Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lost in Translation

At a recent ecumenical event, the following translation of the 23rd Psalm was used. It comes from the New American Bible.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
Beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me in right paths
for his name's sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
With your rod and your staff
that give me courage.

You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.


As I was organizing the paperwork, I kept looking at that last line and blinking. For years to come? Years to come?

I don't know about you, but I'd like forever. Period. And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I have no concept of what forever is like. I've sat through some long and boring things. I been to some great events I hoped wouldn't end. I was in labor for a dang long time, but it wasn't forever. It wasn't even years.

If I had heard this translation for most of my life, it would likely be the one to give me comfort. I'd probably see little difference between "years to come" and "forever". However, having grown up with "forever"- anything other than that exact time concept seems like, well, short-changing my expectations. (Of which I have none, except maybe fried chicken and singing, but not at the same time.)

Bible translations are interesting because 85% of them are essentially based on a handful of manuscripts, but also reflect the theological, political and social positions of the translators. I lean toward the New Revised Standard myself because I think it's a fairly good translation. However, I know that there are alterations to the text to be in keeping with current social thought. Toward more inclusive language, The NRSV tends to use "friends" where the Greek says "brothers". Somedays I'm bothered by this, other days not so much.

I also like Eugene Peterson's The Message for his turns of phrase and ways of expression. I think the New International Verson and the New American Standard Bible also provide fairly accurate translation, combined with readability.

Some people choose Bibles because of what they grew up with in church or because of what they think they "should" be reading. Some people have more mundane (!) concerns like font size, columns or no columns, words of Jesus in red, footnotes or the space for one's own notes.

Even with a translation you enjoy, we often still have preferences of the heart and mind for certain passages. The little Southern Baptist girl still inside me recites, "For God so loved the world that He sent his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him shalt not perish, but have everlasting life." Yet for 10 years I've used Bibles that read, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."

In general, I would say the main thing is to have a Bible that you like to read, that's accessible to you. That's the first hurdle to Bible-reading.

As for Psalm 23, I think the following will be the translation I prefer for years to come. :)


The LORD is my shepherd;

I shall not want.

2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures;

He leads me beside the still waters.

3 He restores my soul;

He leads me in the paths of righteousness

For His name’s sake.

4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil;

For You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil;

My cup runs over.

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

All the days of my life;

And I will dwell in the house of the LORD

Forever.




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