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Sunday, July 31, 2005

prophets vs. Prophets in the HCSB

My wife and I returned home tonight (Sunday) safely from our restful, refreshing retreat in Vancouver, BC.

Among the many email messages awaiting me was the HCSB email newsletter. Included in it was this question and answer:
Q: Why is "Prophets" capitalized at places like Luke 16:16, but not at places like Hebrews 1:1?

Translation associate general editor Ray Clendenen explains:

A: In Luke 16:16, the term "Prophets" is referring to a division of the Hebrew Bible, referred to in Hebrew as the Neviim, comprising the "Former Prophets" (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings) and the "Latter Prophets" (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel). Thus it is capitalized. In Hebrews 1:1, the term refers to individuals who were prophets, as opposed to kings, scribes, etc. Thus it is not capitalized.

I like that. Of course, we can't hear the capitalization when the words "prophets" and "Prophets" are read aloud by someone else, but they are marked in the text for readers to see. Another good translation technique to make a better Bible.

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Psalm 23 Misunderstood

Here is some lighter relief after my rather heavy posting yesterday:

A recent list discussion was about how the biblical words for "shepherd" had been translated into various languages, especially where there are various words for various kinds of shepherd with various social roles. This reminded me that I had read a few years ago (I think it was in a UBS publication) of how somewhere in southern Africa a translation of Psalm 23 into a local language had been misunderstood. Here I reconstruct from memory part of how this misinterpretation had been translated back into English:
The Lord is the lowly servant who looks after my sheep, but I am a rich man. [When we go hunting together], he makes me sleep out in the open pasture land, and he leads me to deserted waterholes. ...
It seems that the start of the psalm had conjured up quite the wrong scenario, and the reader had followed this scenario right through the psalm. This may sound like a humorous story, but I fear that it was what a published translation really meant to someone.

The lesson for translators is to check carefully what translations mean to their target audiences, which probably requires field testing. This example can also serve as an additional illustration for the last part of my posting yesterday Relevance Theory: how relevant for Bible translation?, for it shows how easily a misunderstanding in line with local cultural expectations can take root in the audience's mind, unless it is clearly ruled out within the Bible text itself.

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Saturday, July 30, 2005

Relevance Theory: how relevant for Bible translation?

In his 23rd July 2005 posting here Bible translation theory: a shifting paradigm, Wayne gave a brief introduction to (RT) and its relevance to (BT). (For more papers on RT in general, see for example Here I make some further comments about this issue. I assume that readers have read that earlier posting.

I would also recommend that readers of this first read David Weber's paper Evidence that demands a verdict?, which Wayne referred to in that previous posting. Weber makes a good case there that there is a real problem with the approach of Eugene Nida and others, although I don't consider the issue to be quite as fundamental as Weber does. But Weber explains well why BT needs to take into account newer theoretical approaches like RT.

But the way in which RT has been applied to BT has led to confusion and controversy. The best known proponent of RT in the BT world is Ernst-August Gutt, author of Translation and Relevance: Cognition and Context, 2nd edition, Manchester: St. Jerome 2000, and Relevance Theory: A Guide to Successful Communication in Translation, SIL and United Bible Societies 1992. Gutt was perhaps the first to apply RT to translation, and specifically to Bible translation, and his major contribution was to make the distinction between "direct translation" and "indirect translation". The basic distinction here is that direct translation rules out making explicit in the translation anything which is implicit in the original, whereas indirect translation does not. In practice a direct translation is likely to be relatively literal, close to "formal equivalence", although restructuring is permitted when it is required for purely linguistic reasons, such as to avoid unnatural foreign syntax. But any kind of clarification of the background, or resolution of ambiguities which could be left unresolved, is not permitted. And for this reason a direct translation of the Bible is unlikely to be suitable for less educated audiences with little or no previous Bible background knowledge.

Now this is indeed a theoretically meaningful distinction. The problem came when Gutt moved on to a value judgment, that a good Bible translation must be a direct translation. He avoided doing this explicitly in his books listed above, although he made clear in Relevance Theory: A Guide... his preference for direct translation. However, in a separate paper Urgent Call for Academic Reorientation in the SIL internal journal Notes on Sociolinguistics 5 (2) 47-56 (2000), he wrote much more explicitly:
the integrity of the historically attested biblical text is violated by the insertion of extraneous background information. ... Our reverence for the integrity of the biblical texts and our concern for the authenticity of Bible translations require us to abandon this practice as quickly as possible and to solve the problems by other, more acceptable means.
In other words, Gutt is claiming that an authentic Bible translation must be a direct translation - despite the fact that such a translation is unlikely to be understood by an unsophisticated audience. And he is condemning the widespread existing practice of resolving ambiguities and clarifying implicit information within the text of the translation. He suggests that such clarifications should be given in separate aids to readers, which might include footnotes.

Gutt has been understood as stating that this claim is a consequence of RT. But it is not, although presented in an RT framework, for RT provides no basis for making this value judgment. In fact it is clear that Gutt is arguing here from presuppositions which are not linguistic but theological, relating to the integrity and authenticity of the Bible.

However, his argument here is misguided, even for those who share his high view of the Bible. He is correct that there is a loss of authenticity, as he defines it, in making an indirect translation of the Bible, but then the same is true, to a lesser extent, with a direct translation. For this kind of authenticity is an attribute of the original language text which cannot be preserved in translation. Doctrinal formulations of the authority and inerrancy of the Bible recognise this, for they usually refer explicitly to the texts as originally given.

It seems to me that in Bible translation a choice must generally be made in the major orientation of each project. The focus needs to be either on authenticity or on communicative accuracy. Now there are some audiences for whom authenticity is the primary concern. Ideally such audiences should read the fully authentic original texts, but, if they cannot, a suitable alternative might be a direct translation, in which the loss of authenticity is minimised. However, understanding of such a text requires a lot of work. But for more general audiences the primary concern is not authenticity - or they are prepared to accept a secondary form of authenticity which is that the text comes from a trustworthy source. Such audiences require that a translation be communicatively accurate, which implies that it must be easily understood. So, for these audiences an indirect translation is likely to be required.

Indeed it can be argued that RT itself implies that an indirect translation is preferable. A direct translation will include ambiguities which are unresolved within the text, although they may be resolved in a separate aid or footnote. But, according to the basic principles of RT, if there are ambiguities in a text, which may be a translation, readers will resolve them in the way which requires the least processing. The implication is that the reader will choose the interpretation which best fits the context in the text, and will refer to an external aid or footnote only when unable to come to a clear understanding without it. And undoubtedly this is how most people read footnoted texts. But average readers' preferred interpretations will be in accordance with their own cultural presuppositions, in ways which in many cases are known to conflict with biblical culture. Indeed, as Bible translators Tim Farrell and Richard Hoyle put it:
Relevance theory predicts that the audience will misunderstand a passage where it seems more relevant to them to do so.
A good footnote will resolve the ambiguity - but most readers will ignore the footnote if they think they understand the passage. Therefore, it is necessary to resolve such ambiguities within the text itself - which implies an indirect translation.

This point may seem complex, and so here is an example of it (given originally by Farrell and Hoyle). A direct translation of Luke 5:12 is likely to end something like RSV's "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean". A normal reader with little biblical background from a modern western culture, which puts a high value on personal hygiene, is likely to understand the leper as asking Jesus to give him a bath or shower. But this is certainly not the correct interpretation, which in fact relates to Jewish concepts of ritual purification. In a direct translation any such explanation would be allowed only in a footnote or an external aid. But an average reader would consider the direct translation quite clear without even reading the footnote - but would misunderstand the passage. If the target audience for a translation includes this kind of unsophisticated reader, this problem can be resolved satisfactorily only by including some kind of explanation in the text itself - in other words, by an indirect translation.

