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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Swimming suits in the Bible

Several English Bible versions have this wording as part of Gal. 6:12:
those who want to make a good showing in the flesh
Ordinary fluent speakers of English who read this can easily assume that this is referring to showing off our flesh, such as at a swimsuit contest.

Obviously (I hope!), this verse is not talking about baring our skin. So how can translators prevent that wrong understanding of this biblical text?

The solution is for English translators to carefully consider what their translation wordings communicate. One of the best ways to discover what our translations communicate is to ask others. Then, based on responses, translators should revise until the English wordings communicate the same thing to others that the translators understand the biblical text to be saying.

In this verse the word "flesh" (a literal translation of Greek sarx) is not referring to our bare skin. But 'skin' is a common understanding today of the word "flesh." If we want Bibles to communicate accurately and clearly it is necessary to use English wordings which are part of the current syntax and lexicon of a language.

There probably also needs to be some adjustment to the wording of "make a good showing" so that the meaning of the biblical text here is communicated more accurately and clearly.

It seems to me that the following wordings accurately and clearly translate the problem phrase in Gal. 6:12:
Those who want to make a good impression outwardly (NIV)
those who want to be outwardly in good standing (REB)
the ones who want to show off and boast about external matters (TEV)
These people who want to make a big deal out of a physical thing (GW)
Interestingly, the TNIV returns to the problem wording by revising the NIV to:
Those who want to impress others by means of the flesh
One of the themes of this blog is that it is possible to translate both accurately as well as naturally, using only the accepted syntax and lexicon of English or any other language into which the Bible is translated.

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At Tue Jan 17, 04:04:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Remember this verse.

"He delighteth not in the strength of the horse: he taketh not pleasure in the legs of a man." Pslam 147:10

When I was a kid I heard a man preach on this verse. He said, "If the Lord takes no pleasure in the legs of a man, what does He think of the legs of a woman?" I think he meant to say that God was not pleased with the legs of a woman. Then he preached about girls having to wear long skirts. Teenagers giggled through the whole thing - later we could always remember when poor old Mr. H preached on taking pleasure in the legs of a woman. You have to remember that as a Brethren, you didn't actually have to be trained to speak, you only had to be male, and possibly know how to read. I'm not even sure about that. It's not very nice to make fun, but I can remember some real doozies.

At Tue Jan 17, 10:55:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

I'm not even sure about that. It's not very nice to make fun, but I can remember some real doozies.

Yes, indeed. It's sad, but fortunately, as you've shown, also possible to laugh, that such doozies take place. I've heard a few sermons preached on texts where the sermon meaning was totally different from the actual meaning of the text, all because the preacher was using a translation which did not match his (yes, they were all men) own form of English.

At Wed Jan 18, 05:52:00 AM, Blogger lingamish said...

The verb euproswpew seems to be a verbalization of the word for face: proswpon. Is that right? It seems like the phrase is awkward/ambiguous in English, that flesh is capable of being misunderstood, but also that the interpreters are not 100% sure what the verb means (I think it only occurs here in the NT).

At Wed Jan 18, 12:18:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I would have thought there was more mileage in interpreting Psalm 147:10 as against homosexuality: the male subject should take pleasure only the legs of a woman! The Hebrew word in question is אִישׁ 'ish "man", implying a male. But the other word used here is not רֶגֶל regel "foot", which can also have sexual connotations. Rather, it is שׁוֹק shoq "leg", referring specifically to the lower leg or shin, as in Isaiah 47:3 where it is the same lower legs which the metaphorical women will show. Actually this verse seems to be even more like a reference to swimwear!

At Wed Jan 18, 07:58:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

No one talked about homosexuality in those days.

At Sat Jun 03, 09:17:00 AM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

I think all of these translations are bad. You need something to convey that the flesh is more than outward things. It's in fact something inward, or it's at least partly inward. I prefer retaining it in some form without giving a sense that you're talking about legs.

How about this? "Those who want to impress others by fleshly things" or "those who want to impress others in ways of the flesh"

If you insist on removing the word 'flesh', I suggest something like "worldly".


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