Among pastors there is an old example of resistance that spawned out of the development of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible between 1946 and 1952. It goes like this: At a presbytery meeting the Presbytery was debating the adoption of the Revised Standard Version as the standard text they would use for all documents.
After a long debate on the merits of changing from the King James Version to the Revised Standard, a Pastor stood up and proclaimed “If the King James Version was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for me!” To which the assembled body broke out in great laughter. We won’t go into where the pastor intentionally made the statement or did it to further a point, but the laughter was a result of people knowing that the Bible was not written by King James in “King James English.” Originally written in Koine Greek or Hebrew depending on the testament, there have been many translations, and even versions of the Greek and Hebrew, especially as new discoveries of original texts have been found.
There are many who still like the King James Version. My Grandpa was one of them. He loved the language and the poetry that the version afforded, but most of all it was the Bible he grew up with and found comfort in its prose. Though while for personal use he referred to the King James, in his professional capacity as a pastor he would use the Revised Standard, then the New International Version because those were the versions his communities used as their standards.
There are a lot of people that still love the KJV, but to someone not versed in that type of English, much of the meaning of the passage would be lost. Even if one sat with a dictionary trying to decipher meaning of the many words, the choppy approach to the passage would take away from the overall message and thus it would either lose meaning or it would be interpreted in a way contrary to the passage.
On Pentecost, something special happened:
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. . . . at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each (Acts 2:4,6)
The importance is that each person in the crowd did not only hear the message, but they could also immediately ascertain the meaning of the message. If we are to read this passage and hear its message, what we learn is that the truth of the gospel is not found in a particular translation or tongue but in how people can hear and interpret it, or as we would say today, make it their own.
So often people ask me which Bible is best, and I rarely can give a straight answer because the best Bible is the on you can best understand. However, you also have to be wary of the agendas behind a particular Bible. For instance, the NIV is a great translation of the Bible, but it comes out of the Evangelical movement and you want to keep that in mind for the differences in interpretation from that of the NRSV (the updated version of the Revised Standard Version), which comes from the academic communities (Oxford, Princeton, etc.). You also have to be careful to not take notes and interpretations found in study bibles as more than what they are; they are there to give insight and understanding, but should not be taken as giving meaning or witnessing the truth in a passage.
So, as we come to Pentecost this week, we do so with our hearts and minds open to hear the word as the spirit calls us following the message over the tradition. Listening for God in the midst of the chaos and sharing the word, trusting that the Holy Spirit will do the interpretation.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen