Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Good News

Then Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath he went as usual to the synagogue. He stood up to read the Scriptures and was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it is written,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim
liberty to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set free the oppressed
and announce that the time has come
when the Lord will save his people.

Luke 4:16-19 (Good News Translation)

In 1966 the American Bible Society published a new translation of the New Testament called, “Good News for Modern Man.” It was widely and inexpensively available in paperback, which gave it a casual look. The cover was printed to look like a page from a newspaper. The impact and appeal then was similar to “The Message” today.

The man responsible for the Good News Bible, Robert Bratcher, died July 10 at a retirement community in Chapel Hill, North Carolina at the age of 90.

Bratcher used a theory of translation called “dynamic equivalence.” His goal was to translate the thoughts rather than the words. The translation attempted to be “thought for thought” rather than “word for word.”

Although the Good News Bible enjoyed widespread popularity among Evangelical Christians, Bratcher was highly critical of Biblical Literalism. At a seminar in Dallas in 1981, he declared:

“Only willful ignorance or intellectual dishonesty can account for the claim that the Bible is inerrant and infallible. No truth-loving, God-respecting, Christ-honoring believer should be guilty of such heresy. To invest the Bible with the qualities of inerrancy and infallibility it to idolatrize it, to transform it into a false god.”

His remarks were costly, personally and professionally. Many conservatives withdrew their support from the American Bible Society, and the Society asked Bratcher to resign. With support from overseas colleagues in the United Bible Societies, an international group to which ABS belongs, he was able to continue his work in a consultant status.

From the perspective of responsible Christian scholarship, theology, and faith, Bratcher was clearly right. But the temptation to literalism is strong, and the comfort of the supposed certainly it represents is hard to resist.

The controversy is not new. Jesus argued with the literalists of his day. It is hard for us to remember that the Bible is meant to be a living and breathing word, not a dead letter. As the Apostle Paul said to the church in Corinth, “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

1 comment:

  1. I thought that Literalists would bridle at GNFMM.
    The real shame is that they not only rejected the work but derailled the authors career as well. Just HOW does THAT fall under love one's enemies, you guys?