when the Bible you hear reads differently from the Bible you know

 

What do you do when:

  • you are met with something you’ve not ever heard before?
  • what you read or hear is very different from that with which you are accustomed?
  • you encounter a reading in a translation of Scripture with which you are not familiar?
  • the same truths you’ve heard expressed in a certain way or wording all your life are put forth in different words?
  • the Bible you’re reading now seems to teach something other than your current understanding of the text?
  • the person on the pew next to you totes and uses a version of Scripture other than your own?

Do you:

  • develop a bias toward all things old, reject anything new, and pine away for a simpler time?
  • assume the new rendering is mistaken and close your mind to any other possibility?
  • presume there is some sort of dark agenda or suspect the work of conspiracy on the part of translators?
  • lock your mind into only what teachers or loved ones in time past taught you to believe?
  • proudly tell yourself that you can read Scripture as well as anyone and need no real help making sense of it?
  • grumble over the constant change of things and how you wish Bible publishers would just leave well enough alone?

Or, do you:

  • remind yourself it is God himself who creates new things every morning and is constantly bringing about change?
  • find yourself spurred on in thought with an open, inquiring mind?
  • consult quality, objective resources that could help shed light on the matter?
  • open your mind to the teachers and loved ones with whom God has crossed your path now?
  • humbly consider yourself dependent on God and others to sharpen you on all things related to Scripture?
  • give thanks to God for the ceaseless labor of knowledgeable others who enable us all to have a Bible that reads the way we speak today?

May our time with Scripture ever be full of the latter and utterly devoid of the former.

elder qualifications: comparison of translations (1)

 

Have you ever witnessed someone attempt to translate or interpret one language into another? It’s a telling sight, isn’t it? No matter how fluent the interpreter, one thing becomes quickly obvious to all who are witnessing the work: a great many words simply don’t have a one-to-one correspondence in meaning in another language. After all, we’re not talking about number here, but words.

Consequently, what might be conveyed well in one language by a single word might require several words in another language. Similarly, what is said in the language being rendered might legitimately be communicated several different ways in the receiving language. The danger, of course, in all translation from one language to another, is that something can (and will) be lost in translation. A nuance of meaning might unintentionally be slighted, stressed, or over-looked. The meaning a word has in one context could accidentally be substituted for its meaning in another (a great many words have two or more meanings). Etc.

All of this is obvious when watching two people converse to each other through means of an interpreter. The interpreter – a qualified and adept one, at any rate – will regularly be forced to hesitate or pause as they consider all the possibilities open to them for translation. Choices must be made and those choices frequently demand something on the order of “compromise” in the off-loading of all the freight a word carries in one language onto the word(s) of another. The person receiving the translation – a thoughtful and honest one, at any rate – will always bear this in mind and will allow for a bit of “play” in what they’re receiving. They know better than to expect everything to be perfect or “tight” because if for no other reason, there is that common lack of one-to-one correspondence in words, etc.

Now if the translation work is being done between living people and a question arises as to how best to render something, the translator need only pause and ask the person being interpreted to run that by the translator again, rewording the matter. In that rewording, the translator receives a fuller understanding of the meaning that was intended to be conveyed. Often, it’s in this second shot at grasping what was meant that the light bulb turns on in the translator’s mind and they’re then enabled to offer an interpretation.

However, the work is much more difficult if the translation is not between living people in immediate contact with each other and where query, exchange, and clarification can take place. Let’s suppose that in place of a conversation between two people and an interpreter we have instead one person reading the writing of another in a different language. If there’s a question as to meaning or if clarification is longed for, that’s just too bad, for the one who wrote the material is not available to ask. The interpreter will simply have to do the best they can with the knowledge they have within themselves or available to them from others, but not the original author. Naturally, the translator – a good one, of course – will likely come close to capturing the intended meaning, but there will, of necessity, be some loose ends, as it were.

Now let’s compound the matter even a bit further. Let’s say the translator is not only working to interpret a written piece in a foreign language and the author is not available for contact, but that which was written was penned numerous centuries ago, in an entirely different culture, and coming from a totally different world view. Further, the language used is now a “dead” one, that is, it has not been written or spoken by a people for many centuries. Perhaps needless to say, but say it we will, such a translator’s task just increased in difficulty exponentially.

Now with all of that in mind, I say all of that in order to say this: it’s precisely in this last scenario in which we find seated those who serve as translators of the the writings we’ve come to know as the Bible. Their work is not at all easy. Put several of such scholars in a room together working to translate the same portion of text and quite often several different views as to what would be the best way to “say it” will come forth. On occasion, they will not even be able to come to total agreement as to what was intended by the original author, much less on how to best convey it, for interpretation is inherent to translation, you see.

This leads us to make three observations:

1. We all owe those who translate the Scriptures an tremendous debt. Thank God for the work of Bible translators everywhere!

2. Our understanding of the Biblical languages grows as time goes by. Since we cannot ask the original writers what they meant, we stand on the work of scholars who have studied these languages and each generation that follows has carried our understanding forward just a bit. This knowledge dramatically increased not only in terms of the base with the discovery numerous manuscripts in the 19th and 20th centuries, but also took off in terms of speed with the advent of the computer.

