I remember when our family read from Eugene Peterson’s The Message for the first time at our family devotions. We were reading from John 1. Peterson cleverly translated “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” into “the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood”. To be clear, Peterson was translating from the Greek, not the NIV, but this made no difference to my father who was visibly disturbed by this phrasing. I remember his ears and head immediately perking up as he said “that is not right! That’s not what the Bible says!” My father was so used to hearing the passage from one translation to the point that he could listen to it without hearing what it meant. Peterson will be happy to know that one of his purposes in writing The Message – helping readers hear the words of the Bible with fresh ears – was fulfilled. It is very easy to become complacent in our Bible reading, especially if we limit ourselves to reading from one translation and sticking to our favorite passages. Translations such as The Message help us to hear the text in new ways, brings out the depth of meaning often precluded by surface readings, and opens up new interpretive horizons.
Bible publishing is huge business. In the past few years, there have been a number of new translations and revisions – the TNIV, the NIV (2011), the ESV, and the CEB – each with its supporters and detractors. Not to mention the number of “niche-market” Bibles, like the Soldier’s Bible, Student Bibles, Manga Bibles, Women’s Bibles, Bibles for Couples, etc. One need only visit their local Christian bookstore to catch but a glimpse of all the Bibles on offer. It seems Christians are being increasingly held captive by a consumerist mentality when it comes to shopping for a Bible, a phenomenon deftly explored and explained by Timothy Beal in “The Rise and Fall of the Bible“. This is not to say that different translations and audience targeted Bibles are inherently problematic. While the proliferation of niche Bibles is certainly problematic, as a pastor I understand the benefit of using multiple interpretations in preaching and teaching and in having a range, albeit very limited, of different niche Bibles, particularly Children’s Bible’s, Student Bibles, and Study Bibles.
Enter The Names of God Bible, edited by Ann Spangler (God’s Word Translation). Is it simply another niche Bible or does it help us hear the Biblical text with fresh ears?
The main feature of The Names of God Bible is that references to God are left in the original Hebrew, transliterated into English. Thus, Genesis 1 reads “In the beginning Elohim created heaven and earth”, Psalm 23 begins “Yahweh is my Roeh”, Romans 8 starts “So those who are believers in Christ Yeshua can no longer be condemned”. I initially appreciated this approach to the text because it avoids repeated references to “God”, “Lord” and “the Lord”. However, upon repeated reading, “Yahweh”, “Elohim”, and “Adonay” quickly became just as commonplace as their English counterparts, which lends this version of the Bible to becoming gimmicky rather quickly.
Also, as someone who has no formal training in Hebrew, it was also frustrating having to always refer to the name index at the beginning as a translation guide to the infrequently used names of God. Footnotes would have made reading much more fluid. While there are 46 names or titles of God used in the Bible, the majority are so infrequently used that I was left wondering why this version of the Bible is even necessary. Why not include a translation of these less frequently used names and titles in the footnotes of existing Bibles translations rather than create a whole new version of the Bible? Or why not create a prayer and reading guide to the names of God as a resource tool to accompany one’s devotional reading, as are already available by the editor of this Bible? The book/chapter introductions and editorial commentary on the various names and titles of God were helpful but, again, it is difficult to see why this necessitated the creation of a new Bible version.
Overall, I was unimpressed with The Names of God Bible and fail to see why the publisher felt it necessary to create other than to capitalize on the growing market for niche Bibles. This is not a Bible that I would use or recommend for study or devotional reading because it relies on a gimmick that will not help readers hear the Biblical text with fresh ears.
Bible has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.