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Monday, July 23, 2007

A Translational Journey

Wayne asked me to give BBB readers a more formal introduction than I gave in my first post, and while I'm hesitant to devote an entire post to my personal biography, I do think knowing where people are coming from helps us to better understand their perspectives. I'll therefore give a brief summary of my personal and professional life, and then talk a bit about my journey through various English Bible translations. The discussion of which English Bibles I prefer will also help lay the foundation for an upcoming post.

In terms of my personal life, I grew up in a nominally Christian home, but rarely went to church. I came to faith in Christ as a teenager and began attending church on my own. I would describe my denominational background as "American mutt," having attended various kinds of churches over the years; but for purposes of knowing where I come from on this blog you can classify me as generally "conservative evangelical."

In college, I majored in Religion at Florida State University, which meant I typically only agreed with my professors about football! I began studying Classical Greek and Biblical Hebrew so that I could better debate with my profs, and quickly fell in love with both languages. While I never came to share my professors' views, I did come out of college with a much more nuanced understanding of the Bible. Ultimately, I guess that means that "liberals" tend to view me as a "fundamentalist," while "fundamentalists" suspect me of being somewhat "liberal." :-)

I attended seminary after college, taking Koine Greek and Biblical Hebrew. At that time, I married an incredible young lady named Lisa, began working as a writer for a local church (ghost-writing books based on the Senior Pastor's yearly sermon series), and began having babies right away. (Okay, my wife had the babies!) With a job I loved and a growing family to support, I eventually dropped out of seminary.

Around the same time, I began moonlighting part-time for a small company that developed Accordance Bible Software for Macintosh computers. I knew virtually nothing about computers (still don't really, that's why I use a Mac!), but soon learned how to develop modules for Accordance and contribute to the design of the program's interface. I now work for Accordance full-time, and the various projects I've worked on have kept me from completely forgetting my Greek and Hebrew, as well as teaching me more than seminary ever could about the historical and geographical context of the Bible.

Now, having told you more than you ever wanted to know about my personal history, let me talk a bit about the various English Bibles I've used along the way.

When I first began reading the Bible as a teenager, the only Bibles in the house were a Living Bible and a King James Bible. I tried both, but quickly settled on the KJV. Somehow, the Living Bible seemed too colloquial; it just didn't sound "Biblical" enough to my ears. The KJV sounded majestic and familiar—it was the same language I had heard watching movies like Ben Hur and King of Kings as a kid.

While I did okay reading from the KJV, it was always an exercise in translation rather than mere reading. As good as I might become with Elizabethan English, its vocabulary and modes of expression would never be the same as the ones I use every day, so I had to translate from that language into my own. That meant reading the Bible was work.

After a while, I had a Sunday School teacher who read from the New International Version. I'll never forget the first time I heard it. Written in good, clear, easy to understand English, it just seemed so transparent. The Bible was speaking to me in the language I used every day. I promptly went out and bought a ten-dollar hard-bound copy of the NIV, and began reading the Bible more regularly and consistently than I had before. Reading the Bible was no longer work, and it led to an exciting period of growth.

When I eventually went to seminary, most of my professors were teaching from the NASB, because it was supposedly "closer to the Greek and Hebrew." I did find that the NASB served well when I wanted a fairly wooden translation of the Greek or Hebrew, but I found its English to be so clumsy and awkward that it could never supplant the NIV for ease of reading and beauty of expression. At the same time, I was becoming proficient enough in Greek and Hebrew to realize that the NIV had its shortcomings as well.

In my work for Accordance, I've had the opportunity to get reasonably familiar with virtually every new translation available today. And as a homeschooling father, I've longed for a Bible I could standardize on for family Bible reading and Scripture memorization. For me, that has meant searching for a Bible which has reasonable fidelity to the original Greek and Hebrew, but which also has good, readable English. This, of course, is the balance which every new translation promises, but which none seems to achieve completely. I tried the ESV, which my church has standardized on, but personally found its English to be too awkward and archaic at points. Today, I've settled on the Holman Christian Standard Bible as my primary English translation. The HCSB has its quirks, and there are certainly places where I think it could be improved, but I find it to be very readable and generally very accurate.

