Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Bible translations

Things were going well for us

The Mennonite congregation in Moose Jaw was small, but we found the people warm and friendly. Being small, they overlooked the fact that we had not been baptized in the way they believed (immersion) and put us to work in the congregation.

One Sunday I was teaching the adult Sunday School class and one of the questions in the lesson, or rather the way the others ansered it, startled me. The question began with the scenario of a young couple that felt called to go to the mission field and seemed ideally qualified in every way, except they did not have a university degree. And the mission board required candidates to have a degree. What should they do? Look for a different opportunity to do mission work, or go to university and get the degree? Everyone in the class, except me, thought they needed to get that degree. I couldn’t grasp how that was supposed to help them be missionaries. But these people were almost all teachers or other professionals and seemed to feel that a degree trumped all other qualifications.

This was the time that Hal Lindsey’s book, The Late Great Planet Earth, was at the peak of its popularity. The pastor decided it would be a great idea to use it for Bible study through the winter, taking turns meeting in each other’s homes. I was fully bought into the premillenial scheme and beleived we were delving into deep Bible truths. I was dumbfounded when spring came and the pastor told me he didn’t believe the premillenial scheme. He had just thought that the book was a good way to get people interested in studying the Bible.

I don’t remember what Bible translation the pastor used, but it seemed that almost everyone in the congregation was using a different translation. I had accumulated a few different Bibles by that time and had been spending a lot of time comparing passages in them to discover the underlying meaning. It dawned on me one day that comparing Bible translations was not Bible study, it was just an exercise in confusion. By that time I had left my old tattered AV (KJV) Bible behind somewhere, so I had to get a new one.

Shortly thereafter I was leading a Bible study class based on Psalm 22. Each one in the class had their own favourite translation and it was bewildering to find that in none of the others could one discern any hint of a prophecy of the crucifiction. For instance, instead of “they have pierced my hands and my feet,” other versions said things like “wild beasts are clawing at my hands and my feet,” or “they have hacked off my hands and my feet.”

Such things left me with questions, but good things were happening in this church, too. An older lady, the mother of one of the memebers, began to have recurring dreams that pointed her to a verse in the Bible. She decided she should read that verse and it led to her conversion. She left the mainline Protestant denomination she had belonged to all her life and was baptized in the little Mennonite church.

Chris got a job as a cook in a large privately owned senior’s residence. The owner was from the community where my mother had grown up and had been acquainted with the family. The head cook was an elderly Belgian lady, crusty and warm-hearted. Chris found it an enjoyable place to work.

I applied for a job in the Post Office, passed the exam and the interview and was hired as a casual postal clerk. That meant I had no guarantee from week to week that there would be work for me, but it actually turned out to be full time work for six months until I was hired on to full time staff.

Everything seemed to be working out for us, Moose Jaw felt like our old home town, we had family and friends there. Our work schedules were such that we usually didn’t work at the same time, one of us was usually available to look after our growing girl. We had moved into the upstairs suite in my parent’s house and Grandma was delighted to help look after and entertain Michelle.

What could go wrong?

Verily, verily

The English of the AV, or KJV, translation was not the same as the English commonly spoken 400 years ago. The words were carefully selected to first of all be a true representation of the text in the original languages and secondly, to convey that truth in simple words arranged to have the greatest imapct on the mind and memory when read aloud.

No other translation has the same adhesive quality. No other tranlation lends itself so readily to memorisation. No other translation uses so many one syllable words, yet arranges them in such a powerful poetic form.

American writer Jon M Sweeney pays tribute to this quality of the KJV in his book, Verliy, Verily. The KJV — 400 years of influence and beauty. (© 2011 by Jon Sweeney, published by Zondervan) Here are a few excerpts from the conclusion of the book:

“The English that we speak at work or the dinner table is often the same English we speak at church. It wasn’t always so, however. The KJV offers a language that is slightly outside of everyday experience, which expands our capacity to contemplate, see, and know God. Before the modern era . . . Christian English-speakers were basically bilingual — everyday Englsh and KJV English existed side by side.

“Many Christians today feel vaguely homesick, like people in exile. . . . We long to hear the rhythms of the King James Bible once again, the rhythms that call us back to a place where we can stand in the dark beneath the canopy of the heavens and gaze into the unknown.

“When this happens — when we begin to discover or rediscover the King James Bible — our hearts and minds and imagination begin to expand. I think back to more than a year ago when I decided to begin readi9ng from page 1 in my newly purchased KJV. . . .

“Above all, I began to wonder and imagine in the words of the Bible once again. I found myself hearing God’s voice, and hearing it in different ways and in new places.

