July 13, 2023

  For the last couple weeks I have been sorting through the bibles, prayer books, and hymnals from Resurrection’s library. We have about a dozen different translations and paraphrases. Many of them also have commentary and analysis. There is a women’s bible, a youth bible, etc., each accenting and expanding those points, passages, and pericopes that the commentators believe apply to their particular demographic. We have bibles in English, Spanish, and German. There are even a few bible parallels, with several versions shown together (in parallel) on each page. Many are old, worn, and loved, others barely used. My task has been to select one copy of each to retain in the library and place the rest in the “donation” box. 

  The whole undertaking has led me to wonder why there have been so many versions over the years. Part of the answer is simply that the language has changed. Not only from Greek to Latin to (for us) English, but even within a language from the Elizabethan language of the King James version to the modern English of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) that we use on Sunday mornings (Now available in an updated edition NRSVue). But even then, the NRSV and New International Version (NIV) are contemporaneous. Why multiple versions in modern English?  

  Every translator, or more often translation committee, does their work with different values. Some are more conservative (NIV) and some more progressive (NRSV, Common English Version (CEV)). Most do their best to translate faithfully, but there are always decisions to be made. For example, much like the English word “man,” the Greek word “Anthropos” can mean “male human being” or simply “human being” and translators must decide which is called for in each circumstance. Each version is also written for a different audience. The NRSV assumes a very high reading level, the CEV a much lower one. Women’s bibles, student’s bibles, retiree’s bibles all add commentary that speaks to their audience. 

  The writers of the New Testament did the same thing. Matthew’s audience was composed of missionary minded Jewish Christians, and so Matthew accents Jesus’ teachings about the Law and thoroughly describes how he sent his disciples out to spread the good news. Luke’s audience was composed of educated Greeks, and his elegant prose writing reflects that expectation. 

  The Scriptures speak to each time, place, and individual in their own way. I hope you have at least a couple different translations or paraphrases for you own study, so that you can hear the good news in many different ways. If you don’t we will soon have some out on the “Free books” table in the church. I hope you’ll take one to read or to share!