The new Babel

I’m using my fathers revised edition of the 1930-translation, published in 1973.

I mentioned a few days ago that I would do some “light writing”. This is sort of light. I recently started reading the blog Where Grace Abounds and one of the first posts I read was Epic. Heather has been writing about language several times, which is a topic I keep coming back to myself. In one of Heather’s comments on my blog she used the term gentleman believer. I’ve never heard that before, but it could be that I’m not very formal. So what is a gentleman?

I believe it used to be a man who didn’t have to work because he was independently wealthy. As I understand it you didn’t necessarily have to be born into money, but could climb to a higher social class later. You’d be on the level with lower nobility, but probably not really invited to join their posh club.

When you see the word on the door to a restroom today, it clearly doesn’t mean you need to show a statement of your income and fortune before being allowed to attend to your personal business. Today it mostly means a man behaving politely and decently.

It may seem like an improvement to make the word less exclusive and more about acceptable behaviour, but when we also find it on restroom doors I don’t know if it really means anything. Not that I’m spying, but sometimes it’s very obvious that a few of these “gentlemen” don’t see the need for water and soap. They go straight for the door and I have to touch the same doorhandle. That’s not very gentlemanlike, and I don’t like public restrooms for that reason.

Heather wrote about words used in the Bible that have a new meaning today, such as awesome.

The Norwegian publishers of the Bible may have been a little too eager to keep the language accurate. There were new translation in 1930 and 1978 (slightly adjusted in 1985) and 2011. There have also been a Sami translation, as well as a Norwegian Bible aimed at youth in 1959. For some reason the King James Bible (which again was based on a Greek translation) was published in Norwegian in 1997. There were also two other publishers with editions in 1988 and 2007.

There is a lot of effort on keeping the Bible in a modern language that will engage people. I’m conflicted about that because I like a modern language that I don’t have any problems understanding, but I also appreciate the older, more poetic language. It’s another matter if it gets to be too archaic of course. Then I struggle too much with understanding. Modern language may do a better job at delivering the message, but I think it fail on the “awe factor.”  It sort of makes the text sound smaller. It’s like Heather’s example with awesome. If God is awesome like a movie, it doesn’t exactly sound impressive.

I came across an interview with the theologian that translated Leviticus for the 2011-edition. He mentioned a small example that didn’t have any great significance, but still could have given the wrong impression. The word he mentioned used to be translated to party tent. That’s what the hebrew word means. A party tent is frequently used in summer in Norway, for example as pubs and cafés at festivals. Not exactly the image you want of Aron and his sons. The new word literally means tent sanctuary.The important thing is that we understand of course, and in this case they may have found a better word, but many of the modern words are losing on the awe factor ( I didn’t mention some of the words that are almost vulgar).

In Isaiah 7:14 they felt that the word virgin didn’t fit in, so they changed it to young girl. The same two words, young girl, is still a footnote in the gospel, but they have kept the word virgin in the text.

The traditional Biblical name for a prostitute has been replaced too. The new translation uses whore and prostitute. That isn’t less accurate, but in my opinion much less poetic, and I appreciate those qualities as well. I frequently heard the word whore passing between girls when I worked as a teacher. Again, it does the job in the Bible too, but.. Most of the changes are just minor and have mostly to do with grammar, but I wonder. Do we really need a gazillion versions and the latest version of oral language?

What if this is just the beginning?

Just before I was ready to publish this I came across an article about flawed Biblical translations. It turns out that the version from 1997, also called The Norwegian King James (translated from New King James), has been criticised by most scholars.The publisher wanted to rectify what they claimed the historic-critical method had got wrong. They may have had good intentions, and it’s impossible for me to judge, but scholars claim to have identified a lot of badly translated words.

If this continues we could end up with a clouded gospel, and I’m sure there’ll be more editions claiming to be closer to the original text than any other. I wish I could read several languages, but I am glad I understand some English at least. Then I can compare.


