Mental Health, New Testament, Old Testament, Tanakh, The Bible, KJV, The Bible, NIV

The Book I’m Not Reading

I own a not insignificant number of copies of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, the best novel ever written in the English language. As a Christian who is saved in Christ (I think?), this fact, and God’s eternal love, are the two things I can depend on.

Wolves Hall, Personal Collection

It’s also an example of how I act out some of my mania / treat my depression. If I’m feeling overwhelmed, or just, you know awake at any given moment, and I’m in a bookstore and there’s a copy of Wolf Hall to be had for the having, I’ll have it. (I’m also aided and abetted by my dear friend and platonic plural husband, Jeffrey, who buys used copies everywhere he sees them and then sends them to me. Compare this to another friend who sent me a pack of allegedly “funny” coasters with ’50s housewives saying dirty things and then imagine a yawn that becomes eternity and that’s about how tired that gift made me.) It’s not that I need it. It’s not like I clearly don’t already have [counts under his breath] 1-2-3-4-…-14-15 copies. But there’s something comforting about each book, and I can no more make sense of it than I can the argument that Jesus was both wholly human and wholly divine. (Which I believe, but based only on faith, not on empirical knowledge.)

I also now own three Bibles:

  1. An NIV translation
  2. A KJV translation
  3. A third one that I’m getting more details on, but it’s gorgeously bound and has snaps, I mean, CAN YOU EVEN BELIEVE THAT? SNAPS?! (Shout-out to Kindra, who should reach out to me because I found the UNFINDABLE and she may be interested.)

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The NIV doesn’t get a lot of respect. Purists* feel it is too dumbed down, and that it isn’t translated as carefully as it could be. (This is an argument leveled against Constance Garnett, a Tolstoy translator from the 19th century: we’re told that she was too Victorian, bowdlerized the dirty parts, and haphazardly translated the Russian to make it readable for her English-speaking audience. And to that I say feh. You lay Connie’s translation of War & Peace next to that husband and wife team who are better at Dostoevsky than they are Tolstoy and you’ll see that Garnett got more than enough right.) Uber-purists will want to direct new Bible readers to the KJV, and they’ll go on and on about the majesty of the language and wax rhapsodic over each verilythee, and thou**.

[* Purists can be frustrating, with their belief that there is anything approaching the platonic ideal of perfection. Some of your more dogmatic Christians will try to tell you that the closer in time we get to Christ, the purer the Christianity, but there were schisms and battles that started almost immediately after his crucifixion so ::shrug-emoji::.]

[** Some modern Quakers still practice both plain speech and plain dress and here’s what I want to say about that: it’s entirely none of my business and I love them for their pursuit of/relationship with God. HOWEVER. In the Year of Our Lord 2000 and 18, thees and thines and thous sound anything but plain. They sound affected and draw attention rather than allow the parishioner to not get in the way of the experience. Same for plain dress, which, as it’s practiced today, sometimes veers very closely to Ren Faire attire. I asked one Quaker woman — and you’ll have to trust that I asked this politely — “Why are you dressed like an observant orthodox Jewish woman?” She said, “I get that all the time.” And if you’re being questioned about your dress all the time then IT’S NOT VERY WELL PLAIN IS IT.]

For daily reading — both just to be literate in the Bible and for devotional experiences — I use the New International Version. I agree that the language in the King James Version is beautiful — “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand” is a gorgeous piece of apology — but I’m not able to focus on the thinking behind the verse. Instead, I’m untangling syntax that isn’t as common today, and muddling through words that don’t tripe easily off the page into my brain.

I read the NIV because I want to understand what the Bible is saying. And, once I feel comfortable with what it’s saying, then I can move on to how to say it in beautifully antiquated English.

If you’re up for some sharing, I’d love to hear how you rank Bibles. What’s your preference for devotional reading? What’s your preference for study? What’s your preference for quoting?


Title Source: “The Book I’m Not Reading” by Patty Larkin

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2 thoughts on “The Book I’m Not Reading”

  1. it’s been a while since i was a bible reader, and even longer since i was a get-up-every-day-at-530-in-the-am-to-read-the-bibler, but i still vote NIV all the way. i like my bible accessible, but not overly-simplified (coughgoodnewscough).

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