Choosing a Translation of the Bible -- By: Russell T. Fuller
JBMW 10:2 (Fall 2005) p. 56
Choosing a Translation of the Bible
Associate Professor of Old Testament Interpretation
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky
A generation or two ago, choosing a translation of the Bible was more a matter of choosing the color of the cover than choosing the version. Virtually, there was only one version—the King James Version. It was the only Bible that most people knew. It was the English translation of the Bible. It influenced the church, the society, and the English language itself. Indeed, the church and society thrived under it. The King James Version blessed the people of God for centuries.
But language changes. No language, except a dead one, is static. A cursory reading of English prose of a century ago demonstrates this. Take, for example, the description by Douglas MacArthur, the great American general educated in the nineteenth century, of the World War I French general, Henri Gouraud:
His Algerian exploits had won him the soubriquet of le lion d’Afrique, and his Gallipoli campaign had become almost a classic. But I was not prepared for the heroic figure to whom I reported. With one arm gone, and half a leg missing, with his red beard glittering in the sunlight, the jaunty rake of his cocked hat and the oratorical brilliance of his resonant voice, his impact was overwhelming. He seemed almost to be the reincarnation of the legendary figure of battle and romance, Henry of Navarre. And he was just as good as he looked.1
Of course, this prose is still well understood today, but the vocabulary, the idioms, the turn of phrases have a different ring to them, the sound of a bygone Victorian era. But go back further in time, to the time of the King James Bible. The language sounds even stranger to our ears, almost foreign. Yet, with some study and a very good dictionary, even
JBMW 10:2 (Fall 2005) p. 57
that Early Modern English prose may be understood.
But all translations, including the King James Version, seek to put the word of God in the language of the people. In fact, God inspired the authors of the New Testament to write in the Greek dialect of the common (Koine) people, not in the Greek dialect of the academy (Attic). So it should be with modern translations. Translators should put the word of God, which is the power of God unto salvation, into the language of the common man that he might know God and what God requires of him. Hence, there is a real need for modern translations—perhaps not so many modern translations—but nonetheless, there is a need, especially in our biblically and generally illiterate times...
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