Essay / Culture

A Splenda Bible Translation!

markdroberts.comDr. Roberts continues his helpful (and on the whole) excellent series on Bible translation.However, I find his case for relevant language change almost totally unpersuasive. Of course, English changes, but standard English changes very, very slowly. The kind of English that a good translator will use has not changed that much at all in thirty years. Doubt this? No one has yet shown why we were served well for three hundred years by essentially one translation, but now suddenly we need new ones every few years.Confusing technological change (rapid) with linguistic change (in some ways rapid and in some ways not rapid) is not helpful (A new Bible for the Atomic/Computer/Internet/Blog Age!) We are the first generation to demand our books sound like us or we will not read them.Note the vanishing regional accents and dialects in the USA. My great-grandfather did not demand a West Virginia Bible, though his jargon was so different from “standard” English (his sweet Shakespearian West Virginia tones!) that folk from the culturally deprived Mid-West might not have understood him at all! Dr. Roberts may have colleagues that say, “Hey” instead of “Hello,” but that was as nothing to the difference between Old West Virginian and the accent of the South Bronx. A common Bible and standard business English allowed them to communicate. No one thought that translation should kow-tow to the demands of their little group, including the Flappers, the Soxers (et al). Young people are just a little group, and not the most important, after all.What are the Roberts’ examples of linguistic change?First, we are presented with cases of computer jargon or other techno-speak (and verily Moses did blog to the people. . .) which Dr. Roberts admits are not likely to impact a translation of the Bible.Second, almost all the examples we are given could be viewed as linguistic sloppiness on the part of co-workers or as trivial changes in jargon/accent which no Bible translation will ever keep up with.Of course, adults used to help young people move on to more grown up speech. This is a job I, at least, intend to keep on doing. I don’t care if folk use “cool” or “hip” or “sweet” (so dated my college students claim!) or “pick-your-favorite-jargon” in daily discourse. However, I am sure Dr. Roberts and any translation he would recommend have no intention of becoming like the teacher in high school who tried to relate to the “kids” by keeping up with their groovy talk. Romans is written in Paul’s “best Greek.” Here is hoping that young adults are taught to read and speak our most formal English.Third, most of us who grew up in the church remember the remarkable liberation of some new more “with it” translation or singing group. (Dated thing I actually said: “The Imperial’s Higher Power just rocks, Mom!”) I recall swaying at the Joshua Tree concert with evangelicals and transvestites all at the same Rochester concert thinking, “This is so cool.” And then next week something else was cool.And it all amounted to essentially nothing. Lives were not changed. Church people who joined the “Church of What is Happening Now” soon tired of trying to keep up. The great secret of life is that all “sweet” twenty years olds are thirty and forty somthings longer than they are young. Like all young people who must grow up, my generation began to move to sound doctrine, great books, and ancient liturgies that did not try to satisfy us or relate to us or come to our level. Instead we were asked to come to their level.I do not sit with my son and make Christianity relate to him. I ask him to relate to the Truth. Because I love him, this communicates to him comes across as a good thing. Next to the great God, all of us are small. My teen age son is taught to bring God the best he can offer including best music and best English. That may not be much, but it should improve with time. God honors our simple offerings, but anticipates our growth as any good Father would do.Bluntly, I am tired of the Church “listening to our young people,” who are mostly badly read and inexperienced, instead of teaching them to seek higher things. I care more for the opinions of the old saints of God in the pews than in the feckless and reckless youth. I want older men, books, and ideas to teach them (and me!) as the Bible urges. The thought of endlessly repeating the pattern of new translations, new music, new games, new marketing to “get the youth” seems a hopeless accommodation to the worst features of our culture. The hundreds of young people I know (and who are in my home often!) do not want to be on that treadmill. That is (oddly enough) old in the bad sense of the term. We tried it in our generation and the best of today’s youth sees it did not work.Of course, this part of my cry of the heart is not directed really at Dr. Roberts even toned (and mostly uncontroversial) comments on Bible translation, but to a sort of Christian who might use Dr. Roberts’ fine work in ways not intended.Fourth, linguistic change in the area of pronouns and gender did not come from the people. It came from academics or activists who have attempted to force their offense and ideas on the rest of us. By and large, they have done their work well in official places. Government schools by and large bow the knee to the new order. However, good English is good English and fine students still have to read Shakespeare. Unless we are going to paraphrase the Declaration of Independence for our allegedly hapless youth, the fact that all men are created equal will remain standard English for the educated.All old documents in English are infected with standard English. It will now be claimed that standard English has changed. This may be true, though I see evidence that folk under thirty in the church are more likely to snarl at earnest thirty or forty something gender correctness than the reverse. Traditional English is still the patrimony of every English speaker. To fail to learn this English and to demand that all our books use it or we will be offended is to cut ourselves off from the very best English poetry and prose.Linguistic Greek, like traditional English, views mankind in a patriarchal way. I, for one, think patriarchy is good, even necessary for happy human living and a stable culture. There is not space to defend that point of view, but the vast majority of the world’s Christians are in church structures that reflect some degree of patriarchy. It is an old and honorable position.Without arguing for patriarchy, even assuming it to be bad, it seems important that a reader of the Bible know that the language of Scripture is not politically correct. Make of it what you will, but New Testament Greek is not what feminists and egalitarians wish it was. To present a Bible that removes linguistic patriarchy that formed the background to whatever the writers were saying about gender (whatever that was) is to build an argument for a contentious point of view into the very fabric of the translation. All translators do this unintentionally, but it is inexcusable to do it intentionally.The status of patriarchy in the church is a hot debate at the moment. This is not a neutral time. Messing about with the Bible in this area is bound to be seen (whether rightly or wrongly) as bias in translation.The counter will probably be that in such translations are good to remove unnecessary stumbling blocks if we can. Of course that assumes that the young feminist in church should not find her feminism getting in the way of her reading of the text.The main problem is that fixing the Bible for feminist readers is hopeless. Jesus picked twelve male disciples. The law given by God to Moses assumes a patriarchal structure. I know how offensive all this is. This was deeply troubling to me when I was a feminist. God sent his Son. The Fathe
r is not the divine mother. There is no end to it and good folk like Dr. Roberts are of course not advocating such horrid changes. As a result fixing patriarchal Greek and traditional English seems like tokenism.I still believe the key is to stop accommodating linguistic drift in the direction of post-literacy and limited vocabularies. As a quick viewing of any magazine (try Sports Illustrated) will prove words are the foe and not some form or another of English. It is time to begin an education program in the Church and teach people to read. Most of Dr. Roberts’ young people read less of anything than his generation did. That is the main issue and no amount of marketing (in magazines! how quaint!) will change that. The literate will go on understanding context and best English and the post-literate will go on not reading anything at all.

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