Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Lost in Translation Revisited:

This week I have taken upon myself a study of the various English translations of the Bible. So far I have been privileged in sampling over twenty biblical versions. Conducted an in depth study of formal equivalence or word-for-word as well as dynamic equivalence or thought-for-thought translation theories. Been through the debate over gender-inclusive language. Still I have not cast my vote on the “King James Only” controversy.

Those who know me know that I am not a great supporter of the KJV. Over 300 words in the KJV have changed in meaning. Example in James 5:11 the word pitiful today means “deplorable or pathetic.” Yet back in 1611 the meaning was, “one who has pity on others.” Today the verse can be easily mis-interpreted. We also see in James 2:3 the phrase “gay clothes” may be interpreted with a homosexual meaning whereas in the KJV its true meaning is “fine clothes.” For those of us preaching God's Word you can see some of the problems the late 16th century English language can negatively impact the message being conveyed. Add to it that back in the 16th and early 17th centuries the Hebrew and Greek texts available were deficient to what scholars have access to today. Many critics of the KJV point out translation differences such as Matthew 23:24 which the Greek text is now interpreted as “strain out a gnat” and not “at a gnat.” To me it is just splitting hairs. Even with all the attacks the KJV has received it has stood the test of time for nearly 400 years. In seminary our professors have advised us to always be prepared to give your sermons in the King James version. This has been hard for me to accept but after reading some of the findings of my latest study you too will find it to be sound advice.

During the past ten to twenty years there has been a deluge of new English bible translations. With it like computer software we have witness numerous updates and revisions. My favorite is the New Living Translation which in my opinion has no real association with the infamous Living Bible than in name reference. The second edition is a major revision compared to the first one that I fell in love with. Even the English Standard Version published in 2002 was revised in 2007 with over 360 changes to it. The New American Standard Bible has been updated several times the latest in 1995. The NASB is seen as the measure that all word-for-word translations are compared too. The New International Version with its combination of word-for-word and thought-for-thought translation combination began to outsell the KJV in the mid-1980's. A sales force focusing on direct sales to churches rather than just individual retail sales helped push more than 110 million NIV's sold to date. America loves its numbers.

One of the problems being created with so many translations out there is with Bible verse memorization. Which translation is best to teach our kids? The KJV is rated with a twelfth-grade reading level. Add to it the need to translate the archaic language back into modern English and then interpret its life application. As Southern Baptists should we use the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) as our primary Bible of choice? First published in 2004 which is ultimately a product of the Southern Baptist Convention. This is a personal issue for me being a Southern Baptist myself. The HCSB is a bit more literal than the NIV yet less than the NASB or the ESV.

This whole thing reminds me of standing in front of the counter at Starbucks and asking for just a plain coffee. Nothing is plain anymore and good old vanilla does not seem to be on the top of anyone's list.

So now I have come full circle. My first bible was the KJV. I found it hard to read and understand. Today I find it still complicated and that complication has forced me to study more and seek out God's Word. That has lead to the collection of a personal biblical library and a thirst to seek God's will daily. What is the best Bible? The one that moves you into His service.

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