So, Relevance Theory is relevant and important for Bible translation. But, despite Gutt's excellent theroretical work, his conclusions cannot be accepted as normative for Bible translation projects. Further work is required on how RT can be applied profitably to the translation task. Meanwhile, it teaches correctly that communication is not just a matter of decoding encoded meaning, and so that translation is not just a matter of converting to a different code. The task is much more than that... but this posting is already too long and too theoretical, so I will leave things here.

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Friday, July 29, 2005

Guidelines for writers (and translators)

The Small Publishers Association of North America lists the following guidelines for writers in general:

• Communicate; don't try to impress
• Select appropriate words; unfamiliar jargon confuses the reader
• Avoid ambiguity; rewrite anything that is unclear
• Guard against cliches; replace worn phrases with more original phraseology
• Eliminate redundancies and needless words
• Use the active voice rather than the passive to achieve better readability
• Make smooth transitions between sentences, paragraphs and chapters

Many English translations of the Bible would be more natural and clear if they were more diligent in applying these guidelines.

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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Newmark on word for word translation

A Bible translation issue which I would like to comment on here has come up on the b-hebrew list (which has public Internet archives, so I am free to quote here). Rolf Furuli, the Norwegian author of "The Role of Theology and Bias in Bible Translation: With a special look at the New World Translation of Jehovah's Witnesses", is well known on that list for his unusual and controversial view of the Hebrew verb system as well as for his contention that the word is the basic unit of translation. In recent postings he supported this contention by quoting from "A Textbook of Translation" by the well known linguist Peter Newmark. Here are the quotations, as reported by Furuli:
"Many translators say you shall never translate words, you translate sentences or ideas or messages. I think they are fooling themselves. The SL (source language) texts consist of words, that is all that is there, on the page." (p.2)
"The present excessive emphasis in linguistics on discourse analysis is resulting in the corresponding idea in translation theory that the only unit of translation is the text, and that almost any deviation from literal translation can be justified in any place by appealing to the text as an overriding authority. The prevailing orthodoxy is leading to the rejection of literal translation as a legitimate translation procedure." (p.68)
After this second quotation Furuli continues:
Newmark then translates a French text of 75 words into English, where the text has 68 words, and writes: "I do not think the French translation could be improved on, although one or two variants in the 'taste' area are always available. But about 90% of the three sentences are literally translated - which perhaps is exceptional, but not so surprising in this type of text. My thesis, however, is that literal translation is correct and must not be avoided, if it secures referential and pragmatic equivalence of the original."
I would like to make a couple of points here.

Firstly, it is clearly logically false to infer that because a text consists of words it has to be translated word by word. By the same logic, because a text consists of sentences it has to be translated sentence by sentence, and because a text consists of letters it has to be translated letter by letter. So, this observation of Newmark's cannot be taken as supporting Furuli's position.

Secondly, I must reject Newmark's contention in the last sentence quoted above. I reject it on the basis that a literal translation, even if it is correct, should be avoided if it is not also clear and natural. At the very least it is wrong to say that any unclear or unnatural translation "must not be avoided", which seems to be a suggestion that clarity and naturalness in translation are invalid as criteria and must not be taken into account in translation. Of course it may well be that Newmark qualifies this position elsewhere. But I hope that he and everyone else would agree with me that clarity and naturalness, as well as referential and pragmatic accuracy, are requirements for good translation. And in return I can accept that a literal translation is good, even preferable, in so far as it is clear and natural as well as referentially and pragmatically accurate.

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A sound translation

Romans 10.17: "So then, faith comes from hearing the message" (GNB).

Eugene Peterson must be very happy with that verse and thinking how unselfish the translators of the Good News Bible were to have included an advert for his translation in theirs more than 25 years earlier. Perhaps the Bible Society didn't mean to promote Peterson's translation either in using this verse as part of their advertising. Now of course as you read the quote above you know that the GNB team didn't mean Peterson's "The Message" but what if you are participating in worship and someone is reading this passage aloud. You might be tempted to think that to achieve faith you have to use only The Message.

Okay, so that example might seem a little far-fetched. But problems deciphering a translation when read aloud can be very common. As a member of the Church of England I hear the Bible being read as part of worship services and not just when it is the formal readings. Cranmer and others writting the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer based much of the liturgy on passages of scripture. The King James Version is known in Britain, where I live, by an alternative title The Authorised Version. On the title page is a declaration "authorised to be read in churches". It was intended to be read ... aloud.

In his book on the King James Version MacGarth mentions that the translators would read each passage aloud. If they heard something ambiguous, or unnatural or jarring they re-worked the translation to remove these problems. This is probably the major reason that the KJV is so loved by English speaking church-goers. It is "easy on the ears". Unfortunately very few committees responsible for modern translation even mention reading passages aloud to check their work. The church has waited a very long time for translators to continue the example of the KJV team and read their translation alound.

Recently the liturgy for the service of Morning Prayer included Psalm 109. Now I prefer to use the more modern Common Worship version of this liturgy than the better known Book of Common Prayer. To complement this "updating" the liturgy the translations Psalms have been updated too. But in Psalm 109:15,16 there are some difficulties figuring out who the referents are. Even the RSV exhibits problems in these verses.
Let them be before the LORD continually; and may his memory be cut off from the earth! For he did not remember to show kindness, but pursued the poor and needy and the brokenhearted to their death.
As this was read it sounded as if it was any memory of the LORD that would be forgotten and claiming that he didn't show kindness, etc. Clearly this did not match other passages of the Bible.

There are other simpler examples to consider. Barclay Newman in his notes on the Contemporary English Version mentions other problems with Psalm 109 specifically with verses 1 and 2. David Dewey in his excellent introduction to Bible versions (UK, US) suggests having someone else read these verses to you and then asking the question "where do the four men come from".

Why should such verbal checking be important? Well it is estimated that at least 10% of the British population are undiagnosed dyslexics. And why is that important? Some dyslexics have problems with phonological processing. They hear something but cannot always extract the correct meaning from it. I hope that these few examples demonstrate how easy it is for those without dyslexia to be mislead by the public reading of the Bible. Sadly this is an aspect of field testing English translations that has been overlooked for too long. The KJV team did it, the CEV team did it but it seems no one else has. We need more people to read the Bible aloud and that includes translation teams.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Adoption in TNIV: males and females, or males only?

I was surprised to read the following in at Romans 8:15:

... the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.

Now I would not have been surprised to read that in or , because these versions make no attempt to avoid gender specific words like "sonship". Indeed, NIV uses "sonship", and ESV "adoption as sons". But I was surprised that this word had not been avoided in TNIV; for it does sound strange to many modern readers that Paul promised "sonship" to an audience of women as well as men. A partial explanation is given in a footnote:

The Greek word for adoption to sonship is a term referring to the full legal standing of an adopted male heir in Roman culture.

By contrast, the new translation , which also avoids gender specific language, has the following note about the same word at Romans 8:23:

υἱοθεσία, huiothesia, "adoption", non-gender specific language (see below), cf. Rom. 8:15, 23; 9:4; Eph 1:5. This is a use of a technical adoption term from Greek law. F. Lyall, JBL 88 (1969) 458-66 argued that Paul's use of adoption terminology was a reference to Roman law, but this has later been shown to be a reference to Greek law. υἱός, huios, is in reference to both males and females. See P. Oxy. 9.2106; P. Oslo 3 (Oxyrhynchos, 1st/early 2nd century); P. Erlangen 28.6 (Arsinoe 2nd century). ...

So, who is correct? Nyland claims that the word is non-gender specific and based on Greek law (but gives no reference for the latter). The TNIV team claims that this word refers only to male heirs and is based on Roman culture (and give no references at all). Which view is correct?

The note seems helpful here:

The Greek term υἱοθεσία (huiothesia) was originally a legal technical term for adoption as a son with full rights of inheritance. BDAG 1024 s.v. notes, "a legal t.t. of 'adoption' of children, in our lit., i.e. in Paul, only in a transferred sense of a transcendent filial relationship between God and humans (with the legal aspect, not gender specificity, as major semantic component)."

