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SENT – A Further Examination

I have written some about a new translation called the Spoken English New Testament (SENT). I believe the concept behind the translation is excellent: Translate the scriptures into language that is common to English speakers. Just as the original New Testament writings were in common Greek, we can use to have scriptures translated into common English.

A common pitfall that occurs when trying to use common English when translating the Bible is that the scriptures become dumbed down or watered down by the translator. I believe an excellent example of this is The Message by Eugene Peterson. Matthew 5:3 in The Message reads, “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” I am sorry, but that is not the meaning of what Jesus said. This is the problem that repeatedly comes up when using commonly spoken English.

SENT has done an excellent job avoiding this pitfall. I did not notice any passage that was dumbed down for the sake of using commonly spoken English. This is quite an accomplishment, an accomplishment where translations like the NCV and The Message failed. The generous amount of translator notes at the bottom of each page also contributes to ensuring that the original meaning is maintained.

There are some readings that could perhaps use a little more work or could be questioned as being spoken English. One of the common renderings in SENT is “in line with” as a replacement of the phrase “according to.” For example, 2 Peter 3:13 reads,

But in line with God’s promise, we’re waiting for “a new heavens and a new earth”, where justice lives. (SENT)

I will leave it up to you, but in my opinion I think we speak of doing things “according to” something more often than saying it is “in line” with it. I don’t know that I ever use the phrase “in line.” I don’t think this change was necessary. If anything, I would say the phrase “in keeping with” is more commonly spoken in English.

The word “deacons” is also retained. This is certainly not a spoken English word. Even more surprising is that Romans 16:1 reads that Phoebe is a deacon. I think using the word “servant” would have been superior and would be a great spoken English translation of the word “deacon” in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. However, “deacon” is retained unfortunately.

Finally, I think Philippians 2:6 is not a clear translation. While many translations fail in giving a clear reading of Philippians 2:6 (like the NKJV), SENT does not give any clarity either.

Although he was in the form of God, He didn’t regard equality with God as something to run off with. Just the opposite: he poured himself out. (SENT)

I don’t know that SENT offers much clarity to say that he did not regard equality with God as “something to run off with.” I think the HCSB still hold the gold standard on this verse.

But don’t think by these few critiques that this is not a great effort in translating Greek into common English. One aspect I really appreciate is how SENT does not use the word “church.” Rather, “community” is used. “Assembly” or “community” is a far better reading than “church” since “community” or “assembly” is what the Greek word ekklesia means. I would like to see future translations also move away from the word “church.”

SENT retains the word “baptism.” I would like to see it have the same boldness and use “immerse,” “submerge,” or “plunge” since this is actually meaning of baptizo and baptisma. “Baptism” is just a transliteration of the Greek word and is not commonly spoken English.

In conclusion, I really like SENT and the direction it is going. I hope the future revisions will deal with the few shortcomings there are to make this an even better translation. I wonder if a translation that is written by only one scholar will make a big impact in the Christian community. I suppose Eugene Peterson has shown that it is possible to get some attention, even if the translation is not done by a committee of scholars. But perhaps SENT will garner some attention and be viewed as a good option for people’s reading and study of the scriptures.