Thinking Out Loud

October 25, 2018

The Message Bible: Paraphrase or Translation?

The Message.Romans.12.1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

With the passing of Eugene Peterson this week, Michael Frost has written what I feel to be the best overall summary of The Message Bible. He quickly shows us both why it is needed, and what may have given Peterson the idea to creat it. A few short excerpts follow, but first some background personal background from me.

I’ve always resisted people who are dismissive of The Message because “it’s a paraphrase.” I usually point out that first of all, Peterson was a brilliant scholar who worked from original languages. He didn’t just pick up a previous English translation and restate it, as did Ken Taylor with The Living Bible (not to be confused with the NLT, which was the translation-status upgrade of Taylor’s work.)

Second, I will often point out that some linguists have told me they don’t really have the term paraphrase. Anytime you are taking something written for audience “A” and then re-presenting it for audience “B” you are, in fact, translating.

The problem is that for everyone, including me, it was an either/or proposition.

But Frost introduces a new phrase, “rendering the text” which I think really says it best.

…There are many criticisms of The Message, some of them justified. It’s not a reliable translation if that’s what you need. It’s a rendering of the text, an attempt to make the Bible accessible in the common vernacular. But as a doorway into serious Bible reading, it has been a gift to the church. At least that’s how my friend has found it.

In his book on Bible reading, Eat This Book, Eugene Peterson writes about his motivations in writing The Message. He goes so far as to say it’s a form of sacrilege to speak of God in language that is “inflated into balloons of abstraction or diffused into the insubstantiality of lacey gossamer.” …

…Knowing this helps me appreciate The Message for what it is. It’s a protest against arcane and impenetrable religious language. It’s an invitation for ordinary people to enter the Scriptures once again.

…In his 1997 book on spirituality, Leap Over a Wall, he opens by telling us how his mother used to recount Bible stories to him when he was a child. In quite a moving passage, he writes:

My mother was good with words; she was also good with tones. In her storytelling I not only saw whole worlds come into being, I felt them within me through the timbre of her voice.”

Sure, he admits, she took some liberties with the stories, adding extracanonical detail, but “she never violated or distorted the story itself.” …

Here we have our primary clue to reading The Message: it’s like sitting on Uncle Eugene Peterson’s knee and listening to him tell the Bible story…

A rendering of the text.

I need to remember that phrase. 

Again, click here to read Michael Frost’s article; and click here to listen to Skye Jethani interview Michael about his new book Keep Christianity Weird on Phil Vischer’s podcast. (Skip to the start of the interview at 30:39.)

…Here’s another phrase to keep in mind if you know someone who is a sharp critic of Peterson’s work: “It wasn’t written for us.” If they persist, just smile and say, “It wasn’t written for you.”


Image: Bible Gateway blog

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November 15, 2016

A New Bible Translation Classification System

Bible Translations

Thinking of giving someone a Bible for Christmas? Then this is just in time!

Although we tend to classify Bible translations as fitting into one of two categories — formal correspondence and dynamic equivalence — or in terms of a third category which positioned on a spectrum between the two and combining the two; today, I’d like to propose a different way of understanding what is currently on the market in terms of translation clusters.

Contemporary

These are versions that read the same as other products people would be reading (magazines, newspapers, blogs) and are currently gaining traction.

  • New Living Translation (NLT) — Though Tyndale Publishing House lacks Zondervan’s expertise when it comes to marketing, and tends to get mired in an obsession for One Year Bible editions which scramble the text order, the translation itself continues to catch on with readers.
  • Common English Bible (CEB) — A recent attempt to offer something in modern language that specifically targets the mainline Protestant market.
  • New Century Version (NCV) — Its simplified reading level allows you to read faster, and pick up macro-themes. A sister version of the International Children’s Bible; it reads and was written for adults.

Denominational Niche Versions

Some may object that the first one in this list sees broader usage, but for the most part, these editions are associated with the denomination named.

  • English Standard Version (ESV) — Reformed, Calvinist
  • New American Bible (NAB) — Roman Catholic (don’t confuse with NASB)
  • Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) — Baptist (in the middle of a name change that will see the “H” dropped in future)
  • New King James Version (NKJV) — Charismatic, Pentecostal, Conservative Evangelical

Popular

Some versions are now simply famous for being famous. The translations have become so familiar to users and are used so widely in various types of churches that this widespread use eclipses any unique features.

  • New International Version (NIV) — You could argue that without Zondervan’s aggressive push to see “a Bible for every age and every stage,” there wouldn’t have been the push-back of the King James Only movement.  HarperCollins Christian Publishing continues to offer creative ways to get people engaged in the scriptures. For the record, Zondervan — or parent HarperCollins, or Rupert Murdoch — doesn’t own the NIV, but licenses use of it from Biblica aka the International Bible Society.
  • New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) — Despite the above, the Mainline Protestant market continues to perceive the NIV as an Evangelical product, and therefore gravitates to New Revised. The translation philosophies are actually very similar. Also available in a Catholic edition that is widely used.
  • King James Version (KJV) — It’s been 405 years; enough already!

