Friday, May 29, 2009

The Name and the Promise

You have exalted Your name and Your promise above everything else. (Psalm 138:2 HCSB)
For the past ten months or so, I have been using the Holman Christian Standard Bible for my morning Bible reading and praying in the psalms. Over the years, I have heard this verse quoted often, from the King James and similar versions: “You have magnified Your word above all Your name” (NKJV). Much was made of the idea that God exalted His Word even above His name. This was not meant to take anything away from the name of God, but to demonstrate how valuable is His promise.

However, as I was praying recently through this psalm, I noticed that the Holman Bible renders it quite differently: God’s Word is not exalted above His name, but both the name and the promise of God are exalted above everything else. So I did what I usually do when I am intrigued by a verse or phrase or word in Scripture. I went checking through other versions to see how they have it.

The King James, the New King James and the Modern King James have “word” magnified above “name.’ So do the Jewish Publication Society Bible, the Douay-Rheims Bible, the Revised Version, the Literal Translation of the Bible, the Bible in Basic English, the Third Millennium Bible and Young’s Literal Translation. But here are how some of the other versions read:
You have exalted above all things your name and your word. (New International Version)

You have so exalted your solemn decree that it surpasses your fame. (New International Version 2011)

You have magnified Your word according to all Your name. (New American Standard Bible)

You have exalted above all things your name and your word. (English Standard Version)

Your promises are backed by all the honor of your name. (New Living Translation)

You have exalted your name and your word above everything. (New Revised Standard Version)

You have shown that your name and your commands are supreme. (Good News Translation)

Most holy is your name, most holy is your Word. (The Message)

You were true to your word and made yourself more famous than ever before. (Contemporary English Version)
The Amplified Bible has it both ways! “You have exalted above all else Your name and Your word and You have magnified Your word above all Your name!”

Just goes to show that translation is not an exact science. Actually, there is a bit of an art to it. Many of the variations between the versions, once you get past the distinction between the dynamic equivalent translations (such as the NIV) and the more literal formal translations (like the NASB), is pretty much just a matter of style. But sometimes the text itself can be so nuanced (or, at times, even uncertain), it is not clear how it should be rendered.

I have lived with the one translation, where God’s Word is magnified above His name, for many years now, though the logic of it seems a bit disjointed concerning the being of God, and I have never been fully able to explain it, even to myself. So I think I will meditate on the other translation for awhile. It makes more sense to me that the name of God and the promise of God are on a par with each other, while they are both highly exalted above all else. That, it seems to me, is as it should be.

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