Monday, December 29, 2008

'Strict and Particular' Proved right

In a previous post I linked to a WorldNet Daily story about an alleged 'Homosexual bible Version' called the Princess Diana Version. While WND took the story completely seriously, I warned:
Take the whole thing with a pinch of salt until you see one of these things in print, because it looks like a publicity ploy to me.

I let the whole thing rest for a while, before checking back on the story this morning. Lo and behold, the whole site has changed its appearance, and the 'except of Genesis' given on the site is now completely different. Instead of being about two female homosexuals, 'Aida' and Eve', it now contains a version of the evolution story. I therefore conclude that there is no 'Princess Diana Bible' project, just a website that is actually intended as a joke (not a terribly funny one, but a joke nevertheless). I note that one of the comments quoted in the sidebar says 'Congratulations on a hilarious parody site'. The top banner of the site now reads "A gay Christian is like a black Ku Klux Klansman". Hardly an endorsement of so-called 'Gay Christians'

So who is behind the site? I don't know, but there are two options, firstly, an atheist homosexual, or second, a Christian with a rather tasteless sense of humour. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

Do I think that it is perfectly fine to mess with the text of the Bible like this? No. At the same time, we Christians ought to be careful that we do not take what is obviously just a rather tasteless joke seriously. There is no 'Princess Diana Bible', just the 'excerpts' published at the site. It will not appear in print, and Christians getting worked up about it is simply playing into the hands of the publicists, and making themselves look silly.

The clues were there from the beginning: The WorldNet Daily headline read: "New 'Bible': Heterosexuality is sin". No-one actually believes that, and so we conclude that the author does not, and the content of the site as it has evolved demonstrates this. Christians should therefore ignore it and at all costs avoid becoming hysterical on the matter.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Further Thoughts on 'The Voice'

If there is one thing that I came away from the free PDF of the Gospel of John on The Voice website with, it was a feeling that this so-called translation is nothing of the kind. And the Preface of the Voice confirm this. Here is how it describes the process by which The Voice was produced:
"First, accomplished writers create an English rendering; then, respected Bible scholars adjust the rendering to align the manuscript with the original texts."

This is completely the opposite of a good translation methodology. In a good Bible translation (such as the ESV) what happens first is that a team of linguistic scholars will produce a faithful rendering of the original text, and then a team of English stylists will make sure that it is good English as well as a good translation. This is important because some scholars are not very good at writing clear English, as the New English Bible demonstrates (hence the Revised English Bible). In effect, what the Voice is is actually a paraphrase of an existing English translation (which is the only way that those who do not know the original languages could produce a 'rendering' of a Bible passage) that has been checked against the original. So once again, it fails the test of a translation completely.

The Voice also uses some non-traditional words. The rationale is explained in the preface:
"Words that are borrowed from another language or words that are not common outside of the theological community (such as “baptism,” “repentance,” and “salvation”) are translated into more common terminology."
This sounds good, but there are two objections to it. Firstly, that it is impossible to actually follow this methodology. Read this:
"The Immerser knew his place in God’s redemptive plan. John the Immerser was a man sent from God, but Jesus is the Voice of God. John rejected any messianic claim outright. Jesus, though, accepted it with a smile, but only from a few of us—at least at first. Don’t get me wrong, John was important, but he wasn’t the Liberating King. He preached repentance."
This is obviously The Voice, but look at all those theological words, including one that the preface specifically mentioned, 'Repentance'! Why? This brings us to the second objection, which is that these are technical terms. Every part of life has its technical terms, and every science. Theology is not immune, and nor is religion. Listen to Dr. Lloyd-Jones:
"Take the argument about the terms that the modern man does not understand, 'Justification', 'sanctification', and so on. I want to ask a question: When did the ordinary man ever understand those terms?... This is a very specious argument, but it does not hold water." (Knowing the Times [Edinburgh, Banner of Truth, 1989] P. 111)

The Voice is also downright misleading in some translations. Take just the title. It is derived from the translation given by The Voice to the Greek word 'Logos', translated 'the Word' in other versions. But why is this? Simply because that is the usual meaning of the word 'Logos'. Greek has a perfectly good word for 'voice', namely 'Phone', which is usually rendered as 'voice' in English. The same is true of its rendering of 'Christ' as 'The Liberating King'. This is interpretation pretending to be translation.

What about defenders of the Voice? One of the worst I have seen (and the inspiration for the illustration on this one) was a commenter on Extreme Theology. The fact that Emergent advocates of the Voice also call the critics 'the Elders' (I resent that, I'm 28) had some input into the illustration too! I have read the Voice version of John's Gospel, and the idea of anyone using this as their Bible Version is just too horrible to contemplate. But like The Message, it is being marketed as a Bible version, not as a paraphrastic interpretation.

The biggest failing of The Voice is its extreme expansion of passages. This is intrusive, and it puts man's interpretations on the level of the Word of God. It also actually detracts from the poetry of the Bible itself. If "writers, musicians, poets, and other artists" were involved in this, they must have been very egocentric!

This idea that we need a 'translation' that is nothing of the kind to reach Postmoderns betrays a lack of confidence in what God actually breathed out. Apparently for the Bible to reach people today it has to be added to, paraphrased and chopped around! No, it just needs to be properly translated and sent out into all the World.

This is God's world, whatever 'Emergent man' might say!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Insanity and Bible PER-versions

The other week Chris Roseboro's item about The Voice, the new Emergent 'Bible version' caught my attention, and I considered blogging it. I decided not to at the time. But now a new story has come to my attention that means that Bible per-versions are on the menu again for this blog.

