Speaking of Life


It’s a blessing to have a variety of good translations of the Bible. It hasn’t always been that way.

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Joseph Tkach

Joseph Tkach has been president of Grace Communion International since 1995. He holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Azusa Pacific University. For more information about him, click here.

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My text today is Mark chapter 16, verse 15:

'ej chaHvaD jatlh:
peghoS 'ej qo' naQDaq De' QaQ yImaq.
chenpu'bogh Hoch yImaq.

Don’t worry – I’m not speaking in tongues. I’m just reading this well known passage where Jesus tells his disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel - in Klingon, the language of a warrior race from the Star Trek universe. They don’t really exist, of course. But you’d better not say that to dedicated Trekkers. They take these things pretty seriously, seriously enough to have invented an entire language for the Klingons. Not just a few words, but a complete language with grammar and syntax. And yes, someone has even begun to translate the Bible into Klingon. I just read from it – although, I doubt I pronounced everything correctly, so my apologies to any Trekkers watching. 

Of course, it’s not likely that many people will become students of the Klingon translation of the Bible, but translating the ancient text of the Bible into spoken languages has long been important work. 2011 marks the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, so it’s an appropriate time to talk about Bible translations. 

I know the King James Version seems old fashioned to us now, but when it was originally published, it was intended to be a translation that could be easily understood by ordinary people.

As you probably know, what we call the Old Testament originates from a text, written in the Hebrew language and other parts in Aramaic. The New Testament originates from Greek. The Old Testament itself had also been translated from Hebrew to Greek long before Jesus was born, and it was the Greek translation of the Old Testament that was most common in Jesus’ day. 

To translate these ancient languages into English – or any other language for that matter – is a complex task. The men who labored to produce the King James Version 400 years ago did a pretty good job – considering the limited number of ancient texts they had available. 

Today, we have older and more reliable ancient texts to work from. In addition, archeological discoveries and research have allowed us to know so much more about how those ancient languages were used than was known 400 years ago. As a result, modern versions of the Scriptures are more accurate in comparison. There are literally dozens of versions easily available now. We are almost spoiled for choice, and I’m often asked which is the “best” translation.  But, I must say I am hesitant to answer that question. It often depends on personal preference or your intended use. Say you’re serious about Bible study; well, you’re probably going to make use of several different versions – although I’m not sure where the Klingon version might fit in your studies.

It’s a blessing to have such a variety of good translations, and to have the freedom of choice between them. It hasn’t always been that way. There have been times when to even possess a Bible in your native language would have meant a death sentence. Tragically, there are places in the world where that is still true.

And of the world’s 6900 known languages, there are still 2100 that don’t have a Bible translation. There are also millions of people living in poverty that would find it a rare treasure to own a Bible.

For us, this book may no longer be rare, but it is still a treasure, and we can thank God for the expertise and devotion of all those who have labored so hard through the centuries, often risking their lives, to make it possible for us to read the Bible in our own languages.

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