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“Is that all there is? Is that all there is, my friends? Then let’s keep dancing! Let’s break out the booze, and have a ball … if that’s all there is.” (Song written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in the 1960s, recorded by Peggy Lee in 1969)

These lyrics have started to go through my mind in recent months as I read some of the newest Bible translations, particularly my new 2011 version of the NIV. It seems we who are interested in Bible translations tend to put the “contemporary, easy-to-read” translations up on a pedestal. The easier it is to read, and the more it sounds like contemporary English, even American slang, the better. As it is said, if we can’t understand it, what good is it?

And so I often choose a recent translation for my evening reading time. I sit down and read my Bible and relax for a while. It’s not a study time, it’s a reading and relaxing time for me. But lately it has often been less than I want; it’s been less than fulfilling. As good as the NIV (NLT, CEB, etc.) is, it often leaves me with a hollow feeling. It leaves me saying to myself, “Is that all there is?”

There’s something missing. And I think I have an idea what it is: it’s that mysterious feeling I used to get when I was a kid reading my Bible, my old RSV, realizing I was reading the Holy Oracles of God! The language was strange, ancient, almost other-worldly. People didn’t talk like that. It was almost as if some ancient being had come forward in time to tell us about what it was like thousands of years ago.

Do you ever get any similar feelings when reading your Bibles? Or am I the only one?

It seems when I read the “older” translations, that is, the more “formal” translations like the NKJV and NASB, I don’t get that “empty” feeling. Granted, they are harder to understand, and I sometimes question their translation choices in light of the way English is spoken today. But they seem to have that something extra that seems to be missing from newer, more dynamic translations.

It makes me wonder sometimes if the translators did too good a job on the new NIV.

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