After posting this I did some more research and found additional information. A newspaper had compared the new edition with the 1978-edition and found that the new one had 12 807 fewer words and the name God appears 567 fewer times. I found a comment on a Christian site written by a man that had taken part in the translation. He obviously thinks that the words are closer to the original, but he also thinks they have simplified the Bible too much with short sentences, simple words and interesting language. He used Ephesians 1:13-14 as an example. This short passage was divided into 9 sentences. He also thinks the publisher is trying to make the Bible politically correct.

21 thoughts on “The new Babel

  1. John,

    Is your definition of “light writing” kind of like my definition of “short comment?” 🙂 Sorry, I couldn’t help myself, couldn’t resist that one. Now I can’t wait to get into the whole “translation” discussion, but I just left a two-hour Beth Moore Bible study over Thessalonians, and we were studying the “lawless one,” etc. and my brain is just seriously overloaded. I can’t wait to to see the dialogue here tomorrow on this topic! 😉 So, Thanks for “light writing.” I’ll save my “serious” comments for when I am more awake and alert and a few more synapses firing!

    1. This was a new development. Jay is short. I like you whether you are long or short, but feeling rested is good. Looking forward to you rested, carrying and ready to fire those superfast neurons. 😉

  2. You got me distracted with the public restroom mention. Couldn’t help but laugh because I totally identify with your hygiene concerns.

    Anyway, it is interesting that you note how different words will mean different things depending upon one’s culture. As we in the US have never experienced such an extreme segregation of classes involving a designated aristocracy, it never would have occurred to me that you might associate “gentleman” with such. Craig’s great-grandfather might have, though, as he was a Danish immigrant who had previously served in the king’s stables.

    The translation issue is a difficult one to navigate. The short answer is “no, we probably don’t need as many different versions as we have”. Many of the English ones are simply updates to help keep the message understandable for people who’s language has evolved. I don’t see a problem with that, as God translated Himself into a form (Jesus) that all of humanity can related to. But political correctness can be a huge complication, IMO.

    I once was informed that there are actually two primary sources which have been used to create the Bibles we have today. The KJV follows one set of texts and a number of the more recent versions consult the second set. This is probably one reason many believe that KJV is more reliable.

    Some even go so far as to accuse all other works as being demonically inspired. But I have a hard time accepting such claims, for various reasons…the least of which is that Tyndale’s Geneva Bible existed before KJV, and served to enlighten many to the truth of scripture.

    It is my understanding that there are three basic types of Bible version. Those known as word-for-word translations (Like KJV) are considered to be the most accurate regarding the retention of the original language structure. The problem for some is that grammar rules are not consistent between languages, and some Hebrew and Greek words do not translate well into a single word or two in other languages. So, some words were simply transliterated while others (like “love”) were poorly substituted.

    The “thought-for-thought” translations can be good, but will necessarily involve more interpretation by the translators. So, you might get a better picture of what is being said in the Greek/Hebrew but you can also get some personal opinion injected into the finished product.

    The least reliable would be the paraphrased offerings, which don’t always (ever?) consult the “original” languages but simply reword an existing text into something that is supposedly easier to read. These can be truly atrocious in their renderings of scripture.

    Having a reliable translation is important, but having God enlighten us to His intended meaning is even more critical. When I realized that the scribes and pharisees of Jesus’ day actually had the “original” texts and were still missing the point, I became much less apprehensive about reading my preferred modern translation and more concerned with whether I was asking the Lord to show me what is true. He really is big enough to handle that task 🙂

    It is always a source of joy to hear that someone found a bit of inspiration in my writing.

    1. 🙂 Childish terms are sometimes the most appropriate.

      I was just being silly. Numbers and I have never really found a happy place in which to co-exist.

    2. 😀
      I’d rather hear “Stop being silly on my blog” than get total silence.
      But giving any response at all is certainly your prerogative.

