June 27, 2004

A nice new Bible translation for the itching-ears gang

A few days ago my attention was drawn to an article on WorldNetDaily concerning "[a] brand-new translation of the Bible . . . [that] flatly contradicts traditional core Christian beliefs on sex and morality."

WorldNutDaily being what it is, I decided to search out some confirmation. Turns out this is quite real. Good as New: A Radical Retelling of the Scriptures is the work of a John Henson, a former Baptist minister, part of an organization calling itself the "ONE Community for Christian Exploration," whatever that is (their mission also appears to include deconstructing the historic creeds of the Church).

Words used in the preface and foreword (contributed by Rowan Williams, current Archbishop of Canterbury) include "radical," "outlandish," "inclusive," "demythologise," and the usual other buzzwords.

And some of this stuff is unintentionally hilarious. This is what Jesus' baptism in the River Jordan looks like in a legitimate translation of the Scriptures:

And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. (Matt. 3:16-17)

The voice of God comes from heaven and expresses his divine approval at the act of obedience of his adult Son. This is a majestic passage.

Now, here's Henson's take:

As he was climbing up the bank again, the sun shone through a gap in the clouds. At the same time a pigeon flew down and perched on him. Jesus took this as a sign that God’s spirit was with him. A voice from overhead was heard saying, "That’s my boy! You’re doing fine!”

Gee, that sounds an awful lot like something my dad would have said the first time I jumped into the deep end.

Between this passage and Henson's tendency to use outrageous nicknames for various Bible characters - Madge, Rocky, Barry, John the Dipper, and so forth - Henson makes light of the translation process. I'm usually the first person to say the Scriptures ought to be colloquial. After all, the New Testament wasn't written in literary Greek, but the common greek of personal letters and shopping lists. But there's a difference between informality and flippancy, and Good as New is the latter. At least Henson had the decency not to call John the Baptist "Jack the Dipper."

Meanwhile, on the other end of the theological spectrum, Good as New has all the KJV-onlyists in a headspin. Here we have a literary effort by a very few theological liberal feel-gooders. If it sells a thousand copies, three of them will be to people who take this paraphrase serously; the remaining 997 will be to people like me who value comedy. Nonetheless, on the one hand, it's enough to throw the KJV nuts into Chicken Little mode, running about screaming that the sky is falling. On the other hand, there are those of us who don't believe the King James Version was handed to the disciples by Jesus himself on golden plates descending from heaven on a velvet pillow. According to the KJV nuts, we're supposed to accept this kind of crap. Because if you don't believe that the KJV is exclusively the Word of God in English, well, then anything published with "Bible" on the title page is of equal value, right? You gotta laugh.