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Thursday, June 16, 2005

[re: the ESV] How not to translate

Parableman has a good ear (and eye) for English. He has just posted on an unfortunate translation wording in the ESV. You can read his post by clicking on the title to this post.

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At Thu Jun 16, 06:29:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is any expression that requires the reader to rise above the vulgar language of the present day unsuitable? I think the reader should be challenged to expand his or her lexicon.

Let the Good As New translation pander to the reprobates!

At Thu Jun 16, 07:52:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

The original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek Bible texts were written in the vulgar, that is, common, language of the people, not, of course, vulgar in the most commonly understood sense of the word as it is used today, meaning 'obscene.'

Those texts were not written in a classical dialect of those languages. They did not require a special education or erudite vocabulary to understand them. Many in the Christian church today have been misled, thinking that one purpose of the Bible is to lift people up in terms of literary awareness. Of course, we must not think in either-or categorical terms here either: the original biblical texts were not intended to drag us down in terms of literary or educational level either.

We have, in general, two kinds of Bible versions today, thosw which are written in the vulgar, that is common language, which is good quality language, respected and understood by all fluent speakers of a language, from great authors to English professors to fathers and mothers leading their children in their homeschooling curriculum, to bus driver, and ditch diggers. The Bible should not be written in slang or street language, but neither should it be written in forms of a language which the original biblical texts were not written in. We need to take our clue for the quality and kind of language from the original texts which God inspired. Higher education was not nearly as widespread as it is today. The human authors of the Bible did not use esoteric, rare vocabulary. Even the great logical thinker Paul used ordinary Koine Greek when he wrote his epistles. But he put those ordinary words together in profound ways to convey profound concepts to us.

It is important to think back on the kind of language God used (through human authors) for his original written revelation to mankind and take our clues from that. It is not a great blessing to the English-speaking world to have Bibles still being produced which are written partly in English which stopped being spoken and written 300 or more years ago, and, in some passages, English which is so strange that it was never spoken or written by anyone.

The Bible was not first revealed to mankind 300 or 400 years ago in a form of English which we now consider classical. No, it was revealed in good quality language, as it was spoken and written by the people in whose languages it was first written.

Let us learn the necessary lessons from that! A world is out there which needs to hear a clear, accurate sound from the Word of God, not obscure sounds which we translators think is beautiful because it emulates a form of English which was written hundreds of years ago.

Let us think about what kind of language Jesus would use if he were to be born, grow up, and preach today.

No Bible version should every "pander to the reprobates" as you state in your conclusion. I agree with your assumption there. But let us make sure that we understand what we are actually doing when we try to avoid doing this with Bibles. There is much misinformation out there about Bible translation which inappropriately connects ordinary English with "reprobate" language. There is no such connection. Jesus spoke to people in their own language. He never required that they learn a new dialect of their language. He never required that they learn new words which are not in their vocabulary to understand what he was saying.

Let us follow our Lord's example in our translations. Dumbing down language? Definitely not, not appropriate for Bibles for a wide range of English speakers. Use of obscene language to try to have rhetorical force? I think this is inappropriate also. Use of colloquialisms and slang to reach younger generations? I don't think this is necessary. Younger people, as well as older ones, highly educated as well as those who are not well educated should all be able to understand the vocabulary and syntax of the Bibles we produce today. If they do not, then it is not their fault but the fault of translators who are not following the example of our Lord who spoke to people in their own language.

Whoever has ears to hear should listen!


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