It’s That Time Again

The time when it feels like I spend most of Gospel Doctrine translating the scriptures into modern English instead of actually teaching them. I’ve posted about the problems the KJV poses before, but . . . that’s not going to stop me from doing it again.

Here’s a verse from this week’s assignment–Jeremiah 2:24–first in the KJV:

A wild ass used to the wilderness, that snuffeth up the wind at her pleasure; in her occasion who can turn her away? all they that seek her will not weary themselves; in her month they shall find her.

. . . and the same verse from the NETBible:

You are like a wild female donkey brought up in the wilderness. In her lust she sniffs the wind to get the scent of a male. No one can hold her back when she is in heat. None of the males need wear themselves out chasing after her. At mating time she is easy to find.

A prophet has given us an extremely vivid–not to mention blush-inducing![1]–image of Israel’s behavior. It is truly a fabulous verse to discuss; I plan on asking my class what the image of the donkey in heat teaches us about those who backslide or are apostate. I’m guessing that this unusual and compelling image will lead to a most interesting discussing!

But it isn’t a discussion that you can have after reading (just) the KJV, because I’d bet fewer than 1 in 100 adults (even in my reasonably well-educated ward) will be able to derive the gist of the verse from the KJV.

An easy way to see a variety of translations is to use the NetBible and then click on the verse number; that will take you to a page with a handful of various translations as well as other helpful resources.

I noticed (thanks to the diligent work of Kent Larson) that the NIV was quoted again in General Conference this Fall. I’d like to encourage all of y’all to study a modern English version alongside the KJV as your Gospel Doctrine class continues its slouch toward the New Testament; you’ll be surprised at what you find.

[1] Verse 33 is even more fun. The KJV:

Why trimmest thou thy way to seek love? therefore hast thou also taught the wicked ones thy ways.

And the Netbible:

My, how good you have become at chasing after your lovers! Why, you could even teach prostitutes a thing or two!

30 comments for “It’s That Time Again

  1. November 4, 2010 at 10:46 am

    I appreciate your love of the NIV. However, the biggest problem with the NIV or other translations: Our King James with all the footnotes and references is freekin awesome!

    On a practical reality, most members only have time to read one version of the Bible at a time and the extra help you get from the footnotes and references dwarfs the problem of an occasional verse as cryptic as the one you point out.

    Just my opinion.

  2. ESO
    November 4, 2010 at 11:24 am


    Have members of your classes ever given you guff for straying from the KJV? How do you respond?

  3. November 4, 2010 at 11:27 am

    This verse is also explained in the OT student manual.

  4. Julie M. Smith
    November 4, 2010 at 11:58 am

    ESO no, they haven’t. If someone did, I would say that I believe that if it is OK to use it to provide clarity in General Conference, it is OK to use it to provide clarity in Sunday School.

  5. Kevin Barney
    November 4, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    Julie, I consider myself fairly literate in the Jacobian rhythyms of the KJV, and I couldn’t quite get the sense of what was being described from the KJV alone. It’s really well nigh to impossible to do so. Great illustration of the point; I might steal this for my lesson on Sunday…

  6. ABH
    November 4, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    I’m lucky enough to be able to teach Sunday School in the same room our stake uses for Institute, which is equipped with a screen and projector that I can plug my laptop into. If the lesson I prepare tends to have a lot of scriptures in it, I make a PowerPoint presentation that has the KJV verses next to the JPS translation. When I started doing this, I tried to preempt any discomfort with the alternate translation by explaining what I was doing, and showing a scanned page of Elder Packer’s “The Holy Temple” where he compares about 10 different translations of 1 Cor. 15:29. If it’s good enough for Elder Packer it’s good enough for me.

  7. Researcher
    November 4, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    Thanks for the post, Julie. I happened to read Philemon last week in the Einheitsübersetzung, the German edition of the Bible used by the LDS church, and then reread Philemon in the KJV and was amazed that it was almost impossible to understand what was going on. For example, it was not clear that Onesimus was a slave, and the puns were not footnoted like they are in the EÜ.

    I have been wondering in particular about verse 20:

    “Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord.” (KJV)

    “I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.” (NIV)

    “Ja, Bruder, um des Herrn willen möchte ich von dir einen Nutzen haben. Erfreue mein Herz; wir gehören beide zu Christus.” (EÜ)

    “Surely, brother, for the Lord’s sake, you can be of some use to me [or: I would like to have a benefit or favor from you]. Gladden my heart, we both belong to Christ.” (My translation of the EÜ)

    In that verse, the KJV doesn’t include the first wordplay on the name of the slave Onesimus (benefit/profitable) or the second one on belonging or slavery. The NIV gets the first word play, but not the second one. I have been looking at the different Bible translations and commentaries in trying to figure out where the Germans came up with the phrase “we both belong to Christ.” Was that a wild extrapolation or even a mistranslation due to the German love of puns?

