Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Which Bible Version?

The array of Bible versions on offer these days is staggering. Before the Reformation properly kicked in, William Tyndale was martyred for publishing parts of the Bible in English. The battle to keep the Scriptures away from the common people was fierce, but the cause of reformation triumphed, and the word of God could be understood by the people in their own language.

We easily forget what our ancestors had to go through, particularly since there are so many different Bible versions and translations. A quick sampling over at Bible Gateway provides at least 19 English versions, as well as many in other languages. From having no Bible at all, we're now drowning in a sea of choice. There are nearly too many to know which is the best. How do I pick a Bible?

He Restores My Soul

It's at this point that two things I read yesterday converged. Two helpful contributions on the Bible debate, if we really want to hear what God's word actually says.

First of all, I've been reading Alec Motyer's most recent book 'Journey: Psalms for Pilgrim People' - a devotional work on the Songs of Ascents (Psalms 120 - 134) as well as 135-136 thrown in for good measure. Motyer, a Dubliner, was Principal at Trinity College Bristol, and has written many excellent books on his specialty, the Old Testament.

Throughout, Motyer in the notes at the end of each chapter (and sometimes also in the main text) is critical of the NIV, due to its being a dynamic equivalent translation. This means that the thought is captured and transmitted, rather than the actual words being actually translated. So, for example, two comments on Psalm 134 characterise his opinion of the NIV:

First, on the omitting of the 'Behold' in the text at the start of Psalm 134, Motyer writes 'Omitted in the NIV. Why? It is an important word used by the inspiring Holy Spirit to call attention to something he wants us to be sure not to miss.' (p. 149). Or again, as the NIV waters down 'bless' to 'praise': 'It is hardly surprising that the NIV hesitated to translate the verb as 'bless' - indeed it is a matter for gratitude that other translations did not lose their nerve in the same way.' (p. 146).

The crowning moment of his criticism comes in the notes on Psalm 126, on the inconsistency of translation: 'The NIV, unforgivably obscures this [link of verses 1 and 4 in 'bringing back captives']. Whether the Hebrew is understood as 'bringing back captives' or 'restoring fortunes', the translation of verses 1 and 4 should be identical, as the Hebrew requires, otherwise how can English readers engage in serious Bible study?' (p. 79).

Having read these criticisms of dynamic equivalence in obscuring the actual text and what it says, I then read what Wayne Grudem has said about it:

“I cannot teach theology or ethics from a dynamic equivalent Bible. I tried the NIV for one semester, and I gave it up after a few weeks. Time and again I would try to use a verse to make a point and find that the specific detail I was looking for, a detail of wording that I knew was there in the original Hebrew or Greek, was missing from the verse in the NIV.

“Nor can I preach from a dynamic equivalent translation. I would end up explaining in verse after verse that the words on the page are not really what the Bible says, and the whole experience would be confusing and would lead people to distrust the Bible in English.

“Nor can I teach an adult Bible class at my church using a dynamic equivalent translation. I would never know what words to trust or what words have been left out.

“Nor can I lead our home fellowship group using a dynamic equivalent translation.

“Nor would I want to memorize passages from a dynamic equivalent translation. I would be fixing in my brain verses that were partly God’s words and partly some added ideas, and I would be leaving out of my brain some words that belonged to those verses as God inspired them but were simply missing from the dynamic equivalent translation.

“But I could readily use any essentially literal translation to teach, study, preach from, and memorize.”
(H/T Adrian Warnock)

What do you think? What version of the Bible do you use? I've set up a wee one question survey, which will take ten seconds. Which version are you using?

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