Forests And Trees

I got a little carried away this afternoon in looking at Romans 5 for our group Bible study tonight and wound up reading it to Dawn in five different translations. I was planning on only using a couple for comparison’s sake but verse 14 is just confusing in the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and that was the one I read first, “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.”

What does that mean? Everyone is in the likeness of Adam since we are all his descendants, so that can’t be it. The NASB is extremely literal, focusing on an exact translation of words and phrases (the trees) sometimes to the detriment of the author’s actual meaning (the forest).

What does the English Standard Version (ESV) say? It’s still pretty literal but not as strict as the NASB. The ESV reads, “Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.”

Well, that’s a little more clear. It’s left up to us to figure out what transgression of Adam Paul is talking about here. We know Adam disobeyed God by eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge but what are we supposed to understand from that, exactly?

The 2011 New International Version (NIV) finally spells things out for us, “Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.”

Aha, Paul is saying that sin and death held sway from Adam’s time through Moses’s even over people who didn’t sin by breaking one of God’s commands like Adam did. We’re making progress.

The New Living Translation (NLT), even more thought-for-thought (less literal) than the NIV, puts it thus, “Still, everyone died – from the time of Adam to the time of Moses – even those who did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did. Now Adam is a symbol, a representation of Christ, who was yet to come.” (The rest of the chapter makes it clear that Adam is a type of Christ, so that part wasn’t really in question.)

Eureka, a clear and concise translation! I’m sure there are a lot of folks who would have figured this out after a cursory reading of the NASB but I’m not one of them.

It’s great that we have access to such a plethora of translations today. If, like me, you find yourself reading a passage and thinking “What in the world does that mean?”, I suggest you try something a little less word-for-word and a little more thought-for-thought. It could really help clear things up.

Oh, and the last translation I read was the Common English Bible. It wasn’t bad, really, but simplified things so much that the meaning seemed to be lost or obscured in places. At any rate, that’s just my two cents.

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