Although I far prefer to deal with specific details of Bible translations, rather than making broad generalizations, I'm going to go against my own preferences just a bit in this post.
From my own extensive study of English versions over many years, it seems to me that accuracy in the more idiomatic (a.k.a. dynamic equivalent, thought-for-thought) translations is typically an issue at the level of exegesis and interpretation. I really enjoy reading idiomatic translations. I like reading something written the way I speak and write. But I have to be careful, at times, to remind myself that in some passages an idiomatic translation reflects an interpretation chosen by its translator or translation team. Hopefully, there will be a footnote stating other possible interpretations but such footnoting is not always done. When the Living Bible introduced the Greek Logos in John 1:1 as Christ himself, the translator/paraphraser was getting ahead of himself, inserting his own evangelical conviction (which I happen to share) that the Logos was Jesus Christ. But putting that information at the beginning of John short-circuited the deliberate buildup that the author used in the prologue to John to introduce us to the Logos (Word).
On the other end of the literal-idiomatic spectrum, the more literal (a.k.a. formal equivalent, word-for-word, essentially literal) translations often have a different accuracy issue. It has to do with inaccuracies which are introduced, typically unknowingly, into a translation when English forms are used which do not communicate the meaning intended by the translators. This kind of inaccuracy is often more difficult to understand and accept as being genuine inaccuracy that calls for revision to greater accuracy.
I'll just briefly mention one inaccuracy that appears in many (most?) of the more literal translations and that has to do with the English word "and" connecting two elements which were synonymous in the biblical source texts, synonymous at least in the sense of Hebrew parallel poetry. I hope to blog on this issue more in the future, but let me discuss one or two example here:
Psalm 119:105 traditionally is rendered as:
"Your word is a lamp for my feet,English "and" requires that the two conjoined elements be non-coreferential, that is, that they not refer to the same thing. (If this sounds new to you, test some "and" phrases and you will soon notice that the two elements must refer to different things.) But in Hebraic parallelism this requirement on the conjunction does not hold. In fact, in poetic doublets (couplets) the Hebrew conjunction precisely does join synonymous (rhetorically synonymous, if not totally synonymous). There are hundreds of such examples in the Hebrew Bible and quite a few which have been carried over into the Greek of the New Testament. We see, therefore, that the English and Hebrew conjunctions have different meaning in contexts where there are conjoined synonyms. English "and" conjoins and tells us that the conjoined elements are different in reference. The Hebrew conjunction waw in poetic parallelism tells us that the two elements are synonymous (or essentially so, for purposes of poetry). In poetic couplets Hebrew waw can be accurately translated to English as 'that is' or 'namely' or comma (yes, a comma can have meaning!).
and a light for my path."
Psalm 119:105 is not telling us that the Word of God is two different kinds of light, something which is communicated by the English word "and" in the translation. Rather, the poetic parallelism of this verse tells us, essentially, the "same thing" in both couplets. In both lines the Word of God is symbolized by the metaphor of a light which helps us see where we are going.
Is use of "and" in Ps. 119:105 inaccurate? Yes, it is, since it communicates the wrong meaning in English. It does not communicate the meaning that the two couplets are basically saying the same thing, in the beautiful way that Hebrew poetry works.
Can Ps. 119:105 be translated in a way that retains the beautiful form of the Hebrew poetry and is also accurate in English? Absolutely. Each of the following do that:
1. Your word is a lamp for my feet,We will blog further about this and similar topics in the future. Stay tuned!
a light for my path. (use of comma, indicating an English appositive construction which is the "formal equivalent" of the Hebrew poetic parallelism form)
2. Your word is a lamp for my feet,
that is, a light for my path.
Category: Bible translation, translation accuracy