In seminary, we would frequently debate and discuss whether and how we should “show our language work” in our sermons. After all, so often in our exegesis, we find that the pew-Bibles (whatever translation they be) do not emphasize something or translate a text as well as the original. When this happens, how do we deal with the discrepancy?
One the one hand, we do not want our people to forget that the English versions they have in front of them are just translations and carry the strengths, weaknesses and translational-presuppositions of any translation. On the other hand, we do not want our people to think that their English Bible is insufficient to comfort their hearts with the gospel and reveal God’s will to them truly and sufficiently. In his Pastoral Theology: The Pastor in the Various Duties of His Office, Thomas Murphy offers wise words that neither neuter the minister from teaching his people about the original languages via his preaching, nor give him free-reign to become a Gene Scott and teach his people that they cannot truly understand God’s word apart from his linguistic expertise:
A much-needed caution should here be given to all preachers: it is, to avoid the habit of correcting the ordinary English version of the Scriptures in the pulpit. There are some ministers who are constantly doing this. Sometimes the conviction can hardly be avoided that it is done as a display of learning; and a poor weak one it is. Sometimes, no doubt, it is honestly done to impart a clearer understanding of the word. But it is nearly always unwise, hardly ever in good taste. It is always unwise if not done in a very guarded manner. Its tendency is to weaken, and ultimately destroy, confidence in the Bible as it is in our hands. Instances could be given where preachers have assailed the English version so often that some of the best of their hearers have declared that they did not know what to receive, for they could not tell whether any particular passage was correctly or incorrectly translated. It should be made a matter of conscience not to trifle in this way with the word in its present venerable form. Its meaning may be explained to the fullest extent, but the version should ever be touched with a very delicate hand.
Pastoral Theology, pgs. 134-35.
I think Murphy offers some important wisdom on this front. I would add to this that should this be done “to impart a clearer understanding of the word” or “explain its meaning to the fullest extent,” ministers do well to treat the pew translation fairly. Rather than teaching the congregation that this is a difference between “right” and “wrong” or “faithful” and “unfaithful” translations, he should explain it in terms of a difference in translational emphasis. I find a helpful method is to say, after reading from the pew Bible, “another way of wording this is ….”
While there are no doubt many ways of handling this reality with which we wrestle as ministers, Murphy’s words offer us sufficient leeway, though also wise caution. His language of using a “very delicate hand” can hardly be stated better!