Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Lost in Translation

Not the movie, though I liked it better than the paid critics did.

I recently had reason to read Psalm 23. I can't remember the reason, I've since been distracted. That happens a lot. I'll be thinking about something, then reminded of something else I've always wondered and go to look it up and find something else interesting, then get an email about something else entirely, and so on. That's not counting interruptions. Mr. Sandy sometimes calls me Dory.

"Look, something shiny!" Where?

OK, it was nothing.

Anyway. I have two Bibles: the Good News Bible I was given at my confirmation, which calls itself "today's English version," and a very cheaply bound King James version which I bought when I needed a Bible to look up some other long-forgotten thing, and hadn't yet retrieved my confirmation one from my parents' house.

Anyway, anyway. Psalm 23 in the KJ Bible reads thusly:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou annointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Lovely, right? Lyrical. Powerful.

Compare to the Good News version:

The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need.
He lets me rest in fields of green grass and leads me to quiet pools of fresh water.
He gives me new strength.
He guides me in the right paths, as he has promised.
Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me.
Your shepherd's rod and staff protect me.
You prepare a banquet for me, where all my enemies can see me;
you welcome me as an honored guest and fill my cup to the brim.
I know that your goodness and love will be with me all my life;
and your house will be my home as long as I live.

Good grief! "I have everything I need"? That sounds like something you'd say to the waiter, or the nurse.

Who could have thought it was a good idea to water down the incomparable "yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death"? Who thought we needed "rod and staff" clarified and so added the gratuitous "shepherd's" to it? Who did away with the lovely "my cup runneth over"?!


Instead of "today's English," they should just have subtitled it "for today's morons."

Note to churches: why talk down to kids with the Good News Bible? High school students read more poetry than most grownups, and there's no reason they shouldn't get the good stuff.


  1. I'm not a church-goer or Bible-reader these days, but I love the lyricism of the King James Bible. Even as a child, I found the Good News Bible to be very namby pamby and wussy.

  2. I have read the bible front to back several times, but to be honest...it isn't because it comforts me. It is because I want to be able to make educated retorts to those who think it is okay to blast me.

  3. Oh, yes, the King James version simply sings, doesn't it? My husband is Catholic, and I was shocked to read the Catholic Bible's version of that psalm. People prefer some of the other versions because they feel they are a more accurate translation; but it's important to translate the "feel" of something also.

    And did you know that the KJV was written by committee? There was a whole book out on the writing of the KJV a few years ago.