I recently spent a while reading the Good News Bible. It isn't a translation I often use, to be honest I think it lacks a couple of dimensions that are important to me in the Bible I read. Now this is going to sound at best pedantic, and at worst pompous, but it matters to me that the Bible I read retains a sense of mystery, that the words are precisely not the simplest most familiar words in our language. It matters that the literary skill and spiritual subtlety and intellectual dynamism of the texts are not drained off in the interests of in your face this is what it means. The Bible has depth as well as breadth, mystery as well as meaning, requires rich texture rather than thin fabric. This collection of literary texts ranges from poetry to story, prayers to curses, lament to love song, parable to philosophy, from gospel to history, biography to theology. It is the Word of God for goodness sake.
Now all that said. I remember the sheer joy as a new Christian when I bought my first Good News for Modern Man New Testament at a Christian Endeavour Convention. Come on, if that doesn't place me in the rocking 60's what does!! I read it through like a novel, it helped make sense of some passages that puzzled me in my recently bought black leather, zip fastening Authorized Version. For a while I read them in tandem, and liked some bits of one and preferred some bits of the other.
Eventually through the kindness of a Faith Mission pilgrim called Margaret, I was given a wide margin RSV the size of a paving stone! That became my desk Bible and I still love it, use it, but decline to lug it into the pulpit the way I used to. However by the 1970's the NIV was becoming the translation of choice for evangelicals. I have often been troubled by the idea of a translation suitable for evangelicals, or catholics, or any other denominated tradition - a translation stands or falls on its accuracy and faithfulness to the text, not on whether translational decisions coincide with preconceived ideas of what a text means.
Still, for years I've read and preached from the NIV, though mostly now I use the NRSV for a whole lot of reasons. I do wonder how many now use the Good News Bible. I wonder too, if the desire to be contemporary, to reduce the Bible to the language of 'modern man' is a self defeating exercise because the language of the 60's is 50 years ago now. And I shudder at what a translation called the Good News for Post-Modern Persons might read like....
I was reading the Good News Bible because I miss the pictures. Those line drawings by the Swiss artist Annie Vallotton are amongst the most evocative, suggestive, funny, moving and subtle delineations of biblical text of any I know. I wouldn't be without them; sometimes they are the best exegetical comments I can find.
I was reading Malachi, and the dancing figure illustrating the sun rising as God's blessing on a world promised a different future, is just the right fit of mood, hilarity and faith. Go find a Good News Bible and look at it - then flick through and have a look again at the work of this brilliant felt tip pen exegete.
The picture is of Vallotton on tour in the United States in 1966. She died on December 28, 2013 at the age of 98. I hope she was often told that her drawing s have been a means of grace, and windows into sacred text.