Since shortly after my conversion to Christ as a teen-ager I have been
addicted to the habit of acquiring and being disappointed with new
versions of the Scriptures, both revisions and new translations.
It is a habit I cannot shake off. In spite of a long record of
frustrated hopes and cruel disappointments, to this day I have but to
hear a new version of the Scriptures has come out and I am off to the
book-seller to pick up a copy. As Ponce de Leon, otherwise a sensible
enough fellow, knocked about the world looking for a nonexistent
fountain of youth, so I continue to look for the new version that will
make any other new versions unnecessary by bringing out the meanings of
the Holy Scriptures as sharply as the developer brings out the details
of the picture on a photographic plate.
But it never works out that way. After poring over the new book for a
few days or weeks and finding that it is just one more version, I put it
aside and return to my first love, the familiar King James Bible. I know
its mistakes very well, its mistranslations and confused tenses; I
should, for the Bible teachers are forever correcting it in public and
the introductions to the new versions never tire of pointing out these
flaws in the grand old English Bible.
It has been my experience that the new versions make at least one
mistake for every one they correct, so by the time the trusting reader
has reached the last chapter of the Book of Revelation he is back where
he started and just goes out by that same door where in he went. And in
the meanwhile he has lost the incalculable benefit of constant and
intimate mental association with the clearest, richest and most
beautiful English to be found anywhere among the libraries of the World,
the Authorized Version.
I believe that my error has been that I have nursed the hope, perhaps
subconsciously, that my dullness of spirit and coldness of heart are the
result of not hearing the truth expressed clearly enough in the common
language of the street; that if I could hear a promise or a commandment
couched in different words it would be easier to believe and obey. But
this is a gross fallacy. Words are only arbitrary symbols to convey
meanings, and the meaning is all that matters.
God would impart an idea to mankind, so He employs a verbal symbol
which the reader can understand. That is what language is for, and that
is all it is for, unless, as I have suggested above, the language
becomes a thing of beauty in inself and so exerts a cultural influence
upon those who read it and hear it spoken. But that is secondary; the
primary purpose of language is to express truth, and it is before the
bar of truth that we must all stand at last.
Mark Twain, when asked what he did about the passages of Scripture he
could not understand, is supposed to have replied that these did not
bother him. "But the ones I can understand," he said,
"often make me sweat." I believe that there is serious danger
that we ignore the plain truth (which, incidentally, is about the same
in all versions) while we search for novel meanings and more modern
expressions of old truths which we know well enough but make no effort
The chief purpose of the Word of God is to reveal saving truth, to
bring men to Christ, to make them holy, to draw them into loving
communion with God and to teach them how to do good to all men,
especially to them that are of the household of faith. Let a man study
prayerfully any of the generally recognized versions, done by proficient
and responsible scholars, and the Spirit will quicken the truth to his
heart and lead him toward the ends God has in view for him. Almost
everything depends upon his response to the Spirit's workings. While it
is important that the translations be accurate and faithful, yet better
versions do not make better men.
And this brings us to consider those translators who think to do God
service by packing into the English text every possible shade of meaning
the word will bear in the original. The synonyms are put in brackets and
the reader, apparently, just takes his choice.
This would never do anywhere else. Imagine reading to a child.
"Twinkle, twinkle (blink, wink, shine intermittently,
sparkle), little (diminutive, small, wee, tiny) star (heavenly body,
luminary, orb, sphere), How I wonder (question, puzzle over, dubitate)
what you are (be, have identify with, belong under the description of),
Up above (atop, opposite to down, contrary to direction of gravity) the
world (the earth, the abode of human-kind) so high (elevated), Like a
diamond (gem, precious stone, crystallized carbon) in the sky (the
heavens, the firmament, the empyrean)"
Yet this is the latest religious word game in evangelical circles and
we are all urged to play at it. For myself, I cannot keep serious while
reading such a version, so I just pass up these uncertain translators
and turn to one who can make up his mind. I have a secret love for
It is quite natural for us humans to ignore the high moral intent of
the Holy Scriptures and get lost in verbiage. "Blessed are the
poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,"says the
old version, and multitudes over the centuries have knelt in pentitence
and tearfully sought to know true poverty of spirit; lately the fad
seems to be to try to find shades of meaning for the words and to
express them in more colloquial language. I wonder if anyone benefits by
having the same thing said several different ways for him.
A few hundred years ago it was considered very much the thing for
ministers preaching in English to interlard their sermons with frequent
Greek and Latin words and phrases, always left untranslated by the
speaker. His hearers were no doubt duly impressed with his learning but
they had not the faintest notion what he was talking about. He has now
been displaced by the preacher who knows enough Greek to make him
uncomfortable and can never resist the temptation to turn every sermon
into a classroom lecture. I have sometimes thought (and I trust not
uncharitably) that the knowledge of a little Greek is a great
convenience to such a man, for the Greek being a remarkably
accommodating language enables him to preach anything he wants to
without being challenged.
All this is not to cry down true scholarship nor to discourage honest
attempts to put the Bible into modem speech. It is rather to confess
that I have not become a holier man nor a better preacher by my
incurable addiction to new versions of the Scriptures. I find that if I
am failing to live in accordance with the will of God, I get no relief
by reading about that will in a new translation.
As soon as God shows a man the way, it is his duty and happy
privilege to walk in it. If he refuses or neglects to walk in it he may
seek some temporary consolation by looking about for some version that
will say the same thing to him in a different way. While he is jockeying
about for new shades of meaning his conscience may get a bit of rest,
but I am sure that a faithful God will not let him escape. Sometime
he'll have to face up to the meaning of things, no matter in what
version they are expressed.
As I write I can see fifteen versions before me without turning my
head and there are many more stashed about here and there. And they all
say the same thing to me; namely, that I must trust Christ Jesus the
Lord as my Saviour, love God with all my heart, soul and mind, and my
neighbour as myself. They all say that I must be holy, humble, obedient,
prayerful, pure, kindly, courageous and faithful. They all say that God
is my Father and the Holy Spirit the inhabitant of my nature through the
mystery of the new birth. And they all end with the cry for Christ's
I really don't need any more new versions, but I'll probably buy the
next one that comes out. Maybe someday I'll find something sufficiently
different to justify the expense. But I haven't up to now.