Scoundrels, ruffians and certain lewd fellows of the baser sort

Posted: 25th October 2007 by ElShaddai Edwards in Uncategorized

Esteban has posted on some singular readings from the KJV translation, including this passage from Acts:

“But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.” (Acts 17:5, emphasis mine)

He notes that the REB reads “some ruffians from the dregs of society” and I found the HCSB’s translation, “some scoundrels from the marketplace” to be also satisfying in the face of such blandness as the TNIV: “bad characters“, or the NLT: “troublemakers“, or the NET: “worthless men“.

Why? Why do some of us delight in the richness of the English language and the confounding possibilities it affords us in Bible translation, where others find equal satisfaction in translations that emphasize the clear meaning of a text through simpler language and grammar? This is a question that has been circling blogdom for a couple of weeks now (see here for a roundup).

To this question, I have a confession. I’d previously been using the TNIV as a base text, well at least for a month or so since my last post on choosing a translation. But for the past week or two, I’ve had a different translation on my desk, one that I’ve been familiar with since my days in college: the New English Bible, predecessor of the REB. Why? Because it dares to be different.

I’ve been in a cantankerous mood lately (see, for example, the recent dialog regarding reading Genesis 1 literally vs. literarily) and needed a text that was willing to argue with me. It took an IM exchange last week with Rick Mansfield to put my finger on why I felt this way. The light came on that, for me, the T/NIV is bland. It cuts across formal and functional translation philosophies more or less accurately, but has no personality of its own. It is the everyman translation, the black Buick, the path more taken.

It’s where I can’t be right now. I thrive on alternatives. On ideas not yet explored. I need translations that are willing to use language that sheds light in corners not seen. For whatever special-interest theological positions underly it, the HCSB does this. The NEB does this; the REB also, though less so. The KJV does this (at least now looking back at it after the experience of the last 50 years of modern translation effort; and though I don’t even own a copy of the KJV!). The New Jerusalem does this. The Amplified does this.

The NEB rearranges text to clarify arguments and logic, to pull meanings out that are not evident in majority translations. It deliberately sought to be different from the KJV tradition, evident from the first verses of the Bible:

“In the beginning of creation, when God made heaven and earth, the earth was without form and void, with darkness over the face of the abyss, and a mighty wind that swept over the surface of the waters.”

What!? No “Spirit of God”? No “In the beginning God created…”? Squee! (thanks for putting that in my head, Esteban) I love that this suggests that heaven and earth were the first acts of creation, the beginning of creation, not the beginning of the beginning. Creation is ongoing. Creation continues to the very end of the Bible, with New Earth and New Jerusalem. The acts of creation never end.

God’s sabbath on the seventh day was a rest, but then He got back up and started creating again. What? Where? Other worlds? Other universes? Other realities? When? That’s the heaven I can’t wait to get to … the place where *all* of God’s creations await exploration. Exploration alongside scoundrels, ruffians and certain lewd fellows of the baser sort.

  1. What I tell people to do if they are interested in understanding the Bible but don’t know the original languages is to read more than one translation, ideally ones that reflect different theological outlooks as well as different approaches to translation. It is the best thing one can do to get as close a sense as possible to the underlying text, and to avoid being misled by any particular aspect of the English translation.

  2. Hey, ElShaddai, I own two Buicks, one green and one gold, and they’re not a bad place to be! 😉

    (Just wondering, can a 54-year-old man who owns two Buicks use the term “Squee”???)

  3. I own two Buicks, one green and one gold

    What are you… a Packers fan? 🙂

  4. John Hobbins says:

    One of my colleagues, the last time the Packers made it to the playoffs, had a big fat “G” in the appropriate font placed on the communion altar linens of the church he serves.

    One of the women of his congregation, suspicious, asked him, “what does the ‘G’ stand for?”

    “God, of course,” my friend answered.

  5. Kevin Sam says:

    What!? No “Spirit of God”?
    The NEB sounds almost like the JW’s New World Translation in using “wind”. There’s a really different theological perspective for you in the NWT. Not sure if I would read that for a broad-based theological outlook though. Sure “wind” is legit in the Greek but it’s much too impersonal. I’d much prefer “Spirit of God.”

  6. Sure “wind” is legit in the Greek but it’s much too impersonal. I’d much prefer “Spirit of God.”

    Well, the Jewish Study Bible (Tanakh Translation) and the NRSV (not sure about the RSV – the ESV revision predictably uses “Spirit of God”) also use “wind”, though at least “wind from God”, so there’s definitely precedent and tradition for that rendering. I would definitely quibble with the NEB’s choice of “mighty” for Elohim – that’s a bit loose.

  7. What are you… a Packers fan?

    No, not that kind of gold; it’s called sandstone. I shouldn’t have called it gold.

    No, I’m a Twins fan, and have been since they came to us from D.C back in 1961. Don’t care much for football. Don’t even go see the Vikings when they’re in town for their training camp.


  8. voxstefani says:

    Oh, man. Leave it to me to introduce serious people to LiveJounral fangirl speak! 😉

    As for your recent disappointments over the blandness of the TNIV, I am with you there. I think how I put in a comment to one of Iyov’s posts was “the flattening of the varied styles found in the originals.” I do appreciate the sheer clarity of the text, but as Moisés Silva has written, if the Corinthian church had to struggle through a difficult sentence of Apostolic Greek, it is no great tragedy for us to have to do the same. I just don’t believe that a translation should be simpler (or for that matter, more complicated) than the original.

    I’ve been following one of Kevin Edgecomb’s one-year reading plans, and I use the NRSV for that. For all other reading, however, I’ve been using the REB and the KJV (whence the post you link above). I find great delight in that combination.

  9. I’ve been following one of Kevin Edgecomb’s one-year reading plans, and I use the NRSV for that. For all other reading, however, I’ve been using the REB and the KJV (whence the post you link above). I find great delight in that combination.

    I’ve promised Brandon Smith that I’d participate in his ::abide:: project of continuously reading the gospels – that might be a good opportunity to get more familiar with the NRSV. My REB NT is already back in my briefcase.