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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Are you provoked enough to attend church?

A couple of Sundays ago I was startled to hear the word "provoke" during the epistle reading from the pulpit Bible at our church:
And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb. 10:24, 25 NRSV)
I have always understood the word "provoke" only to refer to causing someone to have negative feelings, such as anger or resentment. But there was the word in the Bible reading in a context where the provocation was to do something good. When we got back home I checked my English dictionary and, to my surprise, discovered that there are meaning senses of the word "provoke" which do not necessarily refer to a negative result. The example given in my dictionary was of provoking laughter. I don't know how many people can use the word "provoke" in a neutral or even positive context, but, apparently, some do.

For my own ideolect and, I suspect, the ideolects of many other English speakers, the word "provoke" is used only in negative contexts. Because of that I prefer alternates words in Heb. 10:24, 25 including "stir up" (RSV, ESV), "spur on" (NIV, NET), "encourage" or "encouraging" (CEV, NLT, ISV), and "stimulate" (NASB).

To me, the lesson here is that a Bible version should use vocabulary that is accurately understood by the largest percentage of people of its target audience. Dictionaries are sometimes cited by English Bible translators as indicators of how people understand words, but dictionaries seldom tell us what percentage of people understand which meaning senses for each word. I do not believe in "dumbing down" Bibles nor writing to the lowest common denominator, but I do believe that the words used in a Bible translation should be ones that evoke the desired meaning as the primary meaning that the most number of people have for those words.


At Sat Feb 25, 09:26:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

I think I've mentioned in the comments elsewhere that I've been using the HCSB more. The phrasing the translators use in this passage puts the writer's urging in the context of the local church members' concern for one another:

“And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
(Heb 10:24-25 HCSB)

At Sat Feb 25, 10:37:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Thanks for mentioning the HCSB wording, Rick. I had looked at it, but because it didn't parallel the other versions I didn't know how to compare it for the post. I'm still not sure, but perhaps it's in the "encouraging" group. Would that be your guess, also?

At Sun Feb 26, 12:40:00 AM, Blogger Dickie Mint said...

FWIW, there's a guy in our church who often prays that we might provoke each other - and I think most of us would share your understanding of the word, Wayne! He uses the NASB for his own reading of the Bible so I can only assume he's somewhere along the line picked it up from the AV.

Incidentally, the AV seems to use provoke in a less direct sense that the NRSV - "And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works."

Have a good day.


At Sun Feb 26, 11:26:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

Wayne, yes, I would see it in the encouraging group--encouraging community and accountability. Plus, I like the idea of promoting love and good works. Anything we feel positive about, we promote (late Middle English: from Latin promot- "moved forward," from the verb promovere, from pro- "forward, onward" + movere "to move").

At Tue Feb 28, 04:47:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Wayne, your posting is thought-provoking, but I assure that the thoughts which have been provoked are not entirely negative!


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