January 26, 1993
“Oure Fadir that art in heuenes, halwid be thi name; thi kyngdom comme to; be thi wille done as in heuen and in earth; gif to vs this day oure breed oure other substaunce; and forgeve to vs oure dettis, as we forgeve to oure dettours; and leed vs nat in to temptacioun, but delyuere vs fro yuel. Amen.”
No, my fingers are not on the wrong keys. That is the Lord’s Prayer as it reads in English, about A.D. 1350. Three hundred and fifty years earlier, it looked like this: “Faeder ure thu the eart on heofonum; si thin name gahalgod...”
Today, most of us know it as “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name...” In another 300 to 700 years, who knows what it will sound like, at least in English.
Languages change over time. They also change from place to place. Consider the confusion an American gas jockey might feel if an Englishman drove up and asked him to fill the tank with petrol, check under the bonnet, clean the windscreen and check the spare in the boot!
These days, the primary issue concerning words and their meanings centers around sexist and racist terms. Newspapers and other publications have lists of taboos. For example, most do not permit the use of pronouns that stereotype male or female roles. There are also Bibles with inclusive language, including at least one that refers to God as “our mother.”
This raises a question--can we be sure how the Lord’s Prayer or any portion of Scripture should read in English? After all, the original copies of the documents that make up the Bible were lost a long time ago. The answer is that there are thousands many copies of those originals still in existence, thousands in fact. Translators use them to determine what the originals said. Each Bible version is an attempt to translate these Greek and Hebrew documents into the language of the day.
In 1611, that language was similar to what we see in the King James Version. This translation has been in use for such a long time that many people think it is the only reliable one. Some are suspicious of newer versions and even say we don’t need modern English Bibles.
Interestingly enough, that was one of the criticisms against the King James version when it was first translated. Many people wanted to stick with their older translations. However, King James of England did not like the marginal notes in some of them and suggested a new translation, in the language of the day, with minimal notes in the margins. He wanted a version every person could read.
Translators are still trying to keep the language of the Bible clear and current. Most of them try to be as true to the Greek and Hebrew as possible. Some are what might be called dynamic translations: they retain the sense of the meaning but are not word-for-word renderings. The goal, in most cases, is to help people better understand the Word of God.
When I first read a “modern” translation, I was fearful that it might not be very accurate but after a semester of learning how the manuscripts have been used and translated, I have a strong confidence in most of our Bible versions. Some translations may not be as good as others, but whether I open up the King James Version or Good News for Modern Man, accurate scholarship insures dependability.
Even more assuring is the fact that the Spirit of God uses His Word to reveal Christ and to demonstrate how He meets our spiritual need. How important that we not only can read it in our own vernacular, but that we do read it.