3. Students of the Bible do well to compare quality translations with each other and learn not just from one, but from them all. This is something nearly any English-reader of the Bible can do with ease for their are a number of good translations available. And in light of preceding point (2), we would only needlessly and greatly handicap and hinder ourselves by limiting our reading and study to translations that were created decades, perhaps even centuries, ago.

Imagine, for example, what an uproar there would be, and rightly so, if suddenly your children’s school decided to use only American history and science textbooks written one hundred years ago! Such would be unthinkable, but when it comes to Bible study, many readers of the word of God limit their encounter with Scripture to translations produced several decades, a full century, or perhaps even several centuries ago. We can do better and the best place to start would be with (1): thank God for the work of Bible translators, including, and especially, those of modern times!

Starting tomorrow, I want to lead by example, as it were and at the same time, do a bit of your homework for you. I’ll do this by comparing several of the texts of the New Testament directly related to the work of elders, laying the wording of several translations alongside each other, without comment, for easy comparison. In that comparison, you’ll notice both continuity and variety, giving evidence of, in the receiving translation (English) of different possibilities or wording (synonyms), nuances (shades of meaning), development (increased understanding of the original text), and adaptability (replacing words that have changed their meaning or dropped out of use with current and contemporary terms).

We’ll begin, in tomorrow’s post, with the best known texts: 1 Timothy 3.1-7 and Titus 1.5-9. After that we’ll take a look at texts not as well known or as frequently consulted (1 Timothy 5.17-22, 1 Peter 5.1-4, etc.).

7 reasons why I preach from a variety of Bible translations

As I typically put up on projection via Powerpoint the majority of Scripture texts I use in a given sermon, I often, and quite deliberately, make use of a variety of English Bible translations. Though I might reference a dozen or more texts, they might appear from as many as a half a dozen different versions.

Have you ever wondered why I consider this a good thing to do? I think this approach offers a host of pluses, but let me share just a few of them with you here, in no particular order.

1. It “shows my work” to the people and thereby, ups my credibility. In effect, it silently says to those assembled: “Yes church, I’ve done my homework on this passage and looked at it through several different lenses. I’m not flying by the seat of my pants here. You can take this to the bank.”

2. It exposes people to matters many of them would otherwise never be exposed to in Bible study. It asks: “Did you know there’s a whole new world of understanding out there in a different cover? There’s much to learn from actually studying your Bible.”

3. It models good study habits to the church that they can imitate. It tells people: “Here’s a way you can study, not just read your Bible, and you’re already well equipped to do it. It’s as simple as closely comparing the wording of a text in several different translations and pondering what they have in common and how they differ.”

4. It does healthy pastoral work by allowing the pulpit to reflect the variety of renderings used by the variety of people in a flock. For example, it subtly says to that singular user of the Good News for Modern Man, “No, I haven’t forgotten you; we have this in common.”

5. It allows me to utilize the rendering I sense does the best job of conveying the text’s meaning rather than simply using a version because a lot of people do and then having to explain that version’s quirkiness. Think about how many times you’ve had to say something like this: “The rendering of the _____ is unfortunate here because …” Using a variety of translations lets you get back to wrestling the demons that needs to be grappled with, not the translation demons.

6. It injects just another little bit of variety into a sermon and that helps people remain attentive, thinking, and engaged. You’ll know that’s happening when someone comes up to you afterward and says something like: “Hey preacher, I noticed the ____ uses the word ___ and my version, the ____ uses the word ____ and that got me to thinking …”).

7. It helps put the emphasis where it belongs, on the word of God and not on any one “brand” of God’s word. After all, what we’re about is not about a particular version of the Bible, but the “Thus saith the Lord,” right?”

that’s right, I’m unique

I’ve always known I was unique. Hey, my name is “David Smith,” hardly original, but I am an only child. Still, across the years I’ve felt the hankering for more evidence of my “uniqueness.” And then this morning dawned with the proof embedded in the results of a survey by the Christian Chronicle.

Not long ago, the Chronicle randomly surveyed 1,100 people with this question: “What Bible translation do you prefer to read?” I was one of those surveyed. Note those figures: one thousand, one hundred people … and me.

Now those of you who know me know my answer to just such a question would depend on what hour of the day you asked me. I routinely read, consult, compare, and study from quite a number of English translations. While, most of my preaching the past several years has been from the  TNIV and NRSV, that’s not been the case of late. With the advent of the CEB and the 90 day New Testament reading project my church family is involved with the first three months of this year, I decided to utilize the Common English Bible in most of my reading, writing, and preaching during the project. Which also happened to be the period of time in which I received the Chronicle‘s query.

Scan the survey results to your left and do the math. Notice the next to the last result in the survey, the percentage of those who responded as preferring to read the Common English Bible. If you surveyed 1,100 people and 0.1% responded a certain way, how many people would that 0.1% represent?

That’s right, just for the record, go ahead and scratch out “0.1%” and scribble my name in its place. And to the 1,099 of you who helped confirm my suspicion, thank you very much. And to all, check out the CEB. I believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised and will find it to be one of the easiest-to-understand renderings out there today.