The Bible in Contemporary Language
Category: Bibles and Bible Guides
At last, the Old Testament too! If you're like me, you'll have been thinking that it was fun to read the Gospels in Peterson's sassy paraphrase, but the burning need was for a way to get through books like 1 Chronicles or the vast outback of Job's interior chapters.
So, does it work? Well, yes it does. I found, however, that the paraphrasing was extremely loose in places, so that you cannot attach any importance whatsoever to details — they may not be in the original text — and it seems likely that some details important to the original writer will have been lost and speculative interpretations are easily confused with the teaching of scripture. Have a look, for instance, at this passage from Proverbs 22:
Do not be a man who strikes hands in a pledge
which Peterson renders:
Don't gamble on the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,
The paraphrase, it has to be said, is somewhat uneven, but surprisingly in the difficult and boring books it works all the better for that reason. You find yourself slipping back into Old Testamentish cadences and formal phrases, but then some anacronistic twist of modern speech wakes you back up. Take for instance Nehemiah 2. Where the NIV has the colorless "I had never been sad in [the king's] presence before," Peterson updates it with "I had never been hangdog in his presence before, so he asked me 'Why the long face?'" Not bad. But the chapter begins "At the hour for serving wine I brought it in and gave it to the king." At the hour for serving wine? Why not: "The usual time for the king to have his wine came and I let him have it?"
Sometimes the contrast is so stark you have to believe it's deliberately comic as in the delightful passage in 1 Kings 22, "Just then Zedekiah son of Kenaanah came up and punched Micaiah in the nose."
In an Old Testament world where Jezebel shouts "Go for it, Ahab!" and Solomon prays "Keep it up, God!" you find yourself keeping awake quite easily.
This is a book to be used sparingly — as a cheat. If you tried one of those "Read the Bible in a Year" schemes a few years back and still have your ribbons somewhere slightly west of the installation of the Feast of Tabernacles, give it a try again. Just don't hock your NIV to buy it. You'll find yourself consulting it more frequently than ever... "Is that really what it says?"
Conrad Gempf, November 2002
Dr Conrad Gempf teaches New Testament at London School of Theology. He is the author of Jesus Asked (Zondervan, 2003), Mealtime Habits of the Messiah (Zondervan, 2005) and Christian Life & The Bible (LST, 2006). He writes extensively for various books, journals, magazines and websites; here's his blog: Not Quite Art; Not Quite Living.
Previously published by London School of Theology. Reused here by kind permission.NavPress | Order from www.christianbookshops.org | Order from St Andrew's Bookshops
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