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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Questions and Answers

Feel free to post questions about Bible translation here. I have started by posting some common questions along with answers which seem reasonable to me. Feel free to post other questions here. And feel free to post some answers, as well.


At Sat Apr 16, 10:07:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

"Do you think there can be only one possible translation for any language which will quality as being quality literature for that language?"

Oh, no. There can be a range of different kinds of translation for any particular language. I only believe that each translation should use only grammatical, good quality wordings from that language. There can be translations which are targeted toward more highly literate individuals, people who prefer more complex vocabulary and syntax. There can be other translations targeted more toward the majority of a population which speak good quality language, but many not have as much education or literary background as those who desire a more sophisticated register of language in a translation.

At Sat Apr 16, 10:41:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

"If an English version is written only in good quality English with wordings which allow users to understand the original biblical wordings, what will be left for Bible teachers and pastors to explain?

I am only advocating good quality language in Bibles, language which accurately communicates the meaning of the original wordings and does so using only grammatical and semantic patterns which are standard within the target language, such as English. There is a big difference between understanding wordings of a book and understanding the concepts of those wordings. Bible teachers and preachers still have a lot of work to do to explain to people the sometimes difficult concepts of the Bible. A translation written only in good quality English will still have many things in it which are difficult to understand because they are difficult concepts. For instance, English translation could translate this Greek of 1 John 5:15 estin hamartia pros thanaton as "there is (a) sin unto death," matching up the Greek with English word-for-word. But this English translation is not good English. The prepositional phrase "unto death" is not part of the English language. It is not spoken or written by mother-tongue, fluent speakers of English. Instead, good English requires that the meaning of the Greek preposition peri be more accurately translated in this context. One way to do this which is accurate to the Greek as well as good English would be "There is sin which leads to death" or "There is a sin which leads to death."

Now, if we have a good English translation of this Greek phrase in 1 John 5:16, is there anything left for a Bible teacher or preacher to explain about this verse. Absolutely! The entire concept of a sin which leads to death is difficult to understand. We do not know what that sin might be, although good suggestions have been made for what it is. Bible teachers can help Bible readers wrestle with what that sin might be. They can warn Bible users to be careful that they not commit such a sin.

Now, if English translators put their own opinion (no matter how much exegetical support they find for it) in the translation as to what the sin leading to death is, they would be creating what is called an "interpretive translation." They would be telling us more than what is in the original Greek text and that is not accurate translation.

At Sat Apr 16, 10:44:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

"Do Bible scholars understand the meaning of every original biblical language wording so that it can be translated accurately and naturally to any other language?"

No. There are quite a number of wordings in the biblical source texts whose meaning is uncertain, for a variety of reasons. When Bible translators do not know what the original meaning is, they should not give the impression through their translation that they do know the original meaning. There are options (such as footnotes) for translators to indicate that the meaning of something is uncertain, while still using only good quality English in a translation. It is not necessary to use some non-English sounding wordings to try to get across the idea that we do not understand the original meaning.

At Sat Apr 16, 11:07:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

"Do you think there is any value in literal translations?"

Yes. There is value in a variety of kinds of translation. Among other things, literal translations better allow Bible students to do word studies and see the grammatical patterns of the biblical languages.

At Sat Apr 16, 01:53:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

"It is clear from your comments on this blog that you believe that English Bible versions could be improved by having better quality English. Whether others agree with your assessment or not, why do you think English Bible versions do not have as good quality English as they could?"

I have wondered about this many times. Perhaps many who have translated English Bibles have not had formal courses in English composition. Perhaps English stylists on English Bible translation commmittees lack the influence over the exegetes on the team to make the necessary changes so that the literary quality is better.

Probably one of the best answers to this question comes from one of the English Bible translators himself, New Testament Greek professor, Daniel Wallace, who says in an online article:

"since those responsible for this new [NET Bible] translation are primarily exegetes, our perspective is often so entrenched in the first-century world that we are blind as to how the English reader would look at the text today. Exegetes tend to produce a wooden translation without realizing it."

At Mon Apr 18, 04:34:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

"Wayne, what gives you the right to think you can find odd English wordings in English Bible versions when English stylists on their translation committees have said that their translations are "elegant" or "good literary English"?

Well, maybe I'm just foolish. You know the old saying, "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread."

Seriously, I recognize that my instincts about English are by no means perfect. There are a number of unusual English wordings which I am not familiar with, so I might flag a translation wording as being odd English when it is actually high quality literary English to some English speakers. And I appreciate being corrected, when I have said something wrong about an English wording. But I do think that one of my gifts is being able to detect wordings which are not good quality English. Both of my parents are keen students of language. They passed that gift on to me. I love hearing and reading good language. I love good literature, metaphors, figures of speech, poetry. I had a very good background in English structure and semantics in school. For whatever reason, my ears are always to the ground, able to hear interesting and unusual ways in which people speak or write English. I have also had a lot of exposure to foreign English, that is, English as spoken or written by people whose first language was not English, including my own father. So I am sensitive to English wordings which most native speakers of English would not consider natural.

I guess the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, as another saying goes. If you are not sure if I have correctly characterized some wording in an English Bible version, feel free to check with a number of other people to find out if my instincts are shared by others.

And please do let me know about anything specific where I have suggested that something is not good English, but where you have evidence that it is.

At Tue Sep 25, 09:32:00 PM, Blogger Steve said...

I have two questions and I'm not sure if this is the right place to ask them but I'll ask anyway:

1) I'm looking for an English translation of the Psalms that keeps the original rhyming scheme - i.e. Psalm 119 in the acrostic style, etc.

2) A chronological Bible that does not repeat passages - I have a NIV (Bible in a year) translation at the moment but the whole Bible is there and whenever there are double-ups the passages are just repeated which makes for a smooth read hard. I understand that chronological Bibles were quite popular in the 1970's and wondered if there is anything you know of that I could have a look at?



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