Bible versions and ministersIt was in The Expository Times (1993, 105.1), in a book review, that J. R Watson said, "In earlier generations, the Bible was a living book, known and loved, familiar and treasured. I ascribe its loss not only to the secularization of our society but to other things: most obviously to the seemingly endless series of piddling new translations—New English, Jerusalem, Revised Standard, Good News, New International, Revised English—which come out of the presses year by year. Their very proliferation is self-defeating: now, instead of one text, which not everyone could understand but which everyone was able to remember, we have a polytext, which everyone can understand and no one can remember. Ichabod, as Ukridge said, Ichabod." [It took me a while to find the above but it was worth the trouble. That simply demands to be quoted.]
I think the fuss over versions is worth making and it's to our benefit that specialists, who have a genuine concern that "the word of the Lord" gets to people, speak up in critical assessment. I do get a bit exercised at those whose criticism amounts to nothing more than that the version under scrutiny doesn't support the theological views of the reviewer. There's little point in pretending that we don't know that Taylor's Living Bible and Peterson's The Message aren't much more than commentaries; but then that criticism can be levelled at all versions to some degree and some major versions to a great degree.
I would have thought that a new translation should be significantly different in certain ways from previous translations or there's little point in publishing it. If the boast of a new translation is accuracy then there's the implication that all the other versions are sufficiently wide of the mark in areas that really matter that the publishers felt compelled to bring out a new version. If the claim is that the English is "more up to date" then we have to ask ourselves if English speech has changed so radically over the past two decades that another full scale translation is required. Does anyone really believe that?
I have no special literary expertise so I'm not able to do much by way of criticism or praise of elegance or smoothness or flow or such things. I know the difference between sustained slang and chattiness and I know I prefer to read authors who know how to write recognisably good prose. But I think we can quickly make too much of a version's "majestic prose" and the aesthetic effect it can have on us. I'm not sure that the quality of expression [beyond avoiding a stiff woodenness on one end and chatty slang on the other)—I'm not sure that the quality of expression should be a major concern. Should we not want it to flow nicely, have an appealing rhythm and cadence? Yes, I would suppose we should aim for that but I think it's a secondary issue. I'm certain we'd all agree that first and foremost what we want, is to hear what Paul or Peter or Jesus or John said so we can wrestle with them and if we can get that in pleasing English, so much the better. Fine English literary qualities must surely matter but they must not be allowed to matter too much.
Still, no matter what version the people have in their hands, after that comes the matter of interpretation, proclamation and embodiment. It's possible for preachers to go on and on about the shortcomings of this or that translation after which they climb into the pulpit and paraphrase the life out of Jesus and his followers. Haven't I seen it countless times in my life? God forgive me, haven't I done it? Here's a preacher with his preferred version ("the only one worth having, one that renders the original perfectly in majestic English prose") reading the text and then "explaining" it without ever having really worked with it before he mounted the pulpit! If a translation fell down out of heaven from God's printing press into everyone's lap we'd still be short-changed by teachers who are too lazy to develop the prophet's point or Matthew's point before enlisting them in support of his/her agenda.
I don't deny that there are hosts of us that are fervent Bible readers but I think we'd be fools not to recognise that the most of us depend on ministers of the Word for our understanding of what our preferred versions say. If scholars are depending on we the rank and file to know which version is best then their education hasn't given them a full quota of common sense. Between the word of the Lord and the rank and file stand those that minister the Word. God gave us a Bible but he also gave us teachers.
I think the quarrel over versions is a good quarrel when it's done by qualified and committed people but they can only do so much to save us from being deprived of the word of the Lord. After the preacher/teacher has given his judgement about the right version or "the best version" let him see to it that he gives the correct and faithful rendering a thorough listening to and a faithful delivery. If versions should be held accountable for delivering the word of the Lord to the people so should ministers.
I confess I have more fear of ministers than I have of versions.