A Subtle Prohibition

A Subtle Prohibition

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

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Gary Pollard

The Index Librorum Prohibitorum was a Roman Catholic list of prohibited Bible versions. Anything other than the Vulgate was illegal to possess. Violations had severe penalties. No lay person would ever want to be caught with a common, modern translation while the Index had force of law.  

While not nearly as dramatic as a forbidden book list, some have inadvertently created similar prohibitions. Their reasons are different, their motives less nefarious, but the outcome is equally destructive. 

Are translations like the ERV and NIV perfect? No! But no one translation is perfect. Read multiple, but be sure to include versions like these in your study. If and when something comes up that seems different, investigate it! Spend some time figuring it out! Look at context, consult multiple translations, see how it fits with the author’s overall message. 

This is a difficult statement, but true: many Christians do not understand the Bible. Some equate memorization with knowledge, but could not accurately elaborate on what a passage means. Secularization and hectic schedules are partially to blame, but difficulty understanding their translations is often the culprit. 

Some examples:

(ESV): Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. 

(KJV): God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.

(ERV): In the past God spoke to our people through the prophets. God spoke to them many times and in many different ways. And now in these last days God has spoken to us again. God has spoken to us through his son. God made the whole world through his son. And God has chosen his son to have all things. The son shows the glory of God. He is a perfect copy of God’s nature. The son holds everything together with his powerful command. The son made people clean from their sins. Then he sat down at the right side of the Great One (God) in heaven. God gave him a name that is a much greater name than any of the angels have. And he became that much greater than the angels. 

Which was easier to read? Which was easiest to understand? The last probably shed some light on the ESV and KJV. How? It’s translated the way people actually communicate. It removes an obstacle to understanding that formal equivalence has kept in place for some time. 

This quote is famously attributed to Albert Einstein, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” The same readily applies to the Bible, which was originally written in the recipients’ common language. 

The translation committee for the English Bible for the Deaf include this statement at the beginning of their work: 

“The main concern of the translators was always to communicate [the message] of biblical writers as effectively and as naturally as the original writings did to people in that time. Faithful translation is not just matching words in a dictionary. It is a process of expressing the original message in a form that will not only have the same meaning, but will sound as relevant, attract the same interest, and have the same impact today as it did thousands of years ago.”

Reading a modern translation that utilizes dynamic equivalence (alongside other translations) in personal Bible study is extremely helpful. Doing so can have no other effect than enhancing one’s understanding of God’s word!