Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

The simplicity of the Good News (AKA "Today's English Version") translation of the Bible comes in for a lot of flack. One of my friends commented to me recently "An educated man such as yourself should not still be reading the Good News." (Yep, John sure knows how to couch a criticism)

On the other hand, a Bible translator I met at Cession a few years ago told me that "Every established translation is reliable." (I'm probably paraphrasing both parties)

As a teenager, I was given a full-length hardback edition of the Good News Bible, which I set about reading from the start. Years later my parents gave me a pocket one to take on my travels in my twenties.

It travels with me still. Well, what's left of it these days does.
Back in the UK again, and reckoning at 37 to have now completed reading the Good News translation, this morning I returned to my much larger yellow hardback edition, looking at all the additional pictures it contains, just to be thorough in my reading-plan. (I draw the line at having to read all the sub-headings, which are not an expression of the original wording, and therefore not really part of the 'translation'.)

And even these line-drawings demonstrate its honest simplicity. For example, Job features image after image of Job running the full gamut of human emotions. And rarely do these minimalist sketches seem to dare to interpret the verse – what you usually get is a literal depiction of what's taking place, and given all the Bible's spiritual content, that's often quite tough to draw.

For example, Deuteronomy 30:19:

Or Proverbs 15:19:

If you are lazy, you will meet difficulty everywhere, but if you are honest, you will have no trouble.

Whoa – hold on a sec. How on Earth is that verse represented by those squiggles?

In fact, as with a few other images in Proverbs, it actually appears that the illustrator was bizarrely working from a different translation. Here's the same verse in the NIV:

The way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns,
but the path of the upright is a highway.

Oh, okay then.

And then there are all those pictures that just contain unintended comedy value. Who among us does not smile when coming across our old friend the Good News Klingon?

(that's Proverbs again BTW)

I'd have to say that I continue to read the Good News Bible for several reasons:

1. It assumes you know nothing. I like that – it meets me where I am.

2. It’s so easy to read. I've found some other translations to be full of old language (the KJV), very wordy (the God's Word), or overly-punctuated. (the NIV does contain rather a lot of commas, I know, I expect so much)

3. Its unambiguous footnotes-system. No asterisks, arrows or economically reusing a single footnote in place of ten identical ones within the same chapter. A simple letter 'a' in the text leads to 'a' below, meaning that 'a' below easily connects back up to 'a' in the text too. And it utilises the whole alphabet for this system, ensuring that you're always 26 footnotes away from the closest one that you could otherwise get mixed-up with. (still looking at you, NIV)

Granted, the text of the footnotes themselves seems to be an unfinished project, being applied somewhat sporadically, but you can't have everything.

4. Because it's always been there for me.

Sure, I find the Good News a little simplistic in places too, and as I say the footnotes are kind of patchy, but they did set out to make an easily readable translation, and in this I feel they've really succeeded.

(review of CEV Bible here)
(review of God's Word To The Nations Bible here)
(review of The Message Bible here)
(review of NIV Bible here)

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2 comment(s):

At 8:04 pm, Anonymous Rhett said...

This is such a good post. You should check this out...

If bibles were characters in G.I Jones.

I started off with a Teen Study New Living Translation bible which I've come to appreciate more and more. It's very easy to read and I'd give it to a new Christian.

I went through a "Message" phase but now find the language just too quirky! No theological problems or anything, it's just a stlye thing.

Used the NIV for a long while and last year I picked up a tNIV for a good price. I read that mostly now because it's reliable, gender-inclusive and slightly more literal than the NIV was. And it looks handsome, and is portable.

When I am doing stuff like sermon prep I do very much enjoying pitting the ESV against the NRSV. It's sort of like pitting the leader of the Green party agains the leader of the Conservative party. (The ESV is the reformed Calvinist bible, and the NRSV is used by *gasp* Catholics!)

I enjoy doing this because it makes it really easy to see the points of difference, which are usually the points worth investigating.

At 10:45 am, Blogger Steve Goble said...

Thanks for the link - I actually read that post at the time!

I think I've been on the opposite journey to you with The Funky Message Bible. The language used to continually make me laugh. Yet when I had to read-out Ruth as a story at Cession last year, I found the Message was easily the most speakable. Except for a few verses, which grated so much that in the end I used the God's Word. Today I think the Message is great, and just an hour before reading your comment I was determining to put it on my Christmas list!

I'm also reading the CEV at the moment, which is very smooth, to the point of using euphemisms. (Genesis 38:9)

When mounting an argument, I normally use the NIV, because everyone I know seems to respect it.

That's a genius idea - taking two translations with such differing perspectives and examining the differences in perspective.

I often try reading passages out loud, which gets interesting when I try to act against the characters' most obvious motivations. E.g., acting the 'bad' guys as genuinely trying to do good.

This can get quite interesting when God is angry. I try to read those bits in the voice of a calm, disappointed parent, who wishes they didn't have to discipline their loved one's disobedience.


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