I haven’t until today come across CS Lewis’ essay “Modern Translations of the Bible” included in the God in the Dock collection. I got several likes on my blog from Mere Inkling and I had a look and found an extract from Lewis’ essay in which he promotes the value of translating the Bible into modern English without fear of losing the “sanctity” of an older version.
The only kind of sanctity that Scripture can lose (or, at least, New Testament scripture) by being modernized is an accidental kind which it never had for its writers or its earliest readers. The New Testament in the original Greek is not a work of literary art: it is not written in a solemn, ecclesiastical language, it is written in the sort of Greek which was spoken over the Eastern Mediterranean after Greek had become an international language and therefore lost its real beauty and subtlety. In it we see Greek used by people who have no real feeling for Greek words because Greek words are not the words they spoke when they were children. It is a sort of “basic” Greek; a language without roots in the soil, a utilitarian, commercial and administrative language.
Does this shock us? It ought not to, except as the Incarnation itself ought to shock us. The same divine humility which decreed that God should become a baby at a peasant-woman’s breast, and later an arrested field-preacher in the hands of the Roman police, decreed also that He should be preached in a vulgar, prosaic and unliterary language. If you can stomach the one, you can stomach the other. The Incarnation is in that sense an irreverent doctrine: Christianity, in that sense, an incurably irreverent religion.
Quoted in Translating the Word
Lewis was a great advocate of JB Phillips’ New Testament in Modern English and in a 1961 letter he wrote: “A modern translation is for most purposes far more useful than the Authorised Version.”
I wonder how much CS Lewis was aware of the modern Bible translation movement? Wycliffe Bible Translators was founded in USA in 1942, Lewis died in 1963 – the year before Wycliffe UK began.
Given the quote above, I’m sure he would have been a great advocate of Wycliffe’s work bringing God’s Word to heart languages around the world.