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“Watered down”

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One of the criticisms made of all contemporary, readable Bible translations is that they are “watered down” versions of God’s Word.  Interestingly, the people who make those charges never give examples of how the new translations dilute the Scripture.  Still that doesn’t stop them from making what amounts to a baseless accusation.watered down 

A different version of same argument was made around 500 years ago when the language of the church was Latin and the Scripture read in mass was The Vulgate.  “If people want to read the Bible,” they said, “let them learn Latin. Don’t put the Scripture in the language of the people.”  The Bible, they thought, was too important to be rendered in a tongue as banal as English.  You see, in those days English was considered a vulgar language, the language of the masses.  Important documents were written in Latin.  The language spoken in the English court was French (in those days France and England were getting along).  If a member of the aristocracy spoke to a peasant about spreading fertilizer in his field, he spoke English.  But if he spoke to an equal, he used a proper language like Latin or French.  No wonder people objected to having Scripture in so common a tongue.

A similar dynamic is at work today.  English may no longer be considered a vulgar language, but there are elites among us who think we need to keep Scripture in a form which makes it hard to reach.  Some apparently prefer the sound of “Biblish” to English and think others ought to prefer it too.  But when you study the Scriptures carefully, you realize the language of the New Testament was “common Greek.”  It wasn’t written in some highfalutin tongue spoken only by the pretentious.  It was the way people spoke in the market, at home . . . essentially, where people lived.  Apparently, God wanted the Bible to be in a language where the most people could get it, read it, understand it, and live it.     

I learned a long time ago that the smartest people around are those who can take complicated language and hard concepts and teach them so that others can understand.  But the true intelligentsia may not be those leading graduate seminars in the elite universities; they are likely to be found teaching 4th graders in public schools or middle-schoolers in Sunday School.  Just because translation committees have put the Bible on a shelf that people can reach does not mean it is watered down; it means that more and more people will be reading, paying attention, and living it.

This is why we did The Voice.

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3 Comments

  1. Billie Ford says:

    Way cool explanation!

  2. Anthony M. Joseph says:

    I think you have CS Lewis in your corner on this. I believe he mentioned periodic re-translations of the Bible as a way of expelling the puffery that develops around a “traditional” one. But what about, in the beginning of the Voice’s Gospel of John, the choice of “neighborhood” instead of “world”? There’s a real difference in meaning there – the first being local, the latter, well, global. Did the translators make a deliberate decision for the greater immediacy and social intimacy of “neighborhood”? And is that what John intended to convey?

    • AMJ,
      Good question. I was part of the translation team but not privy to every decision. I think there is a growing sense that this globe is shrinking, the term global village comes to mind. World implies the world of people, the inhabited world as opposed to Carl Sagan’s pale blue dot (planet). The world as planet is different than the world as community of persons. I can’t speak for the translators but I think that is what they had in mind.

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