In the beginning ...
The main value of knowing who translated the Bible you are reading is to let you know the theological perspective of the work. (Yes, it is also to tell you that the people who did it are highly trained specialists in the language and literature of the Old and New Testaments). But what difference does the theological perspective of the translator make?
A big difference. After all, as I like to say, a translation is a commentary without a note. Well, not quite, but what I mean is that to translate requires interpretation and interpretation means that exegetical decisions have to be made. Much of the Bible is crystal clear and easily rendered into a modern language like English, but not all of it.
Let me give an example from the very first verses of Genesis (1:1-2) and let’s do so by comparing the NLT and the NRSV.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. (NLT)Notice the difference? In the NRSV at the time (when) God created the heavens and earth, the earth was formless and void. In other words, it was already there and ready for God to use. The NLT hints at a creation from nothing. There was nothing and then God created a formless earth which he then shaped into the habitable planet described in the rest of Genesis 1.
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep…” (NRSV)
I am tempted to contribute my usual schtick. Here are an additional five translations of the first two lines of Gen. 1,
- In the beginnning of God's creating the heavens and the earth -
when the earth was astonishingly empty Artscroll Series
When God began to create heaven and earth -
the earth being unformed and void JPS
At the beginning of God's creating of the heavens and the earth,
When the earth was wild and waste Fox
When God began to create heaven and earth,
and the earth then was welter and waste Alter
In the beginning God formed the heavens and the earth.
And the earth was desolation and emptiness, Julia Smith
Thanks to Kurk Gayle for directing me to Julia Smith's translation.