In my own translational journey, I've always gravitated toward translations with good readable English more than those which try not to depart too much from the original Greek and Hebrew wording. I do, however, think there is a place for those kinds of translations. That will be the subject of my next post.


At Mon Jul 23, 09:15:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Welcome, David. I can agree that if you really knew about computers you wouldn't use a Mac! But, from what I have heard, Accordance is one of the best reasons for switching to a Mac.

I look forward to more from you.

At Mon Jul 23, 10:17:00 AM, Blogger Gary Zimmerli said...

Another HCSB fan! Our numbers continue to grow!

At Mon Jul 23, 02:45:00 PM, Blogger Doug Chaplin said...

David, I look forward to reading your posts. By a quirk of fate, you've joined up as a reader of HCSB the day after I took a first look at it and decided I really didn't like it at all. I will be very interested if some of your posts touch on its virtues and defects as a translation.

At Mon Jul 23, 04:20:00 PM, Blogger David Lang said...


Give me a little time to get my feet wet before I start posting about any perceived complementarian, anti-gay, and Robertsonian biases in the HCSB! ;-)

For now, I would just say that I see too much of a conspiratorial impulse these days when it comes to judging new translations. It seems every group has its shibboleths for ferreting out some hidden political or theological agenda on the part of the translators. Certainly all translation is interpretive, so we should not be surprised to find various leanings in every translation we read. Nevertheless, I've personally known scholars who helped translate the NIV, the TNIV, the ESV, and the HCSB. I've found that each one was well aware of his or her biases and sincerely tried to translate the Bible faithfully. We may disagree with their decisions, but I think we need to be more careful about impugning their motives.

At Tue Jul 24, 06:08:00 AM, Blogger John Radcliffe said...

But the problem, David, is that it's not just a case of a "perceived" bias in this case. This is what the introduction of my (recently purchased) HCSB has to say:

"Some people today ignore the Bible's teachings on distinctive roles of men and women in family and church and have an agenda to eliminate those distinctions in every arena of life. These people have begun a program to engineer the removal of a perceived male bias in the English language."

That seems pretty unambiguous to me. It also sounds like the plot for a conspiracy theory. It's a pity Holman weren't as careful as you in avoiding attributing motives to others. How I wish people involved with the production of Bible translations would avoid this sort of rhetoric.

However, I'm not willing to damn the entire translation just because of what it says in the introduction. I'll base my own conclusions on what I find in the translation itself.

At Tue Jul 24, 07:54:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

While I probably should consider the entire HCSB, I don't see why girls should be brought up without 2 Tim. 2:2. How would a man like having other key verses blacked out for him? It is very disconcerting.

At Tue Jul 24, 09:36:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

John suggests that "It also sounds like the plot for a conspiracy theory." Well, if the "conspiracy" in mind is the one to reverse "the removal of a perceived male bias", then it is a well documented but not very secret one, centred around the 1997 meeting which produced the Colorado Springs Guidelines, which HCSB and ESV claim to follow.

At Tue Jul 24, 10:56:00 AM, Blogger John Radcliffe said...

Peter, the conspiracy I had in mind was the "program" to re-"engineer" the English Language that some have "detected". Surely what you refer to is designed to combat this supposed threat?

At Tue Jul 24, 01:17:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

John, thanks for the clarification. Yes, you are right. In my personal and rather speculative opinion, the alleged conspiracy you refer to is a combination of two factors, a real language change such that "man" and "he" are not widely understood as gender generic; and a policy in some quarters, especially the academic world, to deprecate what is seen as gender stereotyping in language. Well, just as one person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter, so one person's policy is another's conspiracy. But I don't know of anything secret or underhand being done here. I would be interested if anyone has any evidence of anything like this.


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