We were reading Psalm 1:
"Blessed is the manA well-educated and spiritually mature man across the room spoke up. "I have never understood why the righteous are not supposed to 'stand in the way of sinners,'" he said. "Why shouldn't we try to keep them from sinning? Are we just supposed to let them self-destruct?"
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers." (v. 1, NIV 1984)
The translators of the new NIV (2011) recognized the problem and made the meaning a little more obvious:
"Blessed is the oneAs you can see they made a few other changes as well. Is this "tampering with the word of God" as some claim? Or is it facilitating a better understanding of that Word? In my opinion the Committee on Bible Translation is doing all of us a great service. In this case they are finding a fresh way to communicate the same Hebrew text in English with potential for greater understanding.
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers." (v. 1, NIV 2011)
And their work is not over. Even more recently, I was reading Psalm 1 with my sisters-in-law at our annual beach getaway. When we got to verse 5, reading from the new NIV (which is identical to the old NIV), one sister was confused:
"Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,"Why don't the sinners have to be judged?" She asked. I stared at the text, trying to see it from her angle. Aha! She took "stand in the judgment" as a single action (="be judged"). I assured her that the wicked would indeed be judged. When that happens, they will not be able to stand up under it. That is, they will crumble under God's wrath. (For another possible example of this kind of "standing," see Psalm 24:3.)
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous."
For the record, this translation of Psalm 1:5 is a fine rendering of the Hebrew. Next time around, though, the Committee on Bible Translation could make this more clear in English. In the meantime, I recommend comparing more than one translation any time you're confused about what a text might mean (and even when you're not! maybe you should be!). Biblegateway offers free access to the Bible in dozens of English translations.
Aside from the NIV, which I use most often, another favorite of mine is the New Living Translation. Like the NIV, the NLT was translated directly from the original languages by top evangelical scholars. It is a more "dynamic" translation. In their own words,
"the translators rendered the message more dynamically when the literal rendering was hard to understand, was misleading, or yielded archaic or foreign wording. They clarified difficult metaphors and terms to aid in the reader's understanding." (from the Introduction to the New Living Translation)Here's a look at these two verses from Psalm 1 in the NLT:
"Oh, the joys of those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners,or join in with mockers." (v. 1)
"They will be condemned at the time of judgment.Sinners will have no place among the godly." (v. 5)The NLT clears up both of the questions my friends raised about Psalm 1 in the NIV, but one could argue that some of the poetic symmetry is lost (walk . . . stand . . . sit). In the end, I think English speakers are best served by using a combination of at least two translations. If you're not sure where to start, the NIV and NLT are both very good.
However, this 2-part post, long as it is, only addresses one factor in the need for new English translations—confusion with the current translation. Other factors come into play as well—factors controversial enough to make some people's blood boil. I hope to write about those in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!