Pay careful attention to the opening section of any discourse. The first five minutes of a movie, the first chapter or so of a novel, the opening introduction of a sermon, the first paragraph of a newspaper article—all of these “first moments” are specifically designed to orient you to the thing that you are reading or hearing or watching. Remember, authors generally want to be understood, and because they want to be understood they want to set you up to read well.
Over the years we have trained ourselves to read the Bible in an unnatural way, so we’re going to have to break some bad habits. We are trained to read the Bible verse-by-verse, but in keeping with the “ordinary reading principle” we need to change our habits. We should ordinarily be reading the Bible paragraph-by-paragraph or, even better, book-by-book.
In other words, while the Bible is always extra-ordinary, it is such through the use of the ordinary ways that human beings speak to one another. It is supernatural revelation that God has given in natural language. The Bible is special and unique, but it is not special and unique in this way, that is, in the manner by which it communicates truth to human beings. That’s why the Westminster Standards go on to describe the meaning of the Bible as accessible “through a due use of ordinary means” (WCF 1.7).
After multiple readings, we can get “stuck in a rut;” we grow content with our prior understanding of the text and are unable to see things anew. One way to see the text differently is to see it from a different angle. Deliberately switch your reading posture (both figuratively and possibly literally).
The point: when translating from the Greek, these subtleties won’t always show up in translation. That’s why it probably feels “low impact.” But such questions are worth thinking about because, though subtle, the rhetorical and semantic functions are different in many contexts.
As a working guideline, then, I propose we evaluate translations on the basis of three criteria. A good translation (1) has a well-defined, well-reasoned, and useful translation philosophy, (2) applies that philosophy consistently over the “many parts and various ways” God has spoken to us in his word (Heb. 1:1), and (3) uses the “best of what’s around” to understand the original Hebrew and Greek text. The NLT gets an “A” in all three of these categories, as I will establish in a bit.
When we shine a bright light upon the shape of James, the shadow that is cast is inevitable that of Jesus. So here we meet Jesus yet again because here we find his values and actions described for us. Read James, then, and meditate on how these verses reflect the perfections of your redeemer.
When to Use Your Language Knowledge, Part 2: Only if it’s Absolutely Necessary (and it probably isn’t)
Even if you can utilize your knowledge of Greek or Hebrew syntax and vocabulary, there’s probably a better way to prove your point, and you should take that route instead.