An ‘Interesting’ English Translation of the Bible

The problem with the Bible is that some bits of it are distinctly uncomfortable; what we really need is a translation that is uplifting, but which doesn’t actually disturb our way of life. Thankfully, Archdruid Eileen has come up with the answer to this problem; the NUSV.

And so we have produced the Not So Unpleasant Version of the Bible. Like the original Bible, but with all the nasty bits sanitised. So if you’re fed up with bloodshed, slaughter and annihilation in your favourite inspired text, why not try the NSUV? For example:

In the NSUV, after a heated debate with his brother, Cain admits that his offering wasn’t as good as Abel’s. God tells them that, actually, he was just feeling a bit grumpy and off cereals, and they were both pretty good.

Noah trains as a lifeguard. In gratitude for him saving their lives in the Flood, the people of Mesopotamia mend their ways.

The people of Sodom and Gomorrah take Lot’s guests down the pub for a pint.  Neither fire nor brimstone are required.

If you’d like to read more blog posts on English versions of the Bible (which may be more serious, but less profound than this one) try this link. Just in case you need reminding, this post is filed under humour.

A Dreadful Discovery

I love travel; you get to see new places and get insights into the lives of people in situations different to your own. On work trips, you also get to see things about friends and colleagues which are not obvious in day to day life.

Sometimes you learn things about people, whom you thought you knew well, which can be truly shocking.

This morning over breakfast, a colleague came out with this startling statement, “wouldn't it be nice if every day was like this with someone making breakfast for you, so that you can talk to people for a long time over breakfast”. Now, I have known this individual for almost thirty years and never once suspected they could sink to these depths.

Breakfast is a time for quiet; for drinking tea or coffee while listening to the radio and gearing up for the day. Breakfast is not a time for conversation.

What are your thoughts? Do you like a quiet breakfast or are you ready for conversation first thing in the morning!


English Bibles Cartoons

Everyone likes cartoons and what could be better for this blog than a cartoon about different Bible translations? Make sure that you do have a quick look at the link or the rest of this post won’t make much sense (even then it may not).

Bible translation isn’t the funniest subject in the world and this cartoon takes a stab at making a difficult subject approachable. However, sadly, the comments alongside each cartoon don’t quite match up to the standard of the drawings. I’ll just take three examples:

New Living Translation: A nice guy, but a little immature. Frequently gets in trouble with the older crowd. Still digs veggie tales.

This gives the impression that the NLT is not a serious translation and is just useful for children or youth. The reality is that the NLT is an excellent translation. Most Bible translators I know rate it highly and many (myself included) use it as their first choice translation. It is unfortunate that the publishers gave it the name they did, which automatically links it to the original ‘Living Translation’ a completely different and much inferior publication. With a different name, this translation would be much more highly regarded – as it definitely should be.

New International Version: Was super cool in high school. Unfortunately got caught up in the wrong crowd and was never quite the same after that.

I assume that the reference to the ‘wrong crowd’ refers to the issue of gender-neutral translations. I’ve gone into this issue previously, and won’t unpack it here. However, I do think it’s a shame that the cartoonist refers to people he obviously disagrees with as ‘the wrong sort’. I know it’s only a cartoon, but given the amount of vitriol that has been poured out over this issue, I think the term is unfortunate, even if only in jest. I quoted Don Carson in my earlier post on this issue:

…Would it not be good to recognize that there are people of good will on both sides of this debate? Both sides are trying to be true to Scripture, and to make their understandings known; and both make money in the process. (read more)

English Standard Version: One cool cat. All the popular folks like him. Recent success may be going to his head a little. Was reformed before it was cool.

I’m not sure how you can refer to a translation which in language and philosophy is distinctly old fashioned as ‘cool’. But I’m not a popular cartoonist and I’ve never been cool, so what do I know? The ESV is a good translation (as are the other two above) but the cartoonist is right that “success may be going to its (little in-joke there) head”. I’ve blogged elsewhere about how the marketing department responsible for the ESV should be ashamed of some of their actions.

So what are we to make of this?

