A long time ago, on a different software project, my team was supposed to come up with a detailed plan to execute for if the software didn’t work as it should.  How would we back it out?  What would we restore?  I came up with something (eventually given to the client) that was called the Flexible Fallback Plan.  The concept was that we would evaluate the status at each decision point and choose the correct action at that time.  I added lots more words, but instead of being a solid plan that could be executed without more meetings it was an “I dunno – what do you think?” sort of thing.  It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing given the constraints we were under, and the plan was never needed.  But it wasn’t overly real.  It was largely smoke and mirrors.

The plan was full of weasel words.

That’s what I thought of recently, reading about two ways to translate the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek.  One of the ways is functional equivalence.  You take each word from the original language and translate it into an English word, and then work with sentence structure and verb agreement to make it readable.  The other way to translate scripture is dynamic equivalence.  You try to get the meaning across without worrying that you got all the words exactly the same.  Dynamic equivalence is a lot like my Flexible Fallback Plan – there’s good there, but it’s not necessarily something you want to trust your life to.  The consumer (the external client, or the holder of a soul) has to trust the person making the decisions to do/to have done the right thing.

Dynamic equivalence can turn out great.  Here’s Psalm 1:1-2 in NASB (functional equivalence) and The Message (dynamic equivalence):

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.

How well God must like you— you don’t hang out at Sin Saloon, you don’t slink along Dead-End Road, you don’t go to Smart-Mouth College.
Instead you thrill to God’s Word,
you chew on Scripture day and night.

That’s good – The Message brings a freshness, creates vivid images.  It remains faithful to the intent of the scriptures.  But there are other passages that don’t hold up so well.  Psalm 123:2, from NASB and then The Message.

Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master,
As the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
So our eyes look to the LORD our God,
Until He is gracious to us.

Like servants, alert to their master’s commands,
like a maiden attending her lady,
We’re watching and waiting, holding our breath,
awaiting your word of mercy.

Very similar – but notice how the NASB uses hand versus The Message’s command.  The word in Hebrew is yad, or hand.  God gave the word hand for a reason.  I think we have to watch for God’s non-verbal instruction, verifying it against scripture, but we don’t have to wait for a verbal command.

One last instance, from Psalm 8:4.  Again, NASB then The Message.

What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?

Then I look at my micro-self and wonder,
Why do you bother with us?
Why take a second look our way?

The Message hits very well on our insignificance in the face of God’s majesty, but it completely misses the prophecy about Jesus.   Eugene Peterson, the author of The Message, is surely enough of a Bible scholar to see that.  But he gave it up to get the flavor of the verse across.

I’d rather get the full flavor, tasting and seeing that the Lord is good, instead of eating weasel as my main course.