Friday, 6 March 2009

The old is better?

My former pupil (and now my cousin!) Andy left this comment on my birthday letter post. I was going to comment back there but the old grey cells started going into overdrive so I thought I'd better make it into a post in it's own right.

"I prefer the old language version of the new testament. I guess it seems more genuine to me"

As I was recommending the reading the New International Version or the English Standard Version of the Bible obviously I would disagree! But not only do I think newer translations are better, but they are also older. Here's my thinking...

Personal. Before I became a christian I tried reading the Bible 3 times I think. I failed every time, because (a) I started at Genesis and (b) I was reading the old King James Version. I wasn't until my then girlfriend gave me a New International Version that I understood enough to get offended by Jesus and his outrageous claims. The dated language had softened the impact and made it seem, well, more unreal.

Intentional. One of the main contributors to the English language Bible was William Tyndale. The English Bible became known as the 'King James' or 'Authorised Version' (meaning authorised by the King not God!) Tyndale saw people ignorant of the truth of God because the Bible was locked up in Latin, a dead language that no one spoke anymore. Sound familiar? The Driving passion of his life was

"If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scripture, than he [the Pope] doust".

This was made possible because Tyndale and others translated the Bible not just into English, but in a form that was spoken by plough boys not professors. Over time that form of the language become more lofty and 'professorial' but it didn't start out that way and it wasn't Tyndale's intention. In fact I think he would be horrified to know people were still using it!

Representational O.k. so Tyndale didn't intend it, but who cares? What about what God intended? That's what really matters right? Well in the time of Jesus there were two forms of Greek. The first was used in the law courts and important documents the other was the Greek of the market place, called 'Koine' or common Greek. Perhaps unsurprisingly for the God who came to earth to live as a carpenter in a small town the middle of nowhere, he entrusted the most important message in the world to the language of the street, as spoken by fishermen and farmers.

Historical. So here's where it gets weird. The King James version was completed in 1611, translated from the best and oldest copies of the Greek, Hebrew & Aramaic scrolls available. Since then we have had nearly 400 years of discovering manuscripts, many of then older than anything Tyndale and his peers had access to. And who knows how many more ancient manuscripts have been found that shed light on nuances of meanings particular words, grammar & syntax. So if you
're wary of attempts to modernise God's word and make it trendy and you want to be faithful to the need to get a new bible!

Does that make sense?
Anyone who uses a modern translation - want to add anything?
Anyone who can read Greek - what's your perspective? (please don't get too technical, we're amateurs here!)

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