"The Book" or A Special Place in Hell for Bad Translators

You’ve seen those ads.

Usually some celebrity talking about how “The Book” changed his life. It’s (supposedly) a translation of the Bible made “easy to read and enjoyable”.

I happened upon a copy recently.

Here is what, as it is in the King James, is one of the most beautiful sentences in one of the most beautiful books of the Bible, Ecclesiastes 9:11 as rendered by “The Book”:

“I have observed something else in this world of ours. The fastest runner doesn’t always win the race and the strongest warrior doesn’t always win the battle. The wise are often poor and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don’t always lead sucessful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time.”

Here’s the Lord’s Prayer:

“Father, may your name be honored.
May your kingdom come soon.
Give us our food day by day.
And forgive us our sins-
as we forgive those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yeild to temptation.”

While we’re at it, here’s what God said to Eve when he found out she had sinned:

“How could you do such a thing?”

My goodness. God sounds downright miffed.

And here’s what Cain said when God asked where Abel was:

“I don’t know. Am I supposed to keep track of him whereever he goes?”
Where do I start? Have people- uneducated, even illiterate people really been so confused by “Am I my brother’s keeper?” that they needed it dumbed down? Is there any possible criteria- aesthetic, philosophic, moral- where “Am I my brother’s keeper” is not better?

Does “How could you do such a thing?” really convey the implications of the arrival of sin and death in the world?

Are not the the first two quotes just horrible ugly? And isn’t there some sort of sin in making the word of God ugly? (I mean, I don’t consider it the word of God, just great literature and I think it’s a sin.)

The whole question of translations of what’s supposed to be the word of God.

The question of bad translations.

The question of this bad (very, very bad) translation.

The question of translations being justified if they encourage more people to read the word of God (although I can’t imagine anybody “enjoying” reading this like the ad says, and even if I thought the Bible was the word of God I don’t think this is.)

And finally, the question of which circle of Hell the guys who wrote this should be consigned to.


Obviously, all translations of the Bible suck. Everyone should learn Hebrew and read it in its original form. [/hyperbole]

It’s just a book.

Anyone who really wants to appreciate any work of literature written in another language will be familiar with several translations. Anyone who wants to get the gist will pick up the easier one. Sure, the language isn’t as pretty, but all the commandments and moral lessons are there. I don’t think it really makes a difference.

Wait a minute. How do you know this isn’t the exact, word-for-word English translation of what was written in the original Creation myth? Maybe it’s King James who’s guilty of gilding the lily.

Reading “Reader’s Digest” a while back, I ran across this story:

Bible teacher was saying how concise the KJV is citing “A little leaven leaventh the whole loaf.” Teach then asked if the same idea could be stated more concisely.

One student piped up with “A dab’ll do ya.”

Point to the story is: different folks read at different levels or in different styles to get the same idea.

p.s. Zion, please, please, PLEASE don’t get started on how evil leaven/yeast is!

Well, for those who don’t know it, the “original” King James version of Ecclesiastes 9:11 is as follows:

Call me a boarish philistine, but I like the translation provided by “The Book” better. It’s much easier to comprehend, and for someone who’s more concerned about meaning than poetry, this can be a godsend :wink:


Then again, you also lose something in translation, too. "The Book"s phrasing leaves one with the impression that personal ability has nothing to do with your life, that it all depends on the roll of the dice… The Bible’s phrasing makes it seem as if ability AND luck BOTH happen and are equally important.

Personally, I think more people need the latter lesson.

What’s more important? A beautiful but incomprehensible translation, or a translation which is less glorious, but communicates better?

Why not both? Clearly you can have a beautiful translation in simple language – witness the KJV, which was written in the everyday language of its time. “The Book,” if the excerpts quoted above are representative, is hideously ugly, but that’s because the translators have no ear for language, not because modern-day English is in itself ugly.

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” has entered Western culture in ways that go far beyond religion. You come across it all the time. Isn’t it important to know the source and the context?

That said, I don’t know if The Book is going to take any market shares away from The Bible. It seems to me, from ads I have seen (I haven’t read it) that The Book is aimed at people who would not otherwise have picked up the Bible. It will go on the bookshelf nicely with their “Chicken Soup for the Soul” collection.

As to the appropriate level of hell, I think this translator isn’t going to be quite as badly off as people who “write” (and I use the term loosely) those dumbed down versions of classic novels. You know, just in case “Little Women” is too hard to read (which I think might mean “lengthy”), and then they can be published with a cover featuring photos from the most recent film version.

Do you really find:

incomprehensible? JDM

“It is all decided by chance”
is a more absolute statement than
“time and chance happeneth to them all.”

This sort of tweaking is very very bad in religious texts, because people take them seriously, as God’s own truth, and live their lives by them.

“So?” you say.

Do you really want a bunch of “The Book”-taught extremists spouting oversimplified scripture? I grew up with fundies! It ain’t pretty! Yes, there are difficult and subtle (or, as i like to say, “subtile”) passages in scripture. So learn to read them at their level, or join the ranks of the ignorant: those who coined the term “Onanism”, those who expand “turn the other cheek” into taking on any self-sacrifice for its own sake, those who randomly open Bibles and stick their fingers in them as a mode of divination, etc, etc,



[foolsguinea has been admitted to the Psych Ward for evalution. The hearing damage suffered by the rest of the computer lab was determined to be mostly Temporary Threshold Shift, and the windows will be replaced shortly. The only serious casualty was the nurse who asked, upon foolsguinea’s admittance to hospital, if he would like to see a minister. While not all her fingers could be sewn back on, doctors are hopeful that prosthetics will compensate…]

A little learning is a dangerous thing.
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.

~~Alexander Pope, IIRC

There’s supposed to be a Russian proverb:

“A Translation is like a mistress – either Beautiful and Unfaithful, or Faithful and Ugly.”

I don’t know how true it is of mistresses, but it seems on the mark for translations. My favorite Bible translation is the New English Bible – directly translated from the original languages. This gives it an advantage over the KJV, the Revised Version, the Douay bible, and the Jerusalem bible. There’s the qwuestion of sectarian bias, but there’s ALWAYS a question of sectarian bias. Just for the record, although phrases from the KJV have entered English, this doesn’t mean that they are good translations, or correct, or even properly understood (especially by a modern readership). Give me well-translated contemporary prose any day.

This doesn’t man I want to lose the tradition and phrasing of the KJV (which, since I was Brung up Catholic, doesn’t resonate for me the sam way it does for others in this thread). I once saw an edition of Shakespeare with “translations” into contemporary English on the facing page. “Angels and Ministers of Grace Defend us!” became “Help!” This kind of “translation” we don’t need.

Uh, hi :).

Just thought I’d mention that (as far as I know) “The Book” is actually “The Living Bible” which is a paraphrase of the Bible, not an actual translation. It’s never claimed to be a translation.

Having said that, there are several newer translations that have come out in recent years that might interest those on both sides of this debate:

  1. The New Living Translation: an actual translation of the Bible based on the simplicity and style of the Living Bible paraphrase.
  2. The New King James Version: a more readable version of King James that maintains the beauty of the language.

Now that I just typed that, I realized I may be mistaken. When ‘The Book’ first came out in 1984, it was really The Living Bible repackaged. This new version may actually be The New Living Translation repackaged. If you’ve got it, you can look on the inside cover and it should say what it’s based on.

Anyway, hope that helps :).

(PS Yes this is my first post since last August when I left … told you I’d pop in from time to time :)).

But both statements have significantly different meanings, as I mentioned above. The former may be more “absolute” than the latter, but that doesn’t make it better.

“The Book” sounds like “The Lazy Man’s Bible”. And that’s coming from someone (non-religious) who’s managed to read through the whole thing. Look, if you want a dumbed-down version of the Bible, there’re numerous Bible picture-books. And, heck, they’ve made Bible cartoon movies you can rent.

The difference between “The Book” and “The Bible” is like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings.

sigh Everybody’s a critic. St. Jerome preserve us from our readers!

People always discuss the quality of the translated text but rarely the quality of the text itself that is being translated.

I speak with particular reference to the New Testament. Its literary quality has been impugned by several great intellectual figures of the ancient world: Augustine, Jerome, Boethius, etc. The list goes on and on. So in a translation, is it not unreasonable to expect a rose to grow from a murky puddle?


The Book is advertised as “The Bible in Plain English.” I think Pat Robertson has something to do with it. There are all sorts of translations of the Bible-one “black funky,” one that starts the Lord’s Prayer “Our father/mother who art in Heaven…”

“How could anyone do such a thing?”

This seems a little silly in light of the fact that everyone was comprised of Eve herself and one other person.

The King James Version vs. “The Book”/“The Living Bible”?


The TEV Translation (more commonly known as “The Good News Bible”) can beat the pants off of “The Book”/“The Living Bible” any day of the week.