Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Monday, February 5, 2007 6:17 am

The dangers of modernizing Biblical text, or, Why I should stop taking Benadryl before church

Filed under: Weird — Lex @ 6:17 am

I don’t have any special problem with modern-English translations of the Bible. I was brought up on the King James, but I realize a lot of people weren’t, or weren’t brought up Christian at all, so whatever provides a workable entry point for them is good with me. And the whole discussion about literal, word-by-word translation vs. sense-of-the-passage translation interests me but is not relevant to this particular post.

No, the point of this particular post is that when you attempt to modernize Scripture, sometimes, for reasons beyond your control, what your listeners hear is not what you intend. For that matter, it’s probably not what they intend, which makes it no easier. Consider this passage from yesterday’s sermon text at my church, Luke 5:1-11, in which Jesus shows off his m4d fishin skillz and, as He is wont to do, follows up with some mad parablin’. We’re looking specifically at Verse 10, and it appears we’re looking at the New Living Translation:

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid. From now on you will catch people.”

Now, compare this version, or translation, with the essentially identical passages at Matthew 4:19 and Mark 1:17, describing the same incident, in the New International Version. That translation dates, if memory serves, to the late 1960s:

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”

“I will make you fishers of men” vs. “From now on you will catch people.”

So, what’s my point? Modern vs. way modern translations? Sexism, actual or potential, v. gender inclusiveness in translations? Jesus being the actor vs. the disciples being the actors?

No, my point, as I said above, is that sometimes listeners bring things to what they hear that the speaker simply can’t anticipate and accommodate.

This was one of those times.

[UPDATE: And it wasn’t the first time, either.]


  1. You’re right. “Fishers of men” is poetry; “you will catch people” is just clunky.

    The only time I really got bothered by a Bible translation was when I tried to read a text where words were italicized at random. (It wasn’t really random, of course, but it might as well have been. They italicized words whose translation was in dispute, or where there were multiple options for translation, or some damn thing of interest to absolutely no one but classical Greek scholars.) It made the text read like this: “I will make you fishers of men.” Very off-putting.

    Comment by Bitter Scribe — Monday, February 5, 2007 1:22 pm @ 1:22 pm

  2. Unless you read that as places for preacher-speak.

    Imagine a TV preacher reading it and putting classic preacher emphasis on the italicized words.

    Kind of fun.

    Comment by DrFrankLives — Tuesday, February 6, 2007 3:15 pm @ 3:15 pm

  3. I grew up with PTL almost literally in my back yard, and as a direct result (no other reporter knew how to find the place, basically) I spent three years of my life covering the resulting criminal and civil cases that I can never get back again. I don’t want to imagine a TV preacher. At all. Nohow.

    Comment by Lex — Tuesday, February 6, 2007 4:17 pm @ 4:17 pm

  4. Oh, come on, Lex. Covering the Jim and Tammy Faye Show had to be at least a little fun.

    Comment by Bitter Scribe — Tuesday, February 6, 2007 4:41 pm @ 4:41 pm

  5. You would think. But when you grew up with it? Not so much.

    Comment by Lex — Tuesday, February 6, 2007 4:53 pm @ 4:53 pm

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