  • If you want to be amused in a religious fashion, Christian cartoonists are a good place to start (I’d suggest reading Dave Walker). However, if you want good information on English Bible Versions, you’d be better off reading a book: like this one. In fact, if you haven’t read Dave Brunn’s book then you really shouldn’t be talking about the question at all.
  • Most people haven’t grasped the fundamentals of Bible translation terms and need to study my authoritative guide in depth.
  • We don’t need to worry about all of the millions who don’t have any Scripture in their own language. It is probably more important to sort out which is the best available version in English (slight sarcasm for those who don’t spot it).

From BandAid to RadiAid

Forgive me for posting one more video in this series, but this excellent TED talk gives the background to the RadiAid and Let’s Save Africa videos that I have mentioned recently.

If the video isn’t showing, you can view it directly here.

The principle of looking at the similarities between peoples rather than concentrating on the differences is one that I highlighted in an article I wrote years ago called the St Mary Mead Model of Intercultural Adaption; you can find it on our articles page.

A Guide to Mission Terminology

A couple of years ago, with my tongue firmly in my cheek, I wrote the definitive guide to Bible translation terms. In the same spirit, I feel that I should write a guide to terms used in discussion about mission, so here goes:

  • Missional: my church is more exciting than your church.
  • Missiology: the study of the way that I do mission and why other people are wrong.
  • Missiological: you agree with me.
  • missio Dei: not only am I right, but God agrees with me (eg, an approach based on the missio Dei means…). This is the equivalent of playing the ‘God card’ in discussions about guidance. “God told me to do it” actually means, “I don’t need to listen to your advice”.
  • Missional Hermeneutic: reading the Bible in the way that I want you to.

Before you throw something at your computer, or write a rude comment on my blog or Facebook – this is posted under humour. However, behind the humour is a real issue. Reading widely in mission studies both on paper and on the internet, I find that different authors use these terms in very different ways. I have already blogged on this with reference to the terms missiology and missio Dei

Recently I came across another couple of quotes which deepened my conviction that we do confuse ourselves by the way in which we talk about mission. In a review of Shawn Redford’s Book Missiological Hermeneutics (American Society of Missiology Monograph) Jerry Hwang writes:

In conclusion, the overarching weakness in Redford’s book appears to be the ambiguity over what a “missiological hermeneutic” actually is. Redford frequently uses the terms “missiological” and “missional” interchangeably, yet this tendency to conflate distinct terms while simultaneously using them in a maximalist way (i.e., anything to do with cross-cultural ministry, missiology, the Abrahamic blessing, or a deeper awareness of God’s international purposes) fails to bring clarity to the ongoing debate over what is entailed by the terms mission, the missio Dei, and missiological/missional/missionary hermeneutics.

… Though it may seem trivial to argue over definitions, the history of mission in the twentieth century has shown that confusion over the scope of the missio Dei results in paralyzing disagreements over the missio ecclesiae in the world.

While I found this on the Gospel and Our Culture Network Site (the whole paper is worth reading):

A couple of meetings ago, I began to notice what seemed to me to be some sharp differences emerging between the various proposals being made about what a missional hermeneutic is. We had not achieved a uniform definition, it seemed to me, and perhaps not even a uniform way to pose the question. Now some of the proposals were beginning to speak to and about each other, cordially, but with some degree of candor, as well. Even where the proposals did not present themselves in that way, distinctions of approach and nuance and accent and aim were becoming more apparent, at least to me. All of this, I believed, and continue to believe, is a sign of maturation in this emerging field of hermeneutical reference.

As this latter quote indicates, there is no clear shared understanding of the term missional hermeutic. However, this is not necessarily negative, it is a sign of the way that the field is developing and growing. The same could be said for any of the terms for which I gave my definitions at the top of the post. Different authors use them in different ways and to apply to different phenomena. The problem arises when we don’t realise that those differences are there.

Update: as I was writing this post, Simon Cozens posted the following on Facebook:

It’s often hard to tell the difference between “theology” and “missiology”, but here’s a useful rule of thumb: if it has any actual practical applications at all, it’s missiology.

