Why do they change my favorite verses? (Ps 1:1) — Mondays with Mounce 212
I was looking through the LXX of Psalm 1, mulling over the NIV translation. V 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.
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous works including the recent Basics of Biblical Greek Video Lectures and the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek. He is the general editor of Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV.
Learn more about Bill's Greek resources at Teknia.com and visit his blog on spiritual growth at BiblicalTraining.org/blog/life-journey.
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