I took every Greek class available to me during seminary (except one textual criticism class). I have been accused these days of being obsessed with learning Greek. Ironically, one of the things all this Greek has taught me is an appreciation of English translations.

I will never forget this sage advice given to me by Dr. Curtis Vaughan: if you ever hear a preacher say, “What the Greek really says here is. . . ” and he goes on to explain that this mystery translation is not supported by any translations. . . be very cautious. We have so many good translations, if you can’t find one that brings out the meaning you imagine is in the Greek, there is a good chance it isn’t actually in the Greek.

For example, I was reading in Bruce Wilkinson’s book Secrets of the Vine recently. He was commenting on the verse that says, “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” John 15:2 (NIV) Bruce Wilkinson makes the point that the Greek word here is airo and should be translated “lifts up.” I thought immediately of Dr. Vaughan’s advice. I wondered if there was a translation that agrees with Bruce Wilkinson. Turns out, there are several. However, it is not the majority opinion.

John 15:2 (NIV) He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be
even more fruitful.

John 15:2 (GW) He removes every one of my branches that doesn’t produce fruit. He also prunes every branch that does produce fruit to make it
produce more fruit.

John 15:2 (ESV) Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear
more fruit.

John 15:2 (HCSB) Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will
produce more fruit.

John 15:2 (NKJV) Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more

John 15:2 (TLB) He lops off every branch that doesn’t produce. And he prunes those branches that bear fruit for even larger crops.

We can find commentators that agree with Bruce Wilkinson:

There are two things that the Father is said to do in his care of the vine. First, he is said to “cut off every branch that does not bear fruit. Generally this has been understood to be a purging away of dead branches in precisely the same sense that branches are said to be “thrown into the fire” and “burned” in verse 6, but I am convinced that most translators have missed the true meaning of the term “cut off in this instance. Undoubtedly, their translation has been made to conform to what they know or believe is coming in verse 6, but the translation is not the best or even the most general meaning of the Greek word aim which lies behind it. The word airo has four basic meanings, which are, proceeding from the most fundamental to the most figurative: (1) to lift up or pick up, (2) to lift up figuratively, as in lifting up one’s eyes or voice, (3) to lift up with the added thought of lifting up in order to carry away, and (4) to remove. In translating this word by the verb “cut off the majority of translators have obviously chosen the fourth of these meanings, for the reason suggested above. But the verse makes better sense and the sequence of verbs is better if the first and primary meaning of the word is taken. In that case the sentence would read, “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he lifts up,” that is, to keep it from trailing on the ground. — Boice Expositional Commentary – An Expositional Commentary – John, Volume 4: Peace in Storm (John 13-17).

Further, if you look at the way this word is translated in other places, it is not much of a stretch to see that “lifts up” is a reasonable translation. The following graph shows how this word is translated in various places in the ESV:


So, it looks like Bruce Wilkinson may be right. His view is hinted at, if not supported directly, by several translations. If an interpretation is not supported by any translation, I would be very cautious in adopting it.

On the other hand, it is often difficult for one translation to carry all the nuances of meaning that the Greek contains. One of the quickest and easiest ways of getting at the possible meanings of a text is to look at several translations.

For this reason, here is a question I often ask as I write Good Questions Have Groups Talking:

“How does your
translation have verse ____?”

It is a great question and one that you can ask nearly every week. And, with the advent of Smartphones, the question is more useful than ever. Without smartphones, we all have one translation each and a lot of us have the same ones. Anyone with a smart phone can have access to multiple translations quickly and easily. Let’s look at how multiple translations can enhance your small group Bible Study.

A great Bible program I have used for years is called Laridian. I know of no quicker way to cycle through translation than with this IPhone app. (Also available for Android, etc.) Once you have the Bibles open, you just click the upper or lower part of the screen and it cycles through the Bibles you have open. You can also have commentaries open and it will cycle through those. There are other Bible programs, but for quickness of looking at multiple translations, Laridian is the best. One click moves you to where you want to go:

One other great thing about Laridian, by the way, is that the books stay with you. I bought a number of Bible for a Palm device I had years ago. I later migrated to the Mobile PC platform, and now the IPhone. All the books I bought for the Palm worked for the Mobile PC and now for the IPhone. Some Bible have links to Strong’s numbers so you are a click away from defining the word in its original language. There is also a PC version so that the books you buy for your handheld are accessible on the PC. Let’s look at what you can do with these tools.

Suppose you are studying Nehemiah. The NIV has verse:

Nehemiah:1 (NIV) The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa,

You ask: how does your translation have verse?

Someone with a smartphone looks up the verse in the Living:

Nehemiah:1 (TLB) The autobiography of Nehemiah, the son of Hecaliah: In December of the twentieth year of the reign of
King Artaxerxes of Persia, when I was at the palace at Shushan,

You can dig around in the commentaries and find that Kislev is more or less December, but a quicker way to find out is to look it up in the Living. You lose something in accuracy here, because the Hebrew calendar does not line up with ours. It may, in fact, have been late November. But, if you want a quick approximation of the time, looking it up in the Living will get you there.

This same thing is true with dollar amounts. Look at the NIV and the Message of this verse:

Matthew 20:2 (NIV) He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

Matthew 20:2 (MSG) They agreed on a wage of a dollar a day, and went to work.

Dollar a day may not be exactly right, but it will get you close. I don’t recommend you use the Living or Message as your only translation, but as a supplement, they are great.

This is an example of how multiple translations can help you with simple things. Sometimes, they draw out more complex subtleties. Consider the various translations of Romans2.1. The King James has “reasonable service.” Imagine you are studying this in your group and you ask how the translations in the group treat this verse. Here are
some translations you might look at:

Romans2:1 (NIV) Therefore, I urge you, brothers,in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.

Romans2:1 (CEV) Dear friends, God is good. So I beg you to offer your bodies to him as a living sacrifice, pure and pleasing. That’s the most sensible way to serve God.

Romans2:1 (NASB) Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.

Romans2:1 (MSG) So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.

Romans2:1 (NLT) And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.

Romans2:1 (TEV) So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer.

Romans2:1 (NKJV) I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.

Romans2:1 (AMP) I APPEAL to you therefore, brethren, and beg of you in view of [all] the mercies of God, to make a decisive dedication of your bodies [presenting all your members and faculties] as a living sacrifice, holy (devoted, consecrated) and well pleasing to God, which is your reasonable (rational, intelligent)
service and spiritual worship.

Romans2:1 (NET) Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice–alive, holy, and pleasing to God–which is your reasonable service.

It is a difficult verse to translate because the word reasonable can be translated spiritual and the word service can be translated worship. Looking at the verse in several translations gets you started in becoming acquainted with the issues. One more.

In Proverbs 29.18 we read a classic verse on leadership, or so we think. Look at how differently the KJV translates this when compared to everyone else:

Proverbs 29:18 (KJV)  Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

Proverbs 29:18 (NIV) Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law.

Proverbs 29:18 (CEV) Without guidance from God law and order disappear, but God blesses everyone who obeys his Law.

Proverbs 29:18 (GW) Without prophetic vision people run wild, but blessed are those who follow {God’s} teachings.

Proverbs 29:18 (ESV) Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.

Proverbs 29:18 (NASB) Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law.

Vision speaks of an organizational goal–a dream to build a building or start a ministry. But, this is not what the verse is talking about at all. It is talking about the revelation of God. The New King James made this correction:

Proverbs 29:18 (NKJV) Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; But happy is he who keeps the law.


What a time to be alive!  Bible study is better than ever. With a room full of smart phone equipped saints, you can have access to multiple translations quickly.