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Morton: New American Standard Bible vs. The Message

I am often asked which version of the Bible I use. That's actually a harder question than you may think. The many versions or translations of the Bible are helpful, all in their own unique way. I rarely use just one version, but several at a time...

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I am often asked which version of the Bible I use. That's actually a harder question than you may think. The many versions or translations of the Bible are helpful, all in their own unique way. I rarely use just one version, but several at a time. Let me illustrate my point from one passage.

Compare these two translations of Hannah's prayer for a child in 1 Samuel 1:10-11.

The New American Standard Bible (NASB): "She made a vow and said, 'O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and a razor shall never come on his head.'"

The Message: "Then she made a vow: 'Oh, God-of-the-Angel-Armies, if you'll take a good, hard look at my pain, if you'll quit neglecting me and go into action for me by giving me a son, I'll give him completely, unreservedly to you. I'll set him apart for a life of holy discipline.'"

The difference between the two is dramatic. Look at just this one line from The Message, "if you'll quit neglecting me and go into action for me." When you find its equal in the NASB ("if You will indeed look on the affliction of your maidservant and remember me"), you see the glaring contrast.

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The NASB Hannah is like a black and white, grainy, silent motion picture. We see a woman wearing pancake makeup, crying with her arms posed in an overly dramatic fashion. Suddenly the screen goes black and the words she had been saying appear on the screen with tinny, melodramatic music playing in the background. The words resonate with us because we can see them. The Hannah of The Message is an Imax, large screen, full-color movie with the London Symphony performing the score.

The scene opens as a middle-aged woman is crying inconsolably. The camera zooms in on her face as she lifts her eyes to heaven. The tears remain, but there is firmness and strength in her voice. She prays as if God is deaf. The camera shot moves from a clenched fist to her tears. The closing shot is one in which the camera circles slowly around her as she prays, rays of sunlight caressing her face. We are moved by her passion and plight.

I may have overly dramatized the difference between the two versions (y'think?!), but in one sentence let me give you my understanding of what's happening. One version is written to capture the essence and meaning of the words (NASB) while the other provides a movie-like (lifelike?) picture of each moment (The Message).

Don't misunderstand me on this. Both versions are worthy, but for different reasons, and with different purposes. Both have a place on our shelf. Both should be used, but only when we understand the translator's purposes can we use them effectively. The editors of the NASB tell us they intend "to give the English reader a rendering as close as possible to the sense of the original Greek and Hebrew texts," but The Message is meant "to engage people in the reading process and help them understand what they read. This is not a study Bible, but rather 'a reading Bible.'"

The NASB emphasizes the exotic flavors of the original languages; the Message wants the Bible to taste good.

I agree with the editors of both versions. Don't use The Message as a study Bible. It's such a free translation that there are times when the view or perspective of the translator can be seen in the phrasing. But I would happily read The Message during a worship service, for responsive reading, or in my own quiet time. I like its looseness and flowing style. It tastes good.

On the other hand, if I'm studying for a lesson or a sermon I generally have the NASB, English Standard Version or the King James Version at hand. These translations reflect a greater adherence to the original languages, which is important for understanding some of the nuances of language. Sometimes reading them out loud is a bit awkward.

After all, who prays, "If you will indeed look upon the affliction of your maidservant"? This isn't 1849. But I like the original flavors, too.

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So let me summarize all this with an easy-to-remember but not-so-clever ditty:

For Hebrew and Greek-geeks,

the NASB speaks.

For a text euphonious,

The Message is glorious.

Related Topics: FAITH
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