I’ll leave it to you to decide if you agree or not.

Babies and Bibles

Let’s face it, babies are more interesting than Bible translation.

My colleague John Hamilton had this reality brought home to him last week, when he posted photographs of his new granddaughter on Facebook.

 My wife Ruth and I have become grandparents for the first time – our beautiful wee Ellie Rose Hamilton.

Then I thought… I have twice in the last few days posted a Facebook status about becoming a grandfather.

  • The first was simply an announcement of the fact: it got 124 likes and 39 comments.
  • The second this morning had her photo : so far today it has 89 likes and 18 comments… and counting!

In between I have posted an infographic about Bible translation needs; an encouragement to read the biography of a New Testament translation on Kindle; a link to a blog about why the Bible is different to other books; and a blog about my recent seminar at a major Christian conference in N. Ireland.

Reactions? Compared to the arrival of my grand daughter – pretty much negligible!

Of course, charities have not been slow to realise that people like babies. There are an increasing number of charity advertisements on British TV which show film of babies and small children in the most appalling situations; accompanied by mournful music and a sincere voice-over informing you that a monthly donation from you will change the lives of these children for the better.

I find these sorts of adverts difficult. For a start, I know that the causes of poverty and suffering are multi-faceted and that it will take more than money to deal with them – though money can, of course, help. I also find some of the filming of children to be exploitative, though, maybe, that is permissible in an effort to raise funds.  #

We’ve decided against using photographs of suffering children to publicise Wycliffe. Without having a doctrinaire stance on the issue, we are just uneasy with it. However, one of my colleagues recently mocked up a photograph that we could use if we were ever to change this stance. What do you think?

A boy carries a pineapple

It’s Not Rocket Science (But it Might Involve Time Travel)

Bible Translation really isn’t rocket science. OK, there are lots of tricky technical aspects to it which are far from easy, but the basic principles about why translation needs to happen are quite straightforward. To illustrate this, I’m knicking the whole of a post from Archdruid Eileen, which captures the issue pretty well:

Just a thought, really.

Let’s take the words of Jesus and consider that they would have been spoken in Aramaic, in all likelihood.

Somebody translated that into Greek. And then St Matthew (let’s suppose it’s the Beatitudes we’re talking about here) gathered and maybe regularised the Greek interpretations of what Jesus said on the Mount.

Or if it were the Matthew, maybe he did the translation himself, from the Aramaic in his own memory.

Modern Bible translators take that Greek translation and turn it into English.

Now if you’re King James to the bone, then you’ve got to then make the act of translation from KJV to your own thought-forms. Although, to be fair, if you’re that much of a KJV wallah your thought-forms may well be 17th Century anyway.

And after those 2-3 acts of translation, chances are you’ll still end up with the words “hunger and thirst after righteousness”, or something similar. So if you want to explain that to a non-Christian you’ll need to do another translation step.

It strikes me the options to improve the situation are this, in descending order of utility in accurately understanding the words of our Lord:

1) Invent the Tardis and go back to the 1st Century Middle East, taking everybody you might want to share your faith with, with you.

2) Learn Koine Greek. Better, learn it yourself and then teach it to all your friends.

3) Don’t keep shouting at your friends in KJV English.

4) Try and think of a good way of saying “hunger and thirst after righteousness”.

Books I’ve Read: The Funniest book of the Year

Just take my word for it; The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is wonderful. Jonas Jonasson has rewritten the Good Soldier Schweik, made it funnier more surreal and (mercifully) shorter.

The hero of the book has had a full life and was present at most of the major events of the second half of the twentieth century; the Spanish Civil War, the invention of the atom bomb (twice), the Paris riots… You name it, Allan was there. He also comes up with the most ingenious method for killing a gangster that has ever occurred in literature. Nothing I say about this book will do it justice, I laughed and laughed as I read it. I’ve not enjoyed a comic novel so much since I first read Wodehouse thirty something years ago.

I realise that humour is subjective and that not everyone will enjoy this book as much as I did, but then again it only costs 20p for your Kindle. What can go wrong?