A sound translation
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.
Categories: oral language, Bible translation, translation accuracy, field testing