So I haven’t been too anxious to post while I’m in the middle of teaching a class about English Bible translation because I don’t want the students reading my reactions online. I’ll have things to say next semester.
However, I got something for my birthday last month that has revolutionized my life — an iPhone.
My older son asked me if I wanted one, and since my Sprint contract had lapsed, and my Palm Treo was dying, I said yes — little expecting how much different the iPhone experience is from the Treo. Two things are of relevance to this audience.
No, not the one where you can watch the GPS blue dot follow you down the freeway on Google maps. (Don’t try this while driving.)
First, I don’t have to lug around Bibles anymore. They have a free app that brings you 21 versions. While listening to the sermon you can check what the other translations say. I don’t have to make notes and wait until I get home and get on the computer. Very, very handy.
Second, I get to listen to Scripture, instead of just reading it. And that’s what I want to talk about. It turns out that all the spoken Scripture that we had around the house was on old cassette tape collections (some more than 20 years old with missing tapes). Because of the inconvenience, we had long ago ceased listening. But a couple years back, I bought some CD’s of the NT on sale. They were on sale because they are Alexander Scourby reading the KJV.
In the 1940’s Scourby recorded the whole Bible for the blind. See the Wikipedia article here.
Now as you may well have surmised, I’m no fan of the KJV. I respect it for its place in history. I memorized from it, because that’s what we did in those days. But it is not suitable for everyday home use.
Nonetheless, I loaded it on my iPhone and started listening while I walk our dog, Pixie. I was amazed. Of course I know that Scourby had one of the most listenable voices in the history of recorded sound. But what surprised me was how easy it is to understand the gospels and how hard it is to understand the epistles.
And if I, as a linguistics professor who regularly teaches the English vocabulary course, and has an extensive knowledge of the history of English, if I am having trouble understanding something, what about ordinary folk.
The problem seems to be that while I can work out what the author likely meant — for example, conversation in I Peter for behavior, lifestyle. It eats up too much of my attention to keep making the mental jumps. Even after hours of listening, the odd morphology (like –eth for –s: wanteth for wants) is the only thing that’s fully automatic. I still have to work to get
Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles … (I Pet. 2:12a)
to come out as
Live your life among non-believers honorably … (RAR)
(Compare this with some other contemporary translations:
… having you behavior seemly among the Gentiles … (ASV)
Always let others see you behaving properly … (CEV)
Keep you conduct honorable among the Gentiles … (ESV)
Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles … (HSCB)
… and maintain good conduct among the non-Christians … (NET)
Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles … (NASB)
Live such good lives among the pagans that, … (TNIV)
That use of mental band width keeps me from simply hearing God. Listening to Scripture becomes an exercise in mental gymnastics, not an enterprise of the heart.
Since we at Berkeley Covenant are in the middle of a sermon series on I Peter, I decided I’d listen to it over and over because that’s a good way to get Scripture into your heart. But I find there is a problem. Because the language is so hard to process, I end up caught on particular wordings, and tuning out 5 or 10 seconds worth while I work out what a particular phrase is supposed to mean. Listening to a translation in Biblish, as beautiful as it sounds read by Scourby, just doesn’t work.
This is why I’m so passionate about getting a translation that speaks to the heart of English speakers.