Tuesday, August 28, 2007

UM seminary and Bible for preaching

John posted earlier this month about what translation of the Bible people use for preaching. While I have my own preferences, I really try not to look down on the practices of others in this regard (although I admit to being uncomfortable if I hear someone uses The Message exclusively . . .).

In the UMC we have a free and open pulpit - pastors preach as they see fit, including whether or not to follow the lectionary and what translation of the Bible to use (within limits - certainly would not want a UM pastor preaching from the New World translation used by Jehovah's Witnesses, for example). I have known United Methodist pastors to use all of the following and be faithful to their UM doctrinal positions: the KJV family, including NKJV, RSV, NRSV, and ESV. Of course, the NIV is highly popular, and my home pastor used the NASB. Then on the scale of more dynamic equivalent versions I have heard UM pastors use the NLT, the Living Bible paraphrase, the Good News Bible, and I am sure there are more.

So it bothered me when a student I know who is enrolled at the local UM seminary shared this story with me. He was attending his preaching class one day and the only Bible he happened to have with him on this day was a New Living Translation. When he read a passage from the NLT aloud in class, his professor asked what translation he was using. When he said that he using the NLT, he was told by his preaching professor to never bring it with him again into her classroom. Now, I can understand a professor wanting to have all her students using the same translation - that's her perogative (although it makes more sense for an English exegesis class than a preaching class in my opinion). However, she didn't have to do something to embarrass a student in the middle of class, or she could have given a reason why she favored one translation over the NLT. Stories like this make me cringe - why try to force students into a particular translations that may or may not suit them well in their context for ministry?

12 comments:

John said...

I haven't had the preaching class yet, but in exegesis and IBS classes, we've been required to use the NRSV, RSV, or ESV. I usually use the RSV in this case, and I've gradually come to see the faults of the NASB.

The professor could have made a good case for not preaching from the NLT, but could have and should have approached the subject in a more pastoral manner.

John said...

But hey, Larry, I guess this is why people should go to Presbyterian seminaries, huh?

Stephen said...

Not knowing any of the details is pretty hard so I will assume which you know what that means...

I am assuming that they professor would have preferred a more literal equivalent for the Preaching class rather than a paraphrase translation like the NLT. 99% of all seminaries, not UM only, but all seminaries frown upon paraphrase Bibles for serious study and preaching. I understand wanting to use the NLT, The Message, Good News etc for devotional readings or to add something to a sermon from a paraphrase point of view. (I did this last week in my sermon when I offered a verse from the Message translation) But I also understand the need to have a "more accurate" rendering of the wording of the Bible before we preach.

The professor probably would have been better served using this time for a teaching moment to inform the student about various translations and their pluses and minuses.

John said...

There are two Scripture readings during our worship service. The first is read by one of the teenagers of the church. Initially, I started them on the NIV, but found that they struggled with the complex language. Eventually, I started giving them a Good News rendering of the text. It was a good reminder that not everyone can handle the more literal translations.

larry said...

John and Stephen,

Thank you both for refining the point I was attempting to make. If the professor had responded differently while still getting across her point that a more literal translation is appropriate for preaching, then the story would have left a different taste in my mouth (whether I agree with her assessment or not). What gags me is the professor's over-reaction (granted, I wasn't there when this took place) and the condescending attitude toward a particular way of translating the Bible. Still, I do think this professor is probably narrow-minded on this.

I remember several years ago when a translation called the Contemporary English Version came out. It was billed as being translated for adults whose reading skills were at about the fourth grade level. I recall reading sample passages from it and being generally impressed with the result given what the translators were trying to do (not perfect, to be sure).

Couldn't there be ministry contexts in which using such a translation, even for preaching, would be appropriate (like at a Presbyterian seminary . . .)? For example, if I served a congregation or community in which there was potential to reach immigrants just learning English, then I'd want to preach from a version that could be more easily understood.

If students leave seminary with a guilt complex over not preaching from the "scholarly" translations, then I submit it could be more limiting to the kinds of preaching at which they will ever be effective. Granted, exegetical work to prepare for the preaching moment should be based on the finest scholarship available, but is it always appropriate to preach from only the more literal-equivalent translations? And if not, why force seminary students to preach from only one translation approach, so long as they can justify their use of a particular translation?

Stephen said...

Now you understand the plight of every Bible translator down through the ages literal and paraphrase. How can we be authentic to the early language and still offer the meaning of the original text in a way that as many as possible can comprehend.

I understand completely, I like paraphrases of the Bible for some things. I guess I tend to be of the mindset that reading the scripture at some point during the service is literally announcing, proclaiming, reading the word of God. It is then I like to read the best translation I can find...NIV, NRSV, RSV, ESV. Then in my sermons I like to ask the question okay, so what does this mean? I think it helps people think about where are the writers and we going with this. If I use the Message, the writer, Peterson, has already given us the conclusion. The work is done for us if you want to trust Peterson.

But don't take my word, heck in a wedding I did Saturday I used three Hebrew words and taught them to the congregation. So I might be a little off. :)

Keith Taylor said...

As a common layman, I prefer that y'all use the Authorized King James Version. It is what I grew up on, it what I memorized as a child in the UMC; to me, it is simple (it has fewer words per verse), and I don't have to worry about a bunch of "smarter than me" PhD's putting their spin on what it should say, in spite of what it says. I want to read a Bible that starts out "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth". There are entire sermons that I have heard about Christ preached from the KJV that simply cannot be preached from a "modern and contempory" translation of the Bible. John Chapter 18, verse 5 is an excellent example of this and if you have trouble figuring out what I'm talking about, then you have already been sold short.

But my son tells me I was born 200 years too late.

With all that said, the college professor in your example was wrong. Dead wrong. But then again, many laymen, such as myself, believe that is a miracle of God that any of y'all actually get of seminary knowing anything about the true Christian faith when it seems to us that some of the biggest athiests and heritics on the planet are actually employed to teach in our seminaries of higher learning.

John said...

I've used the KJV for a funeral, and will probably continue to do so for future funerals because of its familiar lyricism.

The Thief said...

The only place I will use a KJV is for a funeral, and exactly for the reason John said - for the familiarity, even for the non-Christian, with the KJV rendering of the 23rd Psalm.

For preaching I read NLT. But I prepare primarily using NRSV and NIV (and looking at a few words in the Greek).

DannyG said...

As layperson I find, like Keith, that the KJV is what speaks to me. The RSV was the edition de joure when I went thru conformation and the NRSV is what is in our pews now. The KJV's language and phrasing just sings to me in a way that others don't, especially the NRSV. Now, there are a few places where the language gets a bit archaic, but the vast majority is just poetry to my ears.

John said...

Probably because the KJV translators included professional poets.

bob said...

I don't preach, but I lead Bible studies. I use primarily the niv in preparing but like to refer to multiple translations when confused by wording.

Whenm we are doing our Bible study we read each section of scripture out loud and then talk about it. I've noticed a pronounced difference in the ease of readability in the different translations, with the kjv causing the most problems and the higher level of misunderstanding between readers and listners alike.

By the way my wife likes the nlt,it shouldn't be confused with the living Bible (a paraphrsed version) the nlt is supposed to be a word for word translation.