Do we need a new Bible?

Last week King Willem Alexander received the first copy of a new Dutch Bible translation, the NBV21, out of the hands of the president of the Dutch-Flemish Bible Society. I now also have my copy! Yesterday a representative of the Bible Society gave a lecture at a meeting of Dutch Adventist pastors about the translation principles underlying this new translation. The speaker, Cor Hoogerwerf, was, as a specialist in translation and exegesis of the New Testament, directly involved in the work on the new Bible translation, of which all pastors present received a copy as a gift.

Actually, we are not dealing with an entirely new Dutch translation, but rather with a thorough revision of the edition of the Bible that appeared in 2004. It was foreseen at the time that this translation would require further work. Not only would there be new scholarly insights, but there were also the (inevitable) errors that had to be corrected and on numerous points the Dutch language could be improved. When the 2004 edition appeared, readers were asked to send in their comments and criticisms, and make suggestions for improvements. Many did so, so that the translators and the Dutch language specialist had to review several thousand responses. Their work ultimately led to some 12,000 (mostly) minor and (some) major changes. In many cases these changes concern punctuation, but sometimes it may involve changing words or the word order, and being more consistent in the translation of certain Hebrew and Greek words into Dutch equivalents. In a number of places one will find more notable changes. For example, in Isaiah 34:11 “porcupine” is replaced by the name of a bird and in a dozen or so texts “strong drink” is replaced by the word “beer.” Recent archaeological research has shown that Israel had breweries and that “beer” is the most logical translation!

Another aspect generated by far the most discussion, namely, the reintroduction of capital letters (the so-called “reverential capitals”) for personal pronouns referring to the Godhead. These capitals had been omitted in 2004. It was thought at the time that the capital letter was on its way out in written Dutch. This, however, turned out not to be the case, it was now concluded. Moreover, there was a feeling among many Bible readers that the capital letter had be be brought back in order to express our reverence for God. It is a sentiment I often heard in the Adventist faith community as well.

I am pleased with this new translation of the Bible, and suspect that it will fairly soon be used by many Dutch Adventists, including in the pulpit. In the past new editions of the Bible have always been accepted fairly quickly in Dutch Adventist circles, and there is every reason to believe that this will also happen this time. But there will also be some stiff opposition. There are still quite a few people in “our” church (as well as in many other denominations) who want to hold on to the Dutch equivalent of the King James or its revised version, as they see these as “purer.” For most of those who feel this way, this is based on tradition and feeling, and that is understandable. If you are attached to certain expressions, it may be not easy to let go of them. But that the more recent Bible translations would be less “pure” and further from tje original language is not true. On the contrary.

Translation is a complicated process. It is about a faithful rendering of the source text and an easily readable and understandable version in the language of the target group. Different translation methods may be used in this process. Some methods put all emphasis on the original Hebrew and Greek text and want to stay as close to this original as possible. Other translation methods want, first and foremost, to provide a translation that is easy to read and understand. The NBV21 takes a middle course.

A new Bible translation is not only about linguistics, but also about theology. Most Bible readers believe that the Bible is not an ordinary book but somehow has to do with divine inspiration. God has revealed Himself through his Son Jesus Christ, but also through the written/printed Word. He has used people to do this, down through the ages. These people use their own words and literary style to put in writing what they have recognized as God’s message. Since then, those words have been copied over and over again, and translated into countless languages. The Bible is God’s work, but also very emphatically a human work. At every stage of history, and within every culture, the words of the Bible must time and again be given a new sound, so that they appeal to the people for whom they are intended. God has given human beings the task of passing on his words, as best they can. And since knowledge of the original languages is continually increasing and the language of the readers for whom a translation is intended is continually evolving, new translations are always welcome gifts from God that enrich us.

Those who wish to continue to use the older, historic translations- must certainly feel free to so. But let no one claim that it is evidence of piety and of faithfulness to God’s Word to reject newer translations. Therefore, there is every reason to gratefully start using the NBV21!

One thought on “Do we need a new Bible?

  1. Ray Stovall

    We live in an age of Archeological discoveries unending! Our increase in knowledge and understanding of ancient peoples cultures, beliefs, etc should not be ignored. Updating the Bible, of course!!

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