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Friday, September 10, 2010

Slow & Steady Wins The Race

I knew I was way behind schedule.

Because of some things that happened this year that took a lot of time and emotional energy, I was way behind in my "read the Bible in a year" project. I've been reading study notes from two separate study Bibles for most of the year, but I actually reduced it to only one as I studied Job (to keep from confusing myself too much with alternate takes on that complex book), which I hoped would help me catch up some. It didn't help as much as I had hoped. As I moved into Psalms, I also returned to using both study Bibles, but I thought, the Psalms are short! I can make up some time on this book!

I should have known better! The Psalms are poetry, as everyone knows. And poetry is designed to pack more information, not less, into a smaller amount of space. I think I've actually been moving slower on my way through the Psalms than through other books! Typically, the study Bible notes are at least as long as the text itself, and both the text and the notes are slower going than in the case of narrative just because of the density of thought in the text. I've found myself simultaneously wanting to hurry up and get finished with Psalms, and wanting to curl up and spend even more time with each individual chapter. In particular, the study notes from the NIV Study Bible I'm reading (which are also present in the NASB Study Bible, which I would recommend because of the more literal text) are fabulous for helping you see the unity of the Psalms as a book (or, rather, a series of books, because Psalms is internally divided into five major "Books"). I blogged before about some of the things I was learning here, but because I'm trying to make it all the way through, I'm not taking the time I would like with each Psalm. After I've finished reading the whole Bible, I may go back and spend six months or so studying only one Psalm a day!

Having the ESV, which is a pretty literal "formal equivalence" type of translation (meaning that the actual words on the page are quite close to the actual words in the ancient texts), and the NIV, which is fairly literal but still a "dynamic equivalence" type of translation (the thoughts and ideas on the page are quite close to the thoughts and ideas in the ancient texts) both in front of me at the same time has certainly given me a chance to see some of the divergences, even though I am not reading every single word of the NIV. Take these examples from Psalm 68, for example. I've included the King James for reference, and also the NASB, which is a translation that is even more literal than the ESV and which I also have on my bedside table as I study. Each verse shows significant differences across translations, which I've pointed out in comments between verses:

Psalm 68 (excerpt)