“May you do the same.”


Appointed to be read in churches

The above notation appears on the title page of the Bible translation known in the USA as the King James Version and almost everywhere else as the Authorized Version.  The words are an introduction to one of the goals of the translators — they wanted this to be the best possible translation for reading aloud.

The translators were men of great scholarship.  Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Winchester and director of the Company of Translators, was fluent in twenty-one languages, fifteen modern and six ancient.  He was considered the greatest preacher of his time, a Lord of the church, yet he spent five hours in prayer every morning, with penitential tears confessing his great unworthiness.  It was because of men like Lancelot Andrewes that a translation such as the AV was possible four hundred years ago and is probably not possible in our day.

Accuracy of translation was considered essential, but that was not enough.  After each company of translators had finished their work, two men from each of the six companies were chosen to sit together as a review committee to bind it all together.  They came with copies of the Hebrew, Greek and Latin Scriptures and translations in other languages: French, Italian, etc.  The translation was read aloud, sentence by sentence, while all listened intently to judge the accuracy and the aptness of the words, all the while keeping in mind how it would sound to the common people in the pews.  If something did not sound quite right to one of them, he would speak up and the passage would be adjusted until all were satisfied.

The result is a Bible that retains as much as possible the essence of the wording in the original languages, yet speaks majestically in a simple English.  The language is not the English that was commonly spoken in that day; it is a reverent language meant to convey the holiness of the subject matter.  It is remarkable how much of this translation is done with words of one syllable, yet those words are arranged into a cadence that captures the attention of the ear, mind and heart of the hearer.

It is by far the easiest translation to memorize.  That was the intention.  Many people were either unable to read or unable to afford to buy a Bible in that day.  The words read in church from this translation stuck in their minds and had an impact on the thoughts and intents of their hearts.

Modern translations claim to be more accurate, or easier to read, or both.  Yet they sound singularly flat when set side by side with the words of the AV.  The insipid nature of these translations, and the constant introduction of new and “better” translations, militate against Scripture memorization in our day.

The original long preface of the AV described the purpose of translation in these words:

“Translation it is that openeth the window, to let in the light; that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that putteth aside the curtain, that we may look into the most Holy place; that removeth the cover of the well, that wee may come by the water.”

This is what the AV has done for generations of English-speaking people.

Relevant to what?

Relevant to what?

Everybody talking about the decline of Christianity in the Western world says that it is because the faith preached over the pulpit is no longer relevant to our society.  What they cannot agree on is in what way it is no longer relevant.

For over a century now, many churches have struggled to become more relevant by espousing the social gospel, incorporating psychological insights, adopting a contemporary style of music, applying marketing techniques to evangelism,  becoming more seeker friendly and so on.  You name it; someone has tried it.  And people keep dropping out of the churches.

The social gospel is godless socialism wearing the clothes and using the language of Christianity.  Psychology says our problems are found in the subconscious, not the heart.  All the new styles and techniques miss the mark by thinking the old-fashioned gospel is, well, too old-fashioned for a modern society.

The problem is that churches are trying to make the gospel relevant to the zeitgeist, rather than to the real needs of mankind.  What they are doing is exactly what the Apostle Paul tells us not to do in Romans 10:2: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”  “This world” translates the Greek word “aion,” which does not refer to the physical world or the things of the world.  It rather refers to the way of thinking of the time in which we live.  In French it is translated by words meaning “this present age.”  Nowadays a better word would be zeitgeist, meaning the pattern of thought or feeling characteristic of a period of time.

Can we see the problem here?  In trying to be relevant to the zeitgeist the churches have been trying to conform themselves to a moving target.  The defining characteristic of the zeitgeist is that it is ever changing.  That which seemed totally modern and “with it” twenty-five years ago is passé today.  All attempts to be relevant by conforming to the zeitgeist are doomed to failure.

The Word of God needs no adaptation to make it relevant to our needs.  However, we may need to learn how to apply it in ways that people of today will understand.  If our mind set and our methods are still geared to the1950’s we need not expect a lot of success in 2013.  In fact, the use of pat answers and Christian clichés is always apt to arouse resistance to the message.

We do not need a new translation of the Bible.  The constant churning out of new translations creates the impression that the old is not reliable.  This comes across as another attempt to conform to the zeitgeist.  Let us make ourselves thoroughly familiar with the Bible we use and put it into practice.  Let us show the world by our lives that we find the teachings of the Bible to be totally relevant to our own innermost needs.  Then we will be more convincing when we tell them that the gospel is relevant to them, too.

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