It’s early in the life of our new group study of Mark’s gospel, but we’re enthused. It’s also early in the morning as I write this, by some accounts, and I’m hearing the hymn “Early, My God, Without Delay” as sung by the Harding College (now Harding University) A Cappella Chorus. This reminds me of a paraphrase I wrote years ago. Most will likely be unacquainted with this Isaac Watts hymn, so I’ll include the original text here:
Early, my God, without delay,
I haste to seek Thy face;
My thirsty spirit faints away
Without Thy cheering grace.
So pilgrims on the scorching sand,
Beneath a burning sky,
Long for a cooling stream at hand,
And they must drink or die.
I’ve seen Thy glory and Thy power
Through all Thy temple shine;
My God, repeat that heav’nly hour,
That vision so divine.
Not all the blessings of a feast
Can please my soul so well,
As when Thy richer grace I taste,
And in Thy presence dwell.
Not life itself, with all her joys,
Can my best passions move,
Or raise so high my cheerful voice,
As Thy forgiving love.
Thus till my last expiring day
I’ll bless my God and King;
Thus will I lift my hands to pray,
And tune my lips to sing.
I wasn’t acquainted with the third and fourth stanzas shown above, since the hymnal I used in early years made a habit of not including more than 4 stanzas, or 5 at the most, regardless of the length of the original. Now, here’s my loose paraphrase:
First thing in the morning, my God, I will not delay; I rush to seek Your face.
Here I am in the midst of worship; my eyes are open wide.
Here I am in the midst of worshipping You; I thirst inside!
Seeing You and drinking of You are the most excellent things in my life.
You are My God–Jehovah Provider–quenching me when life is dry.
Father, I hunger; I can’t get enough of You; You’re the only One who satisfies.
After the thunder, oh, drench me in Your Spirit’s rain, or I will be like one who dies.
[stanzas 3, 4 not rendered]
The best things in life can’t even come close to stirring my soul. (O my soul, bless the Lord!)
The best things in life can’t even get a song running through my mind.
So as long as I live, I will live to make You happy.
And my worship I will give, knowing Your protection and love.
I will worship You with all of my being, lifting my hands, all of me freeing.
I will worship You, Lord, truly with my ev’rything.
Wanting to meet You in spirit, to honor my King.
First thing in the morning, my God. . . .
(c) 1994-1996 Encounter Music
As with many of my writings–whether prosaic or musical–so much of the value is personal. I would not presume even to translate Isaac Watts’s poetry flawlessly or faithfully, much less the words of God-breathed scripture. But I think I did reasonably, for my purposes at the time, with rendering the dynamic sense and general import of some of those hymn lines. It’s a paraphrase–a dynamic quasi-equivalent, with morphed idioms–not a word-for-word translation.
Paraphrases of scripture get a bad rap with some committed Christians today. On one hand, if we’re serious about God and the Bible, obviously we will want the best, most literal translation possible. Finely tuned scholarly sensibilities also sometimes collide with apparently “loose” notions of translation. Yet on the other hand, it appears wise, and spiritually well conceived, to attempt to discern the original, idiomatic intent of an expression, a sentence, a paragraph … and then to attempt to usher that intent into modern language’s terminology and syntax.
Despite the biases of certain translations, and the silly transliterations of the King James (e.g., the word “baptize”–conveniently created in order to avoid rendering “baptizo” as “immerse,” risking offense of the religious establishment), I’ve not yet seen a translation that sets out with wholesale intent to malign divine will. Have you?
Last night, our study group read Mark’s gospel. The entire gospel. For me, it was a profitable, inspiring experience. The book-level contextual clues fairly jump out, and I’m eager for deeper study. While others read from the NIV and the CEV and the ESV, I read from the New Jerusalem Bible and the one-man translation of some guy named Williams. Neither did violence to the original, but the wordings weren’t always familiar. And I’m not sure I care a whole lot. Spontaneously, I did change “burst into tears” to “wept,” but other than that, I was comfortable with the loud-and-clear intent of both these versions.
It’s early yet, but as we proceed with our Mark study, I don’t think I’ll be using a paraphrase to dig in to structural and linguistic details. Overall, though, paraphrases can be quite useful for getting the big picture.
First thing in the morning, God, I rush to consider You. . . .