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In 1653 typesetters in Cambridge made a big mistake as they were typesetting an English version of the Bible. In their Bible the seventh commandment read: “Thou shalt commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). When the publisher realized the mistake, he immediately recalled what was then and now referred to as “The Wicked Bible.” Any Bible commanding adultery should certainly be considered “wicked.” Eleven copies remained in circulation. If you owned one, it would be worth a king’s ransom. The angry publisher fined the typesetters 300 pounds each. In those days that was roughly 20 years salary.
I tell that story because something similar happened to us. I was the senior theological review director for a new Bible translation called THE VOICE (Thomas Nelson Publishers). A few years ago we published a book called The Voice from on High (Thomas Nelson 2007). It is a compilation of Scripture (Old and New Testaments) that corresponds roughly to the libretto of Handel’s “Messiah.” Despite all our best efforts (14 levels of review and proofing) a mistake crept into the final product. In 1 Corinthians 15:54 our version reads: “And, when we are all redressed with bodies that do not, cannot decay, when we put immorality over our mortal frames, then it will be as Scripture says: “Life everlasting has victoriously swallowed death.” Christians don’t expect to be clothed with immorality. Immorality is to be avoided. We expect that at Christ’s return that we will put on immortality not immorality. It is amazing what a difference 1 letter makes.
Two prominent features in modern Bible translations are the chapters and verses. People often ask me how they got there. Some think they were there from the beginning but they weren’t. When Paul wrote the book of Romans, he didn’t divide it into sixteen chapters.
One of the things we hoped to do with The Voice project was to help people understand that the Bible is not actually a single book. It is a veritable library of books, sixty-six in all, written over a period of more than 1000 years. The current configuration of the Bible didn’t just happen. The order of the books and the collection itself represents a driving theological force which Christians believe was orchestrated by the Holy Spirit. But what about the chapters and verses?
When the many authors, co-authors, and secretaries wrote their respective books, they didn’t include chapters and verses. They composed their books from beginning to end without putting in breaks. Now this doesn’t mean there were not structures in place which became breaks. For example, the book of Psalms is composed of 150 hymns which had an introduction or superscription describing who the author was or to whom it was dedicated along with other directions for how it was to be chanted or sung. Clearly, these were breaks but they weren’t the same as our chapters and verses. Likewise, the book of Lamentations is written in an acrostic style which is discernible only in the original language (Hebrew). The Voice translation tries to replicate that acrostic style in an English translation. So clearly these superscriptions and acrostic forms provide structure, but structure is not the same as chapters and verses.
There were early attempts to provide a convenient structure to the books of the Bible but the one we use today goes back to the 13th century. A fellow named Stephen Langton divided the Bible into chapters in 1227. He was a professor at the University of Paris. Later he would go on to become the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The verses we use today were added centuries later by a French printer named Robert Estienne. In 1551 he divided the Greek New Testament into verses. Since the official Bible of the Catholic Church in those days was the Vulgate—a Latin translation—the first programmatic use of chapters and verses for the whole Bible was published in 1555. The first English New Testament to make use of these chapters and verses was a translation by William Whittingham (1557). The first English full Bible to use chapters and verses was the Geneva Bible (1560). Since then Bible translators and publishers have adopted and standardized the use of chapters and verses. Some editions of the Bible have been published without them, for example, Richard Moulton’s edition The Modern Reader’s Bible (1907).
Chapters and verses are handy because they make it possible for people to find the same book, chapter, and verse for public reading or study. Otherwise, we’d have to say, “Go to the passage where Luke tells us the early Christians were devoting themselves to the teachings of Jesus’ apostles.” Now which book would you go to, and which part of the book would you find that passage in? The answer is Acts 2:42. Much easier, right?
While chapters and verses are a handy way of indicating specific places in the Scriptures, they sometimes cause us to disregard the narrative flow of a text or in a worse case scenario misread it altogether. We will consider these in the next couple of posts.
Recently, I gave the Hayward Lectures at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. My topic was “Paul’s KYRIOS Christology.” Kyrios is a Greek word most often translated “Lord” in English Bible translations. Paul uses the word about 200 times in his letters to refer to his Lord, Jesus Christ. On a few occasions he used the word in reference to God, the Father. The word can be used of people as well who possess some sort of recognized, superior status, a king, a master of slave, for example.
One night after the lecture during the Q&A time, someone asked a good question. It had to do with the English word “lord” or “Lord” as a translation of Kyrios. The fellow knew about The Voice translation and he appreciated that we had tried to find new words and associations which communicate well to a modern audience. We translated words like Christos as “the Anointed” rather than “Christ.” We translated apostolos as “emissary” rather than “apostle.” So he asked, is there a better word than “Lord” to translate kyrios?
The word “Lord” was used first to translate kyrios and other biblical words for English-speaking audiences in the middle ages when the upper classes were referred to as “my lord” or “my lady” by those who occupied lower status. Given the sensibilities of the modern world, the fellow wondered whether there was a better word. Though those titles are still used in some societies, they are rare in many countries including the United States. They have lost currency in many places. The use of “Lord” is restricted to religious language most often referring to God, Christ or, in some cases, the Holy Spirit. For some “Lord” functions as a name or title for God.
