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.