act the way I do. I don’t do what I know is right. I do the things I hate. (CEV)

I do not understand what I do; for I don’t do what I would like to do, but instead I do what I hate. (GNT)

v.15: the original Greek says κατεργάζομαι οὐ γινώσκω (katergazomai οὐ ginōskō, “deeds not know,” “deeds not understand”). Therefore, the NLT’s idiomatic expression of “I don’t really understand myself” is not accurate. Paul does understand himself; what Paul says he does not understand is his own deeds or actions.

In the Greek, Paul did not say: “I don’t do what I know is right” (CEV). Paul actually said: “I do not do what I want to do.”

The GNT also uses: “would like to do.” In the Greek, Paul used θέλω , which means one’s will or volition, rather than, one’s liking. We know in v.18b, Paul says he has a will but just can’t act according to his will.

Concerning v.15, I prefer the renderings from NCV, NIrV, and GW.

Romans 7:16

But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. (NLT)

And if I do not want to do the hated things I do, that means I agree that the law is good. (NCV)

I do what I don’t want to do. So I agree that the law is good. (NIrV)

I don’t do what I want to do, but I agree that God’s standards are good. (GW)

Although I don’t do what I know is right, I agree that the Law is good. (CEV)

Since what I do is what I don’t want to do, this shows that I agree that the Law is right. (GNT)

v.16: The original Greek expresses the first phrase in the positive—“I do”; but the GW and CEV expresses this in the negative—“I don’t”. This is not accurate.

All the translations, other than GW, rendered nomos as “law” rather than “standards”. The Greek used νόμος (nomos, law), so the GW inaccurately rendered this as “standards” instead of “law”.

The NCV’s negative expression is difficult to understand and it also adds “hated things”, which is absent in the Greek.

The NLT uses the word “wrong” but this word is also not in the Greek.

The GNT renders “law is right.” In the Greek, Paul uses the word καλός (kalos) which reflects the agreeable impression made by the good. It is not related with a legal judgment in the sense of being right or wrong, which would otherwise be expressed using δικαιος (dikaios).

I hope that I do not disqualify every translation in this series. They all have their strengths in various passages of texts. But regarding Rom. 7:15-16, the NIrV seems to have come out on top.

Functional equivalence comparison #2: 1 Samuel 3:13 – What blasphemy?

The comparison between functional equivalent translations continues with the First Samuel 3:13.

NLT: I have warned him that judgment is coming upon his family forever, because his sons are blaspheming God and he hasn’t disciplined them.

GW: I told him that I would hand down a permanent judgment against his household because he knew about his sons’ sin—that they were cursing God—but he didn’t try to stop them.

NIrV: I told Eli I would punish his family forever. He knew his sons were sinning. He knew they were making fun of me. In spite of that, he failed to stop them.

Message: I’m letting him know that the time’s up. I’m bringing judgment on his family for good. He knew what was going on, that his sons were desecrating God’s name and God’s place, and he did nothing to stop them.

GNT: I have already told him that I am going to punish his family forever because his sons have spoken evil things against me. Eli knew they were doing this, but he did not stop them.

NCV: I told Eli I would punish his family always, because he knew his sons were evil. They acted without honor, but he did not stop them.

CEV: He knew that his sons refused to respect me, and he let them get away with it, even though I said I would punish his family forever.

REB: You are to tell him that my judgement on his house will stand for ever because he knew of his sons’ blasphemies against God and did not restrain them.

In the original Hebrew, it is not very clear what “making themselves vile” really means. What were the sons of Eli doing to actually make themselves contemptible or vile? To make oneself vile is taken to be a blasphemy against God. But was it an act directed against God’s holy sacrifice (as the NCV implies), or were they doing something to themselves that made them vile? Amongst the functional equivalent (F.E.) translations, the NL T renders it as “blaspheming God”, which is the traditional rendering (also NRSV, ESV, TNIV). It is all by itself on this one because the other F.E. translations are very wide and far apart in their interpretation of the nature of this blasphemy.

The NCV’s use of “acted without honor” implies a physical action. Whereas, GW (“cursing God”), NIrV (“making fun of me”), and GNT (“spoken evil things against me”) implies speech. The renderings of CEV, Message, NLT and REB could go either way—action or speech. CEV’s (“refused to respect me”) uses an inactive adverb; whereas, NIRV’s (“making fun of me”) uses an active verb. However, this is very subjective because everyone may have their personal opinion as to what constitutes speech or action.

