Wednesday, May 8, 2013

“Three square meals” is a first-world idiom and definitely not synonymous with “our daily bread”

On September 16, 2008 -- nearly five years ago -- I showed you the Lord’s Prayer in Old English, also known as Anglo-Saxon, which was spoken in the British Isles from around 450 A.D. until around 1100:

Fæder úre, ðú ðe eart on heofonum,
Sí ðín nama gehálgod.
Tó becume ðín rice.
Gewurde ðín willa
On eorþan swá swá on heofonum.
Urne dægwhamlícan hlaf syle ús tódæg.
And forgyf ús úre gyltas,
Swá swá wé forgyfaþ úrum gyltendum.
And ne gelæd ðu ús on costnunge,
Ac álýs ús of yfele. Sóþlice.

Next I showed it to you in Middle English, the language of Chaucer, when some of the old Anglo-Saxon characters were still being used:

Oure fadir þat art in heuenes halwid be þi name;
þi reume or kyngdom come to be.
Be þi wille don in herþe as it is doun in heuene.
yeue to us today oure eche dayes bred.
And foryeue to us oure dettis þat is oure synnys as we foryeuen to oure dettouris þat is to men þat han synned in us.
And lede us not into temptacion but delyuere us from euyl.

Then I showed it to you in the English of the Wycliffe Bible published in 1390. The Anglo-Saxon characters had been replaced by the letters “th” but the “i” and “y” were still pretty much interchangeable, as were the “u” and “v”:

Oure fadir that art in heuenes, halewid be thi name; thi kyngdoom come to;
be thi wille don in erthe as in heuene;
yyue to vs this dai oure breed ouer othir substaunce;
and foryyue to vs oure dettis, as we foryyuen to oure dettouris;
and lede vs not in to temptacioun, but delyuere vs fro yuel. Amen.

...and in the familiar English of the King James Version of 1611:

Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy name.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.

I ended my September 2008 post by saying that the miracle is that English has not changed all that much since 1611.

I was wrong. Here is what purports to be the Lord’s Prayer in something called The Message:

Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best — as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.

Part of me wants to applaud, but part of me wants to throw up. Think of it! No “Hallowed be thy name” or “thy kingdom come, thy will be done” anywhere in sight. Certainly nothing about guilt or debts or trespasses. Furthermore, “three square meals” is a first-world idiom and definitely not synonymous with “our daily bread.”

Wikipedia calls The Message, which was created between 1993 and 2002 by a man named Eugene Peterson, “a contemporary rendering of the Holy Bible” and adds, “Though The Message is often considered a paraphrase, it is not explicitly; The Message was translated by Peterson from the original languages. Thus, it is a highly idiomatic translation, and as such falls on the extreme dynamic end of the dynamic and formal equivalence spectrum.”

All righty, then. Highly idiomatic. Extreme dynamic end of the whatchamacallit. Indeed.

I just don’t think I’m quite ready yet to drop “Give us this day our daily bread” or “Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory” and perhaps most especially, “Amen.” After all, there are several other contexts in which one might say, “Yes. Yes. Yes.” Other bloggers (Snowbrush and Yorkshire Pudding, perhaps) can fill you in on those scenarios.

In 2011, still another version of the Bible was published called the Common English Bible. In it, the Lord’s Prayer is certainly not King James English but neither is it the radical change of The Message :

Our Father who is in heaven, uphold the holiness of your name.
Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven.
Give us the bread we need for today.
Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us.
And don’t lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.

Perhaps that is a good starting place for the modern reader.
Only time will tell. But I still miss the kingdom and the power and the glory and the Amen.

Language is always changing. If some reader finds this blog five hundred years from now, this entire post will probably seem like Anglo-Saxon.


  1. I agree that Peterson's version lacks the beautiful words of The Lord's Prayer that we've come to know and love. "Three square meals" just doesn't sound very Biblical, does it? However, I own The Message and occasionally use passages from it as supplementary material for Sunday School lessons. Better that than Anglo Saxon, methinks.

  2. Pat, certainly better than Anglo-Saxon, I agree, unless any Anglo-Saxons happen to be present.

    I'm partial to a four-translation Bible that includes King James Version (KJV), New International Version (NIV), New Living Translation (NLT), and New American Standard (NASB).

  3. I don't like the modernized version, but I should think that the publishers never intended that their version be anything but a translation of the meaning in the absence of timeless beauty. However, if they did intend it to be beautiful, they certainly failed.

