Wednesday, June 6, 2012

New Bible Translation is Just a Muted Voice

In an officious effort to make the Bible  more “attune to our times”, the Ecclesia Bible Society and Thomas Nelson released “The Voice”.  The Voice proclaims itself as “a faithful dynamic translation done as a collage of collaborative narratives, poetry, song truth and wisdom”. 

Professor David Capes of Houston Baptist University, spent seven years helping translate “The Voice.”  Capes reveals that the methodology for translating “The Voice” was to prepare a Bible that Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards would read instead of considering it deadly boring.


What this means for practical purposes is that “The Voice” is a paraphrase of sacred scripture which incorporates scholarly slants within the text of the verses. When the translation uses language which does not correspond to Hebrew or Greek origins, the word is placed in italics and the translators choose not to transliterate anything aside from proper names. 

While many Christians recently celebrated the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible, some readers can be put off by the sonorous archaic sentence structure and lexicon.  Thomas Nelson sought to keep the Word of God real in part by eschewing traditional terms for the Divine.  The Lord is referred to as “the Eternal One”, Jesus is also called “The Anointed One” and angels as “Messenger of God”.

This scriptural paraphrase sounds awkward, especially for a familiar passage like Psalm 23.

Calling the Lord “Eternal” in this instance sounds flip, mistakes the paternally oriented God of creation as just being an eternal being and circumvents the relational subservience and dependence implicit in the label “Lord”. Words do matter.  Perhaps it is educational and accessible to call Christ “the Annointed One”, as that is from the Greek.  However, this hardly touches the significance of Jesus which is “Yaweh Saves”.  So Jesus Christ is actually a two millennia prayer just by uttering His holy name.  But the power of that prayerful moniker has nominal impact when the Lord God is relegated to being “The Eternal One”.

Admittedly, translating sacred texts can be hard.  It took 39 years for English speaking Roman Catholics to faithfully develop a new translation of the liturgy.  Some of the faithful chaffed at changes in the Words of Consecration in the Roman Rite English liturgy. The new translation of the Roman Missal uses a more static translation instead of using a dynamic translation methodology.  For the Anaphora, the term chalice is used for the vessel which contains His Precious Blood  instead of “cup”  because it was in the original translation.  But the Last Supper was no ordinary meal, it was part of the Passover, and it makes sense that the Elijah Cup was used.  The linguistic change “for many” instead of the familiar Vatican II verbiage is keeping with the Hebrew original which does not have any expression “for all”.  

In this age when the Western world has lost its moral moorings and secular society scorns scripture, it is admirable to encourage individuals to read the Bible.  But the Word of God should not be a muted Voice to make it more accessible.  This populist paraphrase of scripture calls to mind the quip by C.S. Lewis: “Odd, the way the less the Bible is read, the more it is translated”.

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