So, if even BDAG agrees that "gender specificity [is not] major semantic component", why does TNIV use gender specific language here in contrast to its regular policy? It might be argued that the Greek word nevertheless has male connotations. But the English word "sonship" does have gender specificity as a major semantic component,at least for some English speakers - and the TNIV footnote seems to recognise this.

Many translations, even ones which like the NET Bible and which generally make no special efforts to avoid gender specific words, avoid the word "sonship", by using wording like "the Spirit of adoption". It is not clear why TNIV did not do the same.

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ESV Scripture Menu

Today the ESV Bible blog features a beautiful Scripture Menu displayed on Michael Jones' website. Within the menu ESV passages are topically arranged. You can feast on the menu items by clicking on any of the menu links. This is one of the most attractive topical displays for Scripture access and resources that I have ever seen. Michael has done a great job, and he builds on the excellent ESV Web Service as the foundation for his Scripture Menu.

Michael Jones states on his website why he uses the ESV. He also says what I see many others noticing also:
there are still some defects in the [ESV] translation (still-archaic words and phrasings, that sort of thing) that are being worked on for an upcoming edition.
The ESV website, web services, and blog are so up-to-date technologically. Now, if only the ESV were as up-to-date in its English wordings, we would have a great combination. But I have hope for the future of the ESV as their team continues to revise the translation. It needs to have obsolete vocabulary and syntax removed. It needs to consistently follow the definitions which its literary stylist, Dr. Ryken, has described in his book, The Word of God in English, for "essentially literal" translation. And verse wordings which make little, if any sense, need to be revised from obscurity to clarity, when they can be, so that they are as clear in contemporary English as they were in the biblical language source texts.


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Lexical transliteration

A blog commenter noticed about The Source's translation of Col. 3:18:
I am not sure I quite understand the "just as you are connected to the Lord" part.
This brings up a translation issue which is quite important, so I'll post my comment answer quickly before falling in bed:
That part is a meaning-based translation of Greek en xristou, which is translated as "in Christ" in traditional wordings. The problem with "in Christ" is that it has little, if any, meaning to English speakers. "In Christ" is what some call a lexical transliteration. The words are translated to English, but not the meaning of how the words syntactically relate to each other in Greek. ("Baptize" is another example of a transliteration from the Greek word baptizo.) You have to be taught by a Bible teacher what "in Christ" means to understand it.
Please note that I am not suggesting what is the best translation for Greek en xristou to English. I am only trying to state the issues involved in translation of a biblical language phrase such as en xristou which does not yield the meaning of the Greek simply through translating each Greek word to English and leaving them in the same order as the Greek. I think that most Bible readers today probably prefer the literal rendering "in Christ" plus learning from teachers what it means, rather than having the Greek meaning actually translated to English. Partly, this is how some people frame the issue of whether we translate what the biblical source texts "say" or what they "mean," which is a whole 'nother can of worms (or Diet of Worms, if you prefer).

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More on The Source New Testament

Kenny Pearce was stimulated by my posting of passages from the TNIV and TSNT to post on his blog about some of those TSNT wordings. You may want to read what Kenny has to say. Kenny's comments were thoughtful and irenic. I like that, especially when the climate surrounding discussion of Bible versions can get so ugly so quickly these days.


"Women" passages from The Source

Brian of Christendom Blogosis has asked:
Can you give an example of some verses in relation to the below comment [from Ann Nyland].
Take the women passages for example. They contained some rarer and more misunderstood words. Many people do not want to know what the Greek here really says, as it conflicts with what they have been brought up to believe - and this is quite a problem.
I would be interested to see how she translated them.
OK, Brian. I have followed much of the debate over such verses for a number of years, so I think I can locate ones you would be interested in. I'll post these before I pack my suitcase tonight. If there are other verses from The Source which you would like to know how they are translated, ask in a comment to this message. One of the other contributors might be able to copy some other verse(s) for you, or I'll get to it when I return from our retreat.

Again, a reminder to everyone that on this blog we ask that comments to blog posts about a Bible versions not be made which are disparaging of the person or persons who translated it. We ask that comments not be made which label or categorize the translator(s), especially with pejorative words. We ask that all comments be directed at the translation wordings themselves, and that comments which express disagreement supply some biblical language evidence to support the disagreement. In other words, let's address translation issues and not personalities. These are the same rules which, for a number of years, have guided those of us who have been moderators of the email Bible Translation discussion list. These rules work. They cut down on flame wars. If everyone who publicly makes statements about Bible versions would follow these rules, I believe that the Bible reading public would be better off. There would be more helpful substantive information and less name-calling, mind-reading, suspicison, and judgementalism.

OK, on to some verses.

Eph. 5:21-24:
Be filled with the Spirit, while you are supporting one another out of respect for the Anointed One, wives, with your own husbands, as with the Lord. The man is the source of the woman just as the Anointed One is the source of the assembly. He himself is the protector of the body. Just as the assembly is a support for the Anointed One, so also let the wives be a support for their husbands in everything.
Col. 3:18:
Wives, be supportive of your husbands, just as you are connected with the Lord.
1 Tim. 2:11-14:
A woman must learn and she is to learn without causing a fuss and be supportive in everything. I most certainly do not grant authority to a woman to teach that she is the originator of a man - rather, she is not to cause a fuss - for Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman made a mistake as she was beguiled, and she will be saved by means of the Birth of the Child if they continue to be trustworthy, loving and holy and have good sense.
1 Tim. 3:11:
In the same way also, female deacons must be dignified, not slanderers or drunks, but trustworthy in everything.
1 Cor. 11:4-12:
Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered disgraces his head. Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered disgraces her head - it would be one and the same if she'd had a shaved head. If a woman doesn't cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off, and since it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut off or shaved off, she should cover her head.

On the other hand, a man ought not to cover his head as the man is the portrait of the beginning of God's splendor, and on the other hand the woman is the splendor of man. Man is not from woman but the woman is from man, for in fact man was not created by means of a woman, but the woman was created by means of a man.

For this reason the woman ought to have hr authority upon her head on account of the Messengers, except that, as far as the Lord is concerned, a woman isn't separate froma man nor is a man separate from a woman. It's a fact that just as the woman comes from the man, in the same way too the man comes through the woman! But all things are from God.
I have both a printed version of The Source as well as the PDF e-text, but I do not have a way to copy and paste from the PDF file (the file is locked for security, so conversion software doesn't work on it). So I have had to keyboard each of these passage myself. If you think you spot a typo (as I am aging I have been making many more than I used to), feel free to question a spelling. That happened on Kenny Pearce's blog where a visitor spotted that an excerpt from Dr. Nyland's version of 1 Cor. 13 had "love is king." That visitor noticed how different "love is king" is from the traditional "love is kind." I apologized for the typo (my bad!) in my previous post comparing the TNIV and TSNT wordings. I then corrected my typo in the blog post. For me, Jesus is King! And love is "kind." Love is also the greatest of all the gifts, according to Paul, so, in a sense it is "king" of the gifts, but that is not what the Greek says in 1 Cor. 13, nor is it what Ann had in her translation.

OK, I must pack my suitcase now and then sleep, before we fly off into the sunset, hmm, I think we will land in Vancouver an hour or so before sunset.

Have a good rest of the week, everyone. I enjoy interacting with you. God's Written Word has always been special to me, and it is special to talk with others about how it is translated.


Oh, Canada!

