Here’s something fellow Bible-readers might relate to — as a big fan of absolute accuracy, sometimes I’m not too crazy about the more liberal/paraphrase translations of the Bible; they seem “cute” or sometimes sentimental, but I don’t always appreciate what seems to me like in-line commentary (here’s what I think it means, vs what the original language actually said). But with translation of any language, it seems to be more of an art than a science — even if the words are strictly “accurate,” does their intent come across? In Spanish, you don’t say “you’re welcome,” you say basically “it’s nothing.” But the meaning is the same — “I’m happy to give this to you.” So with all that in mind, I’ve got to say the Message version of Romans 12:1-2 really hit home for me this morning in a way that I wouldn’t ordinarily see, in the original, “accurate” wording:
Take your everyday, ordinary life— your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life— and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
That’s a whole lot different from the NIV:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
The first brings a whole new level of practicality and insight, and I can appreciate that. Don’t we often wonder what it means exactly to live as Jesus lived, or to live a holy life? We know in general, and ask questions like What would Jesus Do? or more accurately, What IS Jesus Doing? But it’s tempting after a few minutes to eventually answer I really don’t know in this case. I’ll think about it later. The Message version cuts to the heart of how to live with Jesus. We Christians call ourselves Christ-followers, but do we really follow? Or instead do we just act like kids at summer camp, writing to a home far away, periodically saying “send money” or “doing ok, will write more later” or “did you get my last letter?”
Maybe it’s not the best version from which to preach a sermon (at least without telling the audience the passage is from a paraphrase translation). But I’m reminded how helpful it can be in magnifying the contents and intent of the passage. Definitely a lot of value for personal bible study and devotional time. Some people advise we should just “plow through” scripture if we want to accomplish one of those “read the Bible in X Days” programs, and I suppose there’s value in that; in getting the overview and keeping the big picture in recent memory. But “plowing through” usually means glossing over the meaning for the sake of recognizing the words. I continue to be amazed at how almost every Bible verse seems to be just the proverbial tip of the iceberg — there’s so much more under the surface, we just have to spend a little bit of time and look for it. Or better, yet, ask a Tour Guide (like the Author) to show us what we’re missing.
So in summary: well played, Message version. Well played. I withdraw my complaint. I need to re-define “accuracy.”