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Sunday, January 5

Why do they change my favorite verses? (Ps 1:1)

I was looking through the LXX of Psalm 1, mulling over the NIV translation. Psalm 1:1 reads, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take (ἐν ὁδῷ ἁμαρτωλῶν οὐκ ἔστη) or sit in the company of mockers.”

For anyone familiar with this verse, “stand in the way that sinners take ” is difficult to hear. We are so used so something like, “stands in the way of sinners” (ESV). Translators are very careful with well-known verses, so if you see this significant of a change in a familiar verse, please don’t get frustrated. There must be something forcing the change.

In this case, the English idiom “stand in the way of” certainly means “to oppose, to block passage,” which has nothing to do with what v 1 means. Other translations read, “take the path of sinners” (HCSB), “take the path that sinners tread” (NRSV), and the overly colloquial, “stand around with sinners” (NLT), all of which are closer to the meaning of the Hebrew.

I am sure there are some who would argue that people can figure out what “stands in the way of sinners” means, and it is too famous a verse to change. But the other day I was visiting a church and was reminded why every little word is important. The preacher was talking about Luke 4:30. This is the story of Jesus not being received in Nazareth, and the people trying to throw him over the cliff. But “passing through their midst, He went His way (ἐπορεύετο)” (NASB).

The preacher made a big deal about Jesus having “His” own way, and it was a different way than the city folk had for Jesus. Everything hinged on the English idiom, “His way.”

The problem of course is that this is not at all what Luke means (even though the basic sentiment is accurate; Jesus did have his own way). “Went His way” is a translation of the simple ἐπορεύετο, meaning that Jesus left the cliff and the town. BDAG’s first meaning of πορεύω is, “to move over an area, gener. with a point of departure or destination specified, go, proceed, travel.

The point is that every single word is important, and if you are not careful to choose the right word, some preacher is going to make a point that the Bible does not make. Perfection is not possible; any word can be misunderstood by someone. But accuracy is more important than tradition, and readers must at times give up the familiar if the meaning of the text is better conveyed with different words.

God’s blessing is on the person who does not walk the same path taken by sinners.

Comments

Really like what you say: "Perfection is not possible; any word can be misunderstood by someone. But accuracy is more important than tradition, and readers must at times give up the familiar if the meaning of the text is better conveyed with different words." Very wise. I think that is very good for people to hear. But then at the very end you miss something. There is revelation to be had in the word "stand." God's blessing is on the person who does not stand in the same path taken by sinners.

Thank you for this. I wonder what your initial thoughts were on the use of ἀνήρ was at the beginning. The MT uses 'ish' (please forgive the terrible transliteration!), and the Vulgate follows with 'vir.' Given that all of these are used of individual males, any translation that doesn't reflect-or at least allow-that understanding has surely gone beyond its bounds. The Fathers understood this as a reference to Jesus, the only one who walked this perfect way. My question is, whether one agrees or not, modern translations often cut that out as an option altogether. Surely in this instance the translator has clearly over-stepped his bounds in not saying 'man.'

But there are many people who hear "man" as "male," so do we leave them out? I doubt the Fathers are right n this interpretation. It is surely a male, but as the example of the wise person.