I prefer the rendering in The Message the best because it seems to most accurately describe blasphemy while covering both aspects of blasphemy in speech and action, and is easy to understand. Most people do not know what “blasphemy” means so I have to prefer a thumbs up for The Message. HCSB also has an excellent rendering: “his sons were defiling the sanctuary”. It’s extremely clear and understandable, but it’s in the mediating translation category.

Functional equivalent translations #1: 1 Samuel 3:7 Confusion about young Samuel

The comparison between functional equivalent translations begins with the First Samuel 3:7.

NCV: Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the Lord had not spoken directly to him yet.

Message: This all happened before Samuel knew GOD for himself. It was before the revelation of GOD had been given to him personally.

CEV: The LORD had not spoken to Samuel before, and Samuel did not recognize the voice.

REB: Samuel had not yet come to know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not been disclosed to him.

NLT: Samuel did not yet know the LORD because he had never had a message from the LORD before.

NIrV: Samuel didn’t know the Lord yet. That’s because the Lord still hadn’t given him a message.

GNT: The boy did not know that it was the Lord, because the Lord had never spoken to him before.

God’s Word: Samuel had no experience with the LORD, because the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.

I was studying 1 Samuel 3:7 and noticed something puzzling. I asked myself: Why did young Samuel not know the Lord? Did the writer of Samuel mean that Samuel did not know the LORD because:

a/ he was still young?
b/ he had not yet spent enough time to learn of the LORD?
c/ he had not yet heard from the LORD in a personal way?

The interpretations provide by these translations are indeed numerous with each one including a slightly different connotation. Personally, this brings more confusion rather than clarification. The interpretations for this verse can vary quite a lot (see translations below).

The NLT, NIrV, GNT, and GW translations add “because”, which makes Samuel’s knowledge of the LORD conditional upon a prior revelation from the LORD. The original Hebrew does not contain the word owdowth (“because”, “on account of|). This is very different from the rendering provided by NCV, The Message, REB, and CEV, which do not contain this conditional clause. The two ideas expressed are independent upon one another but may also be taken as conditional (depending on how you wish to read it).

GW’s rendering expresses the idea of Samuel’s “inexperience” with the LORD, whereas, other translations stick with the idea of “knowing the LORD.” GNT’s rendering expresses that even though Samuel had heard, he did not know who it was. The Message ‘s rendering expresses Samuel’s knowledge of the LORD in a more personal way: “for himself” and “personally.”

There are many places in the O.T. where the original Hebrew lacked “because” but have been added by translators to add clarification. However, in this instance, I would prefer not adding “because.”

Search for a functional equivalent translation

In the future, I will be blogging on functional equivalent translations (or dynamic translations). The plethora of functional translations seems to be a recent phenomena. It really seemed to have taken off in the last ten to fifteen years. I have decided to cover all the main functional equivalent translations in this comparison. This is a continuation from the formal equivalent translation and mediating translation comparisons.

I have included the six main functional equivalent translations:

  • New Living Translation (NLT) by Tyndale House (1996, 2004, 2007)
  • New Century Version (NCV) by Thomas Nelson (1987, 1988, 1991, 2005)
  • New International Reader’s Version (NIrV) by International Bible Society (1996, 1998)
  • God’s Word (GW) by God’s Word to the Nations, Baker (1995)
  • Contemporary English Version (CEV) by American Bible Society (1995)
  • Good News Translation (GNT) by American Bible Society (1966, 1976, 1992)
  • Revised English Bible (REB) by Oxford and Cambridge University Presses (1989)
  • The Message by Eugene H. Peterson, NavPress (1993, 2002)

This type of translation is the most readable. However, they tend to be the least literal but that’s the character of functional equivalent translations. Personally, and generally speaking, I don’t feel comfortable using it in a serious bible study; however, there are a few I would feel comfortable about using in a bible study. I will tell you what they are at the end of this series of comparisons between functional translations.

I learned that most of these translations began from a vision of a single person, which then, later expanded to include other people, or a larger committee. To my knowledge these were:

  • New Living Translation (Kenneth N. Taylor)
  • The Message (Eugene H. Peterson)
  • God’s Word (William F. Beck)
  • New Century Version (Ervin Bishop)
  • Good News Translation (Eugene Nida)
  • Contemporary English Version (Barclay Newman)
  • Revised English Bible (G.S. Hendrey)

God does like to use individuals to do the work of his kingdom. Thank God for these servants who wanted to bring the bible into the contemporary language of the people.

Note: Rich resources about the history of various bible translations can be found at: