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The Matrix Bible?

"The Matrix?"

I recently expressed my consternation at the New King James Version’s rendering of  part of Isaiah 49:1 which a colleague had quoted in an email.

The LORD has called Me from the womb; From the matrix of My mother He has made mention of My name.

Having looked into it I found that matrix is the Latin word for the womb, but I don’t know what the NKJV team were thinking when they used it as a revision for the KJV’s use of ‘bowels’ !  I suppose it was probably before the science fiction film came out, but at that time the word matrix for most people conjured up images of difficult maths lessons rather than anything to do with the womb.

Here’s my response to the question which followed  – “Which translation do you believe is the best?”:

It is a good question and one that I am asked fairly often when I express my opinions about Bible translation. It is actually hard to give a simple answer since different translations have advantages and disadvantages. I believe that good translation involves paying attention to three criteria – accuracy, clarity and naturalness. These three are not easy to balance correctly, but I would say that some of our English translations do a much better job than others.

Hopefully, clarity and naturalness speak largely for themselves but accuracy isn’t so obvious. Just because the form of a translation is more like the original language (Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic) does not mean that the translation is more accurate. For example it is well known that Paul used some very long sentences in his writing with lots of connecting words holding the phrases logically together (there was no punctuation used at the time). Some have therefore translated using similarly long sentences, but by doing so have made something which is very difficult to read and so obscured the meaning. The problem is that English speakers don’t usually speak in this way, so we find such sentences hard to read aloud or listen to with understanding. To translate what Paul says accurately we need to do our best to decide what he meant his readers to understand and attempt to get our English readers to grasp the same meaning as far as possible. Since English generally conveys meaning using shorter sentences and phrases to indicate the logical relation between them, we will do better to follow the usual English style rather than the Greek style. That being said, someone studying the Bible using a meaning based translation may miss certain aspects of the original languages which are still apparent in a translation which stays closer to the Greek form.

Personally I think we can benefit greatly by looking at multiple translations using different translation philosophies if we are doing in depth study, but for day-to-day reading and public reading in church I think we are better served by the best meaning-based translations. In the our office we are currently reading through the whole Bible in the New Living Translation. In most places the translators have done a good job of making the Bible easy to read and comprehensible, which is more than can be said of many translations.

I personally don’t accept the arguments of those who insist on the King James Version as the only legitimate translation in English. Even in its somewhat modernised forms such as the NKJV, I have less confidence in what I am reading as being close to what God gave through inspiration because of the limited number and quality of biblical manuscripts used to produce Erasmus’s ‘Received Text’ on which they are based. That said, I don’t think there are any areas where significant doctrine is greatly affected.

I do find modern form-based translations such as the ESV, NASB etc. helpful when used alongside of other translations as an aid to understanding the form of the original languages, but I don’t think they should become the standard adopted by evangelicals. I wrote about this a few months ago.

I spent quite a few years using the New Living Translation as my main Bible after having been brought up largely on the NIV and still frequently use both, but I mostly use the NET Bible (Bible.org) as my main Bible text. I find that switching to a new version from time to time helps me keep thinking about what I’m reading especially in familiar passages. I particularly appreciate the NET’s extensive notes on translation issues – though it does make it very fat and heavy to carry. These days I mostly read the Bible online or on my phone which lets me compare several translations.

The question of which translation one uses has become something of a shibboleth for some evangelicals which is a shame. In the end, the best Bible is the one you can read, understand and apply.

Of course much ink both physical and virtual has already been spilled on this subject and not all of it usefully, but if you want a starting place to find more articles and books on the subject you could try this page on the useful biblicalstudies .org website.

I also hope that many of the people who like me express strong views about English Bible translation will apply some of their passion and concern to meeting the needs of the millions of people in the world who don’t have any of God’s word in a language they can understand. This is from Wycliffe UK‘s site:

How many languages have Scripture?

2,479. Of these, 451 have a complete Bible, another 1,185 have the New Testament. 843 others have at least one book of the Bible.

How many languages still need translation?

In addition to more than 1,300 active projects, work needs to begin in over 2,200 languages.

How many people have no Scripture?

200 million speak these languages where translation still needs to begin.

In how many languages have Wycliffe been involved in the completion of a New Testament or Bible?

759. Over 107 million people speak these languages.

How many countries are affected by the work of Wycliffe?

Almost 100. This includes work among people who live outside their traditional homelands.

These figures are up to the end of September 2009 and come from Wycliffe International.

8 timezones, 2 breakfasts, 3 lunches & 3 flashback films

It’s 6pm in San Francisco, just one more meal to eat and a few more hours to stay awake! I got up in Bristol this morning at 5am, 21 hours ago. I had breakfast at home before I caught the train and breakfast again at Heathrow. On the flight I found myself next to a guy going to the same non-profit technology conference as I am. He works for a group called People for the Equitable Treatment of Animals. Virgin Atlantic had forgotten his vegan meal, so he ended up with some gleanings of fruit and salad from First Class. I hope I didn’t offend him too much with my barbecue chicken lunch, or with the brie and ham sandwiches I had for second and third lunch.

The direct flight was almost ten hours long, so I had a mini film festival, watching three films back to back from of the interactive smorgasbord on offer. It wasn’t deliberate in my choice but, as it turned out, they all dealt with issues of relationships between children and adults and like so many stories told today, they kept moving back and forward on the timeline.

  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is about someone who begins life as an old man and goes through life gradually getting younger. It’s told through his diary as it is read to the love of his life at the end of her life. The earliest and latest years of his life are left largely to the imagination. It made me stop and think about attitudes to age and how people of different age relate to one another. I think it could have been handled just as well in about 2 hours rather than  the almost three which it took.
  • Slumdog Millionaire was well worth watching. Tough experiences of three children from the Mumbai slums are traced in flashback as one of them takes part in the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. It mixes English and Hindi in an interesting way, but whoever did the subtitles didn’t forsee its success and plan to help people trying to read them on low resolution seat-back screens. I’ll definitely watch it again on a bigger screen.
  • The Reader is definitely not ‘family viewing’, but it does interestingly explore the relationship between a 15 year old boy and an older woman and the impact of guilt in their lives. The film is also a reminder of how much must of us take literacy for granted. The timeline does shift, but not so much as the other two which was a relief to my timezone shifting brain.

Prince Caspian


At the end of my 22 hours awake yesterday I went to watch the new Chronicles of Narnia ‘movie’ with some of the other IT guys here. We had talked about watching Indiana Jones, but some who had already seen it put us off.

Prince Caspian, as it turned out, was great. Although my long day meant that I dozed a bit near the start, once the action started, I was kept awake and entertained. It’s been years since
we read through the Narnia books together as a family, so I really couldn’t remember the plot to tell you how faithfully Disney kept to C.S.Lewis’s book. I quite enjoyed The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe especially with a knowledge of the allegory involved, but it felt a bit too much like a kid’s film for me to really enjoy it. Prince Caspian is great for kids too, but Disney have definitely cranked up the special effects and made it a spectacular which allows it to better bear at least some comparison with Lord of the Rings.

Two scenes particularly reminded me of aspects of LotR: the spectral appearance of Jadis, the White Witch reminded me a lot of the way Galadriel looked when she was tempted to take the one ring, and the fantastically spectacular intervention of Aslan near the end was of course reminiscent of the scene where five Nazgul are overwhelmed by the flood waters produced by Gandalf and Aragorn at the Ford of Bruinen.

Go and see Prince Caspian in a decent cinema whilst it is still running. It’ll be a while before
most of us can afford the home cinema equipment necessary to appreciate the work which has clearly gone into the production. I’ll look forward to reading the Narnia Chronicles to our youngest three in a few years time, but I might just go and reread Prince Caspian to pick up the bits of the plot which I missed while dozing off at the start last night. I ‘ll also take a look around the web and see how allegorical C.S.Lewis intended it to be. If you know, feel free to add comments.

La Vie en Rose – a French afternoon in New York City

{mosimage}Before getting to the review of this astonishing film, let me tell you about how I came to see it. On my way back from the States last Wednesday I had a seven hour layover in Newark. I don't much enjoy hanging around airports for hours, so I took the 30 minute train ride into Manhattan. Wandering up the road from Maddison Square Gardens I heard a smart-suited African speaking French into his 'cellulaire'. Wondering if he was from Côte d'Ivoire where we used to live, I followed him through a shop doorway. As my eyes adjusted to the rather greasy gloom, I noted that I had entered a little Caribbean bakery/restaurant full of black faces. I forced back the temptation to make a quick exit and joined him at the back of the queue at the counter. He turned out to be Senegalese rather than Ivorian, but was very pleased to have another chance to talk French…

After a tasty $7 lunch of 'stew chicken with rice & beans' and a
portion of fried plantains, I headed on up 8th Avenue. A few blocks
further on I came to a cinema and decided that it would be great to see
a 'movie' on a real big screen rather than the way I see most films
these days through the distinctly low-def screen built into the back of
the airline seat in front of me.

I was just in time to buy tickets for La Vie en Rose which was
starting right away. Entering the big 'movie theater' I was shocked
that at four on  a Wednesday afternoon the place was packed solid. As
my eyes adjusted and hunted for an empty seat I observed that I was
once again  the stranger – almost everyone there appeared to be over
sixty. Perhaps it was the cheap day for seniors or the fact that La Vie
en Rose had only opened a few days earlier but the film definitely
merits a wide audience.

you are put off by foreign language films with subtitles, but to have
dubbed this from French would have been a crime. It is a biopic of the
life of Edith Piaf whose theme song was La Vie en Rose – literally
'Life in Pink' but more idiomatically 'The Rose-tinted Life'. Edith
Piaf's gravelly voice and melodramatic life is superbly portrayed by
Marion Cotillard as the film works its way through her life to the
accompaniment of her distinctive songs. Of course, as in all French
films which make it to the anglophone world, there is a role for THE French Actor as
we like to call Gerard Depardieu; he is the impressario who literally
discovers 'the Little Sparrow' singing in the backstreets of

It was quite a puzzle to place each scene in
chronological order as the film jumps around through more flashbacks
and flash forwards than an entire season of Lost. Apart from
that though, La Vie en Rose is an absolute triumph, rich with the
colours of Piaf's tragic life. The entire audience stuffed damp
handkerchiefs into their pockets, rose to their feet and applauded this guaranteed
oscar winner. Piaf finished her career singing a song which she felt
summed up her life – Non je ne regrette rien! Take your friends to see this classic film and you'll have no regrets either.