verseNew InternationalKing JamesNew American StandardEnglish Standard
4Sing to God, sing praise to his name,
extol him who rides on the clouds —
his name is the LORD—
and rejoice before him.
Sing unto God, sing praises to his name: extol him that rideth upon the heavens by his name JAH, and rejoice before him.Sing to God, sing praises to His name;
Lift up a song for Him who rides through the deserts,
Whose name is the LORD, and exult before Him.
Sing to God, sing praises to his name;
lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts;
his name is the LORD;
exult before him!
Does the Lord ride in "clouds" in "heaven", or in the "desert"? (The latter seems to make better sense in the context of the desert wanderings of Israel later in the Psalm)
5A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling.
A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation.A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows,
Is God in His holy habitation.
Father of the fatherless and protector of widows
is God in his holy habitation.
Is God a "judge" of widows, or a "defender"/"protector"? (In this case, if you've read the book of Judges you know that an Old Testament "judge" was a protector, but the layman may not realize that)
6God sets the lonely in families,
he leads forth the prisoners with singing;
but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.
God setteth the solitary in families: he bringeth out those which are bound with chains: but the rebellious dwell in a dry land.God makes a home for the lonely;
He leads out the prisoners into prosperity,
Only the rebellious dwell in a parched land.
God settles the solitary in a home;
he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.
Does God give lonely people "a home", or does He give them "families"? What if the Psalmist meant to imply that God is the "home"? Do they go forth with "singing" or with "prosperity"? Is the land actually "dry"/"parched", or is it simply "sun-scorched"?
7When you went out before your people, O God,
when you marched through the wasteland,
O God, when thou wentest forth before thy people, when thou didst march through the wilderness; Selah:O God, when You went forth before Your people,
When You marched through the wilderness, Selah.
O God, when you went out before your people,
when you marched through the wilderness,
Did they march through a "wasteland", or was it a "wilderness"? (Most Christians think of the Exodus account when they hear "wilderness" and that is the reference here, so although "wasteland" is probably more descriptive, "wilderness" evokes a richer picture of what the Psalmist is talking about.)
8the earth shook,
the heavens poured down rain,
before God, the One of Sinai,
before God, the God of Israel.
The earth shook, the heavens also dropped at the presence of God: even Sinai itself was moved at the presence of God, the God of Israel.The earth quaked;
The heavens also dropped rain at the presence of God;
Sinai itself quaked at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain,
before God, the One of Sinai,
before God, the God of Israel.
So, did Sinai move or not?
9You gave abundant showers, O God;
you refreshed your weary inheritance.
Thou, O God, didst send a plentiful rain, whereby thou didst confirm thine inheritance, when it was weary.You shed abroad a plentiful rain, O God;
You confirmed Your inheritance when it was parched.
Rain in abundance, O God, you shed abroad;
you restored your inheritance as it languished;
Was the inheritance "parched" or simply "weary"? Or did it "languish"? The NASB uses the same word here and in verse 6, but the Hebrew word is not the same, which might lead to a false sense of connection between the two)
10Your people settled in it,
and from your bounty, O God, you provided for the poor.
Thy congregation hath dwelt therein: thou, O God, hast prepared of thy goodness for the poor.Your creatures settled in it;
You provided in Your goodness for the poor, O God.
your flock found a dwelling in it;
in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.
Who settled there? Was it a "congregation", a bunch of "people", a "flock", or just some "creatures"? ("congregation" and "flock" evoke the idea of the nation of Israel best, because those images are used elsewhere in the Bible)
11The Lord announced the word,
and great was the company of those who proclaimed it:
The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it.The Lord gives the command;
The women who proclaim the good tidings are a great host:
The Lord gives the word;
the women who announce the news are a great host:
Was it women who spread the news, or not? Were they at home, or in camp?
12"Kings and armies flee in haste;
in the camps men divide the plunder.
Kings of armies did flee apace: and she that tarried at home divided the spoil."Kings of armies flee, they flee,
And she who remains at home will divide the spoil!"
"The kings of the armies—they flee, they flee!"
The women at home divide the spoil—
Was it men or women who divided the spoils of war?
13Even while you sleep among the campfires,
the wings of my dove are sheathed with silver,
its feathers with shining gold."
Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.When you lie down among the sheepfolds,
You are like the wings of a dove covered with silver,
And its pinions with glistening gold.
though you men lie among the sheepfolds—
the wings of a dove covered with silver,
its pinions with shimmering gold.
Were they asleep at campfires, between pots, or between sheepfolds? Evidence that "sheepfolds" may be the best rendering.
14When the Almighty scattered the kings in the land,
it was like snow fallen on Zalmon.
When the Almighty scattered kings in it, it was white as snow in Salmon.When the Almighty scattered the kings there,
It was snowing in Zalmon.
When the Almighty scatters kings there,
let snow fall on Zalmon.
Has the snow fallen already, or will it fall in the future, or is it a metaphor and the snow will never fall at all?

In my experience it's unusual to see so many small differences packed so densely, and some of the questions I've asked are hair-splitting differences, but in other cases you can easily see how you might spot or miss part of the sense of the poetry based on which translation you're reading. Study Bible notes will often bring out things like this for you, which is why I'm enjoying my use of the two different study Bibles.

But it certainly makes for slow going, especially in cases where things are densely-packed with meaning, as in the Psalms! I'm really looking forward to the books named after prophets (technically, most of the Old Testament is considered "The Prophets," but I'm talking about the books from Isaiah through the end of the Old Testament), but I don't expect them to be much quicker to get through this way. If I can faithfully keep up this pace, I should be able to finish the last word of the Revelation before the end of the second week of March. Then I'll be getting out another one of my cool Bibles (probably the ESV Literary Study Bible, or maybe my old F. LaGard Smith Narrated Bible, which I've not yet made it all the way through) and experiencing the whole Word of God from a different perspective! I can't wait!

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