    So thank you, Julie, for linking to NetBible. In the notes about the Greek version of Verse 20, one of the listed meanings of the last word is “belongs to Christ,” as it is translated in 1 Corinthians 3:23, which means that the German version, which I like best of all, could be a valid translation.

  8. November 4, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    Wait till we get to Ezekiel ;)

    As I prep to move into NT in January, I’ve reconsidered my recommendation of the NIV. I’ve decided not to do it anymore. Consistent Evangelical bias isn’t a big deal in the OT (see here or here), but when we get into Paul, and people expect a modern translation to capture what he said, I can’t do the NIV anymore. Too much LDS opinion of Paul is filtered through Luther via cultural osmosis, and an Evangelically-biased translation of Paul will only cement that.

    As I’m mostly an OT guy, I have to rely on other authorities. Here’s NT Wright on the NIV, emphasis mine.

    “I must register one strong protest against one particular translation. When the New International Version was published in 1980, I was one of those who hailed it with delight. I believed its own claim about itself, that it was determined to translate exactly what was there, and inject no extra paraphrasing or interpretative glosses. This contrasted so strongly with the then popular New English Bible, and promised such an advance over the then rather dated Revised Standard Version, that I recommended it to students and members of the congregation I was then serving. Disillusionment set in over the next two years, as I lectured verse by verse through several of Paul’s letters, not least Galatians and Romans. Again and again, with the Greek text in front of me and the NIV beside it, I discovered that the translators had had another principle, considerably higher than the stated one: to make sure that Paul should say what the broadly Protestant and evangelical tradition said he said.…. if a church only, or mainly, relies on the NIV it will, quite simply, never understand what Paul was talking about.

    This is a large claim, and I have made it good, line by line, in relation to Romans in my big commentary, which prints the NIV and the NRSV and then comments on the Greek in relation to both of them. Yes, the NRSV sometimes lets you down, too, but nowhere near as frequently or as badly as the NIV. And, yes, the NIV has now been replaced with newer adaptations in which some at least of the worst features have, I think, been at least modified…. And those blown along by this wind may well come to forget that they are reading a visibly and demonstrably flawed translation, and imagine that this is what Paul really said.” (N.T. Wright; Justification, pp. 51-53)

  9. ESO
    November 4, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    Julie–lol, I really wouldn’t expect anyone so knowledgeable as yourself guff, but I guess on the few occasions I have advocated alternate translations, I have done so with some trepidation, because I don’t have your qualifications. The GC point is a good one, but not something that I think most people would have picked up on. I kind of wish the quoters had made their source more explicit.

  10. November 4, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    It would be nice to get a new English Bible translation that is easier to read than the KJV, but not manipulated like the NIV. I will often compare the Valera-Reino Spanish Bible with the KJV to see the differences, and there are some. The new LDS VR is based upon an older version that isn’t copyrighted, so it has benefits and flaws to it (the newer translation is better and an easier read). Still, it is a newer translation than the KJV’s 17th century derivation.

  11. Tom D
    November 4, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    I refer to the NIV from time to time to understand some of the more obscure KJV translations. Some chapters are far more understandable in the NIV, but most chapters of KJV are just fine to me. Having grown up in the church with the KJV, I suspect that I understand its dialect of English far better than the average convert. I wonder if many people including myself are effectively bilingual (English and KJV English) but don’t realize it. I think this gets in the way of teaching the gospel sometimes.

    I love our KJV, but I worry about how hard it might be for investigators and coverts to understand it. Thank goodness for our footnotes, Seminary, Institute, and especially the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

    I think that the Book of Mormon is clear enough that this is not as much of a problem despite the sometimes archaic sound of it.

  12. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    November 4, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    It would be nice if the folks at, say, the Maxwell institute could take up a project of evaluating the various Bible translations in just this way, so that we can be aided in our understanding but avoid being misled by the biases of specific translations. Since we believe the Bible to be the Word of God only “so far as it is translated correctly”, we should not forget the imperfections in the LDS edition of the KJV, even while we rely on it for a general understanding.

