In the beautiful thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, Paul writes a paean to love. When I was fifteen, I memorized that chapter, and even though my old age makes my memory foggy, that chapter remains a treasure in my heart. I learned it in the King James Version, and that is the version that is most often quoted, even when the teachings are abused, because of its poetic qualities.
The King James Version, however, is not an all-purpose translation. As I learned to understand the archaic language that challenges any contemporary reader, I learned that there was value in using a variety of translations. One reason is the complete impossibility of a “word for word” translation from any language to any language. The “word for word” concept relies on the denotative meaning of a word, but anyone who ever looked up the definition of an English word knows that the denotation of a word may include a long list of varied definitions.
Unwillingness to delve into the usage, the definitions and the clouds of connotation around words may lead some readers of that beautiful chapter astray when they try to apply it to daily life.
Furthermore, we all learned in high school about the difference between the connotation and the denotation of a word, and that connotative cloud makes things even more complicated. Look up the word love for example, and think about the connotative cloud around every possible denotative definition of that word. Right away you will begin to see why even the most faithful, dedicated, and conservative scholars have long conversations when they share the work of translating the ancient manuscripts of the Bible.
This discussion explains why it is valuable to use a variety of translations when studying the deep meaning of any passage. The thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians is one of the most beloved passages in the Bible, but unwillingness to delve into the usage, the definitions and the clouds of connotation around words may lead some readers of that beautiful chapter astray when they try to apply it to daily life.
Take 1 Corinthians 13:5, for example.
The English Standard Version, today’s direct descendant of the King James Version, says, “[Love] is not irritable or resentful” (1 Corinthians 13:5).
The most conversational translation around is The Message, and it not only takes a few liberties with precise language, but it also suffers from the problem of being the work of one man. Nevertheless, it does a good job of helping a contemporary reader see the word resentful more clearly. Peterson translates the final clause this way: “[Love[ doesn’t keep score of the sins of others.”