Is a "Contemporary Translation" Smart?

Beware temptation, oh ye who brandish a keyboard and an ego…

The following is an excerpt from the responsive scripture at a worship service I attended recently:

He continued this subject with His disciples… ‘Has anyone by fussing before the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch?  If fussing can’t even do that, why fuss at all?  Walk into the fields and look at the wildflowers.  They don’t fuss with their appearance – but have you ever seen color and design quite like it?  The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.  If God gives such attention to the wildflowers, most of them never seen, don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you?’

Having trouble placing the verse?  You might be more familiar with this passage from Luke 12 in its King James Version: “Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

A subsequent verse has been changed to “Get yourself a bank that can’t go bankrupt… a bank you can bank on.”

These interpretations of biblical verses come from The Message – a “contemporary translation” created by Eugene H. Peterson. Fussing before a mirror – that’s contemporary language? And the other bit may be modern, but even ignoring the dangling participle, reads more like trite advertising copy for some local credit union…

So, I’d like to suggest a rule… Unless you know the author personally, and have been scientifically proven to be a better writer than the originator, it’s probably best not to attempt a direct “translation” of a major work or seminal document.

This should keep the work of any relevant philosophers, theologians and authors of creative works safe, as well as the musings of pretty much anyone with a publishing contract…

Dr. Michael C. Porter, APR is director of the UST MBC program.