When the version makes a difference


Aside from those who worship in King James only churches, the vast majority of Christians choose their Bibles based on no real preference other than maybe taste, ease of reading, and price point.  I have, from time to time, had parishioners who wished to buy a Bible as a gift ask me for my suggestions, and my choices are based on similar criteria, with the addition that I will always choose a translation over a paraphrase, ex. the Contemporary English Version is far superior for Biblical study to the Message.  The reality is that it doesn’t much matter which Bible you choose to read, so long as you are actually reading your Bible.

Note that I said “it doesn’t much matter.”  This morning, I found a case in which it might matter as our congregations listen to and we preach from Luke 13:31-35.  Towards the end of Jesus’ lamentation over Jerusalem, he speaks these words, which I found intriguing, “See, your house is left to you.”  I went in search on commentary on that text, assuming that Jesus was borrowing from an Old Testament source or maybe Luke had inserted a common Greek saying, but it seems nobody cares much about that phrase, except that somewhere in the middle of the 20th century, a word was removed from it.  The Revised Standard Version, predecessor to the NRSV which is common in Episcopal congregations, reads “Behold, your house is forsaken.”

There seems to be a considerable difference between “Your house is left to you” and “Your house is forsaken” or as other translations like the King James Version read, “Your house is left desolate.”  Digging into the Greek, the 1968 Interlinear of the RSV does not include eremos, the Greek word for “desolation,” and yet the English translation does.  In Bruce Metzger’s Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed., he notes that “The Committee judged that the presence of eremos in [several Greek manuscripts] is the result of assimilation to the text of Jeremiah* 22.5 or to the prevailing text of Matthew 23.28; its absence is strongly supported by [several other Greek manuscripts].” (pg 138).

This probably isn’t something the preacher would want to dive into from the pulpit, yet I find it an interesting example of those rare moments when the version we read really does make a difference.  In the NRSV, strongly supported by the Greek sources available from the second half of the 20th century, we find Jesus suggesting, in a very pre-destruction-of-the-temple-in-AD70 way, that God has left Jerusalem to its own devices; that if they want to find their way to the Kingdom, having rejected his long-standing invitation, they will have to do so on their own.  In most other texts authorized under Canon II.2, we find Jesus suggesting, in a very post-destruction-of-the-temple-in-AD70 way that because of their infidelity, Jerusalem has once again been laid waste.  Their desolation is the result of their rejection of Jesus and they are in many ways standing in exile yet again.

What version you read this Sunday might make a difference in your preaching, dear reader.  I hope you’ll do your homework, consider your sources, and proclaim the Good News of God’s love not matter which translation you choose.


*Thank you to  the Rev. Robert Black for helping me navigate the intricacies of the abbreviation system in the UBS Greek New Testament


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