Having said that, at Bible study recently the importance of using a literal translation became apparent. (in another post , I explain why I use the ESV as my primary translation) We were looking at Colossians 1:24 as a case study for how to approach a difficult verse.
Here it is in a literal translation, the ESV:
“24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,”
Paul is telling the Colossian church that Christ’s afflictions lacked something and he is filling up that lack with his own suffering. Wow. That is a presumptuous thing to say. It sounds arrogant and borderline blasphemous. Time to wrestle with the text and figure out what he is saying.
Now look at the same verse in a paraphrase, the NLT:
“24 I am glad when I suffer for you in my body, for I am participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for his body, the church.”
Do you see the difference? In the NLT, the interpreters have already done the wrestling with the text for you. They decided that what Paul meant was that he was participating in Christ’s continuing sufferings through His body the church. Then that is how they wrote the verse.
I think it is a very important part of Bible study for each individual christian to see the text in as close to the original languages as possible. The Berean Jews examined the scripture for themselves to see if what Paul said was true. They couldn’t do that if somebody else had already interpreted away portions of the text and put into the text what they thought it meant.
If this verse is studied as it is rather than how it is interpreted to be, then a student might go to Philippians 2:27-30 and find a similar locution by Paul. They might see that what Paul believes was lacking in the service by the Philippian church and in Jesus’ perfect sacrifice is delivery of the message. Then the student could see the beautiful thing that Paul is saying. That he is willing to put his own body on the line in much physical suffering in order to make sure that the colossian church and other churches like them all over Asia minor and Greece get to hear about Christ’s sufferings. The student might then reflect on the verse in Romans 10 where Paul, quoting Isaiah, called the feet of gospel messengers, “beautiful” and think about what those feet actually looked like after walking hundreds of miles to share the gospel. Dirty, blistered, gnarled, calloused, feet with bone spurs are beautiful because they are part of the suffering that completes Christ’s incomparable affllictions on the cross.
In order to perform this task most effectively, we must study the text that we have that is as close to the one God breathed out as possible. I love the Bible.
The Bible you will actually read is the best one for you. Too many christ followers never pick up a Bible at all except to take it to church for an hour on Sunday morning (or Saturday night or whenever their group assembles in a big box with the chairs all facing same way). So first and foremost, get one that you can read and one that you will read.
But in order to do what Paul told Timothy to do, to engage in a disciplined effort to study scripture and get to know God better, you need to find and study a literal translation rather than a paraphrase where somebody else has already made decisions about the meaning of a difficult verse.