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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Phil. 4:6 - Balance and rhythm in translation

One of my favorite Bible verses is Phil. 4:6. My favorite translation of that verse is NLT:
Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.
The NLT wording is largely retained from that of the Living Bible, of which the NLT is a revision. I have often found that my favorite passages in the NLT are ones which retain the literary genius of the Living Bible (it can be faulted for exegetical deficiencies but there are true literary gems in the LB):
Don't worry about anything; instead pray about everything; tell God your needs and don't forget to thank him for his answers.
Both versions demonstrate literary beauty, with balance and rhythm in the phrasings. Both versions essentially create non-rhyming English poetry for this verse, which can be seen if we arrange the verse with one clause per line (I'll focus on the NLT now):
Don't worry about anything;
instead, pray about everything.
Tell God what you need,
and thank him for all he has done.
Notice that the contrast between not worrying but, instead, praying, which is a part of the underlying Greek, is made clear in the first two lines of the verse. The last two lines amplify upon what the content of such prayer should be.

Only standard English syntax is used in both versions, unlike every other version I checked which is essentially literal, starting with the NIV/TNIV versions on the literal-idiomatic continuum and and continuing toward the most literal versions:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (NIV)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (TNIV)
It is non-standard English to say "by prayer and petition." This directly reflects the dative phrases of the Greek, producing a kind of English translation which I sometimes call "Gringlish." It would create more natural, clearer, and, ultimately, more communicately accurate translations if more English Bible translators would stop for each verse they are translating and ask, "What is the English translational equivalent of this Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek construction? What is the natural way that English speakers express that the biblical text is saying?"

It is also not quite standard English to say "... with thanksgiving ..." rather than using more natural English such as NLT "thank him for all he has done," TEV "with a thankful heart," NCV "always giving thanks," and GW "while giving thanks."

And it is periphrastic (not paraphastic) to say "present your requests to God." This is understandable and perhaps dignified, but it strikes many English speakers as not being quite the way they would express it. Crisper, more natural ways of saying the same thing are: NLT "Tell God what you need," GW "let God know what you need," and TEV "ask God for what you need."

Translations which clearly and naturally reflect the semantic contrasts and explanaory amplifications of the original biblical texts are easier to memorize. For me any, they stick in my mind better, settling down there so that my mind processes them longer. And that is a form of meditation, feeding on God's Word, which is a very biblical thing to do.

No English version has literary beauty in every verse. But I rejoice, yea, verily, I even exult in, and also am glad whenever I come across a wording in any English Bible version which has the literary beauty that I find in NLT Phil. 4:6.

Oh, the most important question, of course, to ask is, "Is this beautiful wording exegetically accurate?" Well, I have followed my translation consulting process of checking each phrase of the original Greek with each phrase of the NLT. Obviously, they are not in the same order. But every original piece is there. And from what I can tell, each original piece has the same meaning as that of each Greek phrase.

Finally, while it is nice to point out the beauty of this verse in the NLT, we must do more with the verse than just admire its literary qualities. Let's put Paul's teaching into practice. Let's not worry about anything (even though that is humanly natural). Instead, let's pray about everything. Let's tell God what we need. And let's thank him for what he has done, for his answers to our prayers.

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At Wed Feb 22, 06:55:00 PM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

Wayne, Thanks for your good thoughts here. I also find some verses in the NLT to be special. And surely the passage you mention here ranks with them.


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