I know that I've written a lot about biblical language this year, and this is going to be another language post, but you don't have to have an opinion about Hebrew to follow this one.
Recently, I was asked to read well-known verses in four different unidentified translations of the Bible and rank each version on its readability and relatability. Were these words that spoke to my heart? Were they words with which I was familiar? Was it "comfortable" to read these verses in these translations? How did it impact the way I was able to connect and engage with the Scripture?
Clearly, there are some translations of the Bible that you can identify right away. The KJV/NKJV come to mind. All the thee, thou, thine language is a dead giveaway. And these versions take a lot of insults because it's not 'conversational' English; these aren't words that we use every day, so it can seem heavy to read through these translations.
I am someone who firmly believes that you should be able to understand the Bible when you read it. I don't think you get bonus points for reading a 'hard' version or being able to quote Scripture in the King's English. I think it's more important if you can explain what Scripture means, understand it, apply it to your life, and honestly, love it. I think we have come a long way in translating our bibles into a more common tongue without losing the essence of them.
Some of the other versions, I was also able to recognize right away. Since I read the Bible in a different version year-to-year, I'm familiar with several of them. And, of course, I have my favorites. (Depending, of course, on what you're using it for - why you're reading it.)
But one version, I was not familiar with at all. And it was...crude. It was common street language. It had a bit of a brash tongue and used words that would have made a church lady blush just twenty years ago. The younger generations today would probably read it and think it's "dope" or whatever word they are using today for such things. I can hear them now saying, "Wow! I didn't know God talks like this."
I think one of the points of the study was to see how readers would respond to this translation, how it would strike them to read holy words in crude vocabulary. And I know that maybe there was a little hope somewhere that the response would be positive, that readers would say, "Finally! A Bible that sounds like me!"
But that wasn't my reaction.
Because I don't want a Bible that sounds like me. I don't want a God who talks the way that I talk. I don't even want to talk the way that I talk sometimes (I'm working on it). I want a Bible that sounds better than me; I want a God who sounds bigger than me. I want language that calls me to something higher, that paints a picture in my heart not just of truth, but of goodness, and I don't think you get goodness out of some of the words that come out of our mouths.
I want a Bible that inspires me to be better. I want a Bible that changes my vocabulary and reminds me at every breath that I don't need all those ugly words that I've learned over the year. I want a Jesus who came to dwell with me not so that He could get a grasp on what the kids are calling things these days, but so that He could raise me up to a higher standard of living.
So I think there's a line in Bible translation. At least, I think there has to be. I think it's great when we put it in words that we can understand, but we have to be careful about coming up with a version of the Scriptures where God sounds like us.
After all, haven't we been called to sound more like Him?