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Thursday, November 10, 2005

ESV 2 Cor. 4:16

Yesterday the ESV Bible blog linked to a new dashboard widget for Macintosh computers which can be used for displaying the ESV verse of the day.

Ironically, the ESV blog displays 2 Cor. 4:16 to illustrate a verse of the day. This verse is worded as:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. (ESV)
I used the word "ironically" because this verse is meaningless in English, at least for myself and many other English speakers, as it is currently worded. What is meaningless are the words "our outer nature." I don't think English speakers conceive of us as having outer natures. A person's nature refers to something which is more "inward," such as their personality.

The ESV wording is intended to translate the Greek exo hemon anthropos, but in this context the Greek word anthropos would be better translated, in an essentially literal translation, as "person". Even more literal translations of this Greek phrase render it as "our outer man" (KJV,NASB) which also does not communicate the meaning of the Greek accurately to English speakers. Even then, "our outer person" (HCSB) is not very meaningful in English. There even more accurate and meaningful translations of the Greek phrase possible.

Meaningless wordings in a translation cannot, by nature, be accurate because they do not communicate to translation users the meaning of the biblical text, both as intended by the original author and as he assumed his audience would understand it, based on their shared knowledge of the Greek language and its usages in different contexts.

More meaningful and also more accurate translations of Greek exo hemon anthropos for 2 Cor. 4:16 are:
outwardly (NIV, TNIV, GW)
our physical body (NET Bible)
our physical being (TEV)
Our bodies (CEV)
Our physical body (NCV)
our bodies (NLT)
The constant lesson to be learned from each example of meaningless translation in any English version is that translators of that version need to step back from it to think about whether or not their wording communicates anything to fluent English speakers. They can also be helped empirically, if they test their translation wordings with scientifically representative samples of good speakers of the language, to discover what they understand from their translation wordings. Any wording which communicates little, if anyone, cannot, by definition, be accurate. Only accurate translations communicate the meaning of the biblical text to translation users.

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