    The fact that we have alternate readings in the Joseph Smith Translation in footnotes and in the supplements, as well as in the Pearl of Great Price, not to mention alternate readings of Hebrew and Greek in the footnotes, should keep the Saints aware of the limits of the KJV even as they mainly rely on it.

    As far as looking for more authority for using alternate translations, we also have the example of Joseph Smith citing the Luther Bible, and discussing the meaning of the Hebrew words at the opening of Genesis.

    The standard Japanese Bible is translated from German, which is clear from the names of the apostles even transliterated into Japanese. It is interesting to compare with my KJV.

    On Philemon: I was not aware of all the puns, though I had noted the fact that it appears to be written overall as a multiple layer chiasmus. Paul obviously put some thought into its composition. I wonder what this tells us about Philemon, since Paul apparently thought he was a man who was astute enough to appreciate the artistry used in crafting the letter, which communicated over and above the words how much Paul valued Onesimus, and therefore wanted Philemon to value him. Did Philemon gain his appreciation for chiasmus through a Greek or a Hebrew education? Was writing in this form part of the training of students of Gamaliel, or did Paull acquire it in the context of Hellenist education, along with his apparent familiarity with Greek rules of Rhetoric?

  13. November 4, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    Rameumptom: It would be nice to get a new English Bible translation that is easier to read than the KJV, but not manipulated like the NIV.

    What you’re describing is the NRSV, which is a solid modern-English translation, and is easy to read alongside the KJV.

  14. Bob Nelson
    November 4, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    For my part, I’ve found the Jerusalem Bible (translated into English in 1966) a helpful source for illuminating opaque or otherwise troubling passages.

    Thanks for the discussion–it’ll certainly help me in our class this coming Sunday.

  15. john willis
    November 4, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    I too have found the Jerusalem Bible useful for getting a sense of what the authors were really trying to say.

  16. November 4, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    Any updates on the BYU Rendition(Translation) & Commentary on the NT?Aren’t the first volumes of that supposed to start coming out next year?

  17. November 4, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    From the Q&A with John Hall after his 2007 FAIR Conference presentation…

    …I’m a little wary of the BYU translation and commentary. Hall expressed a fondness for the readings in Codex Bezae, which is one of more off-the-wall versions in the Western textual tradition. If those readings find their way into the BYU series, I don’t see how it can be taken seriously anywhere.

  18. November 4, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    I’m looking for something more recent than 2007. About a month or so ago, over on the MADB, an individual who has worked as a research assistant on one of the volumes indicated his understanding was that the Johannine Epistles volume of the BYUR was pretty much done, and would probably be published first, and most likely early 2011. I was wondering if anyone knew anything more than this.

  19. James Olsen
    November 4, 2010 at 9:57 pm

    I really really like the New Jerusalem Bible, which is a modern Catholic translation. My problem with some of the translations out there is that they don’t just make the English comprehensible, they make it simplistic. Some of the biblical books are written in simplistic language. Many (like Jeremiah) were originally written in a much higher register. Here’s the famous and KJV incomprehensible Hebrews 11:1 from that translation:

    Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of realities that are unseen.

    If buying a different translation, though, I recommend killing two birds with one stone and getting a quality study Bible as well. Oxford’s Jewish Study Bible (JPS translation) is a great one for the Old Testament, giving you a great mix of scholarship, Jewish tradition, and complete sensitivity to religious belief. The Harper Collins Study Bible (NRSV translation) is another good one (and has the New Testament).

  20. Stephanie
    November 5, 2010 at 8:15 am

    I have been reading the Old Testament (just cover to cover) and am using online resources a lot. I keep having the same experience: I read something that makes my stomach churn (and makes it sound like God is a misogynist). So I turn to the footnotes/Bible Dictionary to try to find the answer. If I don’t find it there, I turn to the CES manual. (Ha – hardly helpful. Either the CES people who wrote it ignored the hard parts out of discomfort or lack of understanding or they don’t seem bothered by them in the same way I do). So then I google the scripture and read as much commentary as possible. After that I sit and ponder and puzzle and draw diagrams and try to figure it out. The other night I spent 2 hours on Deuteronomy 21-22 and figured it all out except one small part (which, coincidentally, someone answered on fmh the next day). So far I have been able to work through all the stories that bother me and conclude that Heavenly Father loves his children and tries to protect them from each other as much as possible, but he always allows for weakness, wickedness and sin. The interesting thing about reading the OT is that it has strengthened my testimony of many things (but also leaves me puzzling even more about patriarchy – maybe I’ll figure that out by the end).