My wife and I fly off tomorrow for a few days of a retreat in Vancouver, BC, Canada. We need the rest and rejuvenation. I like Vancouver. This time we will get to take the ferry across to Victoria. That will be special for me. I grew up on the ocean. My family still does commercial salmon fishing. I have memories of riding the ferry to Bainbridge Island from Seattle to visit my grandfather when he was in a nursing home there. I was two years old. The ferry, the smell of the creosote on its heavy beams, the sound of the water splashing against the ferry, the narrow stairs to the upper deck where, if Dad thought we boys had been good, we got a cup of hot chocolate, strong memories! I remember walking down the gangplank when we arrived at the island, with beautiful fall-colored trees bordering the road we walked on to get to where grandpa was staying. I love fall leaves and later in life I wrote about them:
Curtain Fall

Flaming orange, yellow, red
leaves of forest arms outspread
applaud the music of fall,
the year's final curtain call:
Summer's act is done,
Winter's almost come.
Anyway, that is all to say that I'll be gone until Sunday evening. But the other contributors to this blog will continue posting.

Comparing the TNIV and TSNT Bible versions

I thought it would be interesting to compare a few passages from the TNIV and Dr. Nyland's new translation, The Source New Testament (TSNT). Remember, as with every Bible version, the translators chose to translate as they did because they believed that the source language data plus English language usage best supported that translation decision. On this blog we ask that if you disagree with a translation decision, you do so on the grounds of data from the biblical languages, not on the basis of theology or personal ideology. We do not want any name-calling (about translators or translations) or questioning of spirituality on this blog. Instead, we want to only deal with biblical language data as we evaluate translation decisions. We can come to different conclusions from the data, but we can do so with grace. Please do not post lists of "errors" in the TNIV which come from other websites, unless you are prepared to argue the specifics of the language issues for each verse.

Both translations use the singular they which has been in common usage in English since the late 1300s. Here is Rev. 3:20 (whose singular they wording has been strongly and repeatedly criticized by Wayne Grudem) from both versions:
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me. (TNIV)

Indeed, I stand at the door and knock! If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and we will have dinner together. (TSNT)
Hebrews 2:6b is another verse which has been criticized in the TNIV:
What are mere mortals that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? (TNIV)

What is humanity that you remember it
Or the Human Being that you visit him? (TSNT)
The first edition of the TNIV used "parents" instead of "father" in Heb. 12:7. There was strong criticism of that decision. The TNIV CBT (Committee on Bible Translation) reconsidered its decision and decided that it was better to use "father":
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? (TNIV)

Because you undergo education, God treats you like his children - what child is there that a parent doesn't educate? (TSNT)
The TNIV has been criticized for translating gender inclusively instead of with the word "brother," in Luke 17:3:
If any brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. (TNIV)

If your fellow believer sins, rebuke them, and if they change their mind, forgive them. (TSNT)
Rom. 12:1 is a good verse to discover whether translators understand Greek adelphoi, in that context, to refer to male Christians only or both male and female Christians (see our blog poll on this question). Translators who believe this verse is addressed to both males and females sometimes make that clear by using some kind of gender-inclusive language:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God--this is true worship. (TNIV)

I encourage you, fellow believers, through God's compassion, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, sacred, pleasing to God, which is your rational worship. (TSNT)
In the Introduction to her translation, Dr. Nyland addresses the translation of Greek biastai:
... Matthew 11:12 has puzzled people for centuries. Only in recent times was it discovered that the verse contains technical legal terms referring to the hindering of an owner or lawful possessor of their enjoyment of property. Thus the scripture has nothing to do with heaven suffering violence or forcefully advancing.
Here is Matt. 11:12 from both versions:
From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. (TNIV)

From the time of John the Baptizer until now, Heaven's Realm is being used or even robbed by people who have no legal right to it. This stops those who do have a legal right to it from enjoying their own property. (TSNT)
1 Cor. 13:4-7 is one of my favorite passages:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (TNIV)

Love has perseverance, love is kind. Love does not envy. Love does not show off, love is not arrogant. Love is not rude, is not self seeking, it is not hot tempered, it does not calculate wrong doings, it is not happy over dishonesty, but is happy only with the truth; it puts u with everything, it has endurance in all things. (TSNT)
Finally, here is the translation of Eph. 1:7-10, a passage not easy to translate because of the long, complex Greek sentences and the presence of the Greek word xaris which is difficult to translate to contemporary English:
In him we have redepmtion through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the ties reach their fulfillment--to being unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. (TNIV)

His favors to us are so abundant, that he bought us by paying the ransom for us with his Son's blood. This canceled our sins. In fact, he showered us with so many favors that they overflowed, and he also gave us all types of wisdom as well as common sense. He showed us the secret hidden truth of his plans. Actually, he was pleased to do this. He intended that the secret hidden truth would be revealed through the Anointed One. (TSNT)
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Meet a translator ... Ann Nyland (TSNT)

Today we interview Dr. Ann Nyland, translator of The Source New Testament.

Hi, Ann
Hello, Wayne.
When did the Bible first start becoming important to you personally?
I was born into a Christian family so was brought up with the Bible and accepted the Lord as my Savior when I was 6. My father was a Greek scholar (as was his uncle) and from an early age I can remember him talking about what the Greek really meant and how it was a shame it wasn’t brought out in English translation. He had a collection of English translations. He was also a preacher and used to go on at length about how the King James said this, the other versions said this and that, but the Greek said something else. He might spend 20 minutes on one word! He wouldn’t mind me saying that we all used to dread that.
What was your role in the production of The Source?
I was the sole translator and it took me six years translating and doing the lexicography work. The Greek of the New Testament is extremely simple Greek, nothing like Thucydides or Plato, but the trouble is that the resources for translation have not been available to the Bible translator. Translators need decent dictionaries, and the current New Testament lexicon project (going on in my town, although work has stalled) won’t be in print for many, many years. As a lexicographer, I had to do my own dictionary work.

As a classical scholar who had formally studied a range of Greek dialects, I came to the translation not from a religious viewpoint but simply as a Greek translator. I did not alter the text to fit in with any preconceived religious viewpoints or to bring it into compliance with what I thought the text meant elsewhere.

I also tried to bring out the flavor of each author’s speech – Mark is very colloquial and excited and even remarked once that the disciples were thick in the head, whereas Matthew is more an accountant. Luke has a full-on sense of humor, and makes playful remarks about Paul, even mimicking certain aspects of his style when he quotes him.
How do you view The Source as being unique as an English Bible translation?
Aha, my favorite subject, the documentary sources! The meanings of numerous New Testament words have remained unknown as a look at any Bible dictionary will reveal – well, they have guessed usually on an etymological basis, a big mistake with Greek, but really, what else could they do without the resources. In the late 1880s and again in the mid 1970s, large amounts of papyri and inscriptions were discovered. These impacted our knowledge of word meaning in the New Testament dramatically. Why? Well, the papyri and inscriptions were written at the time of the New Testament. They were non-literary sources, that is, they touched upon all aspects of life - everyday private letters from ordinary people, contracts of marriage and divorce, tax papers, official decrees, birth and death notices, tombstones, and business documents.

Why is this important? Prior to these discoveries, people who made up New Testament dictionaries didn’t have a clue what many of the words meant, as I said. But now, these rare words appeared commonly in different contexts, and everyday contexts too. We would use formal language in a letter to a politician, but we use everyday language in letters to friends. It is this everyday language that appears in the New Testament, and up popped hundreds of examples of these words. Large numbers of previously uncommon words found in the New Testament now appeared commonly in everyday documents as well as on inscriptions. Many mysteries of word meaning were thus solved.

However, every New Testament translation of today, apart from The Source, follows the traditional translations of the earlier versions, which were published centuries before the evidence from the papyri and inscriptions revealed to us the actual meanings of numerous New Testament words!

In 1895, the great German scholar Deissmann published a large body of papyri, and between 1914 and 1929 Moulton and Milligan published documentary (“documentary” or “non-literary” meaning papyri and inscriptions) vocabulary in 8 volumes. This was a huge advance, but still Moulton and Milligan had no entry for about 17% of New Testament words! And of the words they included, there were 800 words for which they did not list documentary attestation, in other words, for which they supplied no examples or evidence, so really, there was no point listing them at all. Due to ongoing discoveries, the work was out of date before the last volume had been published. Nearly every recent New Testament dictionary is based on this outdated work while older ones are based on work prior even to that of Moulton and Milligan.

