BOWELS AND MERCIES

The title of this post isn’t an indication that I have reverted to pre-teen male humour. The title is actually a Biblical quote, taken from Philippians 2.1 of the King James Version. I often use this quote to deal with another of the significant problems that keeps people from actually reading the Bible. Many people tell me they started to read the Bible but stopped because they couldn’t understand it.

When I explore the issue with them, I discover that some have started to read the Bible in the King James Version. Now, I happen to have spent my formative years in the faith reading the KJV. Many times when I am thinking of a Biblical passage, it comes to me from the KJV. Often, when I am looking for a verse in a concordance or with an electronic search program, I end up searching the KJV first, because that it how I remember the key words or themes.

But as a pastor and teacher, I encourage people new to the Scripture to avoid the KJV. Since I am part of the conservative Church, that advice occasionally produces some criticism from people who like me were raised on the KJV but who, unlike me, still insist on its use.

I am not against the KJV–but I do believe that trying to help people understand God’s revelation by forcing them to read it from a book that uses 400 year old language is counter-productive. The English language has changed and developed significantly over those years–what the translators in 1605 meant by “bowels and mercies” is better expressed by words like “tenderness and compassion”, as the New International Version translates Paul’s words.

I think is makes much more sense to encourage people to read God’s Word in a form they can access, rather than have them engage in the process of learning what amounts to another language first before they can understand what God is saying to them. And we who speak English are blessed with a wealth of translations to choose from. From translations directed to people just learning English to translations for regional variations of the English language to translations appealing to Biblical scholars, we have a wealth of translations available. A person who speaks English and wants to read God’s word can find a translation that is tailor made for his/her version of English.

As well as translations, there are also paraphrases of the Bible which have proven very popular over the years. A translation sticks close to the original wording while a paraphrase seeks to express the meaning of the passage using concepts and ideas that are familiar to the reader. A translation is much better for serious study of the Scripture while a paraphrase can help the reader capture the meaning better. Paraphrases become dated much faster than translations, though, because they are an attempt to put the Bible into the English of a specific time and place.

So, when I encourage people to read the Bible, I tell them to use a modern translation, which I offer to help them choose. Over the years, I have been a collector of translations and have read through the Bible in most of the modern translations and many of the older ones as well so I feel I can help people find one that helps them.

What I am trying to do is help people access the Word of God in a form that speaks to their mind and heart. I want them to have the ability to understand as much of the instruction book as possible. Like many, I get really frustrated trying to understand the instruction books that come with things manufactured somewhere that uses a language other than English and which are very poorly translated into English. I want to be able to understand the instructions so I can use whatever I have bought. When people want to know about God, I want them to have as clear a direction book as possible.

Short of learning Greek and Hebrew, our best way of reading God’s word is to find the translation that speaks directly to us. If the person speaks English, we help them discover the English translation that speaks most clearly to them. If they speak another language, we help them find–or create–a translation in that language. In the end, we want people to hear God speaking to them through his word–and the wealth of translations assures people that God speaks their language.

May the peace of God be with you.

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