I’d gone to hear my uncle and aunt sing in the choir at their church’s annual pre-Christmas lessons and carols service. The choir is excellent, and they always bring in additional musicians to make it very festive.
The music was wonderful, as it always is. It was the readings from the Bible that bothered me.
They were using the very popular New International Version of the Bible, which, according to the website BibleGateway.com “is a completely original translation of the Bible developed by more than one hundred scholars working from the best available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts.”
That may well be true, but it still shocked me when I heard the preacher read the New International Version of the Gospel of St. Luke, Chapter 2, Verse 14:
Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.
My objection wasn’t to the clunky language, but to the fact that the sentence seems to mean something quite different from the same verse in the King James Version:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
When I hear “peace, good will toward men,” I assume the wish for peace and good will is universal and aimed at all human beings (even an unregenerate feminist such as myself will accept that “men” means “people” in that context).
But when the preacher said “peace to those on whom his favor rests,” I heard “peace to those people we believe God has blessed,” and immediately started to wonder just who they were leaving out.
Such an interpretation strikes me as antithetical to the message of the Christmas season. It reminds me of those who preach against other religions, sometimes even other branches of Christianity. I’ve always found that offensive, though I know it’s not uncommon.
Once when I was in high school, I went to a large slumber party on a Saturday night. On Sunday morning, we all accompanied the hostess to the Baptist Sunday school, even though we represented several different Christian denominations. The teacher proceeded to lecture us on the evils of the Roman Catholic Church, only stopping near the end of her rant to take in the number of guests and say, “I hope none of you are Catholic.”
I’ve always regretted that I didn’t pop up and say that I was. In truth, I wasn’t, and I didn’t want to be rude in front of my hostess, but that teacher deserved to be shamed for her behavior.
I should say that I wasn’t the only person at church who heard the phrase “peace to those on whom his favor rests” as offensive and exclusionary. My aunt didn’t like it either, and she’s a member of that church.
Now it could be that the translators didn’t mean the phrase to sound the way I heard it, that it’s just bad drafting. Though I have to say, if there’s one place in a Biblical translation that I’d expect great care, it would be in the account of the birth of Jesus in Luke, which gives us so much of Christmas tradition.
It could also be that the New International Version is a more accurate translation of the meaning than the King James Version is. Maybe Luke intended to imply that the heavenly chorus was only wishing peace on some human beings, not all of them. I hope not, but I’m not qualified to opine on the accuracy of Biblical translations.
I happen to prefer the King James Version, partly because it, like Christmas music, evokes my childhood, and partly because the language is more beautiful than the newer versions, all of which read like they were written by committees. The King James Version uses the same English used by Shakespeare, and beautiful language is one of the reasons we still read Shakespeare today.
But it is hard to follow at times and often uses words that the average reader might not understand. It occurs to me that I was 17 or 18 before I realized that the phrase (also from Luke) about Joseph going to Bethlehem “with Mary, his espoused wife, being great with child” meant that Joseph and Mary weren’t married yet even though she was on the verge of giving birth.
However, I still think it sounds better than “Mary, his extremely pregnant fiancée” (which is not, as far as I know, the translation used in any Bible version).
Regardless of translations and language use, I’d still like to think those angels in Luke 2:14 are wishing peace and good will to all of humankind.
We all need it.
Flashes of Illumination, a collection of my short-short fiction, is now available here from Book View Cafe. This 52-story ebook collects the flash fiction I published weekly during the first year of Book View Cafe, and adds in a few later stories as well.
My novella Changeling remains available as an ebook through Book View Cafe. It’s a coming of age story.
Both books are $2.99 and available in four DRM-free formats: mobi, epub, prc, and pdf.