And that’s not all! 1976 was potentially a big year for New Testament translation. In that year, several thousand Greek inscriptions and papyri were published for the first time, or reissued. 15 volumes of new papyri were published in 1976. This meant that the meanings of a large number of words previously unattested were discovered. In the last 20 yrs, 4,000 inscriptions have been found at Ephesus alone. These discoveries have been largely overlooked by Bible translators. The problem is that laypersons and a significant number of Bible translators alike are unaware of all this as it is tucked away in technical journals. Available Bible dictionaries do not have this scholarship to any useful degree. BDAG has a little of it, but not much at all. In other words, Bible translators rely on dictionaries. The dictionaries are wrong, for many words.

The disregard of this evidence for word meaning has had a terrible impact on Bible translation. Many words suffer, but technical terms and idioms suffer particularly. For example, the term mistranslated “husband of one wife” is actually “faithful to their partner” and has been found on the tombstones of women. It is also clear that many modern translators have followed the KJV, whether directly or through the lexicons (dictionaries). For example, the word paidarion in John 6:9 is translated as follows: “lad” (KJV, NKJ, RSV, NAS), “boy” (NIV, PME, Weymouth, TNIV), “small boy” (JB), “little boy” (Amplified). Yet paidarion can mean “slave”, “young free man” “young free woman”, “child”, “girl”, “manservant”, “soldier”. All these meanings have been well attested, even in the Septuagint. There is no evidence for the exclusive term “lad” or “boy” followed by most translations (a tradition started by the King James Version’s “lad”). BAGD’s (the predecessor of BDAG) entry disregarded the evidence from the Septuagint, and ignored BGU 2347.3 where paidarion is clearly shown to be an adult man. BGU was published three years earlier than BAGD.

Here’s another example. Matthew 11:12 caused problems for translators, and puzzled readers for centuries. “Why did heaven suffer violence?”, I used to ask myself. Only in recent times it was discovered that bia refers to illegal forcible acquisition, and is a technical legal term referring to the delict of hindering an owner or lawful possessor of their enjoyment of immovable property. From the papyri, there is now firm evidence to show that bia and harpage were used in legal terminology with reference to forcible acquisition. We now know the scripture has nothing to do with heaven suffering violence or forcefully advancing. The actual translation is, “From the time of John the Baptizer until now, Heaven’s Realm is being used or even robbed by people who have no legal right to it. This stops those who do have a legal right to it from enjoying their own property.”

The translations of most New Testament versions are based on a lack of understanding of Greek word meaning. Available translations do not sufficiently regard the abundant evidence from the papyri and inscriptions and thus in many cases present a far from accurate translation of the New Testament. The reason is twofold:
  1. because the tools are not available to the translator – the tools being published lexicons - and the other reason in some English Bible versions:
  2. deliberate ignoring of the scholarship along with censorship (which I describe in my recent book More Than Meets the Eye) and tradition and reading English translation back into the text, notably in the case of gender (mis)translation and anything pertaining to women.
In many cases, the trouble is that religion based on mistranslation has laid down certain things in the Christian community on the whole and tradition is a very powerful thing. Take the women passages for example. They contained some rarer and more misunderstood words. Many people do not want to know what the Greek here really says, as it conflicts with what they have been brought up to believe - and this is quite a problem.

The Source is different because:
  • The meanings of many words in other available Bibles are, quite bluntly, wrong.
  • These meanings were discovered only recently but have been published only in technical academic journals related to the classics discipline in secular universities. The lexicon to replace Moulton and Milligan will not be published in fascicles, and is years away from publication.
  • The Source is the only translation to date to take account of these word meanings. My field of research is lexicography.
  • Another difference - I, as a translator, am a Classical Greek scholar formally trained in all Greek dialects, not a theologian. I am not backed by any denomination. Of course, some see that as a bad thing, but I note this as a difference. I have also avoided the Biblish dialect, as no secular translator would say for example, “I am in the Persian king” (unless they were a sandwich, not a person) – they would say, “I am a follower of the Persian king”, and no secular translator would say, “I believe in Socrates” – they would say, “I believe Socrates”. “Believe in (someone)” is an appalling mistranslation and I would happily mark a student wrong for such a translation.
What are one or two revisions during the translation process that you remember?
Too many to remember! I revised it many a time. I had to pour through many volumes of papyri and inscriptions to check word meaning.
How would you like people to pray for the ministry of The Source?
It would be wonderful if people would pray for The Source. I would ask that they pray that it fulfils God’s plan for it.
How can people purchase The Source?
Outside Australia, it can be purchased from the publishers’ website, both as a book (they ship it the next working day) or as electronic download. In Australia, it is also available through certain bookstores including Koorong, Australia’s main national Christian bookstore chain.
Do you hope that other booksellers will stock The Source?
Absolutely! But there is huge political pressure not to. One large national Australian Christian bookstore chain refused to stock it.
Thanks, Ann
Thank you, Wayne.

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Monday, July 25, 2005

Translating Ex. 20:7a לֹא תִשָּׂא אֶת-שֵׁם-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, לַשָּׁוְא

Today on the Bible Translation discussion list the question was asked: "What does it mean to take the name of God in vain?" At first I thought the question was about what constitutes taking God's name in vain and I answered that I felt typical examples are the ubiquitous "God damn it!" or "Oh my God!" Those words always bother me when I hear them, such was my church and family proscription against saying them. But it turned out the questioner was really asking whether it is the most appropriate English today to use the two words "in vain" when speaking of the verbal act prohibited by Exodus 20:7. The questioner suggested that a more appropriate contemporary translation of the Hebrew original might be "misuse God's name."

I had never paid attention before to newer translations of this commandment. I was just familiar with the traditional "in vain" phrasing. So I checked several English versions and, sure enough, there was that more descriptive, more comprehensible, more contemporary word "misuse" in a number of them: NIV, TNIV, NLT, CEV, ISV, and HCSB. The REB wording is synonymous, "not make wrong use of the name of the LORD your God," as is the NRSV "not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God." The traditional wording is retained by RSV, ESV, NASB, and NET. There is nothing wrong with the traditional wording. I would not consider it inaccurate. It just probably does not communicate the original meaning as clearly as does the more contemporary wording "misuse."

Knowing only the traditional wording of "take God's name in vain," I always assumed that the prohibition was against cursing which includes the word "God." But the newer wording of "misuse" required me to wonder if the prohibition of Ex. 20:7 was broader than what I have always assumed. What might it mean to misuse God's name? Apparently, it is any careless, thoughtless, or inappropriate use of God's name for any purpose, but especially when making oaths (such as legal promises), or referring to God in a frivolous way.

I find the NET Bible note on Ex. 20:7 helpful:
... The command prohibits use of the name for any idle, frivolous, or insincere purpose (Driver, 196). This would include perjury, pagan incantations, or idle talk. The name is to be treated with reverence and respect because it is the name of the holy God.
Also helpful is the footnote for Ex. 20:7 in the CEV:
Probably includes breaking promises, telling lies after swearing to tell the truth, using the LORD's name as a curse word or a magic formula, and trying to control the LORD by using his name.
I always enjoy getting a better understanding of biblical truth. That happened today when a question was raised about the traditional wording of Ex. 20:7 and I needed to look at other translation wordings. As far as I can tell, wordings which speak of "misuse" of God's name are more communicatively accurate than the traditional wording. The traditional wording was accurate, I think, for previous stages of English, but I suspect that the newer wordings are more accurate for today's Bible users. And, notice, it is not a matter of Dynamic Equivalent or more idiomatic translations using the newer wording. The HCSB is a quite literal translation. I think most Bible analysts today would consider it "essentially literal" along with the ESV. Even though the NRSV has been updated in its syntax and vocabulary, it is still quite a literal translation, as are the NIV and TNIV.

