Over at BiteMyBible there is a discussion about the acceptability or otherwise of translating the Bible into dialect or colloquial language. This has been prompted by the publication of an updated version of the Bible in Cockney . It’s not just a problem for publishers.
Preachers regularly have to weigh up the advantages of presenting Bible situations in striking language, against the expectations of their congregation that any words from the Bible will be direct quotes from an accepted translation. Some congregations are a lot more specific and demanding than this – they demand one particular translation. There are churches out there for whom only the Authorised Version (AKA the KJV) will do, and others which demand the NIV or (mysteriously) the Good News. This is a minefield for anyone addressing any church.
Into this fray step the unwary drama group who only want to present Bible issues in a lively and dramatic way. They are lulled into a false sense of security by their audience’s apparent acceptance of totally fictitious dialogue involving important Bible characters. They get a big laugh as Jonah tries to negotiate with the whale (sorry, big fish) about where he’d like to go and what services will be provided on the trip. There are guffaws as the disciples bicker about whether to have bread or tortilla chips at the last supper. The drama goes down well and they think to themselves “this presenting the Bible in an accessible way lark is easy”. Then all hell breaks loose (if you’ll forgive that phrase). Why? They make the dreadful mistake of Changing The Actual Bible Dialogue! Even worse, they Put New Words In The Mouth Of Christ!
I’ve spent many years trying to figure out what is acceptable to a Church audience and what is not – and I haven’t found the answer. Partly it depends on the type of church. Partly it depends on how relaxed you’ve already made them. Partly it depends on how important or how universally agreed the “original” words are seen to be and how far you depart from them. Paraphrase Jesus at the Last Supper (“Yo, get some of this guys, it’s my blood!”) and you’ll upset a chunk of people. But recently I added an “Ahoy there!” to the lips of Jesus as he called to the disciples from the shores of Lake Galilee and I think I got away with it!
There is no right answer. Someone will probably complain. Generally pointing out to them that the words they think are the words of Jesus are translations and that he did not actually speak in King James English might quieten them – but alternatively it might really really wind them up. All I can say suggest is that you weigh up what effect you are trying to achieve against how offended anyone could be, in the light of what you know about your audience and the context of the performance – and then go out there and do whatever you are going to do with confidence!