Friday, April 4, 2008

Fresh Strawberries

strawberryfreshIt is good that the New Testament has been translated into so many languages.... But there is so much that cannot be translated. It is not possible to reproduce the delicate turns of thought, the nuances of language, in translation. The freshness of the strawberry cannot be preserved in any extract. This is inevitable.

—A.T. Robertson

This morning while eating my strawberry yogurt, I remembered this insight from A.T. Robertson, a great New Testament Greek scholar from a generation or two ago. I have the quote written in the front of my first Greek NT. He was comparing the fresh sweet taste of reading the New Testament in Greek with the preservative-rich strawberry jam tasted when reading English translations. While that inspires me to study my Greek and Hebrew more diligently, Robertson's vivid contrast can also be applied to Christians today who spend more time reading about the Bible than reading the Bible.

Yesterday as he left, a friend mentioned he was off to read some book by some author for his devotional time before going to bed. Certainly The Prayer of Jabez and The Purpose-Driven Life were for a while used by many Christians for their devotional times, in place of the Bible. I am currently reading:

  • The Challenge of Jesus by N.T. Wright (wow!)
  • Love is the Killer App (while not explicitly Christians, I feel that Tim Sanders has something significant to say about how we live out Jesus' love command in our day)
  • Timothy Findley's Not Wanted on the Voyage (very strange re-telling of the Noah's Ark story, but it won a CBC Canada Reads award)
  • a Macleans' cover article about Jesus having an identity crisis

Next to that list it now seems like a footnote to say that I'm also reading the Bible (Jeremiah, Matthew and 1 Peter). Re-applying his insight,strawberrypreserve I suspect A.T. Robertson would say to us, Do you spend more time reading about God's Word than you do in reading God's Word? Don't you understand that the freshness of the strawberry cannot be preserved in any extract? Taste the freshness of the strawberry again for the first time...

If I only eat strawberry yogurt, I'm missing the freshness, sweetness and wholeness of strawberries. An Australian pastor trying to do for his church what Eugene Peterson did for his American church, has translated Psalm 119:103 like this,

Your words taste so sweet on my tongue,
they are like strawberries and cream!

Recommended Bible Translations

for personal study: NET Bible (New English Translation, online!)

The extensive translators' notes make this an amazing study Bible. Even without knowledge of Greek & Hebrew, you'll be alerted to the issues that the translators dealt with. Pay attention, especially, to the extensive "syntax notes" as these give you good insight into the arguments of the Biblical authors. This is a far better choice than the NASB as you get actual commentary on the Greek (or Hebrew) text, rather than reading a wooden, so-called “literal” English translation.strawberry2

for personal and public reading: Today's New International Version (TNIV)

This is my choice for best all-around use Bible as it is clearly contemporary and yet very faithful to the Greek and Hebrew texts. Since so many carry the NIV, the TNIV is a great choice for public reading as it is close in text but makes many important corrections and good improvements, including the use of gender-inclusive language for people, when appropriate. Coming in 2011, there will be a new revised and updated NIV which I highly recommend.

for personal reading: New Living Translation (NLT)

The freshness of this translation is rewarding and the quality of scholarship behind this work is impressive. Read the Bible as if for the first time all over again.

and for that Australian version I mentioned above see:

Here, for example, is Mark 9:33–35

They arrived home in Capernaum and after settling back into the house, Jesus hit them with a question: “You blokes sounded like you were having a bit of a barney back there on the road. What was it all about?”
........The silence was deafening! None of them were willing to own up, because they had been arguing over superiority — which of them was the greatest. Jesus sat down and called the twelve to gather round. He said to them, “Whoever wants to be number one must take a place at the bottom as the servant of everyone else.”


  1. Well done Ken. I do wish I could understand the nuances of Greek and Hebrew. From what you've said and what I've heard elsewhere, it does sound as though a lot is lost in translation.

  2. Orlando, while it is true that the strawberry can't possibly taste as fresh and sweet as it does in the original Hebrew and Greek, don't despair! I was actually trying to be encouraging in that posting!

    It's never too late to start studying Greek and Hebrew! Well, maybe after 30, it is too late for Hebrew! A local Bible college, your pastor, or some amateur theologian in your church (like me) could help you get started.

    Plus, the quality of English translations has never been so good as today. Unfortunately this has come about by multiplying the number of them. When I was a kid, if you wanted to read the Bible it was King James or maybe the Living Bible for "devotional" reading.

    Today, you can read the NET Bible and with its notes get a pretty good taste of the strawberry's freshness. Or the NLT can give you a good taste of fresh strawberries cut up in English cream with a bit of sugar. The TNIV has less sugar. And definitely has preservatives added along with artificial flavouring, but somehow captures the original taste in stunning ways at times. All of these are closer to the freshness of the strawberry than the kind of red berry paste found in PopTarts which quick and easy as they are, many Christians choose to consume.



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