Sunday, December 13, 2009

Bible Snob

Being the, in my wife's words, "Bible Snob" that I am, I brought my Greek/English Septuagint to church this morning. The Septuagint (or LXX) is a Koine Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (including some Apocryphal books) used and quoted by Jesus Christ and the Apostles. If you're still reading, you might be muttering, "Who cares?"

Hang with me.

If you want to enhance your sermon-listening experience, bring a DIFFERENT translation than your pastor uses. Trust me, 30% of the time a preacher is simply repeating himself, - you'll have time to catch up. Furthermore, bring a translation that highlights textual variants (differences in the manuscripts).

Allow me to give you a simple illustration of why it can be so fascinating to bring a different version. This morning in church the pastor quoted Psalm 139:14 which reads,

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." NIV

Many, many translations follow (more or less) this translation - including the NASB; NLT; KJV; ESV; NKJV; HCSB.

However, check out what the Septuagint (a translation) says,
"I will give thee thanks; for thou art fearfully wondrous; wondrous are thy works; and my soul knows it well."

Did you catch the difference? What English translation also translates it this way? The NET Bible.

The NET Bible reads,
"I will give you thanks because your deeds are awesome and amazing. You knew me thoroughly."

Here's the NET note on this verse (the NET Bible has over 60,000 translator notes).
"...The text as it stands is syntactically problematic and makes little, if any, sense. The Niphal of (pala) occurs elsewhere only in Exod 33:16. Many take the form from (pala)...which in the Niphal perfect means "to be amazing" (see 2 Sam 1:26; Ps 118:23; Pro 30:18). Some, following the LXX and some other ancient witnesses, also prefer to emend the verb from first to second person, "you are amazing"...The present translation assumes the text conflates two variants...The original text likely read, ..."your works [are] awesome [and] amazing")."

This is just one of the reasons I recommend the NET version. It doesn't have study notes - it has translator notes. These notes bring issues to your attention that, had you brought the same translation as your pastor - you would have never known. It would be embarrassing to build entire arguments on this one verse, only to discover the complicated variants.

So do yourself a favor, and start bringing a different version to church. It's worth the extra effort, can be very fascinating, is highly informative, and will make you a much more cautious Theologian.


  1. I think it is important to remember that translation is the first step of interpretation. Translator notes are not completely distinct from study/interpreter notes.

    PS: We need more "Bible snobs!" Thanks for being one!

  2. Excellent point, Jay. And I have you to thank that I even have a copy of the Septuagint.