A few weeks back, I wrote a post in which I discussed the perfect infallibility of God’s Word – despite the fallibility of all translations of God’s Word. Along the way, I made this statement:
We all rely on Bible translations, though because of sin, none of those translations are perfect. But God is perfect, as is his Word. We can and should be confident in this.
A few people asked me what I meant when I said that Bible translations are flawed because of sin. How does sin affect the translation of God’s Word? The simple answer is this: completely. And not because of any particular sin on the part of Bible translators, though Bible translators are sinners like the rest of us and could potentially sin by the choices they make as they translate. (That’s why all good Bible translations are rendered by committees, not by individuals.) Rather, sin affects Bible translators and Bible translations because of what theologians call the noetic effects of the sin. Noetic is an English word taken from a Greek word meaning to think, perceive, understand; thus when we speak of the noetic effects of sin, we are speaking of the ways in which sin has corrupted our thinking, our perception, and our ability to understand…anything.
When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, humanity was corrupted so deeply and profoundly that even our thinking is corrupt. Paul puts it this way in Romans 1:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness…For although they knew God, the neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened (Romans 1:18, 21)
Later, in Romans 8, Paul adds:
Those who live according to the flesh [i.e., in sin] have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:5-8).
Created in the image of God, the thinking of Adam and Eve was perfect apart from Satan’s influence and their sin. But evil corrupted their thinking, along with everything else in God’s good creation. So, too, we are corrupt in Adam (see Romans 5:12) – and our thinking with us. Apart from Christ, in our sin, we literally don’t think straight. Sin taints our best thoughts, prevents us from thinking better thoughts, and produces all sorts of intellectual errors. When my son’s mind wanders as he does his math homework, that’s because of sin. When he arrives at the wrong solution to a math problem, that’s because to sin, too. Don’t believe me, or think I’m overstating this? Even that is because of sin! The proof-in-the-pudding on the noetic effects of sin is that most people, including most Christians, don’t know about them, think about them, and some don’t believe it when they do hear it. We’re more fallen than we think. The thoughts of even the best and brightest of us are corrupt; our thinking is futile apart from God’s gracious intervention in the world through Christ.
Such a bleak outlook, of course, only highlights how stunning God’s grace in the gospel really is. If left to think for ourselves, we’d be utterly lost: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). But God did not leave us to think for ourselves: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). In more ways than one, the good news of the gospel is better than you think.