Relevance Gone Berserk
In the 1980s the Australian Bible Society proposed to
publish a new translation of Scripture to coincide with the bicentenary
of white settlement in Australia, which commenced on January 26, 1788,
with the arrival of the first convicts and their jailers from Britain.
It was proposed that this version use Australian idiom in order to be
relevant to Australian readers.
Such a translation is an insult to Australians. It
implies that Australians are so uncouth and uneducated that they cannot
understand the refined and cultured English into which the Scripture has
been translated in earlier times. Thus the version was an affront both
to Godís Word and to the Australian people.
The proposal led Peter White to write an article,
published in Sydneyís most prestigious newspaper, lampooning the
proposal to the point of diabolical sacrilege. Can we imagine any other
world faith, be it Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism, permitting such
blasphemy? Yet in speaking of the Bible, we are referring to the Word of
the living God. One can but feel deeply distressed and highly affronted
that such blatant sacrilege has become widespread in so-called Christian
The secular world sneers at Bible Societies which
attempt relevance in this way, as can be seen from Peter Whiteís
disgraceful article which is quoted below.
* * *
Jesus: Prophet or Country Mug?
The Bible Society is to release an Australianised
Bible for the Bicentenary. Peter White questions whether the Holy
Scriptures are ready for such an encounter with things dinky-di.1
A "true blue" all-Australian version of the Bible
could do wonders for our sense of national identity and may even foster
some pride in the unique way we speak the English language. In its
announcement at the weekend, the Bible Society promised that this
antipodean Good News would not only feature a gum tree on the front
cover and an Aboriginal-style depiction of Christ on the cross but, more
importantly, that Godís holy Word would be translated into the local
lingo, "the common language of the Australian people" with special
attention to "Australianising certain key expressions."
Now Aussie English has taken a battering from the
critics over the years. It has typically been described as slovenly,
flat, nasal and whining. One visiting British academic described it as
"the most brutal maltreatment inflicted upon the mother tongue of the
great English-speaking nations."
Itís obvious that such a maligned dialect stands to
gain immeasurably by being associated as intimately with the Divine as
the Bible Society proposes. A language which was born in the convict
stockade, came of age among the riff-raff of the gold fields, and now
finds itself most at home on "the Hill" at the Sydney Cricket ground2
can only improve its standing by being linked with angels and
archangels, miracles and messiahs, prophets, psalms and the Sermon on
But will whatís great for Australia necessarily be so
good for the Holy Scriptures themselves? In its present beleaguered
state, Christianity may not cope well with Australianisation.
Consider the possible changes. Presumably the miracle
of the loaves and the fishes, for example, will end up something along
the lines of an account of how Jesus and the disciples invited over a
few mates of a Saturday arvo3 and, because it was
hot, they brought all their kids and relatives with them for a swim in
the pool. It looked like there wouldnít be enough food to go round until
Christ threw another prawn on the barbie [barbecue], and, stone the
crows,4 if there wasnít more than enough and a
whole heap of potato salad left over as well.
Christ walking on water would be out of the question.
All Australians know that no self-respecting male goes out on the waves
without a surfboard. If Christís going to perform any oceanic miracles,
theyíre going to have to be of the cut-back, hanging-ten variety.
Psalm 23 would need to be reworked along the lines
The Lord is my lifesaver, I shall not drown, He
maketh me down to lie on the Bondi sands5, the quiet waters by.
The Joseph of the Old Testament will no doubt be
described as "flash as a rat with a gold tooth" in his coat of many
colours. After Judas has betrayed Jesus he will "shoot through like a
Bondi tram" and then commit suicide because heís "as miserable as an
orphan bandicoot6 on a burnt ridge."
The parable of how itís easier for a rich man to pass
through the eye of the needle than to enter the kingdom of heaven would
have to be recast as "Itís easier for Robert Holmes aíCourt, Sir Peter
Abeles and Alan Bond7 to get across the Harbour
Bridge in a hurry during rush hour than to enter Godís Kingdom."
