Pentecost: The Power of Versions

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HolySpiritWhether it’s the King James, New American Standard, Common English, English Standard, or another translation/version, we’re all reading the same Bible, right? …right? Maybe not.

I recently preparing the end-of-mass announcements for an upcoming workshop at our parish, where we will be making these adorable Flaming Pentecost Cupcakes. As usual, I sent the wording of the announcement to our pastor for final review, and was initially surprised to receive back a slightly edited version (usually it’s a “good to go”). I made the small change without thinking much about it, as shown below, and moved on.

ORIGINAL: In the Bible, Acts 2 tells us how “When the day of Pentecost arrived, [the disciples]were all together in one place when suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”  (English Standard Version)

MODIFIED: In the Bible, Acts 2 tells us how “When the day of Pentecost arrived, [the disciples]were all together in one place when suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” (New International Version)

Later that night, I started to think more about the change. Was there really that big a difference in the wording? I tried to picture both scenarios: in the original, I imagined the disciples in a room, and flames of fire suddenly appearing, each as a separate flame, above each disciple…almost like bubbles floating and landing. In the second, I again imagined the disciples in a room, but this time the flames – instead of first appearing as separate flames – appeared as a single source which then divided and came to rest above each disciple.

Truly, this is quite a different image! The Holy Spirit appeared as a single flame, which divided and came to each disciple as opposed to a bunch of random flames popping up and landing on each disciple. I can understand why this change was made.

What I took away most from this was the importance of reading through and understanding the impact your Bible version/translation has on the way the Story is told. Each translation is slightly different, and while each change may seem small, the net effect of all the changes can add up. It’s worthwhile to read not only your version/translation but be aware of the impact other translations can have on the way the Story is interpreted!

Copyright 2013 Jen Frost

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2 Comments

  1. Joyce Donahue on

    The words your pastor substituted are actually from the New American Bible (NAB), which is the translation that Catholics will hear read at Mass next weekend. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/051913-pentecost-mass-during-day.cfm

    In official publications like the parish bulletin, it’s important to use the text that people hear in church… and it’s what your pastor will preach on. That’s is probably why he changed it.

    And yes, your point is well-taken – translations DO make a difference as to how we understand scripture. The NAB is based on what Catholic Bible scholars believe to be the best original texts and scholarship from which to make the translations.

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