Better Bibles Blog has moved. Read our last post, below, and then
click here if you are not redirected to our new location within 60 seconds.
Please Bookmark our new location and update blogrolls.

Monday, January 23, 2006

About those Literal Translations

I highly recommend reading this entire article by Ken Collins. It is only a few paragraphs long. Entertaining too. How often do we remember that priests are presbyters. Or are they? When does a cognate lose touch with its origins?

    Then there are vocabulary problems. In the New Testament, the Temple has hierarchs and the church has presbyters. Most translate hierarch as priest, which is really incorrect, because priest is just an English contraction of the word presbyter. But if the translators put down priest for presbyter, it looks like they are discrediting churches that do not call their clergy priests. But if they put down presbyter, which is the untranslated Greek word, or elder, which is the word’s meaning, they discredit the churches that are so old that the word presbyter turned into priest as the language of their members changed. So there is no neutral, literal solution. The same is true of the Greek word episkopos, which means supervisor, but is the source of the English word bishop.
And then there is this,

    All translation is interpretation, and none is strictly literal. When someone calls their translation of the New Testament a ‘literal’ translation, it means one of two things. It could mean that they are sacrificing an easy read for a responsibly accurate rendering. In that case, they are just using the word ‘literal’ in the naive sense. Or it could mean that they have a doctrinal ax to grind and are using the word ‘literal’ to make you think that the Greek made them do it. So in the latter case, the word ‘literal’ is synonymous with ‘tendentious.’
Well, I grew up with a few literal translations of the Bible. Darby, Young's, New American Standard. But the Good News Bible has been my companion since 1982! Why couldn't someone preach from that. So much logomachia! No chresimon, katastrophe for the hearers. Okay, either preach from the Greek or use real English.


At Mon Jan 23, 10:32:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

But the Good News Bible has been my companion since 1982!

Our pastor for the past 30 years does exactly that, Suzanne. Our children grew up on the GNB. I'm glad they know that the Bible is meant to be in the language of the people. Now they are parents. At least one of the couples is reading from the GNB to their own small children now.

At Mon Jan 23, 11:12:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I used to be a little self-conscious when people asked me which Bible I would recommned. They always meant "Which Bible is closest to the Greek?" I guess I didn't want to admit that I had no idea and didn't really care since I hadn't yet exhausted the teaching that was obvious in the GNB.

Imagine me when I was 15, sitting at the kitchen table going through a few doctrinally curcial verses with my Dad, telling him, "perfect tense", "pluperfect", "aorist", "perfect" and so on; to prep him before going off to an important 'brother's meeting'.

I read an article on the internet recently on the aorist tense in the gospels and evangelism. I am still in therapy. I hope to recover soon.

At Tue Jan 24, 02:48:00 AM, Blogger Tim said...

Suzanne, another great post.

But what are you doing posting about Bible translation on election night???

At Tue Jan 24, 03:53:00 AM, Blogger Joe said...

You were auite right, the post was great!

I literally believe that literal translations are impossible.

I have not used GNB in a long time, but I think I'll give another look.

At Tue Jan 24, 03:54:00 AM, Blogger Joe said...


At Tue Jan 24, 02:42:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

I've been familiarizing myself again with the GNB through the Internet (I used to have a beat up copy several years back. I'm not sure what happened to it).

The recent "Gospel of John" movie uses the the GNB as it's text, and since I liked the film, it renewed my appreciation for the translation...

However, there aren't very many attractive editions of the GNB in print (especially leather ones), which would be my only gripe for the moment.


Another point I wanted to make (relevant to the presbyter/priest dilemma):

John 1.26 (and similar passages)

John answered them saying, "I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know." [NASB, among others]

John answered them, "I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know [ESV]

I quote the ESV and NASB because they both fall in the category of literal translations....But yet, their difference in translating "in water" or "with water" shows their respective agendas. Many translations go either way...

Strangely enough, the HCSB (overseen by Soutern Baptists), translates it as "with water".

At Tue Jan 24, 08:41:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


That is very interesting. I only recently became aware that there were different versions with respect to baptism. I guess this is an example of prepositional theology.

At Wed Jan 25, 02:19:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne, LOL! That is funny. But I have a whole booklet called "The Theology of Prepositions", by Basil F.C. Atkinson, Tyndale Press, London 1944. It is an interesting study, but I have some serious doubts about the presuppositions behind such a work.

At Wed Jan 25, 07:54:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I struggle with this. It really turns me off, but then again one must understand these things. The prepositions must be understood in their ambiguity.

At Wed Jan 25, 08:08:00 AM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

Suzanne, Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

I see, with some people, some kind of esoteric idea, that strange sentences after translation, if "more literal" or "literal" let the Holy Spirit might give the true meaning to the readers.

But as this article points out, even these "literal" translations make decisions for the reader.



Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home