An Italics Mini-Rant

There is no perfect translation of the Scriptures. However, some are better than others. In my study I use the King James Version, English Standard Version and the New King James Version, as well the Hebrew and Greek. I am most fond of the NKJV for preaching. One reason is that it leaves in italics. Italics in the Biblical text tell you that the word is not found in the original Hebrew or Greek. Normally this is simply filling in the blanks. For example, I opened the Bible at random and found Acts 20:1

And after the uproar was ceased, Paul called the disciples to himself, and embraced them, and departed for to go into Macedonia (NKJV). 

You can see here that “himself” and “them” make sense in context even though they are not actually in the text. Does it really matter if those two words are italicized? I think it does and here is why. Look at these two versions of I Chronicles 17:25

For You, O my God, have revealed to Your servant that You will build him a house. Therefore your servant has found it in his heart to pray before you. (NKJV) 

For you, my God, have revealed to your servant that you will build a house for him. Therefore your servant has found courage to pray before you. (ESV)

It is the last phrase that interests me. You can see that the NKJV has indicated by italics where they inserted a phrase to make the text clear. The ESV has not. Therefore if someone reads the ESV they will assume the word “courage” is in the text when it is not. Now I think that can be implied from the text, but it would still be nice of the ESV let us know they were supplying the word. That way the reader can judge for themselves the accuracy of the supplied word. 

Here is one more example from the New Testament, Hebrews 9:18:

Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood (NKJV). 

Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood (ESV). 

“Covenant” makes sense in the context of Hebrews 9. However, as a reader I would like to know that the translators supplied it. Will it make a big difference? No. But it will help me trust that the translators are letting me know when they put words in. Italics are a kindness to the reader. Also here is another reason why pastors should be able to get around in the original languages, if not read them fluently.