I am thankful for translators who are willing to use newer words in English Bibles when they believe that they convey the biblical meaning more accurately and clearly. The result is better Bibles.

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The Source New Testament -- new purchase format

The Source New Testament, mentioned in a post two days ago, can now be purchased as an e-text (pdf) electronic download. Click on the title to this post for information.


Meet a translator ... Mark Taylor (NLT)

In this interview we get to know Mark Taylor better. Mark was part of the team that produced the New Living Translation. Mark is the president of Tyndale House Publishers. He is the son of Ken Taylor, author of the Living Bible paraphrase, who died six weeks ago, on June 10.

Hi Mark. When did the Bible first start becoming important to you personally?
I had the advantage of growing up in a home where the Bible was revered, so it has been important to me personally as long as I can remember. I also had the advantage of hearing the Bible read in modern and understandable language from my earliest days.
What was your role in the production of the New Living Translation?
I was the chief stylist for the NLT. In this role I worked closely with the Hebrew and Greek scholars to help ensure that the wording of the translation was easy to understand and was natural English. I also chaired the discussions when the Bible Translation Committee met as a group to finalize the wording of the various books.
What are one or two revisions during the translation process that you remember?
We struggled long and hard over the translation of magoi in Matt. 2:1, 7, 16. The Living Bible (from which the NLT is partially derived) translated it "astrologers," but the contemporary image of an astrologer didn't seem to convey the right meaning. We rejected the transliteration "magi" (see NIV) as having little meaning for the average reader. Our scholars were unhappy with the traditional "wise men" because it provides no sense of the astrological role these men played. But in the end we selected "wise men" simply because the story of the wise men visiting the baby Jesus is known even to Americans who are biblically illiterate.

A larger translation issue relates to the formatting of the poetic passages of the Old Testament. The Living Bible did not use poetic format at all. In the 1996 edition of the NLT we used poetic format for the Psalms and a few passages such as Moses' song in Exodus 15. In the second edition of the NLT (2004) we converted almost all of the poetic passages into a poetic format. For example, almost the entire book of Job is now presented in poetic format.
How would you like people to pray for the ministry of the New Living Translation?
Our goal is for the reader to understand the message of Scripture in reading the NLT. As we say at the end of the Introduction to the NLT, "We pray that readers will gain insight and wisdom for living, but most of all that they will meet the God of the Bible and be forever changed by knowing him."
Thanks, Mark.

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Literary excellence Bible version contest

It's contest time again! In this contest you get to deal, as best as you can, with the concept of "literary excellence." It is used in advertising about the ESV. We have had several posts on this blog about literary excellence. I suspect that literary excellence is, like beauty, largely in the eye of the beholder. For some people literary excellence in a Bible will mean that a Bible will have a classic, old-fashioned sound. For others literary excellence means that a Bible will sparkle with clarity. For others it will mean that a Bible version will be alive with metaphors.

Here are the rules for this contest:
1. Select your current favorite English Bible version. If you have more than one favorite, select one of them.
2. Find five passages from your version which exhibit literary excellence to you.
3. Put up a comment to this post, giving the name of your favorite version, the complete wording of each of the five passages, and your explanation of why each wording has literary excellence to you. (It will be normal for your explanation to be subjective. You are sharing how the translation impacts you in terms of literary excellence.)
4. Contest length: 48 hours from the time this post is published to the blog.
5. Winners: There will be two winners which I will randomly select (I'll be fair and close my eyes, not peeking!).
5. Prizes: The two remaining extra Bible versions in my collection:
a. hardback NLT
b. paperback large print HCSB with NT, Psalms, and Proverbs
6. I will pay the postage to mail your prize to you.
Have fun! And I hope this is educational for you. I expect it will be for me.

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Sunday, July 24, 2005

Bible, Babel and Babble

One of the best introductions to the basic parameters for producing adequate Bible translation in any language, including English, is the online booklet Bible, Bable and Babble: The Foundations of Bible Translation, by Dr. Scott Munger, who has served as a Bible translation consultant with two major Bible translation organizations.

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Saturday, July 23, 2005

Bible translation theory: a shifting paradigm

Many who critique Bible translation theory are not aware that a paradigm shift has been occurring for a number of years within this field. It is no longer adequate simply to contrast Dynamic Equivalence (pioneered by Dr. Eugene Nida) with Formal Equivalence, or Literal (or Essentially Literal) with Idiomatic translation, when discussing approaches to Bible translation. A major factor for the current shift has been the application of Relevance Theory (RT), a linguistically based theory of communication, developed by British linguists Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson, to translation theory. A seminal book by Sperber and Wilson is Relevance: Communication and Cognition. A scholar who has pioneered application of RT to translation has been Bible translator and consultant Dr. Ernst-August Gutt, who has written a number of books and articles demonstrating the inadequacy of previous translation theories used by Bible translators, including:
Relevance Theory: A Guide to Successful Communication in Translation
Translation and Relevance. Cognition and Context
The literature on RT and translation is not easy for laymen to follow (nor all linguists, for that matter!). But the concepts promoted are important to translation of better Bibles. Dr. Leland Ryken refers positively to the writing of Dr. Gutt in his book, The Word of God in English. So have some other Bible scholars who have recently promoted more literal (or "transparent") translations of the Bible.

A critique of both Dynamic Equivalence and Meaning-Based translation theories has been written by Dr. David Weber, Bible translator and linguistic consultant, in a technical article titled Evidence That Demands a Verdict.

This is an interesting time to work as a Bible translator. Not only have major shifts been taking place affecting gender language in English, but a major paradigm shift is occurring in Bible translation theory itself. Those who wish to be as current as possible in the debates about Bible translation theory would be well advised to dig into the literature on changes taking place within this field.

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The Source New Testament

Today's mail brought me my ordered copy of the latest translation of the New Testament to be published. It is called The Source. The translator is Dr. Ann Nyland, a Classical Greek scholar, who is also well-versed in the Greek of the New Testament. Prepublication versions of Ann's translation were posted a few years ago on the Internet so I was already familiar with this translation and was looking forward to its publication.

The English of The Source is some of the best quality I have read in any Bible version. This translation truly has literary excellence. Dr. Nyland knows how to write English well, not dumbed down, but good quality literary English which should be appreciated by a wide range of readers, including those with sophisticated literary tastes.

For now The Source can only be purchased online from its Australian publisher, Smith and Stirling. I hope that The Source will soon be stocked by bookstores and online booksellers outside of Australia, as well.

Unfortunately, I just discovered that I ordered the wrong edition of The Source. I thought I would save money by purchasing a paperback edition, which I did receive. But the difference between the more expensive edition of The Source and the less expensive one is not, as I thought, that of a hardback versus a paperback, but, rather, of the less expensive one not containing the "Extensive Notes on Greek Word Meaning" which, coming from a Greek lexicographer like Dr. Nyland, will be very valuable. So, I will now order the more expensive version, and if anyone on this list would like to purchase the edition without the Greek notes from me, please contact me privately by email.

The Source is sure to stir up debate among Bible scholars and that is a good thing. Dr. Nyland is well grounded in Greek lexicography and bases her translation on that lexicographic research. Not everyone will agree with her, but I hope that everyone will take this translation seriously. It is, IMO, one of the best.

I know that some of you who visit this blog have already received your copies of The Source. I welcome your comments on it. And I encourage others to purchase this new translation and comment on it. It will be most interesting to evaluate The Source further as we get into the finer details of its translation wordings.

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The ESV (doctrine : language : usability)

Professor Tim Bulkeley of SansBlogue links to David Warnock's post on the ESV and adds comments of his own.

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Meet a translator ... Harold Holmyard (HCSB)

Today's interview is with Harold Holmyard, a member of the translation team that produced the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).

