Saturday, February 04, 2006

Let God's People Hear His Word...In Their Own Language

During the 1530's, a man named William Tyndale was burned at the stake. His last words were, "God, open the King of England's eyes." His crime was translating the Bible into English. Such a charge sounds bizarre now. But after hundred years of the Bible being read at church services exclusively in Latin, translating it into the languages used by people in everyday life struck some as blasphemous. Latin sounded "sacred" and "holy." Ironically, the major Latin translation which had been used was the Vulgate, a term which comes from the Latin word for common. When the Bible had been translated into Latin from Greek and Hebrew in the fourth century, it had been because Latin had become the language of the common people. When the books and letters that comprise the New Testament were originally penned, their authors used a form of Greek now known as Koine, again "common." The New Testament was not written in a sacred-sounding style. It reached out to the common person with good news of God's word. Tragically, and I suspect most people will find this hard to believe, some still try to suppress the use of Bible translations in the common language of the people, clinging to Bible translations that they believe sound more "sacred." Whether it is the King James Version (which itself was originally attacked as too common) or the Catholic Douay version or (even now) the Latin Vulgate, lovers of these translations ascribe to them a holiness that transcends other translations. The King James Version had a profound, positive affect on English language and literature. Phrases from it passed into everyday street usage. But the average person on the street today, despite loud protests by a few to the contrary, does not understand parts of it because the language is not the dialect he speaks. In a high school English class last week, I heard students trying to read from a piece of literature that was contemporary with the King James Version. They frankly stumbled badly in pronunciation and comprehension. If you believe God inspired the Bible, and I do, the fact that his Holy Spirit revealed it in common street Greek has a profound significance. It means that God wants everyone, even the poorly educated, to be able to understand his Word without requiring years of training or acculturation. I'm not talking about thorough appreciation of intricate doctrines here, just being able to recognize and understand the words. A friend of mine, who prefers to use the King James Version, bought a book that identified archaic words and expressions used in that translation because he wanted to be sure he understood it (a noble motive, by the way, and I applaud him). The book was over five hundred pages long. The translators of the King James Version, all members of the church of England and under precise royal instruction to translate certain words in certain ways, in the original preface noted that even the meanest translation of the Bible was God's Word. Most modern translations have teams of translators from various church backgrounds that serve as a system of checks and balances against one group's or one king's priorities damaging the translation. They want the common person to hear God's Word. That, I believe, is what God wants. So sit down, and read a chapter from the King James Version, then read that same passage in the English Standard Version, the New International Version, or some other popular translation. Which is easier to understand? There are other other issues; most translations (even the King James Version) have some glitches at points. Books like How We Got the Bible by Neil Lightfoot, 3rd edition Baker Book House, 2003, and The English Bible from KJV to NIV by Jack P. Lewis give insights by conservative scholars into history and accuracy in the Bible translation process.
My main point is this: The Bible was meant to be read in the common language of the people. God's Word needs to be heard and understood in an age where a network news program asked this week, "What has happened to manners in America?" Don't let poorly informed tradition slow the spread of God's Word. Use, and encourage the use of, the Bible in an accurate contemporary translation.

1 comment:

Shararose said...

Wow....that was a REALLY good entry.....I hope those KJV non-instrumentalists enjoy it :P
That was really good though, I enjoyed the point you made especially about the fact that there was signifigance in that the Bible was written in the common koine Greek, street greek. That was awesome.
Love you,