Bible Translation and situation

I probably should not add this, but I’m going to write it anyway. Read Luke 5:1-11 in your favorite translation. When I was translating the lessons for the week what I see is a very funny moving to a very serious situation. I want to focus on Luke 5:5, Simon’s answer to Jesus.

Jesus has commandeered Simon’s boat to continue teaching. Simon has worked all night and got nothing. He’s cleaned the nets and just wants to go home. This itinerant preacher gets in his boat and starts making requests. Peter obviously complies, but then when Jesus is done teaching he turns to Peter and tells him to go back out to sea. Peter has just finished cleaning up and wants to go home.

My translation would be something like – “Chief, although we worked this whole night and nobody caught nothing, now at your word, I will let down the nets.” Reading the situation and the language his reply is sharp sarcasm. The ESV translates it as – “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets. (Luk 5:5 ESV) ” If you are giving it a close read, you might catch it. But c’mon man, that is pure Biblish. You can see the Jesus as Washington crossing the Delaware with his hand out and a golden halo with Peter rowing the boat and gazing doe eyed at Jesus. And that is boring.

The change in this story is in Peter. He goes from this sarcastic put upon peasant calling Jesus “chief” to a man scared for his existence at his encounter with God and grabbing at Jesus’ feet and calling him Lord. A purely literal translation like the ESV misses that. Unless you are going to read the Bible very closely, everything comes off as this pious gauzy picture. These people were real. They had real lives and wants and emotions. And those real people met a real Christ. It is that real encounter with the living Christ that the Word causes.

Do yourself a favor and get a translation that lets you read God’s Word. The danger of swallowing bad theology from the translator is much less than the danger of never opening the word because you think it is boring or just pious stories.

One response to “Bible Translation and situation

  1. Subtle distinctions but true. Something that would be missed using the ESV but also it would be missed by simply casually reading a translation that makes this disctinction. The NAS uses master/lord and even the NLT uses master/lord. Reading those I would have still missed Peter’s change of heart unless you had pointed it out.