Hello, Harold. When did the Bible first start becoming important to your personally?
In terms of conversion, it became important when I heard it preached at a Presbyterian Church in 1971 in a treatment of Law's condemnation of sin. I grew up in a church-going home, being confirmed as an Episcopalian at age twelve. But I had only a head knowledge of the truth. I was aware that the Bible was God's word, but in my teens I turned to agnosticism, influenced partly by the teaching of evolution in school. When given a King James Bible as a troubled 20-year-old in 1970, I did not read it much because of the old-fashioned English, which I found hard to understand.
What was your role in the production of the HCSB?
I was basically an Old Testament translator, but I worked with the editor and helped with editing tasks. I was on a team that reviewed earlier work. There were four people, three translators and one style person. We would go over earlier drafts, checking them for accuracy and style. Our work would be passed on to others, who would in turn go over it.
What are one or two revisions during the translation process that you
One question that caused shifts of policy, lots of correction, and considerable time was the number of levels of quotation marks (quotes within quotes). God, of course, often speaks. He is regularly quoted by prophets. God Himself quotes others. There can be four or five levels of quotation marks. Not all translations have the same policy on how many levels to have, and we went back and forth, adding or subtracting, as our thinking changed. One idea was not to put God's speech in quotes, but it became apparent that this would not always work. The goal was to have as few levels as possible without the reader becoming confused, since four or five levels of quotes can become too complicated.

Revisions that I was involved with occurred with Malachi 2:15-16. Malachi 2:15 in the HCSB reads:
15 Didn't the one [God] make [us] with a remnant of His life-breath? And what does the One seek? A godly offspring. So watch yourselves carefully, and do not act treacherously against the wife of your youth.
My translation team favored something more like the New American Standard interpretation, which reads:
15 But not one has done {so} who has a remnant of the Spirit. And what did {that} one {do} while he was seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth.
The two interpretations are quite different. The Hebrew is very abbreviated, and it is difficult to determine what the implied subject is. There also can be understood verbs. We made changes in the direction of NASB, but the original translator, who had done a great deal of research, convinced the editor that we should not change the text in that direction. So the editor restored the original translation.

Malachi 2:16 is a verse that has traditionally been taken as asserting God's hatred of divorce. The New American Standard Bible, for example, has:
16 "For I hate divorce," says the LORD, the God of Israel, "and him who covers his garment with wrong," says the LORD of hosts. "So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously."
Here the HCSB has a revision of the standard translation. The problem is that the Hebrew does not say, "I hate" but rather "He hates." "He hates divorce," was difficult to understand, but some translators in the past have thought that God was speaking of Himself in the third person, as He does at Mal 1:9. The problem with this option is that the next main verb in the statement, joined to the first by "and" and also in the third person ("he covers"), does not refer to God. It is confusing to take one "he" to refer to God, and the next "he" to indicate someone else.

Others have supposed that the Masoretes erred in the vowels that they supplied to the consonantal text. Rare errors in the vowel pointing do occur. So they wondered whether the verb in the perfect tense ("he hates") should be repointed (the vowels changed) to a participle with an understood subject of "I." The problem with this option is that one does not want to alter the Masoretes' work unless there is certainty of an error.

The word after "hates" is an infinitive, which can be taken as a gerund meaning "divorce" but can also be a purpose/result idea like "so as to divorce." The original translator introduced an interpretation that he felt better represented the Hebrew. HCSB reads:
16 "If he hates and divorces [his wife]," says the Lord God of Israel, "he covers his garment with injustice," says the Lord of Hosts. Therefore, watch yourselves carefully, and do not act treacherously.
The words "his wife" are not in the Hebrew and are added in brackets for clarity, but you can see that the verse is understandable without them. It seemed stylistically better to say "hates and divorces" than to say "hates so as to divorce." This translation was controversial; we did not want to be thought to weaken Scripture's general disapproval of divorce.
How would you like people to pray for the ministry of the HCSB?
They could pray that it would have the popularity that the Lord desires for it and that any mistakes or needed changes could be presented to the publisher for revision in a future edition.
Thank you, Harold. Thank you, especially, for giving such substantive details about the translation issues the HCSB team wrestled with. I appreciate meaty content like that.

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Friday, July 22, 2005

Essentially literal translation defined

Dr. Leland Ryken's book, The Word of God in English (WOGE), has brought a needed counter-balance to some aspects of Bible translation theory, including Dynamic Equivalence theory, as it has been widely taught for several decades.

In the Preface to WOGE Dr. Ryken defines "essentially literal" as:
By an essentially literal translation I do not mean one that renders the original text so literally as to be incomprehensible to English readers. The syntax must be English rather than Hebrew or Greek, and idioms that are incomprehensible to English readers need to be rendered in terms of meaning rather than literal equivalence. But within the parameters of these necessary deviations from the original, an essentially literal translation applies the same rules as we expect from a published text in its original language: The author’s own words are reproduced, figurative language is retained instead of explained, and stylistic features and quirks of the author are allowed to stand as the author expressed them.
I like this. I agree with it. Dr. Ryken's two main points are ones which all translation theorists, are far as I know, advocate:
1. Using the syntax of the target language
2. Comprehensibility
Now, as the old saying goes, "The proof of the pudding is the eating." Do essentially literal translations follow Dr. Ryken's guidelines adequately so that "English readers" read truly "English syntax" and "comprehensible" wordings of biblical idioms? The term "English readers", used by Dr. Ryken, has not yet defined, but, presumably, it has a commonsense meaning, something along the lines of 'any literate English speaking person, at least above a certain age or reading level.'

If a translation is called "essentially literal," that is an empirical statement about that translation, since we can logically assume by use of that technical label, that the translation is following Dr. Ryken's two parameters of target language syntax and comprehensibility. Such a statement about a Bible translation is empirically verifiable. One scientific way of doing this is through testing the "data" (that is, translation wordings) with those who would be considered "English readers". Such testing is one focus of this blog. In fact, we have been conducting such tests for several weeks in polls on this blog. Results have been available for blog visitors to view. We will discuss the poll results in the near future.

Stay tuned! And have a good weekend.

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Introducing Peter Kirk

Some of you may have noticed that the name Peter Kirk has been listed for several days as one of the contributors to this blog. It is my privilege to introduce Peter to you, and it is appropriate to do so since he has just published his first post, the preceding one on 1 Cor. 7:1.

I have gotten to know Peter over the past several years by email. Some of my email friendships have become so special to me that I feel like I have almost met my email friend in person, and this is the case with Peter. Peter's heart is in Bible translation work, as is each of the other contributors to this blog. Peter was born in and lives in the U.K. He has worked with a major Bible translation organisation. Although he is no longer with them now, he continues his work on a Bible translation in the Caucasus region near Turkey.

Peter brings to this blog an expertise in Biblical Hebrew. Welcome, Peter! And thank you for being willing to contibute posts to this blog. May God bless your contributions here and elsewhere for the Bible translation effort worldwide.

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Not touching a woman (1 Cor. 7:1)

At 1 Corinthians 7:1, the NIV reads:
Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry.
I consider that the NIV translators made a big mistake in their rendering of the last part of this verse. The words, literally "touch a woman" (as in RSV), do not refer to marriage. They don't mean literally "touch" either, and so should not be used to support the teaching that men and women should not even shake hands, or to forbid pre-marital petting. In fact, as the respected commentator Gordon Fee writes, the meaning of this expression "can be resolved beyond reasonable doubt. 'To touch a woman' is a euphemism for sexual intercourse".

Now Paul has already, in 6:12-20, condemned extra-marital sexual relations in terms much stronger than "it is not good". Chapter 7 is mostly about marriage. So, especially in the context of v.2 and following, the reference in v.1 is probably to sexual relations within marriage.

