Thursday, March 3, 2011

Changing Words in God's Unchanging Word

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has announced a new Bible translation, supposedly more accurate, accessible and poetic, will be released next week. I’m not Catholic, but it’s probably overdue.

This “breaking news” reminded me of 1978, when I first encountered a modern Bible translation – the New American Standard. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

Like most churchgoers growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, I knew only the King James Version (the “Authorized version,” according to some). Out of curiosity, as a senior in high school I read the KJV, front to back. I plowed through it five chapters a night; it took about nine months. When I finished, it went back to my bookshelf as I wondered, “What should I read next?”

Frankly, although I technically had read every word of the Bible, I understood very little. Already on the path toward become a professional writer, I often got lost among “begats,” “whosoevers,” “quickens” and other quaint words and phrases of the 16th century. Nobody uses “quicken” for its archaic meaning – “to make alive.” In fact, today Quicken is the name of financial software.

When I first read the NASB (and later, versions like the New International, English Standard, Revised Standard, New King James, New Living Translation, even The Message), I realized God speaks in our language, using vocabulary we can grasp. The Scriptures are deep and complex enough, without antiquated terms becoming an impediment.

The Bible, speaking of itself in Hebrews 4:12, says the “Word of God is living and active, sharper than a two-edged sword.” To insist on an outdated translation for the sake of “tradition,” ignoring language is dynamic and words change – in style and meaning – over time, is to maintain God’s Word is dead and inert.

Originally, the Scriptures were written in Hebrew, common Greek and Aramaic, languages of that time. God wants everyone to be able to read and understand His eternal truth. His Word never changes, but words of every age and culture do change.

So instead of a “cereal offering,” ardent Catholics now will read about “grain offerings.” Makes sense to me – none of my Bibles ever made reference to Cheerios or Wheaties. Another word reportedly deleted in the revised Catholic Bible is “booty,” which meant to the spoils of war – but today can have a much different connotation.

The good news for Catholics, it would seem, is when they read in the Bible about “the call of God,” it clearly won’t be a “booty call.”

No comments: