Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Dumbing Down of God's Word

I was raised on the King James version of the Bible, and that was all I knew until college. There, I had a teacher who was always pushing the New International Version (NIV), so I tried it. I never really liked that version, and can't come up with a reason why. I am not a KJV only person. Those people bug me. You would think that they believe it was the version the Apostle Paul used.........

When I worked at the Christian Bookstore in Salem, I had to know a lot about the different versions of Bibles. The different types. The African American Bible, the Recovery Bible, the Chicken Soup For The Soul Bible. No, I didn't make that one up. :-)

I started exploring different versions. It helped that I got some slightly damaged ones for good prices, and even some free for doing programs to learn how to sell Bibles. I still like the KJV, since it is what I grew up with, and like it for church, but my favorites are the New King James Version, which mostly updates the language - no thees and thous, or words like "lovest". Next to it, is one that even surprises me - the New Living Version, not to be confused with the paraphrase The Living Bible.

I am not out to discuss what is the best version, but I am concerned with some of the Bibles coming out nowadays. It is one thing to read a version that has been updated language-wise, but another to read bizarre attempts at dumbing down God's Word and making it too common.
Take the "Word On the Street" Bible. (1st pictured) It is described as "gritty, witty, earthy". "Bible stories are retold as mini-blockbusters; psalms as song lyrics; epistles as email; Revelation as virtual reality". Should something as sacred as God's Word be witty? Or earthy - whatever that means! I read the reviews for it on CBD's website, and several people raved about how their teenager could understand it. There were also several negative reviews. Do we need to come up with Bibles this elementary for teenagers to understand?

A "Bible" that really bothered me when I worked at the bookstore was "Resolve" (second pictured). This one is geared for teenage girls, as you can tell by the cover. The description for it also bugs the daylights out of me: "Do you ever feel that the Bible is "too big and freaky looking"? Are you ever too intimidated to read it? Revolve is for you. It's a Bible that looks like a fashion magazine!" This version, or "perversion" also features beauty tips! Good grief. Should a Bible look like a fashion magazine? Whatever happened to a nice bonded or genuine leather cover!?

Never fear, the teenage boy isn't left out. There is "Refuel", a "red-hot" New Testament for guys, also formatted to look like a magazine. Here are some things to look for between the covers:
"Extras: girls, cash and cars
Inside Her Head: real girls give their opinions
Look Cool: tips on taking care of yourself" OK, cars are relavent to reading the Bible how?

They have even dumbed down Bibles for adults. The Message, is a good example. I tried this one, but felt they tried too hard to make for easy reading. It was just too much. The Message doesn't stand alone for dumbed down Bibles for adults - there are others.

I think there is a place for kids' Bibles, but as they grow older, so should their Bibles. By the time they become teenagers, they should be able to read a "normal" "grown-up" Bible.

I think it is a great idea to use a different translation once in awhile. A parallel Bible is even a great idea - you can read the same passage in a few different versions, but I think we should be careful in how far we go, whether it be in Bibles for our kids, or for ourselves. We should have to think about what we read. Commentaries and study Bibles exist for a reason, so we can dig in a little more. The words and language doesn't have to be akin to street language, or language that a 5-year-old can understand.

It seems as Christians, we don't want to work for our religion. We want easy, short sermons, with lots of stories and things to make us laugh. We don't want to hear things that will make us examine ourselves and cause us to work at getting closer to God. We want to read Bibles that we can skim like the morning news, and not have to pore over and try to understand it.

I didn't randomly decide to blog about this. I get emails from CBD with Midweek Markdowns. The first Bible shown was on that markdown list for $1.99 - maybe there is a reason for that! Anyway, I read the description and have been stewing about it. :-)

To restate a point, I do think exploring versions is good, and variety is the spice of life, but we need to be careful with the versions we read. Too many aren't translations, but paraphrases which are man's idea of how it should be said. Also, the further away from the original mauscripts, the further away they get from what God was actually saying. If you paraphrase too much, do versions from other versions, something is going to get lost in translation, and it could be something very important. Man's ideas of how something could be said better could change the meaning completely of what God was trying to say.

In closing, I will share an amusing story: When I worked at the bookstore, we had a coupon in our catalog to get one free greeting card from a new line of cards that had just come out. A pastor's wife was spending forever looking at them, so I asked her if she needed help. She had a dilemma: all of the cards she was finding has verses from translations other than the King James, and she was trying to find one that did use the KJV. She finally brought her free card to the counter and commented that she would just have to cover up the verse when she gave the card. I thought to myself "good grief woman, it is free, you don't even have to take it!"

I think we should be careful, but let's not be afraid to explore a different, but good & reliable translation than just sticking with the same one we always have read. We might see something we never saw before.

1 comments: said...

I agree that the Bible should not be "dumbed down" to make it more popular.

These are extreme examples, and hopefully not too many people who are serious about learning from the Bible read these bizarre versions.

But there can also be problems with some of the mainstream versions. You mentioned that you do not care for the NIV, and I do not care for it either. You didn't mention why, but the reason I do not care for it is that it goes too far from a literal rendering of the original language.

I like the NKJV best, and compare it with the KJV on difficult passages. I like a literal translation.

The problem with some modern translations is that the more the translators try to put things in modern ways of speaking and try to make it easier for people to read and understand, the more risk there is that the translator's personal interpretation will get into the text, not what God is really saying.

Translators should not try to cover up the difficulties of some passages because the way they try to solve the problem may not be the correct way. If I read a translation that is not close to the original language, I am putting my faith in the spiritual and doctrinal understanding of the translator, not God's word, and I do not want to do that.