Bringing Good News to Jerusalem

When I was a pastor, I generally preached from the NIV. However, anyone familiar with the Hebrew text knows that there are some inconsistencies in the way the NIV translates some Hebrew words. These inconsistencies are not helpful to pastors who preach and teach from the NIV. They are also not helpful to lay people who use only one version of the Bible and do not use other versions to compare translations of specific verses.

There is one place where I believe the translation of the NIV is superior to the translations of the NRSV, the RSV, and the ESV.  This better translation is found in Isaiah 40:9. This verse in these four translations reads as follows:

Isaiah 40:9 (NRSV): “Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’”

Isaiah 40:9 (RSV): “Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’”

Isaiah 40:9 (ESV): “Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’”

Isaiah 40:9 (NIV): “You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’”

In the NRSV, the RSV, and the ESV, it is Zion (Jerusalem) who is commanded to go to a high mountain, and it is Zion (Jerusalem), who, as the herald of good news, is commanded to proclaim to the cities of Judah the advent of YHWH.

These three translations differentiate between the messenger who proclaims good news on God’s behalf in verse 6 and Zion as the messenger who proclaims good news to the cities of Judah.

In Hebrew, the construct form of the verb is difficult to understand. It literally means: “Messenger of Zion.” The Greek of the Septuagint translates: “The one bringing good news to Zion.” The Latin Vulgate translates: “You who evangelizes Zion.”

The Hebrew verb mebasseret is a participle feminine. In Hebrew, the participle feminine form of the verb is used to denote an office or an occupation such as sophereth, the office of the sopher or scribe (Ezra 2:55; Nehemiah 7:5). Thus, the mebasseret in Isaiah 40:9 is a title that should be applied to someone who was appointed to proclaim good news to Zion and not to Zion as the one appointed to proclaim good news to the cities of Judah.

Thus, I believe that the NIV translation, which regards Zion as the receiver, and not the proclaimer of the good news, is a better translation.

The text in Isaiah is not calling upon Jerusalem to make known the good news to the cities of Judah. Rather, the messenger of God is to proclaim the good news to Jerusalem; he is to announce to Jerusalem (and in a sense, to the people of Israel), that after many years of lying desolate and waste, that her time of servitude has come to an end and that the time of release would soon come to pass (Isaiah 40:2).

The translation found in the NRSV, the RSV, and the ESV is awkward, because it gives Jerusalem the duty to proclaim to the other cities of Judah that the exile was over for the nation. It is also awkward to believe that the city of Jerusalem was called to go up to a high mountain and proclaim to the other cities of Judah that the Lord was about to bring the people back to the land.

Thus, when it comes to Isaiah 40:9, I believe that the translation of the NIV is a better translation. This commendation of the NIV has something important to say about Bible translations. Every translation of the Bible has its strengths and its weaknesses. No translation of the Bible is perfect, not even the King James Version.

Serious students of the Bible must learn how to use more than one version of the Bible and compare translations to gain a better perspective of the intent of the original writer. When translations differ, and they will differ, Bible students must consult good exegetical commentaries to gain a better perspective of what the biblical writers were trying to communicate to their readers and to us.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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3 Responses to Bringing Good News to Jerusalem

  1. Thank you. Question: can I assume the Jewish Study Bible has fewer such problems in translation? I also like the way the New Jerusalem Bible reads, but is it any more reliable?
    I have no training in Hebrew and rely on Strong’s when in doubt.
    Mike

    Like

    • Mike,

      The Jewish Study Bible is a good translation and I use it often. Every time you see me quoting from the TNK, I am using that version. You have to remember that no translation is a perfect translation. However, every translation of the Bible allow us to know what God is trying to communicate to us. Scholars may differ on how one verse or one words should be translated, but this does not change the overall message of the Bible.

      Claude Mariottini

      Like

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