Today is the day (September 30) on which, if were not a Sunday, we would commemorate Jerome.  He’s probably best known for his translation of the Bible (then largely available in Hebrew and Greek) into Latin.  This was really controversial at the time:  translating something holy from its original form into the vulgar language spoken by the people.  Hence it became known as the Vulgate.  Now it’s a classic translation, foundational in the Roman Catholic Church even today when they make new translations (i.e. they always seem to look at the Vulgate as well as the original Greek and Hebrew).  And I believe there are those who want to go back to (what they see as) the original vulgate version of the Bible.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating much.

Something similar has happened to us in the Episcopal Church with regard to our prayer book (The Book of Common Prayer).  Prayers were translated from the Latin which was in use into English, the language spoken by the people.  At that time, it was Elizabethan English, since that’s what people spoke back then.  And it was controversial for taking something holy and vulgarizing it into the speech of common people.  When we finally updated the English to reflect the language people use today, we had major splits in our church.  And the same things happened when our bible was translated from the Vulgate into the Elizabethan English of the King James Version people screamed for our vulgarization of something holy.  And there are today many English speaking Christian who feel we are vulgarizing the original (King James) language God used into common, even profane language in using more contemporary English in current translations.

One generation’s outlandish change becomes another generation’s sacred cow (and I’m using that in the fully idolatrous meaning of that term).

I am convinced that, if we really want to interact meaningfully with the people around us, we have to speak to them in the language they use.  I had a coworker once who used to read the King James Version of the Bible because it was so eloquently written.  When I said I was surprised she was reading a Christian Bible, because I knew she was Jewish, she told me it wasn’t really a problem.  The language was beautiful, she said.  But it was also so old that she really couldn’t understand what it was saying.  Outside of limited use at a Renaissance Faire, not too many people speak Elizabethan English today.

J. R. R. Tolkien thought things had changed so much in his time that biblical mythology (the foundational, pre-historic stories that laid out the values and self understanding of the people who wrote and edited the Bible) so so foreign to Christians in his time that it had to be translated into a mythological his contemporaries could understand.  That’s why he wrote The Lord of the Rings!

It’s not that there is anything wrong with people using older translations that they are comfortable with and that they have learned to understand.

But most people, really, don’t understand that language.  It has to be translated into language and cultural references that make sense to them.

So if we want to talk to the world around us, we have to know how they think and how they talk.

And we have to learn to be faithful to what we mean and believe as we talk with people on their terms.