July 17, 2009

The Perfect Translation

I just returned from youth camp in Durango, Colorado where we worshipped with Todd Agnew and heard the Scriptures preached by Ben Stuart. It was a wonderful week, and a great camp. Kudos, Student Life.

On the way to camp, which was about 1000 miles, I saw a church that marketed itself as a KJV-Bible-Believing Church, and I started thinking. During the course of the week, a couple of people asked me which translation I use, poking fun at my duct-tape binding. I was carrying the Message by Eugene Peterson, a translation I've come to appreciate deeply over the past couple of years.

I've been asked multiple times in recent months which translation of the Scriptures is the best. It's a valid question, people are seeking to hear from God. However, it's not the right question to be asking.

Did you know that there are 6909 languages spoken in the world today?

Did you know that there are 2393 languages (representing 200,000,000 people) that have yet to have the Scriptures translated?

Each week at Joel Osteen's church in Houston they recite a creed regarding the Bible. Holding their Scriptures tightly, they recite the creed together. As I was flipping through the stations, I heard the recitation of the creed, and started laughing as I saw a couple of different people lifting up their iPhones.

I took three semesters of Greek and two semesters of Hebrew in seminary. I can still recite to you the alphabet of both languages (most of the time). There are some words that I still remember the nuances of their definitions. I have multiple texts sitting on my bookshelf that aid in biblical scholarship and translation, specifically dealing with all the exceptions to the rules of Greek and Hebrew.

At youth camp, there was a youth minister with a tattoo on his forearm in Hebrew. I looked and looked at it, and just couldn't remember how to read it anymore. So I asked him what it said, and he remembered the English translation, but it had been so long, he no longer remembered how to pronounce the actual Hebrew. We laughed together.

Jesus is a translation, revelation, and invitation of the Father.

Most likely, Jesus spoke Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, and possibly some slang languages.

Jesus did not speak KJV English.

Jesus did not speak the Message English either.

And Jesus did not speak in red letters.

Jesus, the Word who spoke all things into creation, is a translation of the Father's love, revealed in a particular culture, extending an invitation to anyone who will listen.

So, here's my answer to which translation of the Scriptures is the best:

1. Which translation speaks to your heart, not just your mind?

2. Which translation engages your mind, not just your heart?

3. Which translation helps you love God more?

4. Which translation helps you love your neighbor more?

And the most important question of all:

5. Which translation will you not just read, but live?

Here's my answer as a song I wrote not too long ago:

My heart trembles

My soul is satisfied

By Your very Word


Word of all creation

Boundless beauty, breath of life

Heaven's own translation

Sings of peace, amidst the strife


Word of my salvation

Lead me to Truth, guide my ways

Heaven's revelation

Love undying, full of grace


Word to all the nations

All who hunger, all who ache

Heaven's invitation

Hear the call to celebrate


My heart trembles

My soul is satisfied

By Your very Word

2 comments:

Joseph and Katy said...

Good good good. Good points, good thoughts, good song, good job.

akleeman said...

Bible translation is such a fascinating discussion. I could talk for hours on the nature of communication between God and humans (as if we could ever understand his mind), language, and our natural desire to prove our superority to others by doing a "better" (read "more literal") reading of the bible. A great book is "Whose bible is it" by Jaroslav Pelikan. The way the Bible was formed 1000's of years ago created a broader view of Christiantiy than we typically think of, and some of our core beliefs are not straightforward(for example, early debate about the Trinity and if Jesus was God).