My pastor is working his way through Galatians, and this morning’s sermon was on Gal 3:23-29. I found fertile ground for thinking about differences between translations. Here are some examples:

Sentence structure: The UBS Greek text has 4 sentences in this paragraph. The RSV, ESV, and NIV use 6 sentences; KJV, NKJV, ASV, and NASB use 7; NLT uses 11. Why so many sentences in the NLT? The answer is that Paul uses a complex argument with lots of ideas. In contemporary English, we tend to use a new sentence for each new idea. So the NLT, with its focus on clear communication of the meaning of the text, uses more sentences.

“Faith” or “the faith”? In 3:23, I’m mystified as to why the formal-equivalence translations have all omitted the definite article before “faith.” KJV, ESV, and many others read, “Now before faith came.” In English, this use of “faith” without a definite article implies the concept of faith. What? Did the concept of faith begin with faith in Jesus Christ? I don’t think so. Furthermore, the Greek text has a definite article: tēn pistin “the faith.” So Paul is not talking about faith as a concept. He’s referring to some specific kind of faith.

Granted, in English it would sound odd to say “Now before the faith came.” The NIV and HCSB attempt to capture the nuance by using “this” for the definite article: “Before this faith came.” But the NLT sees “faith” in this context as being more than just faith in Christ. After all, Paul’s argument in this pericope is the contrast between the “system” of law and the “system” of faith. So the NLT translates the meaning of the Greek as follows: “Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us.”

Is it permissible to add words? In the phrase just quoted, the NLT translates pistin as “faith in Christ.” But since the Greek text does not explicitly use the name Christ in v. 23, why does the NLT use it in English? It fits with the NLT’s translation philosophy of dynamic equivalence. Everyone would agree that Paul is talking about faith in Christ (as he just said in v. 22). But he uses shorthand, referring simply to “the faith.” And since the NLT renders tēn pistin as “the way of faith,” it clarifies that this is not just any “way of faith,” but “the way of faith in Christ.”

The use of metaphors: Paul uses three metaphors in quick succession in vv. 23 and 24. First he uses two different metaphors in v. 23 to show that the law had “confined us” and “held us prisoner.” But the meaning of these metaphors as metaphors is not instantly understandable in English (and perhaps it wasn’t readily understandable in Greek, either). So the NLT helps the reader in v. 23 by making explicit that these are metaphors: “we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, . . .”

In vv. 24 and 25, Paul uses the metaphor of the paidagōgos (rendered by various translations as “schoolmaster,” “tutor,” “guardian,” “custodian,” “disciplinarian”). Paul uses the Greek word hōste (typically rendered as “so” or “so then”) to show the relationship between what preceded (his first two metaphors) and what follows (this next metaphor). To show that Paul is now using a different metaphor to get his point across, the NLT renders it this way: “Let me put it another way.”

Well, that’s enough for now. But if you compare a pericope like this in multiple translations, you’ll see even more differences between them. And as I said in an earlier post, “Vive la différence.”