Every year Alan and I try to read through the Bible together, and often we choose a different version just for the sake of comparing ideas, considering nuanced meanings, and sometimes getting a completely new take on a verse. If the meaning seems quite different, we research the ideas against our Greek originals and/or our gold standard texts, which for me is the Authorized King James Version and for Alan the New International Version. Although I’d probably be happy simply reading the King James’ version 50+ times, Alan really likes the various translations to keep his interest, and I will say the exercise does make the readings more lively and keeps me thinking (wanting to be a good Berean…who “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” [Acts 17:11]). Often we do find fresh insights that strike us in a new way, and it definitely enhances our overall experience of meditating daily on our spiritual bread of life!
Since Alan and I made it through the Holman Standard Christian Bible in record time this year, we’ve already started reading a new (to us) version: Young’s Literal Translation. This Bible is actually an old translation! It was written back in in 1898 by Robert Young, who also compiled Young’s Analytical Concordance (a standard reference book for serious students of the Bible throughout my youth; for instance, I asked for a copy for Christmas when I was at Grace Seminary). Because I have such respect for Young’s scholarship and integrity, I happily seconded the motion with a hearty “Amen!” when Alan suggested that we try Young’s Literal Translation next.
We’re now in Leviticus, and it’s taken me that long to really get the hang of reading it aloud and feel confident about recommending it. It’s in the archaic (but beautiful) language of jolly old England during the reign of King James, so my tongue loves this, and the “thees” and “thous” roll off with no problem. However, Robert Young went to great pains to make his translation as absolutely literal as he could, so instead of writing to suit modern notions of appropriate verbal tense consistency, Young wrote his text with the intention of preserving the exact tenses and word usage as he found them in the original Hebrew and Greek writings. This means I have to think about every word. No mental drifting!
For example, this is Leviticus 23:39-41 concerning the Feast of Booths:
39 `Only — in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, in your gathering the increase of the land, ye do keep the feast of Jehovah seven days; on the first day [is] a sabbath, and on the eighth day a sabbath;
40 and ye have taken to yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palms, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of a brook, and have rejoiced before Jehovah your God seven days.
41 `And ye have kept it a feast to Jehovah, seven days in a year — a statute age-during to your generations; in the seventh month ye keep it a feast.
Does this strike you as odd? In modern English, we would instruct someone to do something in the imperative voice, “Do this…” or the future tense, “You shall do thus and so…” When God gave instructions to his Hebrew children, it was written as if it had already happened! “Ye have kept it.” You have already taken the branches. It’s a done deal!
This one insight alone has made Young’s Literal Translation especially precious to me. God is the ageless, eternal One. Yesterday and tomorrow blend. Forever is and was and shall be, but it’s also now, and what shall be has already happened. That’s why He can look at us and say we’re spotless; that’s how we can look at each other and say, “You’ve just perfect!” Not because we are, but because we will be someday, thanks to the death of Christ for us and the work of the Holy Spirit within us!
“Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.”