Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Saturday, January 21, 2006

new bible translations

We are truly blessed to live in an age when we have so many Bible translations to choose from. Sometimes, though, I wonder if we have too many choices.

Case in point: I've just received word that the Society for the Promotion of Individualized Theologies (SPIT) will be publishing not one but two new translations this year, the New Liberal Bible and the New Conservative Bible. One of my friends from college has a brother whose neighbor's ex-wife's cousin's boyfriend has a friend who went to school with someone on the translation committee. Through these connections, I was able to get advance copies of both books.

Frankly, I'm a little disappointed. Though the committee calls these "translations," not "paraphrases," I have some reservations about their faithfulness to the original text. Now, granted, it's not always easy to find an exact equivalent for the Hebrew or Greek word. Granted, too, I'm not a Greek or Hebrew scholar. I'm just a layman with an interest in theology.

Still, it seems to me that both these new translations frequently cross the line into interpretation, sometimes offering, um, questionable interpretations. I'm going to give some examples, along with links to the NRSV so you can compare the translations. Please let me know if you agree with my concerns, or if I am way off base.

First example, in the New Liberal Bible (NLB), Genesis 22:2, God says to Abraham:
Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him a great big hug on one of the mountains that I will show you.

Now I don't know the difference between the Hebrew words for "sacrifice" and "hug", but it just seems to me that this translation completely changes the tone of the story. Especially when Abraham ends up hugging a ram.

Now let's look at the New Conservative Bible (NCB), Matthew 22:17-18. The Pharisees are asking Jesus a question:
"Tell us what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?"

Jesus answered, "Hell no! Taxes are just legalized theft. It's your money, and the government has no right to take it! Don't give to Caesar, give to God."

Again, I'm not a scholar, so I don't know the nuances of Koine Greek. However, I wasn't able to find another translation where Jesus uses the word "theft" in this passage.

Here's another example from the NLB, Matthew 5:9, where Jesus says:
Blessed are the PEACEMAKERS!! Don't you get it, President Bush?!?"

Again, I was not able to find another translation that mentions George W. Bush. But even if this translation is somehow accurate, it gives me reason for concern. Bush's term in office ends in three years, and then the NLB will be out of date. If we are going to insert contemporary names into the Bible, it should be done in a way that will not soon make the translation obsolete.

Which brings us to the NCB's translation of 2 Timothy 3:16.
The Bible is the Very Word of God, inerrant in all that it teaches, including matters of history or science, and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness. Bite me, Charles Darwin!

I think this translation reads a little too much into the Greek word theopneustos. But again, I could be wrong; I'm not an expert.

Also, through online research I've discovered that the phrase "Bite me, Charles Darwin" has very little textual support in the ancient manuscripts. And there are some questions of authenticity in the few manuscripts where it does appear.

Finally, I want to look at a verse that is troublesome, I think, in both translations. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says in the NCB:
Do not be deceived! Abortion doctors and gay rights advocates will never inherit the kingdom of God.

A footnote adds, "and stem cell researchers," but that phrase is generally thought to be a late addition.

The NLB, on the other hand, says:
Do not be deceived! The intolerant will never inherit the kingdom of God. I can't tolerate intolerance.

I'm left not knowing which translation to trust. And if that weren't enough, the committee is already working on their next big projects, to be published in 2007: the New Emergent Bible, the New Calvinist Bible, the New Jesus Seminar Bible, and the New Megachurch Bible. I can't wait.



At 1/21/2006 11:53 AM, Blogger Angel said...

I love it! You made your point very well and in a entertaining fashion no less! :)

At 1/23/2006 4:57 AM, Blogger John said...


At 1/25/2006 7:37 AM, Anonymous BG the HB Tamer said...

Definitely a very funny post :D

At 1/27/2006 3:15 PM, Blogger Weekend Fisher said...

That was great. Go get 'em.

At 1/28/2006 7:48 PM, Blogger Questing Parson said...


I cannot but think if you were sitting in my congregation, I'd be a better preacher.


At 1/29/2006 10:40 AM, Blogger JCHFleetguy said...

Good stuff man

At 2/03/2006 6:05 AM, Blogger Rey said...

Excellent post.

At 2/03/2006 6:31 AM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

Well done. A clever combination of...ummmm...SPIT...and polish.

At 2/05/2006 8:39 AM, Blogger see-through faith said...


but in all honesty shouldn't be - this is a serious misuse of the Bible IMHO

but this did make me laugh a lot
"it just seems to me that this translation completely changes the tone of the story. Especially when Abraham ends up hugging a ram."

At 2/06/2006 10:38 PM, Blogger see-through faith said...

good one Bruce :)

I suspected it was a spoof (GWBush was the giveaway)... but you made the point very well in that way.

I wonder though how long it will be before we see this (sigh)

It's now on stf

At 2/11/2006 11:37 AM, Blogger toptenpercent said...

very well said...I am going to find out more about this new translation and warn as many people as I can! Thanks.

Pastor Joe

At 2/11/2006 10:27 PM, Blogger john s. said...

This is a classic. I just added a link to your post on my blog. I'll have to check back again and see what else you have to offer.

At 7/21/2006 12:34 AM, Blogger Graham Weeks said...

Brilliant. May I copy this on my blog?

At 8/16/2007 9:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Bruce, JCH sent me here from Street Prophets and it's you! How are ya :-)
I'll be starting seminary classes at SPST in a couple weeks - I'll be booked solid while there but maybe we can run into each other at some point.


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