With the recent announcement of a new, wide-margin edition of the God's Word translation of the bible, I thought it appropriate to look at some of the best features and translation choices of this lesser known bible translation. When first introduced in 1995 many of these translation choices were novel. Since then, most of them have been adopted by more recent translations and become standard practices among bible translators. While not nearly as well known as some of other translations debuting in the same era (e.g. NLT, the Message, ESV, etc.), God's Word is truly a groundbreaking translation that deserves more credit, publicity, and widespread usage among translations in the middle of the spectrum between the poles of formal and dynamic equivalence.
1) Translating the Shema of Deuteronomy 6.4
God's Word renders Deuteronomy 6.4 as, "Listen, Israel: The LORD is our God. The Lord is the only God." This translation understands the Shema as a cry of allegiance to God rather than a detailed theological observation on the unity of God--an interpretation advocated by a number of Old Testament scholars, including Dr. Daniel Block. This understanding is not new, William Tyndale translated Deuteronomy 6.4 in the same manner; however, from the 16th century until the 20th century, most English translations followed the lead of the King James Version, despite a number of prominent scholars advocating for a different translation. God's Word follows the GNT and NRSV and precedes the NLT, NIrV, and The Message, who similarly adopted Tyndale's understanding.
2) Translation of John 3.16
Undoubtedly, John 3.16 is the most well-known bible verse among the English-speaking world (and maybe all over the world). One is hard-pressed to find an American English speaker who doesn't know this verse in the familiar King James English. The trouble is, however, that 'so' in Elizabethan English communicates the manner by which something was done instead of describing the extent of that thing. In other words, putting John 3.16 into proper contemporary English (and properly translating from Greek) yields:
God loved the world this way: He gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life. -- John 3.16 (GWT)
The CSB (2017) is the only major English translation that translates this clearly and eliminates the chance that readers misunderstand 'so' as 'so much,' a mistake that other popular translations have made.1
3) Translating torah as teaching instead of law
The Hebrew word torah has traditionally been translated into English as law, even though a number of Hebrew scholars suggest that a better English rendering is teaching or instruction. God's Word consistently translates torah as teaching where the context refers to what is traditionally understood as "the Law." In addition to GWN, only the HSCB/CSB and the CEB (both using 'instruction') follow the commentaries and lexicons, breaking with longstanding tradition--which again in this case is prone to lead to misunderstanding of what the underlying Hebrew text actually means.
4) Translating adelphoi as brothers and sisters
For many years, students of Greek have learned that the plural adelphoi, traditionally translated as brothers, can properly mean brothers and sisters when the context understands the speaker/writer is addressing a mixed audience. While some suggest that translating the Greek term this way is a capitulation to liberal cultural sensibilities, I have never seen a Greek lexicon, commentary, or teacher suggest that this is anything but proper Greek. God's Word opted for this translation in 1995. Now, even translations such as the CSB and ESV (via footnote), both of which are held in high esteem by very conservative Christian scholars and denominations, follow this practice and explicitly translate the word to include both men and women, where appropriate.
These four items are just a few of the strong points of God's Word translation. I have written elsewhere (here and here) about other choices made by the God's Word team that I think are helpful to our understanding of Scripture in today's English-speaking context.
Translation choices that may have been received as edgy 25 years ago are now understood as a best practices and have been adopted by multiple translations. Whether or not the choices made by the God's Word translators directly affected these other translations is impossible to say. It is refreshing, however, to know that choices advocated in scholarly commentaries and the best Hebrew and Greek lexica are now finding their way into the bibles many English-speaking Christians routinely hold in their hands. While I am hesitant to discard the tradition that has been handed down to us through the Church, I am quick to advocate for a more clear understanding of God's word. For those seeking a middle-of-the road translation that is suitable for preaching, teaching, worship, and devotional reading, God's Word is a solid choice and deserves your time and serious consideration.
Note: I'm not receiving anything from God's Word to the Nations for this article or others I've written. I simply think this translation is a great one that deserves more exposure and more widespread usage in the Church. I hope you'll think the same.