  3. Well…here go my comments….
    I grew up with the KJV, as it was the only Bible my parents would use. I continued to use only the KJV until a few years ago, as I began to experience neurological problems that began to affect my ability to comprehend the KJV text. I started using the Amplified Bible.
    Later on, because my son could not make sense of the KJV, I bought him an NSV, which I later discovered omits verses referring to the divinity of Christ. Then, I got him a NKJV, but he still struggles to understand it. The church we are in now and the last one, mostly uses NIV in preaching and teaching.
    Last night at the ladies Bible study, I noticed an interesting difference in translations that significantly can affect interpretation of Scripture.
    The teacher in the video (Beth Moore) was using the ESV. We were studying the passage in II Thessalonians 2: 3-10.
    I don’t have a copy of the ESV, but I know when she read verse 3, that it referred to “for that day will not come except the rebellion come first…”
    But in the Amplified Bible I am using, verse 3 reads,
    “Let no one deceive or beguile you in any way, for that day will not come except the APOSTASY comes first [ unless the predicted great falling away of those who have professed to be Christians has come], and the man of lawlessness (sin) is revealed, who is the son of doom (perdition), [Dan. 7:25; 8:25; I Tim. 4:1]”
    (the all caps are all mine, but the rest is from the actual text)
    I think the differences in wording between these two versions enormously change the meaning of the verse. The word “rebellion” comes across as more broad, referring to rebellion of humanity. But the word “apostasy” refers to the CHURCH. In the KJV, the phrase used here is “falling away,” which does suggest a pulling back, or leaving something.
    Humanity has been in rebellion against God since the Fall. But this “apostasy” seems to be specific to the Church and a specific point in time, to those who believe, or purport to believe.
    I have heard those in the “prosperity” churches and the Word of Faith movement “prophesying” about this great revival that is supposed to be happening, but what they are calling a “revival” looks to me just like this “apostasy” that is referenced in the Amplified Bible. One need only look at the Joel Olsteens and the T.D. Jakes, and the Saddleback church, and the whole ecumenical, “unity” movement, and it sure looks like a “falling away.”
    That said, I don’t condemn anyone for using different versions or translations, and it can be useful to use more than one at a time,and compare them. I don’t know much about the ESV except it seems very popular right now.
    John, also with regards to word substitution, think about the example you used, of “young girl” being substituted in place of “virgin.” Well, the two aren’t necessarily interchangeable! Not all young girls are virgins, and not all virgins are young girls, so replacing the words places Mary’s virginity onto shaky ground for many people. I don’t know if that was the intent, or just an attempt to make an easier read….though I don’t know what is so hard to understand about “virgin.”
    Like you, I have also read about two primary sources for the New Testament text. I have read that there was the Greek Textus Recepticus, a and the Alexandrian text, also known as the New Greek Text. The KJV and the NKJV were translated from the Textus.
    That said, I agree with you when you said, “ but having God enlighten us to His intended meaning is even more critical.” ,i>
    That really cuts to the heart of the matter. Regardless of whether or not we haven’t the most accurate text, He is our teacher, and without Him, we can’t understand it anyway.
    Despite that, though, I can’t help but wish I actually could read Greek and Hebrew so I could as close as possible to the original. -(

    1. Despite that, though, I can’t help but wish I actually could read Greek and Hebrew so I could as close as possible to the original.

      That can be helpful, I’m sure. I often consult a Greek/Hebrew dictionary in order to better understand the intent. Becoming familiar with the culture and the symbolism is helpful, too.

    2. Years ago, I asked my readers what they thought about the phrase “It is finished”.
      The NET uses the word “completed”, and I think all three words relay a similar meaning.
      The phrase ought to cause us to ask what Jesus is proclaiming to be accomplished/finished.

    3. There’s a characteristic set of phrases in The Revelation that may provide insight into the way that The Almighty deals with finality.

      (I tend to replace serial grammar and apply spatial array formats.)