It cannot have escaped the notice of anyone who has not been living under a rock for the last few decades that there has been a proliferation of new Bible versions, from the excellent ESV to the Good News Bible (an Anglican clergyman once remarked to me "If I hear about 'God's Covenant Box' one more time I think I'll go mad."), to the horror that is The Word on the Street (formerly The Street Bible). I for one have nothing against the desire to translate the Word of God from the original languages into the language of every tribe and nation on the planet, including English. The Authorised Version is a good translation, but it is not inspired, and some of its language is archaic. What is more, the translators were restricted in some of their choices of words, and Greek language study has advanced since 1611, as has the number of manuscripts available to modern translators. It is simply irrational to confine ourselves to sixteenth century scholarship, and Anglican Scholarship at that!

Having said that, do we really need so many Bible versions? Ignoring the multiplicity of study Bibles for just about everyone (except me, because I'm just an ordinary white Brit, and we don't count), there are dozens of translations out there. But that's just a thought.

No, my main point has to do with what I call Bible perversions. I know this language is used by rabid KJV-Only writers such as Gail Riplinger to describe any version other than the Authorised Version, but I use it in a more restricted sense to describe supposed Bible 'versions' that are in fact guided not by a desire to accurately render the Greek and the Hebrew in the receptor language, but by a partisan and personal agenda.

This 'Princess Diana Bible' (warning, do not follow the link if of a nervous disposition, or holding a drink over your computer keyboard) is a prime example. That is, if it is not a parody, which I am not convinced that it is not. Look at it, it's linked to a movie, and it could well just be a publicity stunt. My advice is not to take this too seriously until the truth is revealed. Of course, if it is a parody, it works because it is close to the truth, just one step ahead of it. So take the whole thing with a pinch of salt until you see one of these things in print, because it looks like a publicity ploy to me.

Parody or not, one of the statements on the official website caught my eye:
According to Mitchell, "There are 116 versions of the Bible, why is any of them better than ours?"

If this is not a parody, the answer is "because the ESV and other genuine Bible versions are carefully translated from the original languages with a concern for the actual meaning of words, and are not driven by a personal desire to make the Bible say what I want it to. Whether or not Mitchell is actually serious, his words challenge us to ask the question: What makes a good Bible version? One way to answer that is to look at a bad one.

An example of this that is genuine is the Voice New Testament (official site). This is trumpeted as "A dynamic Translation that brings the Biblical narrative to life." 'Dynamic' is definitely the word, but 'translation' is stretching it a bit. This is actually a paraphrase of the Biblical text. This chart is used to show how The Voice compares with other 'versions' (although The Message is actually a paraphrase, not a translation). The Voice italicises those words that have been added 'to clarify' the text. This is acceptable when it is done properly, but rather than adding just a few words here and there to make Greek into good English, the Voice adds whole clauses and even sentences wholesale. Take this random example from their site:
"When you are filled with the Spirit, you are empowered to speak to each other in the soulful words of pious songs, hymns, and spiritual songs; to sing and make music with your hearts attuned to God; and to give thanks to God the Father every day through the name of the Lord Jesus, the Liberating King, for all He has done." Ephesians 5:19-20, in The Voice translation

Remember, words in italics are not in the original Greek Text (I looked, I can't find them). That means that two clauses in this text are simply added to it. The original says nothing about being 'empowered' by the filling of the Holy Spirit, nor does it refer to 'soulful words'. Then look at some of the language chosen for actual translations. To translate 'Christ' as 'Liberating King' is introducing an interpretation into the text, not translation. I would have no objection to 'God's anointed one', since that is an English version of 'Christ', but that is to miss the fact that 'Christ' or 'Messiah' had become a personal title by the time of the New Testament. So of this text, abut 60 words in this English version, fifteen, or a whole quarter of the text, have no antecedent in the Greek whatsoever, and have been arbitrarily inserted because someone thought they made it sound better!

How did this happen? The Voice website gives the answer:
"Previously most Bibles and biblical reference works were produced by professional scholars writing in academic settings. The Voice uniquely represents collaboration among scholars, pastors, writers, musicians, poets, and other artists."

There is a completely different philosophy at work here. The reason why Bibles have historically been translated by textual scholars is that the Bible was viewed as being inspired by God, and so the aim of translating was to render the original text faithfully in a receptor language. In 2 Timothy 3.16 we read:
"All Scripture is God-breathed..."
Despite the Voice's declaration that it:
"Respects cultural shifts and the need for accuracy"
The level of accuracy in this 'translation' is terrible. It adds reams to the Word of God (in a side-note, I found myself wondering how much longer than a proper New Testament The Voice is). But the Greek is very specific. every word of the Bible is breathed-out by God. The Voice is no more an accurate Bible version than the New World Translation of Jehovah's Witnesses or the Inspired Version of Joseph Smith. And if the Princess Diana Bible really exists, then I add that to the mix as well.

The Voice certainly does speak, but what it speaks is not the pure Word of God, but the Word of God twisted and distorted by our ideas. Let the Bible speak, let God speak, and let people read what God has said. The old Bible Societies committed themselves to distribute the Word of God 'Without note or comment' beyond mere textual and translational notes. There was a good reason for that, which is that notes in a Bible can easily be mistaken for inspired (I think of the way some people have viewed the Scofield Reference Bible). If that's true of notes in the margin and under the text, when notes are actually inserted into the text, it is almost certain that people will think they are what God has said. My only advice must be: Don't buy The Voice.

[Illustration: a reader expresses his opinion of these false Bible 'versions'. If Centuri0n can do it, why can't I?]