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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Parableman evaluates a TNIV passage

In yesterday's post on his Parableman blog, Jeremy Pierce analyzes the translation of 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 in several recent English versions, including the TNIV. Although he is not an advocate for the TNIV, nor am I, his conclusion is most informative:
My conclusion is that the TNIV does the best job with these verses, at least with respect to these pronouns. There are other places of difference here that I'm not talking about at all. On this decision, the TNIV is actually the most accurate of all these translations, and it achieves this by paying more attention than the others to the form of the original. Yet in doing so, it somehow violates whatever intuition lies behind the popular conception of translating literally. I say that's just a good argument against using the popular conception of translating literally and sticking with more precise goals of preserving the meaning that the form conveys while also trying to preserve as much as you can of the sense of the original without losing equally important aspects of the meaning that come with the form, all the while sounding like English.
There's food for thought about what it means to translate accurately. You might also want to read what I wrote some time ago, "When literal is not accurate." A literal translation can be accurate. But sometimes a literal translation is not the most accurate. In my opinion, the highest goal for any Bible translation is communicative accuracy, which is ensuring that a translation is done so well that its readers can accurately understand the the original meaning of the source text. Oh, yes, I am old-fashioned enough to advocate for original meaning and authorial intent.

What do you think?



At Wed Apr 27, 01:25:00 PM, Anonymous Michael Marlowe said...

Parableman wrote: "The Bible translations that call themselves the literal translations have a funny way of defining 'literal'. What they really mean is that the number of words in a sentence in the original is as close as possible to the number of words in the translation."

Well, I think Parableman presents a straw man here. In what translation do the translators try to keep the number of English words down to the number of the Greek and Hebrew words? This is impossible, because the inflected Greek and Hebrew words usually require a minimum of two English words to express the same meaning. Very often three words are required in English to express the meaning of one Greek or Hebrew verb. And aside from the multiplication of words necessary for expressing the meaning of inflected forms, there are many other cases in which an extra word must be supplied in English. Just look at all the italicized words in the KJV. So for those who know the languages, this point of 'translation theory' is rather boring.

I will comment however, on his argument that because "many readers don't read footnotes" it is best to have all interpretation "in the text itself." Other things being equal, this is true enough. But I disagree with the tendency to avoid footnotes. I think most Bible versions should have at least twice as many footnotes as they do, and they also need to be printed in larger type. I was very pleased to see all the good footnotes in the new Holman Christian Standard Bible, and I think they got it about right, but all the others (including the ESV, my favorite) are deficient in this respect. And an interpretive "idiomatic" version like the NLT should have even more footnotes than a literal one, to advise the reader of alternative interpretations. So let's not get a bad attitude about the footnotes, as if they needed to minimized. Sometimes they are really indispensible. I consider the ESV's use of a footnote at 1 Cor 3:17 to be an adequate way of
addressing the translation issue here.


At Thu Apr 28, 07:00:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with Michael about footnotes. I love the NET Bible, not really because of the translation itself, but because of the extensive footnoting. The second edition of the NLT has a noticeable increase in the number of footnotes.


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