Monday, September 29, 2003

Advances (choke!) in Bible Translation

Publishers of the Bible do not seem to know when to quit. In what has become a market-driven money-making enterprise, the bizarre has entered the scene.

Our Australian readers have, perhaps, heard about The Aussie Bible (Well, bits of it anyway), due out this past August. The Aussie Bible, written in the Australian vernacular, known as "Strine," is aimed at readers who believe the Bible is too high brow or simply boring. Believing Australian English to be "a distinct language, with its own colour and feeling", journalist and author, Kel Richards, has set out to provide Australians with a version of the Scriptures in their own vernacular, as might be spoken in any Outback pub or city building site. Accessibility is the guiding principle.

In The Aussie Bible, the Virgin Mary is a "pretty special sheila" who wraps her nipper in a bunny rug and tucks him up in a cattle feed trough (see below). The Magi are "eggheads from out east" who follow a star to find the baby Jesus and announce their arrival with: "G'day, Your Majesty!" The Good Samaritan is a "grubby old street sweeper" who patches up the victim of a highway robbery with his first aid kit, then drops him off at the nearest pub. The stories have headings such as "The Wise Guys" and "The Story of the Good Bloke."

The 90-page volume draws heavily from the Gospel according to Mark, with some stories from the other Gospel books and the Psalms mixed in. We are not anxious for Mr. Richards to translate the rest of the Bible.

Excerpt from The Aussie Bible (Well, bits of it anyway)—Luke 2:8-14-

There were some drovers camped out in a paddock nearby, keeping an eye on their mob of sheep that night. Their eyes shot out on stalks when an angel of the Lord zapped into view, and the glory of the Lord filled the air like a thousand volts of electricity. The angel said: 'Stop looking like a bunch of stunned mullets. Let me give you the drum, the good oil, it's top news for the whole crew -- everyone, everywhere. Today in that little town on the hill a rescuer has been born: he is the Promised One, the King, the Lord.

'And here's how you'll find him: the nipper is wrapped up in a bunny rug, and lying in a food trough.' And before you could say, 'Well, I'll be blowed!' the whole sky was filled with more angels than you could count, all singing away at the top of their lungs (if angels have got lungs, that is): 'God is great! God is bonzer -- and to everyone on this planet who's on God's side: peace and goodwill…”

Bible Network News

There is a further contribution from Australia. The Surfers Bible, another recent version of the New Testament, is a collaboration between Christian Surfers International, a wave-ridin' ministry, and the Australian Bible Society. The text remains a modern English translation; it's the packaging that's different. The jacket looks like a surfing magazine. Apparently, if not for the New Testament subtitle, you would think it a volume of handy surf hints.

Surfer's Bible

Not to be outdone by the Australians, the French have gotten in on the act by producing a new rap version of the Bible.

This "Bible" is written in a style of French likened to the rhythms of popular street music or modern poetry. The new translation is the first to appear in France for 30 years. Unlike the Aussie Bible which is the work of one man, this rap version took 47 writers to produce—novelists, poets, as well as Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek scholars. They worked in pairs, one literary expert working with one religious expert.

If the French were to be translated into English, Genesis 1:1 would read something like:

"First, God created heaven and earth.
Empty land, solitude.
Dark over the depths.
God said Light and light there was."

John 1:1 would read as follows:

"In the beginning, the word,
the word with God,
God, the word".

The authors state: "We've tried to be as faithful as possible to the original language and imagery of the Bible. But this is more literary and poetic, fluid and refreshing."

One Roman Catholic priest was reported to have commented, wisely: "It won't age well."


If the good old Aussie bloke, the surfers and the rappers can have their own Bible, why not the bikers. Great news (said he sarcastically)! The English Bible Society has released the "open road" Bible.

The idea is that of Alan Lowther, an atheist turned Christian minister, president of the Christian Motorcyclists' Association and the "driving force" behind the new Manual for Life. The goal is to make Scripture more real and appealing to this sub-culture. On the cover is a colourful collage of motorcycles and the message: "Discover the freedom of the open road."

In this biker's Bible, Christ's blood is compared to the oil in a motorbike. An introduction to the Manual for Life reads: "As oil is essential to the running of an engine, so blood is vital for life. You check your oil regularly on the bike and repair any leaks: you stop the bleeding when you cut yourself. There is one person, however, who let himself bleed to death in order to give us life…. This book tells his story."


Comment: We do not need to return to the language of the King James Bible or the Book of Common Prayer, but surely, neither do we need to resort to the banal, let alone the bizarre and the blasphemous. A good, faithful translation of scripture will do. And we do not just stick Bibles into people's hands, and then move on. We bring them under the faithful preaching of the Word. For as the Word itself says: … faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).