Unique Alternatives

Some versions offer a creative approach that simply sets them apart, including the first two here, which could equally land in the Contemporary cluster above.

  • The Voice — Puts the Bible in a dramatic script format, expands some phrases for flow and clarity and adds some additional descriptive paragraphs to clarify the story. If a person isn’t Biblically literate, this is a great product.
  • The Message — A translation (please don’t say ‘paraphrase,’ it’s neither accurate nor applicable) that uses conversational English and (in the original editions) strips out verse numbers.
  • The Amplified Bible — A Bible that saves you running to a Hebrew or Greek dictionary by offering additional shades of meaning for key words.
  • The Expanded Bible — A more recent version that uses a similar approach to the Amplified.
  • New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) — A Roman Catholic Bible which has an English edition that was translated directly from its French counterpart. Many non-Catholic readers enjoy this version.
  • New International Reader’s Version (NIrV) — An NIV broken up into smaller sentences with a limited vocabulary. Marketed mostly to children, an adult edition is available for people for whom English is a second language. Quite different from the NCV which is also marketed for kids.
  • The Living Bible — The forerunner of the NLT, this was officially superseded by it; a small but loyal following keeps it in print. This one is a paraphrase, in this case of the RSV which preceded the NRSV.
  • J. B. Phillips — As radical as The Message when first released, unfortunately, this was only a New Testament. Still frequently quoted.
  • Jewish New Testament — Although a complete edition of both the Jewish Old Testament and New Testaments is available, I mention the NT here because seeing the Hebrew names and terminology makes for interesting (and most contextual) reading.

Academic

  • New American Standard Bible (NASB) — Although once forecast to be for the North American English market what the NIV became, the NASB, because of its more rigorous following of the formal correspondence translation method, is a more difficult read. It’s a reliable workhorse of a translation, often found in Bible Colleges and Seminaries, but not so frequently quoted in books or sermons anymore. If you write your own Bible translation, this is the one they’ll compare with you with, verse-for-verse.

Lost in Translation

A few editions that filled a void in the market at one time, are still available, but not so often talked about.

  • Good News Translation (GNT) also known as Today’s English Version (TEV) — A production of the American Bible Society that served mainline Protestants, Evangelicals and Friday night youth groups well.
  • Contemporary English Version (CEV) — The Bible Society’s attempt to replicate its success with the Good News Bible a generation later. It was not hugely popular at the time, but it is surprising how often it will turn up quoted by pastors and authors, even if most of us don’t own a copy.
  • God’s Word (GW) — A project begun as an attempt to complete the Beck translation, which served as a style guide. Many of the earliest contributors were Lutheran, but the Bible is seen as interdenominational Evangelical.

It’s important to remember that phrases like “Key Study Bible” and “Life Application Bible” refer to specific editions, some of which are offered across several translation platforms.

I recommend owning at least one Bible in each of the first four clusters. If you’re buying a Bible for someone as a gift, remember that your personal favorite may not be the best Bible for them. You can preview all the translations named here (except the one from Messianic Jewish Publications) at BibleGateway.com

Comments from KJV-only advocates will be cast into the sea of forgetfulness and remembered no more.

November 15, 2013

Bible Translation Families

Bible Translations

Although we tend to classify Bible translations as fitting into one of two categories — formal correspondence and dynamic equivalence — or a third category which is a combination of the other two; today, I’d like to propose a different way of understanding what is currently on the market in terms of clusters.

Contemporary

These are versions that read the same as other products people would be reading (magazines, newspapers, blogs) and are currently gaining traction.

  • New Living Translation (NLT) — Though Tyndale Publishing House lacks Zondervan’s expertise when it comes to marketing, and tends to get mired in an obsession for One Year Bible editions which scramble the text order, the translation itself continues to catch on with readers.
  • Common English Bible (CEB) — A recent attempt to offer something in modern language that specifically targets the mainline Protestant market.
  • New Century Version (NCV) — Its simplified reading level allows you to read faster, and pick up macro-themes. Though it’s also the International Children’s Bible, it reads and was written for adults.

Denominational Niche Versions

Some may object that the first one in this list sees broader usage, but for the most part, these editions are associated with the denomination named.

  • English Standard Version (ESV) — Reformed, Calvinist
  • New American Bible (NAB) — Roman Catholic
  • Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) — Baptist
  • New King James Version (NKJV) — Charismatic, Pentecostal, Conservative Evangelical

Popular

Some versions are now simply famous for being famous. The translations have become so familiar to users and are used so widely in various types of churches that this widespread use eclipses any unique features.

  • New International Version (NIV) — You could argue that without Zondervan’s aggressive push to see “a Bible for every age and every stage,” there wouldn’t have been the push-back of the King James Only movement. In 2013 (and as you’ll see again in 2014), HarperCollins Christian Publishing continues to offer creative ways to get people engaged in the scriptures. For the record, Zondervan — or parent HarperCollins, or Rupert Murdoch — doesn’t own the NIV, but licenses use of it from Biblica aka the International Bible Society.
  • New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) — Despite the above, the Mainline Protestant market continues to perceive the NIV as an Evangelical product, and therefore gravitates to New Revised. The translation philosophies are actually very similar. Also available in a Catholic edition that is widely used.
  • King James Version (KJV) — It’s been 402 years; enough already!

