Text: Luke 10:25-37
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.
(Photo credit: Damian Gadal)
Just then. Just when? I am struck by the urgency and suddenness of this questioner’s appearance. Just then is only one of the ways the NRSV translates the Greek words that elsewhere are translated “suddenly,” “see,” “now,” or even “indeed.” It appears 30 times in the gospel of Luke. This particular translation is offered only seven times: when the friends of the paralytic man bring him and let him through the roof (5:18), when Jesus heals the crowds (7:21), when Jairus comes seeking healing for his daughter (8:41), when a man calls Jesus to heal his epileptic son (9:38), when a crippled woman appears in the synagogue where Jesus is teaching (13:11), when a man with dropsy appears at a Pharisee’s house (14:2), and here.
What do you know of “just then” experiences in your life- when something happened “suddenly,” “now,” or even “indeed.” What distinguished those times, made them remarkable or memorable? What might make a moment a “just then” moment today?
– Andy Kille
“Between the Lines” is excerpted from BibleWorkbench, a weekly resource for engaging the biblical story in a new way published by the Educational Center in Charlotte, NC. For details and subscription information, see About BibleWorkbench.
You may know about the New Common English Bible (its publication this year sparked the “Know Your Bible Translations” quiz mentioned here last July). It’s an effort to make the Bible easier to read for contemporary English speakers.
According to Audra Jennings of the BBC Media Group, it’s also the result of some very modern technologies allowing for speedy collaboration around the world:
Electricity, the Internet, and instant global communication have allowed immense strides in communicating across languages, including new Bible translations like the Common English Bible, (CommonEnglishBible.com), in which 120 academic scholars and editors, 77 reading group leaders, and more than 500 average readers from around the world joined together to clearly translate, in record time, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek languages from thousands of centuries ago into the English of today. See an interactive Google Map showing the locations of the translators (http://j.mp/p5aiO0).
“Even the usual Bible translation schedule is not for the timid,” says Paul Franklyn, PhD, associate publisher for the Common English Bible. “Accomplishing it in less than four years requires extra stamina — and modern technology.” Less than four years is phenomenal when compared with other recent modern English Bible translations that took 10-17 years to complete.
I missed it, but apparently the International Federation of Translators has named September 30th, the Feast of St. Jerome, who translated the Greek and Hebrew texts into the Latin version known as the Vulgate, as International Translation Day.
You can read more about the Common English Bible and the technological tools used in its development in Jenning’s article: The New Common English Bible Happened Only Because of 21st Century Technology.
Not to be overly skeptical, I suspect similar catchy titles could be written for other translations, and prove just as true:
- Authorized Version of the Bible Happened Only Because of 17th Century Technology
- Revised Standard Version of the Bible Happened Only Because of 20th Century Technology
In every generation, people employ the best techniques they have at hand to translate, produce, and distribute the Bible, do they not?
According to a recent report from the folks at Gallup, nearly a third of Americans believe that “the Bible is the actual word of God, and is to be taken literally, word for word.”
Another 40% assert that “the Bible is the inspired word of God, but not everything in it should be taken literally.” Only 17% held that “the Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man.”
Leaving aside the non-inclusive language in the latter formation, I suspect that this set of questions is problematic for any number of reasons. Which version/translation of the Bible is the actual word of God, or do we need to turn to the (no longer existent) “original autographs”? What if I believe that the Bible includes fables, legends, and history, and is still in some sense “inspired”? Can I mark down more than one answer?
What is interesting to note is that, while the proportions of each group have remained fairly steady over the past 35 years, those leaning to the “actual word of God” have declined somewhat, while the other two groups have shown a slight increase. I find myself wondering if some folks have come to allow for just a little ambiguity in their interpretation or whether they have held to a black and white view of the world and decided that if the Bible isn’t literally true, it isn’t valid at all.
Just what does “word of God” mean? And how does my understanding of “word of God” influence how I read the Bible? And how does my reading of the Bible affect my relationships and the world around me?
Its overall importance stands somewhere with the occasional “Know Your Cuts of Meat” quiz on David Letterman’s late night show, but the Tennessean offers a chance to “Test your knowledge of versions of the Bible.”
Unless you have an encyclopedic recall of every verse of every version, you may well have some trouble with some of the questions, though the King James Version is pretty easy to spot.
The value, as I see it, is to encourage readers to pay attention to the fact that all our English language versions are translations, and not only is there disagreement about how to translate the original Greek and Hebrew, there are differences of opinion about how English itself has evolved as a language over time. How can we best render the Hebrew and Greek of two or three millennia ago to the English of four hundred years ago or of today?
(In case you’re wondering, I managed 6 correct answers out of 10.)
We have quoted Robert Alter’s work from time to time in the Critical Background. He is one of the most distinguished contemporary scholars of the Hebrew Bible.
This last year he was the featured speaker at the annual “Reading of the Sacred Texts” event at the Graduate Theological Union. Here’s the video of his presentation, as he reflects on the challenges and pleasures of translating the Hebrew Bible.
Robert Alter, Translating the Hebrew Bible: The Challenges and the Pleasures from GTU Archives on Vimeo.