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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Babies and Bibles

The venerable KJV, which I grew up with, words 1 Peter 2:2:
As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby
A couple of days ago I noticed that the word combination "sincere milk" is inappropriate in English. Milk, not even the metaphorical, spiritual milk referred to in this verse, lacks the semantic qualities with which the adjective "sincere" can be associated. Those qualities are that the entity spoken of has volition to decide to be genuine or not, or that it is some expression of such an entity.

The following word combinations are, therefore, appropriate English:
sincere person
sincere preacher
sincere blogger
sincere letter
sincere sentiment
sincere speech
sincere confession
The following combinations would not be used by native speakers of English, who have internalized the lexical rules of English which tell us, intuitively, which words can and cannot occur together:
sincere garden
sincere box
sincere star
sincere worm
sincere fetus
Word combinations which are not permitted in a specific language are technically called collocational clashes. "Sincere milk" is a collocational clash in the KJV. All other versions which I have checked do not have a collocational clash in their translation of 1 Peter 2:2, using either the adjective "pure" or "unadulterated" (Phillips) instead of "sincere."

I am thankful for Bible translators who pay attention to the syntactic, semantic, and lexical rules of a target language so that the word combinations of a translation sound like they were created by native speakers. Non-native speakers of a language have to learn many rules to avoid collocational clashes when speaking their newly acquired language.

Peter tells us we are to be like newborn babies who crave pure milk. My wife and I are still with our daughter and son-in-law, helping them as they adjust to life with their newborn baby. This sweet granddaughter of ours doesn't "know" very many things yet. But she makes one thing very clear by turning her head and moving her lips a certain way: she wants her mother's milk. That milk nourishes Elianna. It is "unadulterated," as J.B. Phillips states so well.

Not all milk is pure or unadulterated. My parents-in-law were missionaries in another country for forty years. They used to order milk from a man in their town. They suspected he was watering down the milk, to increase his profits. But they had no proof until one day a little fish was found in the milk bucket. That was proof enough and that milk man lost his business with my parents-in-law.

How about you? Do you crave spiritual milk, the pure, unadulterated kind that nourishes our souls? Are you living out ("a doer") of God's Word and not just "hearing" it, as James exhorts us?

On the Bible translation front, are you using a Bible version which uses pure, unadulterated English, sounding like it was written by people whose native language is English? Or do the versions you use have collocational clashes, non-English syntax, and other language problems?

Babies have a lot to teach us. We are delighted with baby Elianna. She is highly focused at this stage of life. She sleeps. She stays awake sometimes and seems to look at lighted areas of a room, such as a window. But there is only one thing she craves, her mother's milk. I want to crave spiritual milk that way.

If you'd like to see how delightful Elianna is, you can view some pictures of her at this Internet address:

And let all of us delight in God and his spiritual milk today.


Categories: bible.translation collocational.clash


At Thu Sep 29, 10:49:00 AM, Blogger J. Mark Bertrand said...

According to my dictionary, 'unadulterated' is an archaic meaning of the word 'sincere,' which suggests that while "sincere milk" might be a collocational clash by today's standards, it wasn't in the seventeenth century.

At Thu Sep 29, 10:52:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Good observation, Mark.

At Thu Sep 29, 01:26:00 PM, Blogger Joe said...

Thanks for that explanation. I have always wondered whether there might be something I was missing when I read that verse.


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