    Do you know of this site:

    Like you, I used to have a four version Bible, and that seemed like a lot, yet with this site, I can compare 10-20 different versions on one screen. I very rarely pull out a Bible to actually read anymore, but when I do, it's "The Living Bible," which is a paraphrased version that makes a great many passages easier to understand. I don't know why it's not more popular.

  4. P.S. I wanted to mention to you that I've been reading the autobiography of Clarence Darrow. It's very readable and very interesting historically. I mention it because he too lost his mother when he was a child, and I thought you might enjoy his description of his homelife. It was better than your own, no doubt, but still sad.

  5. Snowbrush, I wouldn't take you for a Bible reader, or at least a regular Bible reader, by which I am not implying anything at all about your bowel habits.

    I know a young man here in Atlanta (mid-thirties, probably) who is a great-grandson of Clarence Darrow.

  6. Ok, this one has disturbed me. Remember that childhood game where you all sit around and the starter whispers something to the person next to them, then they whisper it to the next person and it goes 'round the circle..the last person has to tell the group what they thought the first person said. By the time you get round a very big circle, the two thoughts no longer resemble each other. That's what E. Petersons Message has done to the word of God - made it no longer recognizable. Versions of the Bible worked out by groups of scholars are one thing. The Message is a blaspemy. There, and I haven't even had one cup of coffee yet this morning. There are warnings about adding to or taking away from the Word of God - not to be taken lightly. I'll defend the Word of God - it is a powerful Book. Feed people watery gruel and they are becoming watery people.
    Ah, rant over, off to work on treadle sewing machines ;-)

  7. I have a friend who says The Message should be read as a devotional, not as the Bible; that one can't trust the accuracy of the translation. That certainly seems to be the case here.

    In other news, I have a "pidgon Hawaiian" version of the New Testament. Here's their version:

    God, You are Fadda.
    You stay inside da sky.
    We like all da peopo know fo shua how you stay,
    an dat you stay good and spesho, an we like dem give you plenny respeck.
    We like you come King fo everybody now,
    We like everybody make jalike you like.
    Give us da food we need fo today an every day.
    Hemo our shame, an let us go
    Fo all da kine bad stuff we do to you,
    Jalike us guys let da odd guys go awready,
    And we no stay huhu wit dem
    Fo all da kine bad stuff dey do to us.
    No let us get chance fo do bad kine stuff,
    But take us outa dea, so da Bad Guy no can hurt us.
    Cuz you our King, you get da real power, and you stay awesome foeva. Dass it!"

    Sorry for the overly long comment! :)

  8. Hilltophomesteader, do you mean off to repair treadle sewing machines or off to create garments/curtains/whatever using treadle sewing machines? Inquiring minds want to know.

    LightExpectations, you might find my post from December 2008 that contains the Christmas story in Gullah of interest.

  9. I collect and repair/restore old sewing machines. A gal I know from the Fair and a local Quilt Club wanted to get a treadle sewing machine in case of power outages etc. so I hauled three of them out of my 'workshop' and got them up & running. She came for lunch today and chose one to take home :-) I do quilt & sew a bit, but repair/restore more. Your next question will be "How many machines do you have??" Somewhere close to 60 or 70.......

  10. What does the grandson of Clarence Darrow think about Clarence Darrow? Of course, you know he was the lawyer at the Scopes trial and other notorious trials, but he was first bigtime lawyer for the railroads who quit his job to work for nothing for the railroad unions. I mentioned his mother dying; that was when he was 14. I really would like it if you would look into this book as an interesting accounting of so much of early 20th century America. Graham Greene's "Monsignor Quixote" is another book I think you would enjoy. Greene was a troubled man who survived many suicide attempts and finally became a Catholic (a devout Catholic, I gather). However, he sometimes wrote about an interplay between a Christian and an atheist, and he represented both sides very well. If all of his books were as interesting to me as "Monsignor Quixote" was when I read it 15 years ago, I would have by now read all of his books.

  11. Snow, didn't mean to ignore your question about Clarence Darrow's grandson. My young friend, whose name is Brian, became a Christian five or six years ago. He rarely speaks about his family and will say only that "they are all atheists." What Brian is really into is technology and sound and playing drums. Sorry I can't be of more help.

    LightExpectations, you're welcome!