“Then one of the elders said to me, “Don’t cry. Look! The Lion from Judah’s tribe, the great descendant of David, has won the victory, and he can break the seven seals and open the scroll” (Rev 5:5, GNT).

With nearly six thousand manuscripts containing at least a fragment having been cataloged, the NT is one of antiquity’s best attested writings. Though time prevents getting into the textual evidence now, it is a fascinating subject and well-worth researching.

“Then one of the elders said to me, “Don’t cry. Look! The Lion from Judah’s tribe, the great descendant of David, has won the victory, and he can break the seven seals and open the scroll” (Rev 5:5, GNT). Scholars commonly question the degree to which a translator has the right to read their own interpretations into the biblical text, especially when the translator’s exegetical decision making reaches an erroneous and disputed conclusion. In his essay examining the link between exegesis and expository preaching, for example, Robert L. Thomas cites criticism of the Good News Translation’s (GNT) of Revelation 5:5 in which it is called “blatantly wrong.” The issue lies with the reference to Christ as “the great descendant of David” (ῥίζα Δαυίδ) by the GNT, rather than as “the root of David,” which attributes the GNT rendering at least in part to a failure to reference Christ’s preexistence that is latent in the Greek.[1] Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines ῥίζα as “a root, a root that comes from,” and Δαυίδ as “David”. Nevertheless, although both translations do communicate the idea that Christ is a member of the Davidic line, “the root of David” better captures the messianic implications supported by Old Testament passages as Isaiah 11:10, as rendered by other translations, among them, the KJV, ESV, and NIV. Moreover, similar language is found in in Jeremiah 23:5-7 wherein Christ is prophesized as David’s heir who would assume the throne of the promised kingdom as “the righteous Branch.”[2]

The differences between the KJV and NIV translations of Colossians 1:13-20 are subtle, especially with respect to the MSG, which is considered more as a paraphrase. Whereas, the KJV and NIV translate “from the power of darkness” and  “from the dominion of darkness,” respectively, in verse 13, the MSG uses “dead-end alleys and dark dungeons.”

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross (Col 1:13-20, NIV).

Aside from some minor variations in wording, such as the use of the Elizabethan era word “hath” by the KJV as opposed to the NIV use of the modern word “has,” the most evident difference between the two is the passage ordering of verses 19 and 20. The KJV places peace through the blood and the cross prior to the reconciliation of the things on earth or in heaven, while the NIV positions the two concepts in reverse order. Whereas a comparison between the KJV and NIV translations principally hinges on word choice and minor rearrangement of ideas, the MSG paraphrase reflects a significant departure in both form and function. The differences between the KJV and NIV translations of the passage are insignificant, as the differences noted in verses 19 and 20 do not detract from meaning. Whereas, the KJV and NIV navigate the tension between intelligibility, while remaining authentic to the Greek,[3] the MSG delves into a perceived modern-day context to seemingly achieve reader relatability. What is more, the MSG interjects broad interpretation into its translation (paraphrase) in a way that appears to compromise context conveyed by the biblical writer in order to better relate to modern readers. However, since referencing multiple translations is part of a well-rounded Bible study, the MSG provides, for many, a kind of commentary that helps supplement their understanding.

What would reading from a literal word-for-word translation of the original languages look like in English?

Matthew 8:1 as structured in the Greek (above).
“When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him” (ESV).
“When he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him” (KJV).
“Jesus came down the mountain with the cheers of the crowd still ringing in his ears” (MSG).
“When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him” (NIV).
Image source: A. Chadwick Thornhill, Greek for Everyone: Introductory Greek for Bible Study and Application. 1st ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2016), 21.

[1] Robert L. Thomas, “Bible Translations: The Link Between Exegesis and Expository Preaching,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 1, no 1 (Spring 1990), 70.

[2] Andreas J. Köstenberger and Richard D. Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2011), 191.

[3] Teresa Okure, “’In Him All Things Hold Together’: A Missiological Reading of Colossians 1:15-20,” International Review of Mission 91, no 360 (January 2002): 65.

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