      Mystery Finished (Rev. 10:6-7 )
      [The Mighty Angel] sware…
      – by Him that liveth for ever and ever
      – who created heaven and the things that therein are and
      – the earth and the things that therein are and
      – the sea and the things which are therein that
      there should be time no longer

      But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel…
      – when he shall begin to sound
      the mystery of God should be finished as
      – he hath declared to his servants the prophets.

      [____] No More At All (Rev. 18:21-23)

      And a mighty angel took up a stone…
      – like a great millstone
      – and cast it into the sea saying

      Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon
      be thrown down and shall
      be found no more at all

      And the voice of harpers and musicians
      and of pipers and trumpeters shall…
      be heard no more at all in thee and
      – no craftsman of whatsoever craft he be shall
      be found any more in thee and
      – the sound of a millstone shall
      be heard no more at all in thee

      And the light of a candle shall
      shine no more at all in thee and
      – the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall
      be heard no more at all in thee

      For thy merchants were…
      – the great men of the earth
      for by thy sorceries were…
      – all nations deceived

      These are more than a statement of ending. It’s more like the guarantee that “done is done” — backed by intent to keep it so — and the creative power of The Almighty Himself.

      “It is finished.” is almost a seal. “Game over.” “That’s a wrap.”

    4. Nomemoleste,

      I never noticed that before, the repetition in those verses, but the way you spaced it out made me see it. This discussion of “finished” and the end of time was a matter for discussion in our Bible study I was at last night. Beth Moore pointed out how that our perception of time is that it is “going” or that we are “losing” time. But that in the Bible, God mentions a time that is “coming,” that time is a moving TOWARD something. So, it is interesting seeing the way you laid it out here. Thank you!

    5. John,
      Regarding Jesus’ declaration “It is finished”.
      Strong’s dictionary says the Greek word teleō means “to end”, (complete, execute, conclude, discharge), and Thayer’s says the word can be used to mean “to perform the last act which completes a process, to accomplish, fulfil”.
      With that in mind, I’m thinking it is possible that there is room for both the idea of “finished” and “accomplished” as appropriate translations.

  4. As for versions…
    – we have Zeph. 3:9 that in the end times there shall be a pure language
    – the strategy of the enemy is to confuse and obfuscate
    – the testimony of two or three, like a court case or a counsel, provides safety, sound counsel, and effective battle strategy
    – scripture interprets scripture
    – the more important the matter — the more God repeats it
    – without love, “it doesn’t matter”/”avaleith not” (cp. a difference that makes no difference is no difference at all)

    I’m in love with the KJV — because it was written for the ear and memory. The prosody tops all others. At least in english.

    That said, from using a hard bound Strong’s Concordance, I’ll double check things with both lexicons and commentaries. Usually via biblehub — a ready reference of Bible helps.

    Over the years, I’ve enjoyed many versions from Simplified English, to Reina Valera in Spanish, to Acrostic Bible memory aids, to verse and scriptures (whole passages) set to poetry, rap, and song.

    Through all this — cross referencing scripture is the best technique short of the insight and revelation provided by the Holy Ghost as we each mature.

    I weep with joy of the clarity and redundancy provided across millennia in the Word of God. I’ll glad give you all other treasures short of Christ Himself for His word !!!

    And may those that make light of it know of certainty before they’re crushed on it or it falls on them that by God’s Word the very Creations are formed. Such as the cultists that add their other books, or lean to human authorities as cults of personality.

    1st Corinthians 14:29-33

    Let the prophets speak two or three…
    – and let the other judge
    – If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by
    – let the first hold his peace

    For ye may all prophesy one by one…
    – that all may learn and all may be comforted

    And the spirits of the prophets…
    – are subject to the prophets
    – For God is not the author of confusion
    – but of peace as in all churches of the saints

    “The Word of God is The Sword of the Spirit”
    – and The Spirit of Prophecy (Rev. 19:10)

  5. @ nomemoleste,
    I also appreciate your pointing to the pattern regarding finality.

    “It is finished.” is almost a seal. “Game over.” “That’s a wrap.”


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