Thursday, January 8, 2009

The New Life Bible, or the Easy-to-read life-book

I'm a bit of a Bible translation geek. Somewhere between seeing Baby Got Book for the first time and starting to work at a Christian bookstore, I decided I was going to try and buy every translation of the Bible I could get my hands on. My count so far is 17, and they range from the KJV to the Word on the Street. Some of them are great. I love the poetry of the NKJV, and I confess to having a soft spot for the Message. I would never use it all by itself, but it's good at making me see Bible verses in a new light. My personal favorite is the NLT. I love that it is totally readable while still being a translation rather than a paraphrase, and it distinguishes between the Greek words aner and anthropos to boot :).
But some translations left a slightly less favorable impression on me. Take the New Life Bible, or NLB. According to the description on the back, it uses "a unique and academically proven 850-word vocabulary." That's right. The whole Bible, using only 850 different words. It kind of makes me think of Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss, which was written as a result of a dare to write a book using 50 words or less. The whole thing is really stilted and awkward. The authors are apparently big fans of hyphens. The word parable is rendered picture-story. Mercy, grace, and a variety of other such nuanced words are replaced with loving-kindness. And, my personal favorite moment as far as awkwardness is concerned, the word homosexual is rendered people-who-do-sex-sins-with-their-own-sex. I get, and even in a lot of ways support, what the translators of the NLB are trying to do. They want to put out a Bible that the average unchurched person in our culture, who isn't terribly familiar with words like propitiation, justification, and atonement. But I think they took it a bit far. The tone wasn't just readable, it was patronizing. Moreover, it's important to realize that the original Greek of the NT, for instance, is a whole lot more nuanced than English. Even in more mainstream translations like the NIV one English word could be used in place of several Greek ones, so we often put a different slant on English verses than was put on the original Greek. For someone who is new to Christianity and looking for a very readable Bible, I'd suggest the NIrV, the ICB (the International Children's Bible, but I have a 20-year-old friend who uses it and loves it), or reading a translation like the NLT, the NIV, or the ESV (watch me get attacked for lumping the three together :P) in conjunction with a paraphrase like the Message. It's a lot easier than sloughing through a tedious collection of monosyllabic words peppered with awkward hyphens.


Joanna said...

While simple ones like these are far from ideal for people proficient in english they have a lot of potential for people who are learning english as a second language and are still struggling. We found in our student ministry that some students from overseas were finding it difficult to understand complex words and grammar in normal translations making it harder for them to participate in discussion groups.

Joanna said...

Speaking of interesting bible versions, have you seen the Aussie bible?

Christina said...

I can definitely see the benefit for speakers of English as a second language. Another great alternative, however, would be to provide them with parallel translations (the Gideons have these) that contain both English text and the language with which they are most comfortable. This is what several of my Chinese exchange student friends did.

Megs said...

I got a Manga Bible for my birthday last year, and it is pretty rad. Puts a different spin on how epic the New Testament can be :)
Check out my blog if you get a second!