Written by Dr. David Lamb
Wednesday, 16 November 2011 00:00
Does it ever seem like there are too many translations of the Bible? My software program BibleWorks has over 40 English translations. Since I teach Old Testament, people ask me which translation I prefer. I like to say, “I love them all.”
In reality I use some translations more than others, often the more literal ones (NRSV, ESV, NAS), but I’m careful to speak graciously about all translations. Although it’s tempting, I try not to criticize translations that I don’t use.
Unfortunately, criticism sometimes characterizes how Christian denominations view other denominations. One of the values of the Missional movement is a desire to value Christians of other faith traditions, which is sometimes called “Generous Orthodoxy.” In the spirit of Generous Orthodoxy, I want to mention what I love about two translations that I don’t normally use, a very old one and a brand new one.
The King James Version (KJV) is celebrating its 400 anniversary this year (1611). The KJV is unique among English versions since it distinguishes between 2nd person pronouns, between the singular (thou, thy) and the plural (you, your). From our Western individualistic mindset, when we read a “you” or “your” in the text we assume it’s singular, even in letters to communities. We read Jeremiah 29:11 as God’s plans for “me” personally (my welfare, my future, my hope), when it’s meant to be understood corporately (our welfare, our future, our hope). When the serpent interacts with the woman in Genesis 3 all of the 2nd person pronouns he uses are plural. In Jeremiah 29 and Genesis 3 only the KJV tells us the “you”s are plural. For these plurals, I think translations should just say, “you all” (or even better, “youse guys”).
The Common English Bible (CEB) just came out in 2011. We’ll see how popular the CEB becomes, but one thing I love about it already is that is uses contractions for dialogue. When people speak today, they use contractions, so the CEB captures normal speaking patterns. For example, this is how Jesus sounds in the Sermon on the Mount, “Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes?” (Matt. 6:25 CEB). It’s good advice either way, but “Do not worry” is not as relaxing as “Don’t worry.”
David Lamb is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Biblical. He’s the husband of Shannon, father of Nathan and Noah, and the author of God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist? He blogs regularly at http://davidtlamb.com/. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/david-lamb.