Bible Translations

Bible Translations: Old or New?

Psalm 1

Modern-day Bible translators have helped us understand what inspired Scripture has to say. Translating Hebrew and koine Greek languages into accurate, readable English is not easy. Occasionally, though, modern translators miss the obvious when they fail to approach the Scripture text canonically. And unexpectedly, the older translations may connect better with the original text and its intended message.

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For example, the Authorized Version (i.e., KJV) correctly renders Psalm 1:1, “Blessed is the man—a singular masculine noun in Hebrew. The three Hebrew verbs that follow (sit, walk, stand) are also—of necessity for subject-verb agreement—singular and masculine.

Some modern versions, however, change the singular noun (“man”) and ensuing verbs to genderless plurals: “Blessed are those…” So, in terms of the original Hebrew text, the KJV connects with the pitch for a home run: “Blessed is the man…”

The more modern rendition of Psalm 1:1 changes the masculine singular to a genderless plural, swinging and missing the ball. Strike out. Back to the dugout.

But don’t misunderstand. I fully understand the correctness of reading a Bible translation free from gender bias. When I expound a Scripture passage from either the Hebrew or Greek text, it is easy to see where the more common “man” should be read as “human” or “people.”[1] If the biblical text is meant to be inclusive, then our English translations should also reflect that, no question.

But the case of Psalm 1 is not a matter of inclusivity. Rather, the issue is one of faithful scholarship and intellectual honesty. The composer of Psalm 1 meant to write about a man (masculine singular).

Psalms 1 & 2

In the rush to be inclusive, oversights can be made. Psalm 1 is a case in point. For example, the composer of the Psalms expended considerable literary effort to identify the “blessed man” of Psalm 1:1 with the all-conquering king (masculine singular) and son of God (masculine singular) in Psalm 2. In other words, from a lexical, literary, and thematic standpoint, Psalms 1 and 2 were meant to refer to the exact same person, a man.

And those ties between the “blessed man” of Psalm 1 and “the king” and “son of God” of Psalm 2 are numerous. There are at least twelve exact lexical parallels between the two Psalms, each arguing for sameness of the characters in both. The connections between the two Psalms cannot be dismissed as accidental. Psalm 1 and 2 are a canonical progression, referring to the exact same man.

You might ask, “Is this connection between the Psalms important?” Well, consider the fact that Psalm 2 is quoted four times in the NT as referring to Jesus— twice in Luke’s Acts and twice in Hebrews. Referring to the rejection of Jesus, Luke wrote:

“You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: Why do the nations rage and the people’s plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers of the earth gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.” Psalm 2:1-2; quoted in Acts 4:25-26

“You are my Son, today (day of Jesus’ resurrection) I have become Your Father.” Psalm 2:7 quoted in Acts 13:33 & Hebrews 1:5; 5:5

So, according to the inspired New Testament writers, the king and son of God in Psalm 2 is Jesus. And, by canonical design—reflected through multiple links—so also is Psalm 1. The blessed man in Psalm 1:1, then, is not just anyone or a group of people. The blessed man of Psalm 1 is indeed a man, the God-man Christ Jesus.

The first two Psalms begin with a foreshadowing of King Jesus. Bible translations must reflect what is intended and what is written. “Blessed is the man” connects with the pitch. But, “Blessed are those” is a strikeout. It blinds us to the connection with Jesus depicted in Psalm 2.  

Observe the Pattern

Just as the Law (Genesis through Deuteronomy) begins with a prototype of the future king (Adam) in Paradise, and just as the Prophets begins with a prototype of a king entering the Promised Land (Joshua, a book of the “former” prophets), so also the Writings (starting with the Psalms) begin with a prototype of a future king also found in an Edenic Paradise.

Each of the three sections of Hebrew Scripture begins with a prototypical, future king in a Promised Land. Coincidence? Hardly. 

Each of the three sections of Hebrew Scripture begins with a prototypical, future king in a Promised Land. Each section begins with a foreshadowing of Jesus.

Coincidence? Hardly.

See the pattern? Patterns scream for attention, and reveal purpose.

The Gospel record clearly reflects a Savior as a blessed man, a man whose delight was in the Law of the Lord (Psalm 1:2), a man who meditated on it day and night.

Jesus Himself argued that all the Scriptures, including the Psalms, were written about Him and had to be fulfilled (Luke 24:25-27; 44; John 5:46-47).

Slow Down: Don’t Miss the Signposts of the Savior

I’ve missed road signs while driving because I was driving too fast or was distracted by a cool looking vintage Ford Mustang in the other lane.

Signs are easy to miss in Scripture if we go too fast.

So, it might be a good idea to consider slowing down in our fast-paced studies.

Use More Than One Translation

We also might consider using more than one translation of Scripture, one older and one newer. The rush to be inclusive or to communicate clearly has left some casualties on the field. Psalm 1 is just one example of many. We don’t want to miss the signposts of the Savior—a casualty—either in the Old or New Testaments.

Use Two Tools

And if you are contemplating a life of teaching Scripture—perhaps as an evangelist, a teaching shepherd or shepherdess, or a prophet or prophetess—you might consider learning two essential skills: the art of reading Scripture canonically[2] and learning the Hebrew and koine Greek languages. Utilizing these two tools sharpens our eyes to see the Savior when He is foreshadowed and when He is written about explicitly.

And if you are already in ministry, never stop studying, learning, and pushing ahead to understand more and more of Scripture. As you do, you’ll spot more and more of Jesus Christ.

As the late F.F. Bruce[3] once said to me, “Read your Greek New Testament every day.”

Thank you for reading.

 

NOTES

[1] An example of this is found in 2 Timothy 2:2. “And entrust what you heard me say in the presence of many others as witnesses to faithful people who will be competent to teach others as well.” Traditionally, translations have rendered the Greek word for human beings (ἀνθρώποις) as “men” when in reality “people” or “human beings” is more accurate. See also 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

[2] All Scripture is written canonically, whether the Old Testament or the New Testament. For example, the portrait of Paul in Acts 9-28 is aligned intentionally by Luke to parallel the portrait of Jesus in the Third Gospel. The lengthy depiction of Paul is a “Jesus revived.”

[3] The foremost New Testament scholar in the English-speaking world in the 20th century; long-time director of PhD studies at the University of Manchester, U.K.