Ahah! God really does speak my language!
Our friend completed her work in Mexico. One day she had the opportunity to read another Bible translation that had just been completed, this time a translation done in her own mother tongue. As she read, she laughed. And she fully understood at that point why the tribal group in Mexico had laughed when they heard God's Word in their mother tongue. She could understand the Bible more accurately and clearly than she ever had before, even though by now she spoke English well and had spent many years exegeting the Bible and helping translate it into a Mexican language that she had learned well.
My mother tongue is a standard dialect (West Coast) of American English. I have had that same feeling that our translator friend did when I have read three different versions of the Bible in my mother tongue. The first was when I was about junior high age and I got to read the Living Letters in paperback, distributed by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. I could not believe this really was a Bible. The English in it did not sound like I was used to hearing and reading and memorizing the English Bible. It sounded just the way I spoke and wrote.
The next time was when I was a student in Bible school. One summer I counseled at the Word of Life Bible Camp in Schroon Lake, New York. Not long before I traveled to New York to counsel, I had purchased another paperback Bible, this time one with covers that looked like newsprint, with newspaper names from around the world. The translation was called Good News for Modern Man. I would walk into the woods on the beautiful Bible camp island and have my personal devotions using this Good News translation. It was so clear. It spoke my language. It did not sound like the more complicated, less clear, English of the Bibles we used at Bible school in our Bible analysis courses.
Fast forward many more years. My wife and I had been helping the Cheyenne Bible translation program for many years. We heard about a new paraphrase/translation called The Message. As each part of it was completed by Eugene Peterson, we purchased it. I was wowed. As I expressed it to some people, it "knocked my spiritual socks off." (And, yes, sometimes I laugh when some of Peterson's wordings impact me so strongly.)
Now, as a translator I am well aware that each of the English Bible versions that affected me so strongly because they were written in my own dialect of English has some issues. Every Bible version has issues. The Living Bible was too free as it communicated the overall message of the Bible so well to millions of people throughout the world. The Good News Bible was criticized for some of the exegetical decisions made by its translation team. Of course, it got the usual criticism that any "idiomatic" or "dynamic" translation gets. And The Message has been similarly criticized. My highest priority for a Bible translation continues to be accuracy. My wife have our family devotions after breakfast from The Message. We notice the places where we feel the translator didn't get the accuracy quite right. But each of these translations did for me what the translation in Mexico did for that tribal group, and what the German dialect translation did for our Bible translator friend who read the Bible for the first time in her mother tongue, after reading the Bible for many years in German dialects which were not the same as hers, and in English, and in the language of that tribe for which she had helped translate in Mexico. These translations did for me what few other English translations do. They cause me to say, "Ahah! God really does speak my language!" And that is a very special feeling. I wonder if Jesus' disciples ever thought back on his ministry after he had returned to heaven and said, "Ahah! Jesus came from God to earth. And he spoke our language!"
I realize that my reaction to the English of various English Bibles will not necessarily be the same as yours. You may have a need for a different kind of English in a Bible that you use. Your Bible study needs may call for you to use a Bible whose English is not contemporary, or as clear as some other versions. But I do hope that sometimes you, also, can have that experience that millions of people around the world have when they realize, from a Bible translation, that God really does speak your language.
Categories: Bible translation, mother tongue, natural English, contemporary English, Living Bible, GNT, TEV, The Message