In all 176 verses in this psalm about God’s Word, one in particular gives us the cure for sin and selfishness: we need to be “living according to your word” (Psalm 119:9). Great! But, someone new to Christianity can be overwhelmed by the hundreds of translations out there. How can they each read differently and still be God’s Word preserved to us through the centuries?
I. Galatians 4:4-5. After the canon was established, the gospel continued to be spread in Greek that, thanks to Alexander the Great who conquered a few centuries earlier, was a perfect and precise language to preserve God’s Word. The gospel spread faster by use of the Roman system of roads and preached at synagogues that existed wherever at least ten Jewish families resided. A few decades after Constantine made Christianity a legal religion and the “masses” were forced to leave paganism to flood the churches, Jerome translated the Greek Scriptures into Latin that would hold dominate for the next 1100 years. Latin was not very perfect or precise but careful copying by the Masoretes and monks got us to the invention of the printing press in 1455.
II. Acts 12:4. The greater availability of God’s Word spurred on the Reformation a half century later but also stirred Erasmus to translate the Bible back into Greek. The problem? He didn’t have access to the over 5,900 ancient copies of the New Testament that we do today, and so he largely drew from the Latin Vulgate. His “textus receptus” was the basis for many of the early English translations, including the King James Version (KJV). It is the filtering of the Greek Word, pascha, through the Latin and the compromises with the pagan masses come into the church that the KJV renders that word ‘Easter’ instead of ‘Passover.’
III. Psalm 119:9-16. Later translations and the rise of textual criticism relied on better research and bring us ever closer to the originals, of which none still exist. In 1947, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were written about the time of Christ, confirm this in all the Old Testament books but Esther. We can be confident, then, that the translation you have in your hand or on your phone will allow you to be “living according to [God’s] word.”
The big question is “will you?” Most of us have more Bibles and various translations available to us than Erasmus could ever have dreamed of, yet we spend much time in other pursuits rather than studying God’s Word to live it out in our lives. We must live according to God’s Word so that we can one day live–according to God’s Word.