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The True Never Ending Story

March 2, 2013

My last post on translation got me to thinking about the ongoing controversy over Bible translations.  It is not my intention to add fuel to the fire, but I do have an opinion.  I don’t think there is a “right” or “best” translation.  All have something to contribute to our understanding of God and our relationship to Him, although I will readily admit some more than others.

I cut my teeth on the pages of the New English Bible I received as a bonus from a book club I belonged to many years ago.  At the time it was a new translation, done in Britain, and as I have always been partial to all things British, its language appealed to me.  Although certainly not one of the most well received translations, it served me very well as an introduction to the Word.

My first serious forays into the Bible were in a New American Standard Version.  It was the translation of choice in the church I attended for many years.  It’s close word-for-word adherence to the Hebrew and the Greek made it extremely reliable, but also rendered its language somewhat stilted.  I also found its very literal translation demythologized the narrative to some extent, making it difficult to relate it to my own spiritual experience.  As I matured in my faith, I began to recognize that the translators sometimes crossed the line between translation and interpretation, showing their premillennial and Calvinistic preferences.  It has remained for me, however, my “Bible of authority” for study.

In order to really understand the 17th century language of the King James Bible I find it necessary to pair it with a specialized dictionary, making reading it very laboursome.  But in my opinion, it is unmatched for the beauty of its literary style.

I have used the New International Version at times, enjoying its easy readability, but noticed that the translators often sacrificed strict accuracy on the altar of that readability.  As with the NASB, I found the translators slipped into interpretation with a Calvinistic bias.

For sheer enjoyment and bringing the Bible to life, nothing matches Eugene Petersen’s The Message.  Its earthy conversational style and rich use of metaphor have a way of putting me directly in the picture and making God’s story very relevant to my own life.  It is certainly not authoritative, but Petersen never intended it to be so.  But reading it, I can catch the passion of the original writers, and then balance it with a true translation for in-depth study.

As for the inerrancy of scripture, my belief is that it only holds true for the original writings, and we are not in possession of any of them.  No translation that exists today is from original texts, but from copies.  As missiologist Lamin O. Sanneh wrote, “The original language of Christianity is translation.”  From the first time the originals were transcribed and translated, they were tainted by the imperfections of men.  No man is perfect and neither is his work no matter how careful he may be.

So how can we know the truth?  I believe the answer is found in John 13:16.  When I submit myself to the Holy Spirit as I read, a new dimension is added.  The Word of God becomes personalized and the Spirit “guides me into all the truth”.

Any serious reader of the Bible will have shared my experience of reading a familiar verse or passage for the umpteenth time and suddenly FINALLY getting what it really means.  And perhaps at a later date that same passage will have something new to say to me.  The Bible is after all the Living Word; it is dynamic and ever-changing.  God has much more to say to us than can be contained within the pages of the book.  There are so many other things Jesus did. If they were all written down, each of them, one by one, I can’t imagine a world big enough to hold such a library of books.  John 21:25 The Message

I do not mean to suggest that God changes.  It is I who change.  With each step toward maturity in my faith I learn to see things differently.  Spiritual growth by definition necessitates change.  I need meat rather than milk, and God provides it.

Many years ago I was encouraged to read the Bible as a story rather than to study it.  Doing so made all the difference in the world to me.  The works of all the writers came together in an amazing way, each playing a unique and indispensable part in telling the overarching story of God’s love for not just His people, but for all of His creation.

I would encourage you to do the same.  Read it as you would a novel, for the wonderful story it tells.  But remember as you read that you are an important character in the narrative, indeed the reason for this love story written for you and to you.  God calls you to live in it.  May it become for you the true never ending story it has become for me.

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