Wayne Leman, from the absolute must Better Bibles Blog, wrote a great little post on explaining the words in a Bible translation. He communicated perfectly something I’ve been trying—and failing—to get across to folks for years.
The issue is whether or not someone has to further explain the meaning of a Bible translation to others. Now, obviously, as we have often said on this blog, there are plenty of matters in the Bible which are difficult to understand. Those concepts, such as the nature of the atonement, cessation or continuation of charismatic gifts, the role of Torah in the life of Christ-followers, God’s sovereignty vs. people’s free will, will be difficult to understand no matter what Bible translation we use to study them.
And then came the irrefutable sentence: “But the language structures of Bible translations should not require further translation in order for people to understand what those structures communicate.”
The reason I don’t like hearing the New King James from the pulpit, not to mention the King James, is because I know folks are getting confused. A few months back one of the pastors of our congregation was discussing Jesus’ betrayal and arrest; I think that was the Easter sermon. Reading from the NKJV (apparently our church’s Bible of choice…not sure when that happened, because I would have voted not “No” but “Heck No!”) the pastor read,
When those around Him saw what was going to happen, they said to Him, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus answered and said, “Permit even this.” And He touched his ear and healed him. (Lk. xxii.49-51 NKJV)
He did not even explain the very out of place, incomprehensible, non-modern day English phrase, “Permit even this.” He moved on; went to another point. My wife and I were stunned (being pacifists, we are very familiar with this passage and the various arguments attempting to deny the clear command of Christ during this situation). I remember us looking at each other and going through our Bibles to find where “Permit even this” could have remotely fit in as the pastor continued with his sermon. I remember sitting there and wondering, “Wait. How is the average listener here right now going to understand what Jesus just said there? I know there are a lot of unchurched, unfamiliar folks here because it’s Easter time, and I know they totally missed it.” Especially if they had any of the other typical translations (NIV, ESV, NASB, NLT, etc) where the wording is more like, “Stop! No more of this.”
At least he didn’t read from the King James: “Suffer ye thus far.”
Anyway…sorry about the rant about the New King James. (Whew! Glad I got that off my chest.)
Here’s an excellent passage from the final paragraph of Wayne’s post (but be sure to read the whole thing):
If we view the job of rabbis, pastors, and Bible teachers to be explaining obscure words and non-standard syntax in Bible versions, then we are asking these teachers to waste their valuable time. They should use translations of the Bible which are written in the language of the people they are teaching.
This is also why organizations like Wycliffe Bible Translators so strongly strive to get the Bible into the hands of everyone in their own language. Everyone should be able to crack open the Scriptures and read the text and not have to struggle with the language and individual words. Within the community, with the leaders, questions and answers and guidance should focus not on “What does ‘Permit even this’ mean?” but “Why did Jesus not want the disciples to intercede or interfere and fight?”