There is an interesting tradeoff in bible translation that cropped up again for me today. Some bible translations tend toward being more literal - trying to translate word for word what the original text says. Others adopt a more dynamic approach, trying to convey the meaning of the text while not always being word-for-word (it might be described as thought-for-thought). I used to prefer the more literal translations, but one of the problems there is that the closer you get to the original text, the more you need to know about the original culture, and it is very easy to miss the significance of passages. Another problem, of course, is that the word order and grammar of Hebrew and Greek is quite different from English, so the closer you get to a word-for-word translation, the more stilted the English sounds.
Lately, I have been enjoying the New Living Translation (NLT), because it tries to use English as it is spoken today. Many translations end up with a style of English that is rarely spoken, although it is still grammatically correct. For some people, it feels more like "biblish" - a separate language that is spoken by those in-the-know. I don't believe the original texts felt this way to the hearers, and the King James bible probably still sounded pretty natural to early Friends. I have felt lately that for some people, hearing the bible in a more natural sounding form of English may help lower some of the barriers that might otherwise come up in the presence of such a different usage of English. I also think there is a temptation to think that speaking differently is an indication that the words are inspired. I know some people may feel a special connection when they hear a traditional rendering of a passage - my mom is this way about the traditional King James readings at Christmas time, but, I believe that it isn't the grammatical form of the words that is the important thing - it is that they are spoken from the Spirit. This works both ways - the biblish-sounding words can still reach people for whom they sound alien if they are spoken from the Spirit. But, people still have the choice of whether to listen or not - I think it helps to navigate around some of the barriers people may put up.
While the literal approach has the problem of not conveying enough context, the dynamic approach has the problem of conveying too much. That is, if there are multiple ways to read a text, a translation might not convey the various options. I ran into this today with the NLT in its translation of 2 Peter 1:19, which reads:
Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts.
The NET bible translates it this way:
Moreover, we possess the prophetic word as an altogether reliable thing. You do well if you pay attention to this as you would to a light shining in a murky place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
The King James Version reads:
We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:
Notice that the NLT has taken the "prophetic word" or "word of prophecy" and turned it into "the message proclaimed by the prophets". I think this is probably the typical protestant interpretation of this passage, but for Friends, possessing the prophetic word is not having the scriptures available, but being able to speak the prophetic word directly by the Spirit. I believe the NLT version of this verse does not allow for that interpretation, while other translations do, and I believe the Greek text allows it as well.
In his journal, George Fox relates an encounter with a priest in Nottingham that illustrates how Fox interpreted this particular passage:
When I came there all the people looked like fallow ground, and the priest, like a great lump of earth, stood in his pulpit above: he took for his text these words of Peter, "We have also a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that he take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts." He told the people this was the scriptures, by which they were to try all doctrines, religions, and opinions. Now the Lord's power was so mighty upon me, and so strong in me, that I could not hold; but was made to cry out, "Oh! no, it is not the scriptures;" and told them what it was, namely, the holy spirit, by which the holy men of God gave forth the scriptures, whereby opinions, religions, and judgments were to be tried; for it led into all truth, and so gave the knowledge of all truth.
As Friends, I think we need to be especially aware that our understanding of the bible often differs from the traditional protestant view, and that despite the best efforts of the translators, various bible translations do tend to carry along the doctrinal views of the translators. While we must still rely on the Holy Spirit for illumination of the text, I think it helps if the text does reflect the original inspired message.