A long time ago, though in this galaxy and not one far away, I received an email from a girl named Melody Guy*, who said, “I’ve noticed there are Bible translations, and I am curious about your thoughts…may this find you flourishing. I am gobsmacked to discover ancient books aren’t written in English! Why didn’t they speak Real in ancient times? Please, as your mom told me to say, drop some precious wisdom on me. Thank you for all the work your researchers put into telling you what to say when you are teaching the Bible.”
Blessings, Melody, for giving me a topic for the daily post grind. I will be sending you a ministry update. Please respond as this helps us harvest your email and build the brand here. Anyway, Melody Guy, for a girl, you are quite a guy.
Melody’s question would make the top spot on Family Feud in the category: “Slightly Dim Things People Ask Me. “ Why? I’d say that most of the people reading this post aren’t fluent in any language other than Real. Neither am I**, so I ask Google translate to help me, hire researchers with legit educations to do the harder work as they are the best tools for translation and study. (What tools!)
The problem is that the Bible was not written in Real, which means in order to read the Bible, we need a translation that takes all that jib-jab and turns it into Real.
When looking for a translation of Scripture, we need something that takes the difficult stuff and makes it real to us. We need things put in our language. By way of a bad analogy, if Jesus were to call us on our mobile, after freaking out, we would want to have five bars and not some lame two bars as a signal. A good Bible translation is like having a lot of bars— like West Virginia where every town has many bars and Bibles.
Since Real was not developed in Bible times, God has to get things into Real through a process called translation. The original authors are dead, so we cannot get them to pay for this and so we hire scholars who work cheaply, because they have a skill they cannot monetize easily. Translation is tricky. Most LA residents can go into the shop and say: “Por favor donuts?” It works, but that will not cut it long term, so lots of saps spend years in graduate school learning to do better. Smart guys like I am just hire those morons to tell us what to say!
In our day, we are tremendously blessed to have a variety of English Bible translations that we can access easily. With so many to choose from, however, it’s helpful to understand why multiple translations exists, what’s the difference between them, and how we came to have any Scripture in our language at all.
As a result of the Fall, most people don’t speak Real and so peole have to choose amongst three thousand languages. While the thought of needing a translation might make people think they should study more, do not worry. Translators have done the work for you. Hire researchers and ghost writes to do the study for you. If you are kid th this called cheating, if your a religious celebrity that is called “the way we do things.”
What could wrong?
The quantity of New Testament manuscripts is unparalleled in ancient literature.
In translating the Bible into Real, five general categories of translation are most common: word-for-word, thought-for-thought, paraphrases, plagiarisms and corruptions. The same five options are also used in the translation of other ancient books into Real.
Word-for-word encourage people too lazy to learn another language to think they can escape that hard work. How? They pretend that translation can be literal. Word-for-word translations forget the nuance of metaphor in a language and the gap of time between us and the human author matters. The result is often a wooden, unreadable set of prose that loses the poetry or the style of the original, like a prose translation of Homer’s sublime poetry, it loses as much as it gains. Word-for-word translations are generally at a high-school reading level and that’s not good since the source text is not just a matter of the “words” or the difficulty of the sentences, but of literary genre, form, or beauty.
Word-for-word translations tend to be the best for studying if you are the kind of bully-boy dolt that thinks losing poetic nuance is just a nuisance. Few decentl translations are really word-for word, though the New American Stanard Bible (ASB) has proven brutal to aesthetically sensitive people for decades. The English Standard Version (ESV) and the New King James Version (NKJV) are based on the The King James Version (KJV) and so are not word-for word, thank God.
The King James Bible (KJV) helped create Real. It is a not a word-for word translation, see the italics in the text that point to additions for flow and meaning, but all the better for it. It is a good balance of poetry and prose. Some people think that because of its use of archaic English, it is difficult for people to read, though my grandfather’s generation (he had eight years of formal education) read it. Let’s face it: the KJV was no easier for him than for us. We just demand ease and so ask for less beauty and more USA Today Bibles.
Every translation is thought-for-thought, but some tranlators (looking at you Fagles) decide to rewrite the book int their own image. This became popular at about the same time that Christians who are famous got a free pass on citations errors. The carelessness with text in both cases may be related.Thought-for-thought translations attempt the full nuance of each passage by interpreting the entire meaning and not just the individual words. Thought-for-thought translations may include words that were not included in the original text, it is a translation after all, to give the same meaning that the reader of the original languages would have had. Every translation does this and some do it more than others.
