Wednesday, July 21, 2004

New Bible Translations

A few years ago, there was an item circulated on conservative Christian email lists regarding a supposed interview with the author of the Harry Potter books. It purported to be an interview that showed that the author, J.K. Rowling, was in league with Satan.

It was circulated by all sorts of well-meaning but rather gullible people who seized upon this hoax as evidence that the Harry Potter books were evil and should not be read by Christians.

It was as though these people could not spot a satire or a hoax if they tripped over a flashing neon sign at night that said “SATIRE” next to another equally flashing sign saying “HOAX.” They were rather red faced with embarrassment when it turned out to be the production by a satirical on-line site called “the Onion.”

Now, in the last few weeks, stories surface regarding a “new” biblical translation - - the Good as New Bible, that has been “supposedly” endorsed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

When I first read about this “translation” I thought, “aha, another Harry Potter satire taking in gullible Christians.”
Even the title sounded spurious and a play on that bible we used to call “the Beano Bible” - - the Good News Bible, when I was studying in the UK. The Beano is a popular children’s cartoon book and the Good News Bible had line drawings that looked liked cartoons - - hence the name. Good News Bible - - but here was the Good as New Bible? It had to be a joke! Wrong.

Imagine my surprise and disgust when a learned theological friend of mine teaching in England told me that it was all true! Apparently the Archbishop of Canterbury gave his blessing to this translation before he was “elevated” but, amazingly, he gave it. Not only that, but some numbskulls have decided, in the name of “relevance” to actually take liberties with the biblical text to the extent of making the whole thing ridiculous.

Even if such a modern bad taste “translation” (calling Mary “Maggie”, St. Peter “Rocky” and St. John the Baptist “the Dipper”and urging, apparently, pre-marital sex) didn’t exist, someone, with a weird sense of humour, or even weirder concept of theology would have to have invented it. The bizarre thing here, however, is that the line between satire and what has actually happened seems almost impossible to determine and that someone was actually serious in producing such a thing.

But wait, in an age where books like The Da Vinci Code can be best sellers what passes for common sense is no longer sensible. The problem with this new biblical “translation” is not the fact that it is trying to be humourous for, as everyone should know, one can be funny and serious at the same time and it can be very effective to be both.

The Christian religion, like the Jewish, as a matter of fact, has a high place for humour. Dame Helen Gardner, in a brilliant Darwin Lecture at Cambridge University in the early 1980’s for example (“Happy Endings”) noted that the Christian faith structures all of the cosmos as ultimately a comedy because we know that it ends well.

There are some excellent treatments of the role of humour in Christ’s own teachings. For example, Dr. Elton Trueblood, years ago, wrote a book called The Humour of Christ: A Significant But Often Unrecognized Aspect of Christ’s Teaching (1964). Earlier, that greatest of 20th Century apologists for Christianity, G.K. Chesterton, ends one of his greatest works, Orthodoxy (1908) by observing that:

'There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.'

But is serious humour - - humour with a purpose, the kind of thing that is going on in this new translation? Hardly.
The pathetic attempt to be “relevant” to the times ends up, more often than not, making rich things poorer. The trivial stands in, often, for the beautiful and what was done yesterday, seen through the blinders of “progressivism”, is judged better just because it is more recent.

But such a chronological method of evaluation has lost the ability to judge by quality, which is why “schlock” sells. Its endorsement by supposedly gifted leadership, however, is another, sadder and more worrying aspect of the times.

In yucking it up we miss the real humour and the real story and in the quest for this kind of relevance become increasingly irrelevant.

Iain T. Benson ©