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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Responsibility for Clear Translation

In a recent posting on his Baylyblog, Tim Bayly criticised TNIV and NLT, as well as the Living Bible and The Message, as "not the text of Scripture, but the text of commentary on Scripture". In response to another part of this posting I commented:
You seem to define "true translations" as "works that strive to give first place to the actual words God chose". That sounds to me like a definition of an edition of the original language text. A translation is by definition a work in which the words in the original language have been replaced by words in another language. And the skill of a translator, as I know from my experience as one, is to choose the most suitable words and phrases in the target language to express the meaning of the original language words. If the translation (unlike some recent translations which sounds as if they have been prepared for 16th century readers) is being prepared for modern people, who mostly do watch television, the target language words should be those which those modern readers clearly understand. If they are not, the readers will fail to grasp the message of salvation. And part of the responsibility for their eternal destiny will be that of the translators who caused them to stumble over obscure language.
Andrew responded (abridged):
Peter, now integrity forbids you to translate the Scriptures using any words you don't hear during prime-time on the major broadcast television networks (cable is too elitist).
David responded:
So they'd have been saved if someone had used more "contemporary" language?
I further commented, clarifying my position:

Andrew, it is not "integrity" which forbids me from using words which my audience does not understand, it is common sense, i.e. the desire and need to communicate to them, in a way which they understand, a message which is more than a matter of life and death.

David, it is between the individuals and God whether they will be saved if the translation uses more understandable language. But it is my responsibility to present the message as clearly as possible. Compare Ezekiel 33:6,8 and Luke 17:1-2: I don't want to be the unfaithful watchman who fails to warn clearly of coming judgment and salvation, so that I am held accountable for others being lost eternally.


At Tue Jan 24, 06:27:00 PM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

Peter. I agree. I think it was Tyndale, wasn't it, that said his goal was to make the Scriptures plain to the "simple" (he referred to someone like a plow boy?, or whoever). Of course just translating Scripture into language of the people, even if ornate for their time, was quite a departure from the Latin they were accustomed to. And of which they surely did not understand well, if at all.

If a translation has to be more in line with those first English translations leading to the KJV, my question is, "Why?"

At Tue Jan 24, 10:57:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

In fact Tyndale's is an incredibly vivid and creative translation; despite the archaic language, you can still sense some of its power when you read it today. Hopefully you translators can aim at the same sort of power when you produce your own contemporary renderings of scripture.

At Wed Jan 25, 01:45:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Indeed, Tim, we translators would like to aim at the sort of power which was in Tyndale's translation. But that power is not captured for 21st century readers by insisting on continuing to use Tyndale's or KJV renderings which are now barely understood.

At Wed Jan 25, 12:27:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

Yes, I'm in full agreement with that, Peter; sorry if my post was open to the misunderstanding that you ought to be copying Tyndale today. For myself I'm a lover of old English and can enjoy Tyndale to the full. But I'm a small minority, and I'm well aware of that.

Next time I'll try to make my post a bit more understandable!


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