NOT THE GOOD BOOK
John Broadhurst considers some recent translations of the Bible and finds them less than attractive
Most of the clergy have had to struggle with New Testament Greek so that they can understand the original text and grasp the nuances of its meaning. This difficult task is necessary so that the preacher can give a faithful translation and does not misrepresent the text. For several hundred years scholars have brought together all the little fragments of ancient documents so that the agreed Greek text is the closest it can possibly be to the original.
As a student I soon learned that the Revised Standard Version was the closest to the Greek text and was the most faithful and consistent in its translation. It has been my study Bible for thirty years. As a user of modern English I sometimes found it old fashioned and irritating but no other translation reflected the Greek so well. Over the years new publications of the Bible have poured out from publishers at a great pace. The Jerusalem Bible is not bad and we use it in Church but I find its English awkward and unstylish. Perhaps this is a reflection of its French origins. Many other ‘bibles’ are often little more than a paraphrase of the original and bear little similarity to its text.
We have also had a large number of careless translations over the years. These obscure either the meaning or the intention of the author. The New Testament writers used a Greek version of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) and often quoted directly from it. A good English version will therefore, in these passages, have identical wording in both Old and New Testaments reflecting the intention of the original author. Often this simply does not happen. The worst instances of carelessness that I know are in the Good News Bible (TEV). St John's Gospel quotes the opening words of Genesis, and goes on to reflect its structure. This Bible begins Genesis ‘In the beginning’, and John ’ Before the world was created’. The relationship is completely obscured, and the reader on being told of John’s use of Genesis would be puzzled. The same Bible has in James 5 .14 that the sick are to send for the elders who ‘will rub olive oil on him’. What price anointing? Many other translations are as pathetic or partisan.
With great excitement I purchased the New RSV when it was published 3 years ago. It was a delight. The same accuracy and reflection of the text. Here I thought was a Bible I could trust. Some time later the Vatican said that unlike the old RSV it could not be used in Church. I was amazed. They said its use of inclusive language made it unusable as a liturgical translation. I read the Preface to the New RSV and found that they used no inclusive language for God but in some instances where the meaning of the text was inclusive they used inclusive language for people. I do the same in the Liturgy ‘Everyone’ for ‘all men’ etc. and thought that Rome was straining at gnats. Even for a strong opponent of feminist theology this seemed too much. However I have changed my mind.
When the new politically correct Inclusive Bible was announced six months ago I appeared on a radio show with the Bishop of St Albans. He shared my view of it and at the end of the interview said ‘it is not helpful’. My immediate re-action was that it does not matter whether or not it is helpful. What matters is that it is simply not the Bible. Nothing more needs to be said.
Now the Inclusive Bible has been published my view is vindicated. The Oxford University Press, in its own publicity handout, lists examples of where the original text has been corrected, improved, and revised. What presumption is needed openly to correct the text, what pride to revise it and what vanity to improve it! This 'Lord's Prayer' begins 'Our Father/Mother in heaven'. Anyone using such a prayer in the liturgy, (as they do in New Zealand,) is lying. You can scarcely say ‘As our Saviour commanded and taught us’; nor can you call it the Lord’s Prayer.
The word Lord is frequently changed to God in this version. In the Old testament that is a completely different word. The NT use of Lord for Jesus is of great significance as it is a typical name used for God in the Old Testament. This so called 'bible' destroys the link. Other terms and concepts also disappear: no light and darkness; no poor or blind; children are no longer to obey their parents; the Jews did not kill the Lord; and the Son of Man becomes the Human One. Trivial or significant, anything which is not politically correct is swept aside.
Scholarship demands accuracy and the job of all translators is faithfully to render the text into other languages. This version is no translation. It is simply a rendering of the authors' prejudices in a biblical format. Interestingly it uses the New RSV as its basis but takes it further on. To read it was a great shock for it revealed to me how wrong I had been on the New RSV. The Inclusive Bible is worse only in degree. Neither have any intent accurately to translate the text, in spite of protestations to the contrary.
The implications for Christians are enormous. Rome protects Catholics, but what about the rest of us? For years we have resisted sects with their own versions of the Bible. For Protestants it is quite devastating. How can you have a biblical faith if you cannot rely on the text? Sensitivity to modern perception, whether right or wrong, should not be so insensitive to the claims of the Holy Bible. I can scarcely imagine the OUP doing the same to the Koran, nor can I imagine the Imams ignoring it. It is time the C of E spoke out. Meanwhile I am back with my old RSV.
John Broadhurst is team Rector of St Michael, Wood Green
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