He was someone I respected and was staying with us for a few days as a guest speaker at our church. One evening as we sat in the living room watching a ball game, a commercial came on the air. I no longer recall what they were advertising, but they compared their product to their leading competitor. When it was over he said “That commercial was so good it was hard to tell if they were selling Brand A or Brand B.”
I laughed and said “You know, you’re right. For a moment there I almost thought they were selling Brand B.” He laughed and said “They were.” Whoops. Yes, they were good!
Sometimes commercials can be too good by half. But it’s not just commercials. I’ve heard speakers and read books that buried their points under a little too much very good verbiage.
When C. S. Lewis was asked to write the introduction for J. B. Phillips’ Letters to Young Churches: a Translation of the New Testament Epistles, one of the arguments he makes in favor of a new translation is, surprisingly, the beauty of the old. He observes,
“And finally, though it may seem a sour paradox — we must sometimes get away from the Authorized Version, if for no other reason, simply because it is so beautiful and so solemn. Beauty exalts, but beauty also lulls. Early associations endear but they also confuse. Through that beautiful solemnity the transporting or horrifying realities of which the Book tells may come to us blunted and disarmed and we may only sigh with tranquil veneration when we ought to be burning with shame or struck dumb with terror or carried out of ourselves by ravishing hopes and adorations.”1
There is certainly beauty and majesty in the way the King James Version puts John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” But someone coming across the Contemporary English Version’s “God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die” might suddenly realize what it means.
Even if familiarity does not breed contempt, it does breed familiarity.
“The word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. It cuts all the way through, to where soul and spirit meet, to where joints and marrow come together. It judges the desires and thoughts of the heart. There is nothing that can be hid from God; everything in all creation is exposed and lies open before his eyes. And it is to him that we must all give an account of ourselves.” – Hebrews 4:12-13, Good News Bible.
- J. B. Phillips, Letters to Young Churches: a Translation of the New Testament Epistles (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1958), vii. Italics in original.