But why did the NIV translators render this half verse in this way, as expressing disapproval of marriage? I suppose that they could make no sense of the passage, in a context about marriage, except by making it say the same as v.38. For there does seem to be a contradiction with vv.3,5 if the latter are properly understood as restricting sexual abstinence within marriage. This contradiction can be resolved by understanding these words in v.1 not as Paul's words but as what the Corinthians had written to him about this matter. Then, in v.2 and following, Paul gives his own very different view of the matter. For, as most commentators agree, in this letter Paul several times (e.g. 6:12 twice, 8:1,4, 10:23 twice) quotes the Corinthians' letter and then continues with his own rather different position. And it seems best, to me and to Fee, to take 7:1 as another such quotation.

But I don't see why the NIV translators chose their main reading rather than the one in the footnote:
Now for the matters you wrote about: "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman."
The second half of the verse is put in quotation marks, following a colon, to indicate that these are the Corinthians' words. And I consider this to be the correct understanding. I note that the NIV translation team now agrees with me, for the recent TNIV is now exactly like the NIV marginal reading. And other recent translation teams agree: the ESV and NET Bible renderings are almost identical to TNIV. Presumably this is one place where those who attack TNIV and promote ESV will not claim that TNIV is a corruption of NIV.

So, by all means let us teach that marriage is not always a good thing, as in v.38, and that men and women who are not married should be careful about touching one another, which is good practical advice. But let us avoid using 1 Corinthians 7:1 as the basis for such teaching, but instead see it as an expression of an ascetic position which Paul quotes, before rejecting it and upholding the importance of proper sexual relations within marriage.

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Dan Wallace: Working for Better Bibles

Over the years I have often visited the Biblical Studies Foundation website (BSF). One of my favorite authors who posts articles there is Daniel Wallace, Greek professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. Dan was a member of the team that produced the NET Bible. He is above average among English Bible translators for keeping himself aware of developments in linguistics and translation theory, both of which have much to offer English Bible translators so that better Bibles can be produced. If you click on the title to this post you will find a list of articles which Dan has posted on the BSF website. Here are some (there are others) which are especially relevant for making better English Bibles:
I like it that Dan is passionate about searching for the most accurate exegesis of the Greek of the New Testament, even if it means translating to English in a way that is different from other English versions. Not everyone will agree with Dan on everything, but I think he should always be taken seriously.

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What's a Bible?

The Bible Dudes explain "Bible" in their own inimitable way.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Translating Hebrew hesed

Talmida of the The Lesser of Two Weevils blog has posted comments on this BBB blog several times. She has been studying Biblical Hebrew. I just came across a post of hers on translation of the multifaceted Hebrew word hesed. You might like to read Talmida's comments also. They are relevant to how hesed is translated in Bible versions.

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In the beginning was the λoγος ... (John 1:1)

Michael Marlowe has recently posted a good discussion of the meaning of Greek logos in the Prologue to John's gospel. This is a key word for Bible translation. I commend Michael's article to you.

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Translation versus paraphrase

Some people refer to contemporary English translations as paraphrases because they are freer in form than traditional translations. But just because contemporary translations tend to be more clear and natural doesn’t negate the fact that they are translations of the original Greek text.

It is almost impossible to translate a sentence from one language to another without paraphrasing it. So every translation of the Bible is a paraphrase to some extent, even the most literal ones, such as the King James Version. Here are just a few examples of paraphrase in the KJV:

Matthew 1:23
Greek: shall have in belly/womb
KJV: shall be with child

Matthew 27:44
Greek (one word): to insult
KJV: cast the same in his teeth (an English idiom in use during the 16th century)

Luke 23:46
Greek (one word): he breathed out
KJV: he gave up the ghost

Mark himself paraphrased Jesus when he translated Aramaic to Greek in Mark 5:41. Talitha koum in Aramaic means, Maiden, get up. Mark translated it into Greek, Little girl, I tell you to get up. Notice that I tell you is in Mark's Greek translation but not in the Aramaic original. His use of I tell you does not change the sense of the original in the least, but apparently was more natural/normal for his Greek readers.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

To each their own

I finally heard it. Last night. I've been teasingly writing "to each their own" sometimes in discussions of English singular they, but until last night I had never heard someone actually say this phrase, as part of a natural conversation.

For any of you who have never heard the singular they or seen it written, it is when English speakers use the pronoun they to refer back to a grammatically singular antecedent. That antecedent often has indefinite reference, such as "anyone," or "any student," or "each student."

Linguists have been observing usage of singular they and it has been the topic of many Internet discussions and information pages. It is also a focus of heated debates about gender-inclusive language in the TNIV. Rev. Dr. Mark Roberts has blogged on singular they in the TNIV.

Singular they has a long history of usage in English speech and literature (singular they is boldfaced by me in the following examples):
ca. 1395, Chaucer, The Pardoner's Prologue: And whoso fyndeth hym out of swich blame, They wol come up...

1400, Maundev: Wha so weddes ofter þan anes, þaire childer er bastardes. (My attempted translation from this Middle English to Modern English: "Whoever weds more than once, their children are bastards.")

1464, Rolls of Parliament: Inheritements, of which any of the seid persones... was seised by theym self, or joyntly with other.

1557, More, Picus Wks: Eche of them after their deseruing.

1600, Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing: God send every one their heart's desire!

1611, KJV, Num 15:12: According to the number that ye shall prepare, so shall ye do to every one according to their number.

1611, KJV, 2 Kings 14:12: And Judah was put to the worse before Israel; and they fled every man to their tents.

1611, KJV, Matt. 18:35: If ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their tresspasses.

1611, KJV, Phil. 2:3: Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

1759, Chesterfield. Lett. IV. ccclv. 170: If a person is born of a gloomy temper ... they cannot help it.

1848, Thackery, Vanity Fair: A person can't help their birth.

ca. 1860, George Eliot: I shouldn't like to punish anyone, even if they'd done me wrong.

1865, Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: If everybody minded their own business,'' the Duchess said in a hoarse growl, the world would go round a deal faster than it does.'

1874, Dasent, Half a Life II. 198: Whenever anyone was ill, she brewed them a drink."

1898, G. B. Shaw, Plays II. Candida 86: It's enough to drive anyone out of their senses.

1952, C. S. Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader: She kept her head and kicked her shoes off, as everybody ought to do who falls into deep water in their clothes.

ca. 1980, Robert Burchfield (former Editor in Chief of the Oxford English dictionaries): I had to decide: Is this person being irrational or is he right? Of course, they were often right.

2000, Dr. James Dobson, Child Welfare and Parental Rights: Shaking a baby can cause brain damage that will affect them the rest of their lives.
If I recall correctly (I was fairly young then!), in the mid 1800s prescriptivists began decrying usage of singular they and stated that the pronoun he should be the only generic singular used in English. But good speakers and authors have continued using singular they up to today, since it sounds like natural English to them. For many years, however, English style manuals stated that singular they should not be used, until more recently when English language professionals have recognized that singular they is used widely by a wide range of speakers and writers.

As a descriptive linguist, I neither encourage nor discourage the use of singular they. I do, however, try to present the facts of actual language usage when some people proscribe use of singular they. Who is to say whether generic he or generic singular they is to be preferred? Who makes the rules for English languge usage? English teachers? No, not really. It is English speakers themselves who make the rules, by their own usage. There is no English academy which determines how English should be spoken or written. It is language users themselves who determine how a language is actually spoken or written, much to the chagrin of language purists such as William Safire.

English Bible translators do well to translate the Bible into English as it is spoken and written by good speakers and writers of the language. The TNIV is the only English version that I am aware of which uses the singular they. The TNIV's usage of singular they has been strongly criticized by TNIV opponents, such as Dr. Wayne Grudem, who seems to confuse grammatical plurality of singular they with its notional (semantic) singular usage. But the TNIV translators have recognized how widespread usage of singular they is today and felt it best to use that generic pronoun rather than generic he, which is falling into disuse among many, but by no means all, English speakers. Singular they has been used for many centuries by good speakers and writers, and there is nothing that should prevent its use in current English Bible versions, unless a majority of English speakers object to its usage.

For fun, I am posting a new poll to test usage of singular they among visitors to this blog. It is now the first poll in the right margin of this blog.

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