Well, I had no answer. No one had ever asked me that question before so I had never thought about it. I’m embarrassed to admit I had no response given the fact that we rethought so many of the other key religiously-laden words. I’m still puzzling over it. I’d be interested in your thoughts. Is there a better word than “Lord” to translate kyrios in modern English? It would have to have the right meaning and sets of associations. It would need to convey the idea that the person holding the title had supreme authority and power. Since it is most often used in the New Testament as a title for Jesus linking him with the One, True God, it must be an appropriate honorific (fancy word for “title”) for the Liberating King. I’m hard pressed to come up with anything. If we put our heads together, I bet we can think of something. Then again, maybe not?!
Dr. Michael F. Bird is a well known New Testament scholar. When I met him a few years ago, he was teaching at Highland Theological College in northern Scotland. Since then he has taken a prestigious post in Australia at Ridley Melbourne College. Recently, he offered some reflections on The Voice translation.
Here is his review: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/euangelion/2014/10/reflections-on-the-voice-bible/
Dr. Bird is an able commentator on culture and Scripture. Look for his books and blogs. In addition, he is one of the funniest people I’ve met, especially among scholars who tend to be a rather dour lot. While Dr. Bird takes his subject seriously, he doesn’t take himself too seriously. One person has called him the Conan O’Brien of evangelical scholars.
I’ve been inspired recently by posts from Dr. Creig Marlowe and some comments I heard recently by N. T. Wright. There is some new thinking here for me, but as Ecclesiastes reminds us: “there is nothing new under the sun.”
It has to do with a series of binaries in Genesis 1. Here is a list:
1.1 heavens and earth
1.4 light and darkness
1.5 evening and morning
1.9-10 seas and dry land
1.14 sun and moon
1.27 male and female
These binaries form complementary pairs which are not only created by God but participate with God in the next steps of creation. In a way they become co-creators with God because they provide the raw materials for the coming days of creation. There is a logic to the days of creation which you have probably already noticed. Days 1-3 provide the raw materials and realms into which the creatures of days 4-6 live (I use the term “creature” here not so much as a living thing but a thing which is created):
Day 1 light Day 4 sun, moon, and stars
Day 2 sky and waters Day 5 birds and fish
Day 3 dry land Day 6 land creatures and humanity
This structure is intentional at several levels but it does show order coming from chaos, countering the formless and void state described in Genesis 1.2.
Dr. Marlowe is correct that some of these binaries form a hendiadys (literally, one through two). A hendiadys is an expression of a single idea by the use of two words often connected with “and” or some other conjunction. “His legal case is not black and white” uses a hendiadys. “Black and white” is not describing the color of the case but essentially that the facts of the case are not clear. In Genesis 1.1 “heavens and earth” describe not so much two things but one for which there is no Hebrew word “the universe.” “Heaven” means everything above your head and “earth” means everything below your feet, in a sense then everything. That is why we translated Gen 1.1 in The Voice: In the beginning God created everthing, the heavens above, the earth below . . . ”
Here again is our list of binaries with a suggestion of how to see the hendiadys.
1.1 heavens and earth = the universe
1.4 light and darkness = the progression of time
1.5 evening and morning = a day
1.9-10 seas and dry land = the earth
1.14 sun and moon = signs and seasons (again, the progression of time)
1.27 male and female = humanity
In each case God, as it were, turns to the created thing to invite it to work with him in the ongoing task of creation. So, for example, God says to the earth to bring forth vegetation, plants and seeds (1:11-12). He says to the waters/seas and the skies: bring forth fish and birds (1.20-23). Then God says to the land: bring forth land creatures of every kind (1.24-25). When God says, “let us make humanity . . . ” people have wondered about the “us.” Is God speaking to and for the Trinity? Not necessarily. That certainly is one way Christians have read the text. Given everything that has gone on so far in Genesis 1, however, I think God is speaking to the created order itself. The “us” would include God, the sun, moon, stars, waters, seas, dry land, and other land creatures. Human beings are made up of the same elements as the stars, the earth, and all the critters. Now, I’m not arguing that we should have a scientific reading of Genesis; what I am suggesting is that there is an internal logic to the creation story of Genesis 1: God creates something and then uses that creation to create the next thing. In this way all things are dependent and related. Genesis 2 reinforces this when it says that God sculpted Adam/humanity from the earth/dust and breathed in him the breath of life (2.7-9). So Adam is made up of previously created elements along with the divine breath.
The final binary “male and female” deserves special attention. Male and female make up one thing, humanity, and this humanity reflects the image of God. But it is in their differences, their complementarities that male and female reflect the imago dei. Male has no greater claim than female on imaging God. It is in their union together and distinctions from one another that God’s likeness is on full display. We live at a time when people want to deny or erase the male-female distinction: to do so is to assault humanity itself and diminish God in the process. Here is the commentary embedded at Genesis 1:27 in The Voice:
The crown of God’s creation is a new creature, a creature that can sound the heartbeat of its Creator. That creature, made male and female, reflects God’s own relational richness. The human family is to join God in the ongoing work of creation. The earth below and the sky above with all their inhabitants are too beautiful and too good to be left alone. They need the tender care and close attention that only God’s favored creature can give.
In Genesis 1:28ff. God blesses the humans and gives them the prime directive: be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. In other words, humans are now directed to participate with God in the ongoing work of creation. God no longer creates ex nihilo. He uses preexisting elements and persons in order to fashion the next generation. Through the sexual union male and female become one flesh and life as we know it goes on.