The other day in Bible class I read aloud from Joshua 1:8:
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous and have good success.Joshua 1:8, ESV
A young lady in the class spoke up, “My Bible doesn’t say be careful. It says observe.” She then read the same verse from the New King James Version.
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.Joshua 1:8, NKJV
Whenever we compare multiple translations, we will notice little differences like this all over the place. Translation isn’t an precise science. One group of translators think the Hebrew word is most similar to the English word “observe”, while other translators feel that “be careful” a better representation. This is a very small difference, but it is helpful to notice. It suggest that neither “observe” nor “be careful” are perfect representation of the original Hebrew word. Most likely the Hebrew word shares meaning with both English words, as in “careful observation.”
This is just one small example of how comparing multiple translations can give us a better feel for the original text. Sometimes the differences between translations are small, such as in Joshua 1:8. Other times the differences are more significant. Notice how the ESV and the NKJV translate Romans 8:1.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.Romans 8:1, ESV
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.Romans 8:1, NKJV
That’s a big difference! The NKJV is twice as long, and seems to suggest that the reason there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus is because they are not walking according to the Spirit the way they should. Why does the ESV leave this part of the verse out? (Or could it be that the NKJV added this part of the verse for some reason?) We need to do a little bit of digging to find out.
If you had only read Romans 8:1 in one translation, you might not even notice the need for extra research here. But since you compared translations, now you know. That’s why it is important to compare different translations.