Amos 5:21-24 from The Message

A university student from my church recently shared with me a passage from the book of Amos that struck me because it relates so well with today’s church.

Amos 5:21-24 from The Message (MSG)

“I can’t stand your religious meetings.
I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want”

How’s that for relevancy?

Good sermon passage.  It should strike people pretty hard. I think I may be preaching on this in the near future.

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:

What are the most authoritative translations?

ElShaddai Edwards and I have been conversing about the REB/NEB over at his blog at He is Sufficient. Our conversation has become an interesting conversation regarding the authority of bible translations.

ElShaddai said to me: “Thank you for using “authoritative” instead of “accurate”. It’s an interesting distinction and one that I’ve been thinking of exploring rather than needlessly continuing the translation philosophy wars.”

Then I responded by saying: “Yes, I do like the use of “authoritative” when I’m not talking about the formal-dynamic equivalency issues. This is a totally different issue when it comes to translations.”

I think the most authoritative translation today is still the NIV. Here’s my order of ranking:

1. NIV authority based on popular usage in all genres of publications, and usage in evangelical churches today
2. NKJV (authority based on popular usage in evangelical churches today)
3. KJV (authority based on popular usage in evangelical churches today)
4. NLT (authority based on huge growth in general popularity)
5. NRSV (authority based on usage in academic journals, reference books, and usage in mainline churches)
6. NAB(authority based on usage in Roman Catholic churches in the USA)
7. NASB (authority based on usage in Christian magazines and by pastors)
8. ESV (authority based on usage by pastors)
9. TNIV (authority based on usage in books)
10. Message (authority based on usage by pastors)

How often a translation is quoted by teachers, pastors and Christian publications of any sort (books, news magazines, ministry publications, academic journals, websites, etc.) are very important factors when we are considering whether a translation is authoritative, or not authoritative.

The authority of a translation is also dependent upon how accurate it is, and it is also less dependent upon whether it is a formal or dynamic translation. However, these factors are less important and are not the primary reasons for authority. In my opinion, the most important factor to what determines the authority of a translation is how often it is quoted.

You may disagree with my order of rankings and my reasons for them. Note that this ranking has nothing to do with which translation I think should be authoritative; rather, they are what I think are authoritative at this current moment in time.

Why did I pick the NIV as the most authoritative? Because it is still the most widely read and quoted translation today. Being the most read and quoted translation gives the NIV that authority.
Note that my rankings are unrelated to the CBA sales ranking because sales is only an indication of how popular a translation is at the current moment in time; however, it does not indicate how often it is quoted by authoritative figures and publications.

Which translations do you think are the most authoritative today? Share you order of translation ranking and state your reasons.

Update: ElShaddai at He is Sufficient has also posted on this topic of authority of bible translations.

How reliable are paraphrases?

I have pondered whether to get a Message bible. I had a Message New Testament but got rid of it and do not plan to get one in the near future. When I preach, I rarely quote from the Message or the Living Bible. And upon hearing a verse or passage quoted from the Message, I might suddenly get the feeling that something is wrong. When this happens, I will go to one of my trusty translations, NRSV, ESV or TNIV. The difference can sometimes be shocking. Sometimes, the whole idea of the verse has been completely changed. The purpose of paraphrases is to render a hard-to-understand verse more understandable and still remain accurate. Sometimes, in paraphrases, accuracy gets thrown out the for the sake of trying to be contemporary as possible. When accuracy is discarded, reliable is gone too.

Personally, I think many of us have a pretty big tolerance for what can be considered as reliable. As far as gender-accuracy or gender-neutrality is concerned: the difference between “brothers” versus “brothers and sisters” is minimal. I still consider both reliable. I would also consider both “fallen asleep” and “dead” as accurate. Where I draw the line is a complete change in idea. Let’s take a passage from The Message with the theme of food.

Isaiah 29:8

Like a hungry man dreaming he’s eating steak and wakes up hungry as ever, Like a thirsty woman dreaming she’s drinking iced tea and wakes up thirsty as ever, So that mob of nations at war against Mount Zion will wake up and find they haven’t shot an arrow, haven’t killed a single soul.

as when hungry people dream they are eating, but they awaken, and their hunger remains; as when thirsty people dream they are drinking, but they awaken faint, with their thirst unquenched. So will it be with the hordes of all the nations that fight against Mount Zion.

Where in the world did “steak” and “ice tea” come from?

The usefulness of paraphrases is debatable. It is useful for those who have absolutely no understanding of biblical language (or Christianese). Paraphrases can easily lead one into confusion and a dumbing-down in Christian theology. I can tolerate almost any difference in other translations but this is an example of where I draw the line.