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Lydia rants on Bible versions

Last week at our Presbyterian church we read an excerpt from The Message translation/paraphrase of the Bible. It drove me crazy! Here’s why. Psalm 119:25-32 in The Message, NIV and Holman Christian Standard Version…

I’m feeling terrible—I couldn’t feel worse!
Get me on my feet again. You promised, remember?
When I told my story, you responded;
train me well in your deep wisdom.
Help me understand these things inside and out
so I can ponder your miracle-wonders.
My sad life’s dilapidated, a falling-down barn;
build me up again by your Word.
Barricade the road that goes nowhere;
grace me with your clear revelation.
I choose the true road to Somewhere,
I post your road signs at every curve and corner.
I grasp and cling to whatever you tell me;
God, don’t let me down!
I’ll run the course you lay out for me
if you’ll just show me how.

In NIV:

I am laid low in the dust;
preserve my life according to your word.

I recounted my ways and you answered me;
teach me your decrees.

Let me understand the teaching of your precepts;
then I will meditate on your wonders.

My soul is weary with sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word.

Keep me from deceitful ways;
be gracious to me through your law.

I have chosen the way of truth;
I have set my heart on your laws.

I hold fast to your statutes, O LORD;
do not let me be put to shame.

I run in the path of your commands,
for you have set my heart free.

And finally in my version, HCSV…

My life is down in the dust;
give me life  through Your word.

I told You about my life, and You listened to me;
teach me Your statutes.

Help me understand the meaning of Your precepts
so that I can meditate on Your wonders.

I am weary from grief;
strengthen me through Your word.

Keep me from the way of deceit,
and graciously give me Your instruction.

I have chosen the way of truth;
I have set Your ordinances [before me].

I pursue the way of Your commands,
for You broaden my understanding.

I cling to Your decrees; LORD, do not put me to shame.

The problem is not that I’m a rabid KJV proponent. I’m a young person who is always looking for ways to reach out to a hurting world, and language certainly seems an excellent way to do it.

But I will be the last to argue that the technical phrases  of any translation such as the NIV, ASV or HCSV are too restrictive or stilted. There is, I firmly believe, an elegance to the language recorded as translations of the Bible that’s sadly lacking in such paraphrases as The Message. I feel that rephrasing the Bible so that it “reads more easily” is contorted condescension: it assumes that young people – or indeed anyone who would even want to look at the Bible – is so literally challenged they are incapable of reaching conclusions from words like “weary” or “ordinances.” Rather, Eugene Peterson seems to assume, the only language that can or should be understood is the absolutely casual language, such as is found between friends of similar age, especially an early age.

I would argue thatsuch casual language – language intentionally left informal because the formal is “constrictive” or less popularly understood – is unfitting to record the language of God to His loved people. Lest I sound arrogant or preachy, I will hasten to amend that I do not feel God is difficult to reach out to. He is not hard of hearing, and He doesn’t require that we utilize all the old “thee’s” and “thou’s” found in old English. However! He does demand a reverance, and He is neither shy nor unjust in doing so. He is jealous because He has a right to be so. He demands our complete reverence because He is the only being in Creation who is worthy of it. This He understands.

While Jesus’ sacrifice gives us the freedom to call Him the English equivalent of “daddy,” and we are now His friends, I contend humbly that this doesn’t give us the privilege to pal around with Him. It seems foolish and presumptive to do so…as the Master and Creator of the universe, we find ourselves at a loss for words in His presence. We can’t even behold Him face to face. What gives us the idea that we can implore Him “not to back out on us now” as we would a dubious friend?

I’ll close this brief post by saying that if we treat Him and trust Him as our only Father, perhaps it is best to use language that can more appropriately describe His unshakeable power and awesome presence. It seems only fitting that the language we memorize to pray to Him or read each evening or morning to draw nearer to Him would more fully attempt to encompass His position not just as the Creator of everything we know, but as our Father, who didn’t just “stick around for us,” but willingly gave Himself for us. It seems to display a certain amount of creative respect to use words and phrases that better identify Him as we know Him – incompletely, but willingly attempting.

Or perhaps I split hairs? I am always open for debate. 🙂

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