If you’ve ever gone to purchase a Bible, you know that you have many different translations to choose from. There are so many that it can be overwhelming.
There’s the King James, the Revised Standard Edition, the New Revised Standard Edition, the New American, the Jerusalem, New English, New International, New Living Translation, the Douay-Rheims, etc.
One of the main issues is that when we read the Bible in English, it is a translation of a translation (sometimes of a translation). Anyone how has taken in the most basic foreign language courses knows that even the simplest words can have a multiplicity of translations. In Spanish, if I say “Yo quiero,” I could validly translate that as “I want,” or “I like,” or “I love,” or “I desire.” But in English, these distinctions can make important differences in meaning. Those who’ve been through high school know that there is a world of difference between “like” and “love.”
So when translating the Bible into English, this multitude of translation options can lead to several varying choices. On top of this, the English language is not a static thing. Words change in their meaning over time. When the word “nice” was first invented, it meant “feeble-minded.” But nowadays if someone calls you nice, you are not liable to be insulted. That’s because over time, the word has changed in meaning. Words can also change in meaning across cultures using the same language. If you don’t believe me, try asking for an eraser in England and find out what they call it.
The point is that when picking a Bible, often people put a lot of thought into what translation they are buying.
But what is the best translation of the Bible?
The other day I was speaking to my spiritual director. We were about to celebrate the Vigil Mass. As you may recall this past weekend was “Word of God Sunday.” Pope Francis requested that at the liturgies, a special emphasis would be given to the place the Bible has in Catholic life. At my church, we were asked to bring our Bibles to mass where they were blessed and we were charged to take the scriptures to heart.
In my discussions about this with my spiritual director he said to me, “One of my teachers at the seminary once got the question: ‘What is the best translation of the Bible?'” I then asked my spiritual director what the answer was. He told me that he teacher said:
“The best translation of the Bible… is the one you read.”
While the technical issues of translating the word of God are important, they are not nearly as important as simply reading the Word of God itself. I have a friend of mine who gave me a beautiful Protestant Bible. On Word of God Sunday, I found myself in the church reading its pages, letting God’s Word speak to my heart.
I remember in college, I had a little pocket New Testament given to me by a Protestant friend. I can recall all the times in prayer or in times of trouble, I could reach into my pocket and let God’s Word guide me.
Again, I do not want to minimize the important work of the translators. Finding the most faithful translations of the original text is God’s work. I learned an important principle from a local rabbi that “God does not stutter.” This means that all the words of the Scriptures are important.
But the work of translating is at the service of the work of reading. The Bible has the power to change us and change the world. But that only happens if we read it.
I am reminded of the words “Tolle Lege.”
Augustine of Hippo was in the process of being converted to the Catholic faith. But his inordinate sexual appetites made him reluctant, since he knew being a Christian meant living chastely (I wonder how many modern people feel the same as Augustine?). One day he was at a funeral of a friend and he was very pensive. Then he heard a voice say “Tolle Lege,” which means “Take up and read.” He followed the voice and it led him to a room where the Bible was open to Romans 13:13-14: “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.”
I do not know what translation of the Bible he read. All I know is that by reading that Bible, it was the best translation he could have read. This was the moment Augustine changed his life, thus changing all of Church history and becoming one of the most important saints in our history.
The Word of God has the power to do that with you. Today, find a Bible and make it a part of your life.
Take up and read it. And it will be the translation of the Bible you could have.
Copyright 2023, WL Grayson