Some Notes on Bible Translations

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As I am not a scholar in any Bible-related subject, just an ordinary layman, a more correct title would be: “Some Personal Notes on Bible Translations”

When I grew up, the Bible in use was the Swedish Bible 1917, authorized by the King (of Sweden). The language was already outdated, but readable, and the general Bible-knowledge in the population was much better than it is today. The language of the Swedish Bible had a big impact in the Swedish literature and many many novel-titles were quotations from the Bible like Sven Edvin Salje: “Den söker icke sitt” from 1 Cor. 13:5. Another novel by Torgny Lindgren: “Ormens väg på hälleberget” Prov. 30:19, is full of old “Bible-language”. (I once had a patient, an old woman, who’s daily language was very similar to the Bible 1917.) (For my Swedish readers I can mention that I about 1987 heard a sermon at Tavelsjö kyrka, where the priest said: “Man kan ju läsa i den bibel som man plägar hava hemma!”)

I’m no expert, but I have once heard that the Swedish Bible 1917 is a translation to Swedish from the King James Version. I cannot verify this, but as far as I can tell, they are very similar.

In the mid 70s my older brother was touring in England and Scotland in a VW Beetle 1200 from 1957. Whe he returned home he brought me a beautiful King James Version with beautful painted pictures. It was love at first sight. Some of the verses I could read and recite, but some were, and still are, just too difficult for me… But the beauty, dignity and authority of that Bible made a profound impression on me.

Then came years of confusion. The New American Standard Bible and the the Living Testament, in English and Swedish didn’t appeal to me at all.

Bibel 2000, is probably the last official translation to Swedish. The New Testament, NT81, came 1981 and the full Bible about to the millenium. It is easy to read and understand, but in my opinon there is no beauty in the language, and I would like to call it, flat…

So I turned to the New International Version. The concept was appealing, a modern translation, easy to read and understand. But, the same problem here, where was the beauty, dignity and authority of the KJV? (I must admit though that I like the NIV Study Bible and the Zondervan NIV Study Bible.)

Perhaps it is a question of to which generation you belong. Perhaps newer and younger readers love the Bibel 2000 and the NIV, and good so.

At last I have found the combos that “sings” for me now: The New King James Version, NKJV, is my go-to EDC Bible, the KJV in a more modern language which has the same qualities of beauty, dignity and authority as the KJV but us easier to read and recite. For a Bible in Swedish I use the: Svenska Folkbibeln, a private initiative, which is closer to Bibel 1917 and KJV than Bibel 2000.

If you search the internet on this subject you will soon meet opinions like: “If you don’t have a KJV you don’t have a bible.” And “The NKJV is the words of satan”. I find this ridiculous. The small children in Iraq that were killed by ISIS refusing to deny their Christian faith saying: “We love Jesus! We have always loved Jesus!” Perhaps they have heard God’s Word from an inferior Bible-translation?

In the medical world we sometimes are referring to a formula by: Slawson DC, Shaughnessy AF, Bennett JH. Becoming a medical information master: feeling good about not knowing everything. J Fam Pract 1994;38:505-513.

“The usefulness of any source of information is equal to its relevance, multiplied by its validity, divided by the work required to extract the information.”

Thanks for your attention!

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Ground Zero, New York City, 2004, Copyright: Lennart Wennberg

-o-

5 responses

  1. I do agree on your conclusions: loving Jesus not necessarily is a consequence on which Ancient / New testament translation has been read, if any ! Though, the re-translations of the Bible (Ancient + New Testament) have often left me quite dubious. The reason is that despite the language variations we encounter in a life, they appears to me not so relevant to justify a re-translation of the Bible, as Its contents and meanings appear to me unequivocal. I could justify a re-translation every century, but not a re-translation every 20 or 30 years. The ‘difference’ is how the priests (I’m catholic) explain and deliver the meaning of Those writings, is how they bring the Word of God today in front of us almost as if it were the same God/Jesus speaking. For such purpose, the Bible have to be studied deeply and, I would also add, in good company of the guide provided by the Holy Spirit. When I attend the Mass, (I’m 45) I notice that the same New Testament chapter read by the priest sounds shorter as the same that I was used to listen to when I was, say, 10 or 15. Some statements of the New Testament are imprinted in my memory and as a consequence of the many times I have heard during the Celebrations on Sundays. These differences are perceivable, perhaps not in the meaning, but I am that old to notice them now. In the past the New Testament texts read during Masses were longer (at least this is my impression). And I still have the gut feeling that by (apparently) simplifying and re-translating too much the Bible … might be a risk. Do you know if the Koran is re-translated periodically ? I don’t know. Would be interesting to know. For sure I know that Jehowah’s Witnesses Bible is an altered re-translation. But we both are not referring to this here.
    So my final comment on your words is that I agree with you, even though I look with skepticism at frequent re-translations of the Ancient/New Testament.

    Thank you for having posted your thought on this !

    Cristiano Greggio

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lennart, thank you for today’s blog entry. I enjoyed reading it.

    As a child I learned from the King James Version (KJV). I found it difficult to understand because of the old-style language. Today, I find beauty in the language of the KJV. It also reminds me of my childhood.

    In college, all students were required to take one semester of Old Testament and one semester of New Testament. This was my first time reading the Bible cover-to-cover. We used the Revised Standard Version (RSV). My RSV translation contained historical notes, cross references, and commentaries. I learned much about the historical background and literary development of the Biblical text.

    Today, I read the English Standard Version (ESV) on my Kindle.

    God’s Word is his gift to all people of the world. The different translations communicate what we are to know about God and what he requires of man. The diction differs among the translations but the message remains constant. I attribute this to the figurative nature of language.

    Again, thank you for today’s blog entry. I enjoy your writings.

    Samuel Gray

    Liked by 1 person

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