    Anyways, that whole comment is to say that I greatly appreciate non-LDS resources in understanding the Bible. If all I had to go on was LDS resources, I would really be struggling.

  21. November 5, 2010 at 11:27 am

    Nice post, Julie. Thank you. I’ve forwarded the link on to my ward’s Sunday School teacher, which also happens to be my wife. (We both agree with you, by the way.) :)

  22. Dave
    November 5, 2010 at 11:38 am

    Julie, thanks much for the post. Although I grew up on the KJV, I switched to the NRSV about three months ago. Never had any idea how much I was missing. Since then, I’ve enjoyed reading the Bible far more than I ever had before.

    Ben, Thanks for your comments and the links on the NIV. Thought those were really interesting.

  23. Olive
    November 5, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    I have to say, I find it abhorrent that you would encourage your class to compare people struggling in the church to donkeys in heat. Yes, its in the scriptures (describing Israel)…but I don’t think you should draw a modern parallel with it. Teach about Israel. Not “apostates” or those “backsliding” (which are both really derogative terms anyway).

  24. prometheus
    November 5, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    I have found that reading a modern translation makes my scripture study much more useful, much more insightful, and much more enjoyable.

    The KJV has some beautiful parts, but most of it is so archaic that it makes little if any sense to a modern reader. We need to retire it and use something that is readable all the way through.

    My personal preference is the 2007 New Living Translation. It is a dynamic translation, and I quite enjoy how it has been done. I bought the study version, which has a wealth of explanation, maps, and commentary – also very helpful.

  25. November 5, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    Olive, Olive, Olive …

  26. Julie M. Smith
    November 6, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    I just came across this; thought it was interesting:

    From Joseph Smith: “Our latitude and longitude can be determined in the original Hebrew with far greater accuracy than in the English version. There is a grand distinction between the actual meaning of the prophets and the present translation.” (See Documentary History of the Church, vol, 5, pp. 339–45.)

    From the article’s author: “If you cannot turn to the original Hebrew for possible meanings, it is sometimes helpful to try other translations.”

  27. bryanp
    November 6, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    Julie, thanks very much for your words. I’ve noticed the same thing for years. I’ve been a member for about 30 years now and used to read other translations. I’ve returned to doubling up on using another translation with the KJV. Thanks especially for mentioning about other translations being referenced in General Conference.

  28. bryanp
    November 7, 2010 at 7:22 am

    Also, I think if people get a little anxious about using other translations need to remember #11 Tom D’s advice. You need the Holy Ghost. That is key to study of the scriptures. I say this because I knew a person years ago that would not read materials unless it had “Copyright…by Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” in the front part of the book. To me that just cuts out inspiration by the ultimate source if we are told to study out of the best books.

  29. amazed
    November 8, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    Julie I share your love of the NETBible website, and always use it to prepare lessons that use Bible verses which have any degree of obscurity. However I love the website with its tools much more than I love the NET itself.

    But in defense of the KJV I note that its translators had a different philosophy of translation than do modern versions such as the NET. Modern translations favor clarity over literal English representations of the Hebrew/Greek words. For example, in your example about the wild asses, the NET talk about the males is unsupported by the Hebrew words, and the KJV, “occasion” better translates the individual Hebrew word than the NET; though the NET may well be right in its suggestion of what Jeremiah is getting at. By deciding on the likely meaning and then putting it in the clearest of English phrases, nuance and connotation may be sacrificed, which sometimes the KJV better preserves. And I think the modern translations can be more judgmental. Sometimes the KJV is obscure because the Hebrew is obscure, and the NRSV’s guess at the meaning may be wrong.

    With ABH, I’m lucky that equipment in our meetinghouse library makes power points a breeze. Accordingly I never see a reason to use a modern translation, unless the KJV is up there on the screen right by its side. The beauty of 3 or 4 parallel versions is that the nuances become clearer and we can see that any one version is unlikely to always be the best to use.

  30. November 8, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    amazed #29: What you’re describing is the difference between a formal or literal translation and a dynamic translation. The former attempts to translate word-for-word as much as possible at the expense of English readability, while the latter strives for readability at the expense of exact word usage.

    I prepared a class handout that compares various Bible translations on a formal-to-dynamic sliding scale. See page 3 of this link:

    You’ll note that there are some very good modern formal-equivalence translations, such as the NASB and ESV, that retain the KJV’s word-sense and faithfulness to the source, while eliminating the KJV’s archaic words and poor translation choices.

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