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The Black Bible Chronicles

April 22, 2010

In September of 1993, P.K. McCary published the first of a two-volume set entitled Black Bible Chronicles. McCary explained that she wanted to create a version of the Bible that would relate to young people “in the streets”, and insists that there is no meaning lost  through the translation. She felt that in order to reach young people of the streets and to get them to learn about God, the Bible has to be translated into a language they could understand–namely, African American English. Her version of the Bible is written with AAE features and vocabulary.

Black Bible Chronicles by P.K.McCary

Former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young wrote the introduction to McCary’s chronicles, and had this to say about her version:

“This is in keeping with the very origins of the Bible,” said Young, who is an ordained minister. “The New Testament was originally written in Koine Greek, the street language of the people. Subsequently, Martin Luther and others translated the Bible into the language of the people of their day.”

This article from the National Catholic Reporter further explores her intentions.

What do you think of the Black Bible Chronicles? Do you think it will actually have a positive effect on the lower-class community and among speakers of AAE? Many people are likely to find her work offensive; not only within the religious sphere (for altering the Bible), but also among African Americans themselves, for numerous reasons. One is that the title (Black Bible Chronicles) suggests that all black people need or would benefit from a version of the Bible translated into AAE. We know this is not true, since every African American is not an AAE-speaker. Also, McCary’s version contains controversial and outdated terms and phrases, several of which are more like slang than AAE. Many people may also see her work as comical, and therefore fail to take it seriously. This would defeat the purpose of helping African American English speakers better understand and relate to God and Christianity.

Check out the Black Bible Chronicles version of the Ten Commandments below. Do you find it problematic? Offensive? Ridiculous? Or could it really be useful?

  1. I am the Almighty, your God, who brought you outta Egypt when things were tough. Don’t put anyone else before Me.
  2. Don’t make any carved objects or things that look like what is in heaven or below. And don’t bow down to these things like they are anything heavy. Not ever!
  3. You shouldn’t dis the Almighty’s name, using it in cuss words or rapping with one another. It ain’t cool, and payback’s a monster.
  4. After you’ve worked six days, give the seventh to the Almighty. (The Almightly made the heavens and earth in six days. He rested on the seventh day and blessed it as right on.)
  5. You shouldn’t be takin’ nothin’ from your homeboys.
  6. Give honor to your mom and dad, and you’ll live a long time.
  7. Don’t waste nobody.
  8. Don’t mess around with someone else’s ol’ man or ol’ lady.
  9. Don’t go ’round telling lies on your homebuddies.
  10. Don’t want what you can’t have or what your homebuddy has. It ain’t cool.


16 Comments leave one →
  1. Lisa permalink*
    April 23, 2010 2:49 pm

    Wow. I can’t believe something like this exists!

    I think it’ll be useful regardless of whether the terms are dated or not. Everyone looking to explore the Bible deserves to understand it. This version not only acknowledges the language of African American English speakers, which is major in itself, but it also makes the text accessible so these people can learn about God.

    I wonder what churches promote this Bible?

    By the way– I definitely think the AAE version of the commandments are understandable (especially the 1st one). To me, they’re not mocking the original commandments in the least.

    • May 20, 2015 5:55 pm

      Exactly! I ran across this bible the first time in a Detroit library, and I’ve been looking for it for almost 10 years.

  2. Amy permalink
    April 23, 2010 6:32 pm

    It seems like it could be a good idea. However, one issue I have with it is that it could offend some African Americans because people might take it to mean that all African Americans would prefer that version. Also, if it does get outdated, they would just have to keep creating new bibles.
    A third issue I have is that the Bible’s language can be difficult even for speakers of SAE. The bible is often translated with words like “though” and “shall,” words not commonly used in either SAE or AAE. However, this doesn’t mean that an AAE bible should not be used. As long as it is written in a way that is respectful and does not misrepresent African Americans and AAE speakers, I think it is a good idea.

  3. April 27, 2010 10:49 pm

    Excellent, and informative…great work!

  4. Zeke permalink
    May 13, 2010 2:16 pm

    “Payback’s a monster”? I didn’t grow up speaking AAE, but that strikes me as lame. I know you don’t want to have curse-words in the Bible, but the phrase really is, “payback’s a bitch”. Putting it through a sanitizing alteration is like watching The Big Lebowski on TBS – what’s the point?

    I expect such problems would keep coming up in the work this article discusses. AAE is not inherently vulgar, but if this “translator” of the Bible is going to tell us what payback is, it seems they’re viewing vulgar expressions as a part of the language. Offensive? I dunno. Strikes me more as clumsy.

  5. Russell permalink
    October 1, 2010 10:43 pm

    To me, this just seems like Standard English replacing dated words used by African Americans in the 1970s. It doesn’t appear to represent the complex grammar of AAE.
    Though, after looking at this Bible, it is funny to see which words from African American youth culture have moved into standard everyday speech. I read this and I hear a more funky version of my daily conversations.

