Thursday, October 3, 2013


I’m sure you’ve known people whom you could identify solely by certain features of their speech.  When I enrolled in my senior high school English class, a former student of the teacher said, “Don’t let him utilize you.”  I thought that was a strange remark until, during a rather warm spring class period, that teacher looked at me and said, “Mr. Jones, could I utilize you to open a window?” I’ll always remember Mr. Daly by that word – utilize.

Certain authors are especially skilled at developing characters by their speech patterns.  John Grisham is one.  Those authors can record pages of dialog without a dialogue tag and we know just who is talking.  Bible writers have their peculiar expressions, too.  When the Holy Spirit moved upon the writers of Scripture, he guaranteed the result without destroying the writers’ style.  Yet that rich expression of individuality is all but obliterated in most modern translations because the translators (more accurately paraphrasers) felt they had to explain the meaning of the texts rather than faithfully convey the text itself with all the original authors’ stylistic words and phrases.

One important example is the Apostle Paul’s use of the Greek word for “flesh,” sarx, especially in the phrase “according to [the] flesh.”[1]  This is a common phrase in Paul’s writings; in fact, the exact phrase that Paul uses, kata sarka, “according to flesh,” is only found in Paul’s epistles.[2]  But the NIV translators seem to be repulsed by the word “flesh,” as though it were a cross in the face of a vampire! Using their license called “dynamic equivalency,” the translators interpret for the reader what they think Paul meant by the phrase “according to flesh” in its various contexts.  Here’s how they render it:

“as to his (Christ’s) human nature”  (Romans 1:3)
“according to the sinful nature” (Romans 8:4, 5, 12, 13)
“of my own race” (Romans 9:3)
“the human ancestry” (Romans 9:5)
“by human standards” (1 Corinthians 1:26)
“in a worldly manner” (2 Corinthians 1:17)
“from a worldly point of view” and “in this way” (2 Corinthians 5:16)
“by standards of this world” (2 Corinthians 10:2)
“as the world does” (2 Corinthians 10:3)
“in the way the world does” (2 Corinthians 11:18)
“in the ordinary way” (Galatians 4:23, 29)
“earthly” (Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3:22)

How would anyone guess that these “translations” were of the same phrase in the original Greek? Not only do the translators completely obliterate this characteristic of Paul’s writing, but in so doing, they obscure some important biblical truths.  I am amused when I see advertisements for “exegetical” commentaries “based on the NIV”.  That seems to be akin to a literary analysis of Shakespeare’s Hamlet based on Cliff’s Notes! 

It’s time to end the dictatorship of the NIV and get back to what God actually said! Essentially literal translations, like the NKJV, ESV, and NASB, those that seek to be faithful to the words and expressions of the biblical authors, give us a window through which we may interact with God's Word as He inspired it. I urge everyone to procure one.[3]

[1] Paul’s phrase is actually “according to flesh” in the Greek, but it is translated “according to the flesh” in essentially literal translations.
[2] Late manuscripts include the phrase in Acts 2:30, with variations, but that reading does not appear to be the original reading.  Even if it were to be accepted as original, the would be understandable that Paul’s companion, Luke, who wrote Acts would use the phrase.
[3]For an excellent discussion of the difference between Dynamic Equivalent and Essentially Literal translations I recommend the following: Choosing a Bible by Leland Ryken and the longer book, The Word of God in English: Criteria for Excellence in Bible Translation by Leland Ryken.

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