Bible Translations

Comparing Bible translations is important in sermon development. Let us look at several translations of Isaiah 10:27, which have to do with breaking a burdensome yoke. We will start with the King James Version (KJV):

And it shall come to pass in that day, that his burden shall be taken away from off thy shoulder, and his yoke from off thy neck, and the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing.

The KJV is a wonderful translation. It has a certain beauty, power, and authority. This is often my go-to translation. True, some of its languages are archaic. However, on the whole, the KJV is a fairly accurate one. There are exceptions and Isaiah 10:27 is one of them.

What does the original Hebrew say? The text reads, “The yoke shall be destroyed because of shamen” (pronounced SHA-MEN). The KJV translators understood shamen to be the equivalent of shemen, oil, which apparently led them to think of oil for anointing.

What is the text actually saying? It’s best to understand shamen here as “fatness”, which would produce a literal translation of, “The yoke will be destroyed because of the fat.”

The New American Standard Bible (NASB) is a very literal translation.

So it will be in that day, that his burden will be removed from your shoulders and his yoke from your neck, and the yoke will be broken because of fatness.

It is accurate but is not the most readable. What does fatness mean?

The New International Version (NIV) provides greater clarification:

In that day their burden will be lifted from your shoulders, their yoke from your neck; the yoke will be broken because you have grown so fat.

The NIV is somewhat of a paraphrase, but its meaning is not obscure. It gets right to the point.

What about our “modern” New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)?

On that day his burden will be removed from your shoulder, and his yoke will be destroyed from your neck.

The NRSV bypassed the whole discussion of fatness altogether.

Let us look at fatness. We have an ox with a yoke on its neck, enslaving it to the will of its master. But eventually, it gets so healthy and fat that the yoke simply bursts from off its neck. That ox is now free!

When we find ourselves bound or oppressed or beaten into submission by the enemy. We simply feed our spirits the living Word day and night, we continue in worship and praise and prayer and communion, and little by little, we get so healthy and strong—so “fat”—that suddenly the yoke of oppression has to burst. The fatness destroys the yoke!

As can be seen, we may need to compare various translations to understand what is being said. Word study is also important. We need to look at the root Hebrew and Greek words of the original text.

Because the NIV, in this case, seems to convey the clearest meaning of Isaiah 10:27 does not suggest it is the superior translation in all cases. Occasionally it seems to favor certain underlying theological interpretations. Early versions of the NIV had some New Age notions, which we may discuss at another time. They have subsequently been sanitized somewhat.

The ending of the Gospel of Mark has been altered by some of the latest translations. This is because they are based on original texts that were dated earlier than the one used by the King James translators, for example. The earliest texts may not always be the most accurate texts, however. The carefulness of the work of the scribes comes into play.

Can you imagine the Gospel of Mark abruptly ending this way?

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

In some translations it does. The enemy does everything that he can get away with to obscure the Gospel message. Our task is to illuminate it with God’s help.