Tag Archives: translations

Simple Pictures

I ran across this essay – Stick Figure Theology – about incredibly simple pictures.

It was pretty much by accident. The church of my childhood had a stand of books for sale. It was mostly various books on hot topics (I think, but none of them were that interesting to an 8 year old). But on that shelf there was one gold bible with pictures. It was the “Good News Bible – Today’s English Version” and if you’ve seen that gold cover and those stick figure drawings you remember it.

While I was memorizing verses in the KJV, our sunday school had a separate book of “scripture to be memorized” that was taken home each week, the first Bible that I asked my Dad to get me was that everyday translation. While I’ve got those UR-texts rattling around in KJV, I’ll be blunt, the Good News is how I understood them. I’d look it up and read it, and then memorize the KJV. And I’d love staring at those pictures. Stark minimalist icons. Pictures of everyman and woman. Pictures that drew me into the story. That put me in the middle of the crowd of witnesses carrying the cross.

The first day I walked into St. Mark’s I saw on the shelf about 10 copies of the Good News. Most of them were black, but a couple had that gold cover. One of the various coincidences that said, “you’re home”. Somewhere in the past there was a member or a pastor who stepped out and said “this is ok, we can understand this”. That was a risky but fundamentally pastoral decision at the time. In our Thursday Bible class there is a member who uses one of them. A member strong in faith. An echo of that long ago – “this is ok”. It is one of the gorgeous things about that class. Most groups, if you don’t have the same translation everything blows up, but that group has multiple translations and still functions.

I’m sure there are some – including Concordia Publishing House who exclusively backs the ESV (the modern equivalent of the KJV) – that would probably be nodding, “well that explains a lot”. And I guess my response would be I guess is does. Because my first understanding of the Word was through the invitation to place myself in it given by those pictures. The Word isn’t read as an academic exercise (although that might be part of it). The disciple reads the Word as the very Word of God…for you…today. Can that be abused? You bet. That is why you read it together with the church. That is why you have called and ordained servants of the word. But the disciple is always trying to become a simple picture. An icon of the love of Christ for this lost world.

Bibles everywhere, but no hearing of the Word

Its a hobgoblin of mine, biblical translations. I can’t just let it go. I suppose it comes from when I started reading the scriptures. My confirmation was still done in KJV. (My brother two years later had the NIV). My first bible was actually a gold tone Good News Translation. Most my life I used an NIV. In seminary we used the Greek/Hebrew texts themselves.

This news article talks about today’s proliferation of English versions. There is a bible for every niche, but sometimes is seems like a tower of Babel instead of the Word. It is almost enough to make one envy Islam with its insistence upon Arabic as the only language of the Koran…almost.

I really think it comes down to a couple of simple things. 1) Are you willing to put the time, effort and trust into a good pastor and congregation? If you say no, then you need to learn Greek and Hebrew. Sometimes you just need to go back to the original. If you say yes, find a good minister and progress on to using English. 2) Are you a history buff, theology fan or just enjoy $10 words? If you are, pick up the KJV, NKJV or the ESV. These versions are best an maintaining historical continuity and they don’t back away from using the big words. (NKJV is the KJV with minor grammar updates, think ye becoming you.) 3) If you are none of those things, or if you are a novel reader, go get the NLT. The New Living Translation does the best job I’ve seen at making the Bible very readable and understandable. In the narrative sections (the psalms this way lack a certain aesthetic), for me it reads 2x-3x as fast without hurting understanding. The words just don’t get in the way of reading. 4) Make a commitment to that translation. Read it, learn it, and inwardly digest it. This is where a couple generations use the NIV. If you use the NIV, stick with it. If you don’t read it, try the NLT.

And please don’t get any hierarchy of translations out of this. When you leave the Greek/Hebrew, it really is more about what you will actually read and your personality. If you know Greek or the historical theology, the ESV is wonderful, you can see the original grammar and know what is being used. But that comes at the expense of English style.

As far as the tower of Babel complaint – I take it a bit more as nostalgia or longing for a lost or never seen wholeness. Were things perfect when everyone used the KJV? Like my hobgoblin about translations, everyone using the same is an authoritarians hobgoblin. We have to wait for the last day for that wholeness.

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.