By Brett Younger
I wandered into the Bible section at a Borders’ going-out-of-business sale and thought, “I need more choices.” Fortunately, the publishers are looking out for me. On Ash Wednesday, new translations of the New International Version (the most popular evangelical version) and the New American Bible (the official Catholic version) were released.
Bible sellers understand that we need updated versions because outdated words get in the way, Hebrew and Greek professors get smarter, and Indiana Jones keeps finding old scraps of scripture.
One change in the NIV replaces “booty” with “spoils of war.” This is a prudent decision.
Another change is Isaiah 7:14 which now says, “Look the young woman shall be with child and bear a son and shall name him Immanuel.” The earlier version used “virgin,” instead of “young woman.” The translators hope no one notices until December.
The NIV has dropped some gender-neutral language that publishers flirted with in a 2005 version, but then backed off of because of criticism by conservatives. We were “human beings” for six years, but we are “mankind” again.
I am all for removing superfluous references to booty and virgins, but you have to wonder how updated we need to be. “Thees” and “thous” becoming “yous” and “y’alls” is great, but that may not be the real issue.
The novelty Bible industry is there for anyone carrying the Gideon Bible they took from the Hampton. Novelty Bibles dress up Holy Scripture in fashionable ways. The dozens of niche-marketed Bibles include The Hope for Today Bible (featuring notes and encouragement from Joel and Victoria Osteen), The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, The Golfer’s Bible, The Jogger’s Bible, and The Green Bible (a “green letter edition” with a thousand verses highlighted). Only a cynical person would see these as ploys to sell Bibles to eager proof-texters.
The American Patriot’s Bible comes in camouflage. A defense of the Second Amendment is found in Exodus, The Declaration of Independence in the middle of Joshua, and an overview of World War II in First Timothy. Each Gospel opens with a picture of soldiers struggling to raise a flag under the words “In God We Trust,” but no footnotes are wasted explaining how beating swords into plowshares can be considered patriotic in a country where half of our taxes go to military spending.
Maybe what we want is not more translators, but more aggressive editors. The Bible is filled with sections we could do without.
What about a Less Peculiar Bible? In this sensible version, the oddest rules are gone. Do we really need to break a cow’s neck at the sight of an unsolved murder (Deuteronomy 21:1-6)? What about the prohibitions on two kinds of material in the same garment (Leviticus 19:19)? If I get into a fight and my wife inadvertently grabs the privates of my opponent I do not want to have to cut off her hand (Deuteronomy 25:11-12). It may even be time to let go of capital punishment for breaking the Sabbath (Exodus 31:14).
What about a Wealthy Americans Bible? In this sensitive to the rich version, the last judgment story about the sheep and goats, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, and that section in Acts where the early church sounds like a bunch of communists are out. Who wouldn’t want a Bible where Jesus tells the rich young ruler that he is fine just the way he is? Removing 3,000 verses on caring for the poor makes this an ultra thin version.
With all of the advancements in self-publishing, we cannot be far from being able to order a personalized Bible. I would love to give my mother a Bible in which the Old Testament polygamists are monogamous, Jesus changes the water into Welch’s, and Song of Solomon is nowhere to be found.
One of Mark Twain’s best known quotations is, “It’s not the parts of the Bible that I don’t understand that bother me; it’s the parts that I do understand.”
We are tempted to live a careful faith, keep six of the Ten Commandments, go to church three out of four Sundays, give money we do not need, offer some grace and more judgment, and affirm the parts of the Bible with which we already agree, but God calls us to more.
The Bible is older, smarter and better than we are. We do not need to find the Bible that suits us. We need to live pursuing the hard truth.