St. Paulís encounter with the voice of God on the
road to Tarsus [sic] would read something like "Stun the mullets,
cobber, but donít you think itís time you stopped coming the raw prawn
Of course, such a God-sent chance to promote the
national beverage would be too good to miss.
Jesus wonít waste time turning water into wine when
it could be Fosters.9
And while on the subject of drinking, the
Resurrection would surely make marvelous material for a beer commercial:
"The Pharisees and Sadducees said youíd never make it
but after three days in the tomb you finally came through."
* * *
If any doubt remains that such a version could do the
Bible immeasurable damage, it is worth bearing in mind that this is not
the first time such a project has been undertaken.
The Bicentenary version is to be illustrated by
artist Pro Hart.
About five years ago, Pro Hart collaborated with Dr.
Norman Habel, then a lecturer in religious studies at a college of
advanced education in Adelaide, in publishing a retelling of some key
passages from the New Testament in the Australian idiom.
Consider this quote from the book as proof of the
possible irreparable harm:
"Who is this bloke called Jesus, with his red prickle
beard and his dog, a prophet God sent to the outback or a flamín country
mug?" Sydney Morning Herald, October 6, 1987
To add to the blasphemy of this article is an
accompanying cartoon making jest of the holy Last Supper. It shows
Christ and His disciples looking like country yokels with long beards
and wide-brimmed hats with halos hovering over the hats, eating hot dogs
and drinking beer. The title of the cartoon is Detail from the Last
Barbecue. A disgraceful caricature of Christ is seen taking more
beer out of an esky10 and passing it to one of the
"disciples" with the words, "Get stuck into this in remembrance of me."
While all of this will affront even the most liberal
Christian, it is cited to awaken our people to the eventual result of
their own acceptance of the Scripture in "relevant" language, language
which takes no heed of the high and holy nature of God and His Word. If
we take a step down the road to blasphemy we can rest assured that the
devil will take those around us and our children further down those
perilous steps until at last the Scripture becomes a laughing stock, a
book of scorn.
In fairness to the Australian Bible Society it did
not descend to the level indicated in Peter Whiteís article. The
following types of alteration were undertaken.
The Good News Bible was originally published in two
editions, American and British.
The text has now been Australianised for this
edition, in the following ways:ó
The spelling is Australian preferred spelling, with
Macquarie Dictionary as the accepted authority.
Weights and measures are expressed in metric units
following official Australian usage.
Publishing style follows Australian conventions.
Changes have been made in the language of the text,
so that it will be accepted by Australians as natural to their word
usage, idiom and form of expression.
Overall there are some hundreds of changes from the
basic American edition, not counting the spelling changes.
The effect of these changes is not dramatic, but it
Three things should be noted carefully about the
nature and extent of the textual changes.
(1) The text has not been rewritten; only those
expressions that were foreign or unnatural for Australians, or gave
the wrong meaning, have been replaced.
(2) The basic meaning of the text has not been
changed from what the translators intended.
(3) There has been no change to the level or
register of language used in the translation. In particular the
language has not been changed to a more colloquial levelóat which the
uniqueness and peculiarities of Australian English are much more
apparent. In general terms the Good News Bible, Australian Edition,
uses a formal level of language; and the changes made are those and
only those which are required at this level. Australianising the
Good News Bible, The Bible Society of Australia News Release, 2
It must be said that the Australian Bible Society
made a major error in their selection of the Good News Bible for their
modifications. Various defects in this version might be pointed out.
Most of the changes made were of a minor nature and
somewhat unnecessary. Examples (the Australian usage is given first)
include bullock for ox, cent for penny, midday for noonday, removed for
erased, underpants for shorts, people for persons, grubs for worms,
creek for brook, bush for woods, and wedding reception for wedding
party. Since all the replaced words are in common use and well
understood in Australia, it seems that the alterations served little