Beware of Bible experts
They believe that you don't understand the Bible unless you read it in the original languages. They think you should learn words like "haft" and "buckler." They advocate the use of wooden translations as being preferable to those written in contemporary language.
I want to believe that they are poking fun at themselves. But sadly, they are very, very serious.
Why is that?
It's because in the process of mastering ancient languages they have lost their own. Mastering Greek or Hebrew or Ugaritic is no mean feat. To get to the point where you can fluently read all those squiggles requires years of effort.
We should respect these people and listen to them when they tell us about the scansion of the Psalms. Or the laments of Jeremiah.
But when they start telling us how to speak English they just need to be listened to patiently and then ignored. And when they start telling us that our Bible translations should sound wooden, well, just roll your eyes and smirk a little.
Because they have forgotten the mother that gave them birth. In suckling at the teat of ancient languages, their taste for good home-cooking has soured.
Let me ask you a simple question. Where did 5th graders learn to speak English? From their parents. They speak the way they do because that is the way their parents speak. So a translation that "speaks" like a middle-schooler is speaking English the way it is spoken today. Not like Sir Philip Sidney. Or King Lear. Or even Barbara Walters. But like real people speaking real language in a real world.
The experts want us all to learn a bridge language called "Biblish." It's spoken by the NASB and the NRSV and KJV. And most of the people in attendance at the Society of Biblical Literature in Boston speak Biblish, too.
Or do they? I read their blogs and they very often sound like they're speaking the English of 5th graders. Jim West called his camera "sweet." John Hobbins called someone a "wannabe." So I know they have it in them. While they're telling you that all the secrets of God's Word are hidden in the original languages, they spend their evenings watching American Idol and House.
Thankfully, there are exceptions. Martin Luther was one. He listened to mothers and children to test his German translation of the Bible. Barclay Newman hung out with children and people unfamiliar with the Bible to produce the CEV translation. Desiderius Erasmus said, "Would that the farmer might sing snatches of scripture at his plough, that the weaver might hum phrases of scripture to the tune of his shuttle." (See this post for more quotes)
My favorite quote in that post is in the comments:
On another note, since I haven’t said it for a long time, I will repeat it now. Good News for Modern Man, the mother of all DE translations, was the only translation I read the New Testament in, cover-to-cover, as a teenager. That’s because it is clear and easy to understand.
Once I began learning Hebrew and Greek, the limitations of TEV became clear to me, but then, the limitations of NASB, which many of my friends at the time preferred, became even more palpable.
That's John Hobbins of the aptly named Ancient Hebrew Poetry blog. Listen to him, my friends. Because on this point I completely agree. The best translation for the majority of people, whether children or adults is a clear translation written in idiomatic English. The next step should be diving into the turbulent and murky original languages, not trying to cross the very rickety bridge language called Biblish.
For some quite contrary points of view read:
Labels: Bible translation