The most widely read thought-for-thought English translation is the KJV. In the USA, the second runner up is the even looters New International Version (NIV). The benefit of thought-for-thought translations in general is that it is the only way to actual translate. Sadly, some translators include their particular thoughts in the translation. Let’s call that a paraphrase, though some would call it incompetent.
At worst a paraphrase is how someone felt about the text and tells us more about the “translator” than than the original author. At best, a world class genius will give us a new piece of art (think Seamus on Beowulf) in working with the original and at the worst we will bet the Beowulf film.
Corruption is a problem. This happens with the translator has an agenda and makes the text say what he wishes them to say. This is like a pastor who somehow turns an ancient text like Song of Solomon and turns it into a Dr. Ruth sex manual.
Worst of all is simply lifting the ideas in a text like the Bible and claiming them as your own. Imagine stealing ideas from a writer. This is a form of translation called: plagiarism. Don’t do it.
Purchasing a good Bible: Do not turn the Bible into Product
Nothing is worse than getting a new Bible and discovering it is as feral as JW translation. You don’t just want a Bible, you want a good Bible, one that will not take Greek and turn it into Joel Osteen English.
The greatest gift any person has ever given me is a Bible (RSV) that my Mom and Dad gave me for Easter when I was eight and had just become a Christian. The Bible was green leather, my favorite color, with paper my Dad encouraged to fill with notes and poems, my name was on the front. I was a baby Christian reading that Bible, and reading it was hard work. It was hard, but I knew that if I found the text difficult, then I was the problem and not the text. It was time to do some hard work myself and not hire people to do it for me! Since I was eight, and my allowance was ten cents a week, this would have been hard.
When I first started reading the Bible, I realized that was not one book, but many. This collection of books was better than I was and so demanded I think, feel, and do for myself. Anything else, say hiring people to write this post would be arrogant and rebellious.
The Bible is unlike any other book I have ever read, because it was the Bible and not any other book I have read, but that is obvious. Better: the Bible has nothing to do with me, my brand, or my life. It is about God and God matters more than my natter, my name, or my nonsense. I must learn firsthand about God’s Word and never farm this work out to anybody else, especially when I try (so hard!) to communicate the beauty to you.
You are not called to enjoy God’s Word, but to read and obey. You will eventually enjoy the Bible, the way working out becomes enjoyable after passing through the pain. There are application you can use, I use OliveTree, but all of them are fine. Never trust anyone who hawks a Bible product.
Get a Bible and read it. Most of the world in most of history has not had that ability, so take advantage of it. Don’t fall into Bible consumerism. The Gideon Bible in your hotel will help you. Don’t shop for a Bible, read the Bible. Here are some tips to avoid threading the Bible as another product in need of a listicle:
1. Get a Bible. Don’t be a consumer. Augustine could change the world with a Bible that would find defiecient. Avoid steady notes. Read the text for yourself at first in a community of Faith.
2. When buying a Bible, the general rule is not to confuse paper quality, binding, and other “stuff” with anything that matters. My grandparents were holy without all the tools hawked to us today and the Church Fathers changed the world with pieces of the Bible. Read, don’t buy.
3. Worry less about the “quality” of your binding and more about the quality of your soul.
4. There are many good translations and study Bibles, but my favorite is REB. Don’t worry about this. Do find a community in which you can read the text together. You can kiss yourself in a mirror and read the Bible alone. Do not do either often.
5. Lastly, feel free to write in, highlight, and mark up your Bible. This is a sign of your wealth, privilege, but also a good idea. Recollect: the Bible is a message, not a product. Get it into your heart and off the page.
Why should you read the Bible? In part, because it is never your Bible: it is God’s Bible. Remember: what you call Real is just English . . . God spoke in ancient times in the language of ancient peoples. That means that God wants to speak to us in our language, but not with our assumptions.
*This blog is a parody. My dear friend Aria Guy did not in fact write this letter.
**OK. I took Greek in grad school, but this is a parody.
Much of this parody is adapted from a blog adapted from the book Doctrine “written” by Mark Driscoll and Dr. Gerry Breshears