Essay / Education

Is the TNIV Good News?

Is the TNIV Good News?Mark Roberts is, in many ways, the model pastor. He is very well educated, even better read, and has a heart for his people. I am enjoying his series on Bible translation a great deal. However, I wonder about one assumption running through it: young people need a new translation to help them read the Bible. My grandfather, with his eighth grade education faithfully read his black King James every day of his life. He used helps and was able to follow the message of the “good old book.” He knew the Bible was important and that its message was profound. He was happy to do the work it took to understand it.Does anyone believe the linguistic gap between a rural West Virginian in the twentieth century and the court of the Stuart James is less than that between an Orange County college student and a (gasp!) thirty year old translation?My grandfather could read that Bible, because he valued reading. With almost no help, he taught himself to read. With lots of help our culture encourages young people to live in the forever-slavery of idea consumers: people who could have learned to read but do not. The simple explanation for declining Bible reading would seem to me to be declining literacy skills. People are post-literate. We know what to do with people who cannot read hard books in the Church. We teach them to read. Otherwise, we will always be standing between them and God’s message. Wouldn’t it be better to do the hard work of educating young adults than to delude ourselves into thinking that people who never read anything very difficult will suddenly read and understand Paul’s message to the Romans?The problem is not a changing language. Home educated young people (who somehow never count as modern youth) are taught to love books. They can speak to secularly educated peers meaningfully. The problem seems simply that most Americans have limited vocabularies, use very few works, and have not been taught to think well. They cannot follow the message of the Bible, because the level of literature in it is too complex for them. Compare the amount of print in a magazine fifty years, or even twenty years ago, to the amount today. Compare the number of words used. Kids who cannot say anything other than “like whatever” to their pain need help. A new translation is not it. We are people of the Book. We cannot accept a post-literate culture anymore than we leave pre-literate cultures alone. We must teach all God’s people to read. Media other than books cannot contain arguments. Media other than books cannot transmit the kind of information on which modern science and culture is based. If we allow evangelical young people to stop reading, we doom them to follow the readers. On the other hand, if we keep reading in high numbers and secularists stop, they may be trendy, but we will end up with all the money and power. It is an old lesson. Making a new translation with hip new ads is easier than teaching kids to read. It is cheaper than supporting our local public school literacy programs. It is simpler than opening reading classes, poorly attended at best, for those students we can help escape post-literacy. But ask yourself this: what is a more Christian activity than teaching a young man or woman to read God’s Word? Majestic, timeless language will always be more attractive to real readers than dated trendy language that being up to date is forever dated. Trying to get non-readers to read books with new covers or marketing schemes reminds me of Disney’s California Adventure: an attempt to get people who hate Disney theme parks to go to a Disney theme park. California Adventure was a bad Disney park and too much a Disney park to please Disney haters. That left a market of, well, exactly no one for the new theme park. Good readers are going to be able to read any of the vast number of translations already out there. People who don’t read will not read any translation. Generations of English teachers have tried to make Shakespeare “cool” with limited success to say the least. However, Shakespeare lives. Where? In the minds of those few who get a good education and learn enough English to appreciate matchless depths. Everyone else has to pretend that U2 (my favorite childhood group) is “just as deep” or that thinking about the modern classics, like the Beatles, is just as mentally helpful as thinking about Spencer. But the Pixies simply use fewer words, have less complicated things to say, and leave their listeners in the cultural shallows. We need Dante to climb to Paradise. Personally, I find young adults prefer the King James to market driven Bibles. Why? Once they know reading is important, the grasp that the KJV is written in the best English ever produced. Where biased, it is biased in ways not common to our culture. Where a bad translation, modern speech versions easily correct. They follow Mark Roberts advice and use many Bibles. They start making their own translations as they learn the joy of being multi-lingual. This is yet another linguistic skill vanishing in the “educated.”Young people can be taught to read books.I have done it. It is not easy, but it is the real solution.

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