Monday, 25 August 2008

Another Holiday Bible Study

‘My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life’ simply isn’t the same as ‘I come that they may have life and have it abundantly’. It is rare that the reading at a service can make me sit bolt upright, but I did so at a service on holiday when I heard these words read as if they translated John10.10b.

On holiday abroad I would most often seek to worship in a local church, but on the Sunday in the middle of our holiday this year we worshipped with our hosts at a European Anglican Chaplaincy. The Chaplaincy had a definite tradition: the Chaplain conducted the service in a suit and preached in shirt sleeves (the transition from one to the other achieved by a deft wriggle of his shoulders as he prayed at the beginning of the sermon), the Baptism which was part of the service concluded with the giving of a Bible in place of the giving of a candle (which is legitimate, unlike leaving out the prayer over the water, which is what happened when I last attended a Baptism at a church of this tradition in the diocese of Lincoln), and the full Gafcon final statement was on a notice board in the hall. The service had all the best hallmarks of that tradition: sincere preaching, a genuine but not overwhelming welcome from several people, and a desire to experiment with a translation of scripture which might best be understood by an international community a large number of members of which did not have English as a first language.

It was the chosen translation which was new to me, although I find that the New Living Translation, which comes from an American Evangelical background, is in fact twelve year’s old. It may well be, as it claims, one of the most popular Bible translations in the English-speaking world, so I’m ashamed not to have been aware of it before.

The word translated ‘more plenteously’ by Wycliffe and ‘to the full’ by the New International Version is quite clearly the word for excess. It is used for abundance, superfluity, overflowing, and the sense of ‘too much’. A commentator suggests that here it indicates ‘a duration and quality beyond measure’. Elsewhere John uses a form of it to describe the large amount left over after the feeding of the five thousand.

The meaning is limited as soon as anyone tries to explain or unpack it. The choice of any two lesser words to do so doesn’t explain it but instead domesticates it. If the two words are ‘rich’ and ‘satisfying’ they also smuggle in connotations and values which are simply alien to its basic meaning. I cannot conceive why anyone should decide to translate it in this way. You might as well translate the Psalmist’s ‘my cup overflows’ as ‘God provides a varied and sufficient supply’. (Actually, I’ve looked this up, and it translates ‘my cup overflows with blessings’, the additional two words perhaps confirming that the translators can’t cope with poetry and feel free to add ideas of their own in a wide range of places.)

The vine was growing in one of our friend's hedges.

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