  6. Jonathan M. permalink
    October 30, 2010 6:52 pm

    This is a very interesting perspective on African American English versus Standard English. Changing the words of the Bible so that they sound as different from the original as they could possibly get within the English language reminds me of the “additive” method that educators implemented during the Oakland controversy- using African American speech as a starting point for learning. But will this “translation” of the book of Genesis serve as a springboard for speakers of AAE to learn the style of the Bible as it is more commonly written?

    Also, I agree with Russell that the Ten Commandments shown here could be enhanced to more accurately represent AAE. For example:

    “After you’ve worked six days” = “After you been done work six days”

    Yes, it does seem to resemble “cool cat” seventies slang as opposed to AAE, which is, of course, not slang at all.

  7. Hans Wurst permalink
    October 30, 2010 8:02 pm

    coulda done dat myself fo real but kinda coo anyways

  8. Susannah permalink
    November 1, 2010 11:50 am

    I agree with Amy in that it could be construed as being offensive, but more because it implies that speakers of AAE are incapable of understanding various translations of the Bible, which I don’t think is the case. Also, while I don’t think it really corrupts the core values of the Bible, the only other works that I can think of that resemble this one are youth Bibles, which again, I think, implies something about this Bible’s creation — as in, words and phrases need to be changed for young people and speakers of AAE to understand them, which is too much of a generalization.

    Also, regarding the introduction written by the former mayor, the original versions of the Bible came about in a time when the majority of the world did not know the stories contained within them. Now, I feel, the majority of people know at least the basics regarding Judaism and Christianity — i.e., everyone knows, at least on a basic level, who Jesus is.

    Commonly used translations of the Bible are written in a more formal version of Standard English, which is still comprehensible to speakers of any dialect of English, even if nobody speaks with that degree of formality all the time. However, this AAE version of the Bible excludes and alienates those who are not speakers of AAE, making this Bible almost an exclusively ingroup text.

    • C. Lynn permalink
      November 1, 2010 10:32 pm

      I don’t think it’s offensive – mainly problematic. For instance, though the meaning of number 7 is clear, I feel she could have maintained her original intention of putting it in the “language of their day” while keeping with “don’t kill nobody.” The double negative structure is maintained and it would have avoided using a term that could become dated — it is still easily understood and recognizable as part of AAE, among other dialects.

      I agree with Zeke — altering very recognizable phrases to make it fit with the ‘pure’ nature of the text seems almost hypocritical. I’m sure there’s another way that same meaning could have been achieved in AAE without “payback’s a monster.”

  9. May 16, 2012 9:05 am

    I don’t find this AAE version of the bible offensive — but I definitely don’t feel it’s necessary considering universally reader-friendly versions of the bible already exist.

    Many of the gripes you proposed are extremely valid: it can’t be taken seriously, the language is outdated/ littered with slang, and not everyone “black” speaks like this. So yeah, it’s problematic.

    That being said —

    I dig the site and I’m glad I stumbled into it. Being a black English major myself, I found that coming from a AAE speaking background left me with a unique set of challenges. I don’t know if your familiar with the term codeshifting, but it basically speaks to the double consciousness and how black people have to learn to maneuver in both worlds — which as a writer can prove difficult — w/o practice. I find myself second guessing my writing all the time, as of late, because strunk and white is a distant memory and I write, more often than not, how I talk (which could probably be attributed to how often I text).

    That may be an interesting article. That is if you haven’t already addressed some of the challenges that come along with being a black English major — or even a black academic in general. That could be interesting. Hmm.

    I’d actually be interested in writing it, if you accept guest bloggers.

    But I digress.

    Nice Post


  10. Belinda Watson permalink
    February 10, 2013 4:57 pm

    I like it!!! This is talking on the People level with TRUTH. Being African American, the wording engages me!
    Thank You and WE will do fine with as an ADD-ON version.

  11. July 31, 2013 11:38 pm

    i want to purchase it how do i cant find it in book stores?????

  12. jamesrowdy29 permalink
    July 11, 2014 4:08 pm

    I dont find it offensive, I also had this Idea an was disappointed when I found someone had already did it, but after reading some excerpts i think I could do it better, because some of the language is exaggerated like minstrel an not real talk an kind of offensive especially when they called the sun a big light, that was just dumb an incorrect, just because people speak ebonics doesn’t mean they are dumb, it looks to me like he bought into tyhe white peoples interpretation of ebonics rather than knowing what its all about. Ebonics is quicker an more efficient than regular english but he justs exaggerates it like white people do. I think I would do better

  13. September 21, 2014 6:37 am

    In all aspects, we have to find much better ways of understanding the bible SIMPLY, so this is not changing anything just like the bible has been moved from Ancient writtings with so many provokative and challanging Linguistical challanges……….the AAE version is much simplified and better..where can i download it online

  14. Susan Bruce permalink
    June 24, 2016 8:48 am

    I am so glad I discovered this book.

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