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?]

5 comments:

Edward Albright said...

The New World Translation is the most accurate translation. The ones who read it the most do the best to follow it.

Highland Host said...

Mr. Albright, first of all, the NWT is NOT accurately translated. I have studied Greek for two years in an academic setting, and I can assure you that the NWT is only marginally more accurate than the 'Voice'. The level of linguistic subterfuge and manipulation found in the NWT is simply astonishing. As you no doubt know, those who habitually read the NWT do their best to follow, not the Bible itself, but the interpretations given by their Governing Body in Brooklyn, New York. Since this body has several times falsely predicted the end of the World, and has claimed that the world will end before the generation that saw the events of 1914 has passed away, its reliability as an interpreter of Scripture is open to serious questions, to say the least.

Edward Albright said...

The fact that you resort to making derogatory comments about the governing body of Jehovah's Witnesses, shows your bias on the subject.

The interpretation of the governing body is the teaching to the entire congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses.

The governing body has not falsely predicted the end of the world. The senior member was appointed in 1976. The governing body did not translate the NWT, unless you were referring to the governing body of the 1940's and 1950s. But they are not alive today, so why do you complain in the present about people in the past?

Highland Host said...

Mr. Albright: I do not resort to 'derogatory remarks', but to the truth. Has the Governing Body of today ever repudiated the actions or statements of the past Governing Body? I do not think that it has. Indeed, there is a direct historic continuity, is there not? In other words, although the Governing Body that presently exists has not one member who was a member in 1914, the Governing Body as an organisation (and let me make it clear that it was to to organisation AS SUCH, and not to its present membership that I referred) is officially the same governing body as existed before 1976, just as the United States Congress today is legally and officially the same body that existed a century ago, although not one member is the same.

Yes, I have a 'bias'. There is no-one who does not have one of those, and those who say they are unbiassed are commonly the most biassed of all because they think that their position is just 'the natural one to have'. On the basis of the Greek text of the New Testament I have concluded that the teachings of the Watchtower Society are wrong and extremely dangerous.

But my main contention remains this: The NWT is not an accurate scholarly translation (and there is no-one outside of the Jehovah's Witness organisation who would say that it was such). I refer to the false predictions of the End of the world as empirically verifiable evidence that the Governing Body (as an organisation) can err and has erred in the past as an interpreter of the Bible. The past, they say, is prologue.

Edward Albright said...

"Mr. Albright: I do not resort to 'derogatory remarks', but to the truth."

The fact that you start talking about the NWT then resort to denigrating the GB shows that you resorted to derogatory remarks.

" Has the Governing Body of today ever repudiated the actions or statements of the past Governing Body? I do not think that it has. "

Sure it has, but you may not see it all in print. One should not judge Jehovah's Witnesses solely on what is in print or by what the governing body has said or done.

"Indeed, there is a direct historic continuity, is there not?"

No, the GB today was not the GB from 1966-1975. They were not there in 1920s.


"In other words, although the Governing Body that presently exists has not one member who was a member in 1914, the Governing Body as an organisation (and let me make it clear that it was to to organisation AS SUCH, and not to its present membership that I referred) is officially the same governing body as existed before 1976, just as the United States Congress today is legally and officially the same body that existed a century ago, although not one member is the same."

There is a continuity because it is Jehovah's Organization. Jesus is the one that is the head of the congregation. But people like to focus on the human side of things.

"On the basis of the Greek text of the New Testament I have concluded that the teachings of the Watchtower Society are wrong and extremely dangerous."

Teachings of the Watchtower? What about the teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses? What about the teachings of the Bible?
And why focus on the Greek text? Why not focus on the truth that transcends the Greek and Hebrew texts, i.e. the heavenly things?

"But my main contention remains this: The NWT is not an accurate scholarly translation (and there is no-one outside of the Jehovah's Witness organisation who would say that it was such). "

So what of it? The teachings of JWs are supported by other translations. The teachings existed prior to the NWT.

"I refer to the false predictions of the End of the world as empirically verifiable evidence that the Governing Body (as an organisation) can err and has erred in the past as an interpreter of the Bible. The past, they say, is prologue."

Regardless of any premature statements of the end dates, Jesus is still the son of Jehovah God and the great high priest who also sacrificed himself and offered himself to Jehovah.