I QUOTE LOTS OF BIBLE TRANSLATIONS in my books.
Skeptics among my friends have asked why. Some wonder if I look around until I find a Bible translation that says what I wanted it to say.
That is not the way it works. My baseline education is as a journalist. Not the kind you see on TV that give you a little bit of information and then roll into a rant of what they believe about how good something is or how bad something is.
A good journalist simply wants to know what is. They want the truth.
When I am writing a paragraph and I want to insert something from the Bible, I generally call up BibleGateway.com on my computer. It has a bunch of Bible translations available to compare side-by-side. On one screen I am able to put up five different versions of the Bible.
I’m going to do that right now.
I’ll tell you right up front that the Bible translation I use as my default version – my preferred version – is the New Living Translation. It seems to be as accurate as any of the new, easy-reading translations. And as a general rule, I like the sound of its voice.
Just for fun, I am going to open up all five columns, each with a different Bible translation. When I am working on a book the following are the five I use most often. That’s because I think these versions sound like the people I hear in my life.
Let’s take a look at the first beatitude of Jesus. It’s from Matthew 5:3. See which version sounds most like the way the people in your life talk.
“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” New Living Translation
“They are blessed who realize their spiritual poverty,
for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.” New Century Version
“God blesses those people
who depend only on him.
They belong to the kingdom
of heaven!” Contemporary English Version
“Blessed are those who are spiritually needy.
The kingdom of heaven belongs to them.” New International Reader’s Version
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” The Message
As I’m looking at these right now, I’m not sure what the actual meaning is behind the statement of Jesus. So what I would do at this point would be to look at some of the more scholarly translations. Here are two of the most respected translations among Bible experts.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” New American Standard Bible
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” New Revised Standard Version
No difference of opinion there.
What these two translations tell me is that Jesus was probably talking about spiritual poverty and not necessarily financial poverty. So in that case I would probably not go with the New Living Translation this time. It seems to imply financial poverty.
I don’t think any of the translations I’ve looked at so far ring the bell for me. So I’d keep looking for something that expresses that idea most clearly.
If I were writing a book today about the Beatitudes, I would be tempted to use this Bible translation of the verse:
“Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” Common English Bible
It has zing. But it doesn’t express the “spiritual” theme Jesus was getting at.
So I might give it a try myself. Here’s the best I can come up with at the moment.
“When you feel spiritually bankrupt, remember this blessing:
God’s kingdom is your home.” Steve’s Bible Translation
Take a look at other Bible translations and see if you can come up with anything that expresses the idea better than any of the ones I’ve listed here.
Let me know if you do.
Have a wonderful week ahead.
I believe we have gotten translation happy in our time, much of it marketing driven. Put some of these recent translations side by side and you will see nothing more than words and phrases modified slightly. Unless there has been some verifiable scholarship involved, I’m leery of what I am reading. My favorite is the New English Bible. It speaks to me as no other; I love it’s wording and flow. I don’t know of anyone besides myself who has chosen it as a favorite, but I will take it over Uncle Bob’s Backyard Paraphrased Bible anytime! (Before anyone gets annoyed, this is an early morning attempt at humor!)
I have written to you before about your own Bible translations. I tend to enjoy your own translations based on contemporary and scholarly translations and this latest one on the first beatitude is great!
Stephen M. Miller
Well that’s just spooky. I got your comment while I was working on the rest of the Beatitudes for Monday’s blog. I wonder if that’s a coincidence?
At the very least it’s “Great minds…”