Wednesday, January 29, 2020

New Bibles Galore, Part Two: Reading comprehension

Proponents of various newer Bible versions tout the ease of reading as a selling point for their particular versions. Bible Gateway includes a page titled “What are the reading levels of the Bibles on Bible Gateway?” Their presentation gives a grade level and an age level for each Bible. They say this information is “taken from information provided by the publishers of the various translations wherever possible.” When I inquired about this in 2017, Bible Gateway said they were not sure what method or methods the publishers used to determine the reading levels, or whether the publishers used the same method.

These “guides” usually use a computerized test such as the Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level tests. In other words, it is unlikely that Biblica had thousands of 7-year-old third graders read the New International Reader’s Version and afterwards tested their comprehension of what they read.[i] More likely, they plugged the NIrV or parts of it into a computer and ran tests. In such tests, different parts/books of the Bible would (should) come up with different reading levels. Some are more grammatically complex and complicated than others are. A computer can test that, somewhat. Peter indicated some of Paul’s letters were complicated, and he did not even have a computer through which to run them for a test! Much of this “ease of reading” banter is a barking up of the wrong tree. It ignores that the Bible is not standard reading, but also a spiritually discerned document.

There is a false premise based on mere intellectual understanding of the Bible. When someone says that all we need is a translation with words we can understand, this centers understanding the Bible in the natural man (intellect) rather than the spiritual man. However, the Bible includes a spiritual element not present in natural documents. It is spiritually given (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and spiritually understood (1 Corinthians 2:14). “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Peter, a notable apostle, tells us that in all of Paul’s epistles there are “some things hard to be understood” 2 Peter 3:16. Those who would remove “some things hard to be understood” seek to remove some things that God has given by inspiration. Even new “easy-reader” versions have to admit this is true: Paul’s “letters include some things that are hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16, NIrV).[ii] So, the Bible can be difficult to understand, even for the spiritual. However, the Spirit will guide into all truth (John 16:13). Without the Spirit, it is impossible to know the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:11).

There is a false premise that places discernment outside the community of faith. Yet, the community of faith is crucial to our best understanding of the word of God (Acts 17:11). This is not the hierarchical Roman Catholic doctrine that the church tells everyone what to believe.[iii] It is recognition that the faith was once delivered to the saints (Jude, verse 3). It is recognition that the faith is passed on through the generations by faithful witnesses who commit it to other faithful witnesses (2 Timothy 2:2). An individual Christian is not a “Lone Ranger.” There is discernment at the local church level. Those who are in the faith help and teach those who come into the faith (Matthew 28:19-20). “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14).[iv]

God has set teachers in the church, and this gift should not be despised (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11). We are to teach one another, even through our songs (Colossians 3:16). The modern mantra hands the individual a Bible with the promise that it is easy to understand, and tries to cut out the “middleman” of the church, the local community of faith. On reflection, though, the translators and revisers remove the intermediary they want ousted and install themselves as the mediators between God’s word and man.[v] The teachers God gives us should not be discarded, but may we cry with the eunuch of Ethiopia, “How can I (understand what I read), except some man should guide me?” See Acts 8:30-31.

Abbrevations of Bible Translations

[i] The Bible Gateway site gives the NIrV as “3+ (ages 7+).”
[ii] The Bible can be counterintuitive. Those who “should” understand may not, and those who “should not” understand may. “At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.” Matthew 11:25.
[iii] Roman Catholicism says that 2 Peter 1:20-21 forbids the individual undertaking to read and understand the scriptures. Rather, Peter taught that interpretation proceeded not from the will of man, but from the Holy Ghost who moved the prophets to speak.
[iv] In his book Commenting and Commentaries, Charles Spurgeon writes, “It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others.”
[v] Even constantly changing it. According to translator Bill Mounce, the NIV committee on Bible translation meets annually to consider making changes to the NIV. “English is in a constant state of flux...This is one of the reasons why the CBT was originally formed with the mandate to meet every year and keep the NIV up-to-date with current English and biblical scholarship.”

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