Reading the Bible in Norwegian

February 13, 2011 at 4:01 PM 3 comments

They say a good way to keep Bible reading fresh is to read different translations. So I thought I’d finally get round to reading the Norwegian New Testament I bought from a Flea Market (Loppemarked) when I lived in Oslo.

This is good because it slows me down, avoiding that familiarity that tends to make me skim and lose concentration. Plus, I am hoping it will improve my Norwegian!

I keep my little Gideon NT to hand to check the meaning of unfamiliar words and phrases.

I have only been doing this four days now, and I decided to start with John’s Gospel. It seems to be working well though; I hope I can keep it up.

One thing so far has really leapt out and hit me between the eyes. Sometimes the words and phrases become so familiar we don’t really pause to think about them. One of those, for me, is the use of the word flesh.

In Norwegian, the word for flesh is kjøtt.

This is a word I know. It means meat.

That gave me a jolt. I mean, obviously there is an overlap of meaning; flesh used to mean meat here as well, for example, fleshmarkets. And it is not unreasonable to use the same word for both living flesh and dead meat. But we just don’t think of it in that way. I don’t anyway.

The expression ‘my own flesh and blood’ for example.

We don’t think of ourselves being made of meat.

Well, we’re not cannibals! Why would we? We prefer to think of ourselves as being made of stars!

But it really puts some of those verses about rising above our fleshly nature and becoming spiritual beings into a new light. We might be made of meat, but we shouldn’t let our bodies made of meat rule us. We are more than just the meat our bodies are made of. We are also spiritual, as God is. It is our spirits which are made in His image.

I am not a Biblical scholar and I don’t know Greek or Hebrew, so I have no idea whether the language the Bible was written in drew a distinction between living and dead flesh, as English does, or not, like Norwegian. Whichever, this certainly made me sit up and think, so even if the meat analogy was unintentional, it certainly gave it a sharp new perspective for me.

I wonder what other new insights I might find.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. ruarigh  |  February 13, 2011 at 6:29 PM

    Reading Psalm 23 in Old English at the start of this semester was interesting for much the same reasons as you cite. The variation between the versions in the Vulgate, the Old English, the Middle English and King James is quite stark. I grew up with the King James edition and was surprised to see how much it varied from the earlier versions. I’m not sure my students were as impressed as I was though. Only three out of twenty-four even admitted to knowing Psalm 23!

    Reply
  • 2. jannatwrites  |  February 14, 2011 at 3:55 AM

    I wonder how much of the Bible is lost in the translations to other languages. I don’t know Hebrew or Greek either, but pastors in church have sometimes explained words in the NIV Bible that translate slightly differently from the original language.

    Reading in a different language does sound interesting. I’m curious to find out what else jumps out at you.

    Reply
  • 3. corisel  |  February 14, 2011 at 8:06 AM

    What a great idea. I love how words in other languages have different nuances that affect the translation and bring new meaning to things. The Japanese character for beauty is the same as their word for clean – they are used in different contexts so you can tell which meaning applies, but it also links the concepts together in a way that English doesn’t.

    Reply

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