Have you met Jesus, God’s special bloke? The bloke who says “I’m telling you straight”, “You see, it’s like this,” and “You mob, listen to me now”?
Well, you can. I did so while reading the Plain English Version of the New Testament. It’s a translation that is accessible to people who grew up speaking one or more Indigenous languages, and whose English tends to follow the grammar and discourse rules of those languages. (In an ideal world, of course, all Australians would have access to God’s word in their heart language – but until that is achieved, the PEV is a valuable stepping-stone in that direction.)
But reading the PEV is also a really enlightening experience for anyone who has struggled to understand some of Jesus’ more cryptic sayings or oblique references to Old Testament prophets.
Do you know how a pastor will take a passage of Scripture and try to break it down for people with illustrations that relate to our modern everyday world?
Or how a Bible study leader will stump you by asking you to paraphrase some dense portion of Scripture in straightforward, conversational terms?
Or even how you try to convey the true wisdom of God to children in Sunday School in a way that they can truly grasp?
Well, the PEV is a bit like that. It doesn’t assume background knowledge of the history and geography of God’s people. It breaks the meaning down and puts it in plain terms that we can all glean new insights from.
For example, instead of just saying “They praised God,” it says “They praised God, telling him that he is really good.” Well, that is a helpful motto for anyone who wonders how to start their nightly prayers with praise and worship!
Instead of saying “It is written” with all the implied history of prophecy, it says “You know, God got one of his men to write these words and they are in God’s book.” (Mark 4:12)
There is no such thing as prophecy in Aboriginal culture or language, so the translators had to work over the wording time and again, in order to communicate that this was prophesied long ago.
How it is possible to describe the fruit of the spirit … without abstract nouns?
Aboriginal languages are completely different in structure to Greek, Hebrew and English. They don’t use the passive voice and have very few abstract nouns, other than life and trouble. So how it is possible to describe the fruit of the spirit, which uses terms like love, joy, peace, patience, which are all abstract nouns?
By using actions expressed as verbs and qualities expressed as adjectives, like this:
Galatians 5:22: “But if God’s spirit controls people, he gets them to do good things. You know that a good fruit tree always gets good fruit on it. Well, like that, a person with God’s spirit does good things. If you let God’s Spirit lead you, he will get you to love God and to love other people. And you will be happy. And you will feel good and quiet inside yourself so that you will not fight with other people. God’s spirit inside you will help you be good to people and not get angry, even if they give you trouble. And he will get you to be friendly to other people, and he will get you to do good things. He will make you the sort of person that other people can trust.”
For me, the most helpful aspect of the PEV is where it clarifies some of Jesus’ more puzzling utterances. For example, in Mark 2:17 where Jesus tells the Pharisees he had come not to save the righteous, but sinners, I know that there is none who is righteous, not even one. But in the PEV, Jesus says “you mob think you’ve never done anything wrong, so I can’t help you.” Perfectly clear now!!
And in the NIV, Mark 4: 25, Jesus controversially says: “Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”
In the PEV Jesus is much plainer: “When you really take notice of a true message, God will help you understand it, and he will help you to know more and more of his word. But if you don’t want to listen to that message, God will stop you from understanding the little bit you did hear.”
And later in Mark 8: 34-35, when Jesus talks straight to the followers about how he is going to die, he warns them: “If any of you wants to follow me properly, you have to stop thinking only about yourself. You have to live like me. You have to be ready to die, yes, die like a criminal on a cross, just like I will die. If you only want to look after your own life here on earth, you will lose it. You will not live forever with me. But if you are ready to give up your life here, and live my way, and tell other people the good news about me, then you will find real life, and you will live with me forever.”
“You have to live like me. You have to be ready to die, yes, die like a criminal on a cross, just like I will die.” – Mark 8:34 (PEV)
But in my reading of the PEV so far, my absolute favourite has to be John’s Gospel. In this rendering, Jesus really shoots from the hip, like a bushy from Bourke!
Listen to how he speaks to the Pharisee Nicodemus – who is described as one of the mob who were strong for the law” – when he visits Jesus in John 3:3-5:
“Jesus said to him, “Listen, I am telling you straight, people have to get born again, and then they can be in God’s family.” Nicodemus said, “How can a big man like me get back into his mother’s body and get born again?” Jesus said, “Listen, I am telling you straight, if anyone wants to be in God’s family, they have to get born again God’s way. God has to make them clean, and he has to put his spirit in them.You see, everybody is born from a human mother, that’s how our bodies get life. But if somebody gets born again from God’s Holy Spirit, then the Holy Spirit gives new life to their spirits too.”
I’m only at the beginning of my journey with the PEV, but it is already helping me come to Jesus like a little child.
The PEV Mini Bible app is available on Android here.