Unique Alternatives

Some versions offer a creative approach that simply sets them apart, including the first two here, which could equally land in the Contemporary cluster above.

  • The Voice — Puts the Bible in a dramatic script format, and adds some additional sentences to clarify the story.
  • The Message — A translation (please don’t say ‘paraphrase,’ it’s neither accurate nor applicable) that uses conversational English and (in the original editions) strips out verse numbers.
  • The Amplified Bible — A Bible that saves you running to a Hebrew or Greek dictionary by offering additional shades of meaning for key words.
  • The Expanded Bible — A more recent version that uses a similar approach to the Amplified.
  • New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) — A Roman Catholic Bible which has an English edition that was translated directly from its French counterpart.
  • New International Reader’s Version (NIrV) — An NIV broken up into smaller sentences with a limited vocabulary. Marketed mostly to children, an adult edition is available for people for whom English is a second language. Quite different from the NCV which is also marketed for kids.
  • The Living Bible — The forerunner of the NLT, this was officially superseded by it; a small but loyal following keeps it in print. This one is a paraphrase, in this case of the RSV which preceded the NRSV.
  • J. B. Phillips — As radical as The Message when first released, unfortunately, this was only a New Testament. Still frequently quoted.
  • Jewish New Testament — Although a complete edition of both the Jewish Old Testament and New Testaments is available, I mention the NT here because seeing the Hebrew names and terminology makes for interesting (and most contextual) reading.

Academic

  • New American Standard Bible (NASB) — Although once forecast to be for the North American English market what the NIV became, the NASB, through its more rigorous following of the formal correspondence translation method, is a more difficult read. It’s a reliable workhorse of a translation, often found in Bible Colleges and Seminaries, but not so frequently quoted in books or sermons anymore.  If you write your own Bible translation, this is the one they’ll compare with you with, verse-for-verse.

Lost in Translation

A few editions that filled a void in the market at one time, are still available, but not so often talked about.

  • Good News Translation (GNT) also known as Today’s English Version (TEV) — A production of the American Bible Society that served mainline Protestants, Evangelicals and Friday night youth groups well.
  • Contemporary English Version (CEV) — The Bible Society’s attempt to replicate its success with the Good News Bible a generation later. It was not hugely popular at the time, but it is surprising how often it will turn up quoted by pastors and authors, even if most of us don’t own a copy.
  • God’s Word (GW) — A project begun as an attempt to complete the Beck translation, which served as a style guide. Many of the earliest contributors were Lutheran, but the Bible is seen as interdenominational Evangelical.

It’s important to remember that phrases like “Key Study Bible” and “Life Application Bible” refer to specific editions, some of which are offered across several translation platforms.

I recommend owning at least one Bible in each of the first four clusters. If you’re buying a Bible for someone as a gift, remember that your personal favorite may not be the best Bible for them.  You can preview all the translations named here (except the one from Messianic Jewish Publications) at BibleGateway.com

Comments from KJV-only advocates will be cast into the sea of forgetfulness and remembered no more.

November 23, 2010

Notations on Galatians — NIV 2011

Technology may not always be as labor-saving as it should be, but in this case, it definitely helps.   This is an extension of something I did last week at Christianity 201, and began with the discovery that in revising the NIV for the new release for March, 2011, some books of the Bible got changed more than others.   The second-most modified text was in III John. The most greatly updated text was Galatians.

The red text indicates 1984 text that was deleted, and the green text indicates the 2011 replacement version.   It’s not just whimsical to play Bible translator and ask yourself what might be behind the revisions you see here, it’s actually good Bible study.

Note:  Section headers, while part of the copyrighted texts of the respective versions are not considered part of Biblical text.   This comparison was done at textdiff.com … Care was taken to place the translations of each chapter in the correct order for comparison purposes, so yes, in the fruit of the spirit passage, “patience” is the current text and “forbearance” is the revision.    32.21% of the verses in Galatians saw some reconstruction.   Some additional verses had other word changes or punctuation changes… Text as accessed 22.11.10 at BibleGateway.com … For the sake of space, this comparison does not include the footnotes.

Chapters two through six continue after the break.

Chapter One

1 Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers and sisters[a] with me,

To the churches in Galatia:

3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
No Other Gospel
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you byto live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let himthem be eternally condemned!under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let himthem be eternally condemned!under God’s curse!

10 Am I now trying to win the approval of men,human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please men?people? If I were still trying to please men,people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Paul Called by God
11 I want you to know, brothers,brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up.of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from birth[a]my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I didmy immediate response was not to consult any man,human being. 17 nor did I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and laterArabia. Later I returned to Damascus.

18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter[b]Cephas[b] and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. 21 Later

21 Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they praised God because of me. (more…)

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