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Friday, February 24, 2006

Psalm 130: Translating about God's forgiveness

This morning my wife and I came to Psalm 130 in our daily after-breakfast reading. Listen to verses 3 and 4:
If you, GOD, kept records on wrongdoings, who would stand a chance?
As it turns out, forgiveness is your habit, and that's why you're worshiped.
Isn't that great? The phrase "forgiveness is your habit" jumped out at me and spoke to my heart as well as that part of me that loves interesting, poetic, powerful wordings. I am so thankful that God forgives, that he's in the habit of forgiving. I need it.

Oh, in case you haven't already discovered it by now, our reading was from The Message. It has some wonderful phrasings like "forgiveness is your habit" and it also has some phrasings which are a little too unique and some which are not as exegetically accurate as one would like. But it speaks to my heart in a way that most other versions do not. Spiritual and emotive impact in translation can cover a multitude of translational sins! Of course, the best translation is one which is both highly accurate as well as worded so well that it also speaks to our hearts. Few versions have both, so it is valuable to work with several versions to try to get as much accuracy, clarity, and spiritual impact from the combination of them all.

7 Comments:

At Fri Feb 24, 02:01:00 PM, Blogger Dickie Mint said...

But it speaks to my heart in a way that most other versions do not. Spiritual and emotive impact in translation can cover a multitude of translational sins!

Wayne, I'm really interested in that statement as it's something I, too, have experienced and that has worried me somewhat (not to the extent that I've lost any sleep over it, though).

If a less exact/accurate text moves me more than a more precise translation, just what is going on and how valid is that experience?

I realise this may be asking a question too far in terms of what this blog is about - if so, my apologies - but maybe it isn't. Would appreciate your thoughts on it.

Dick.

 
At Fri Feb 24, 02:25:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Dickie asked:

If a less exact/accurate text moves me more than a more precise translation, just what is going on and how valid is that experience?

It's an appropriate question to ask, Dickie, especially since many of us want to have a spiritual experience which is firmly grounded in biblical truth, and not just some "emotional" experience. Of course, putting the issue in precisely those terms does not do justice to the fact that we are made in God's image and emotions are just as much a part of that image as is our cognition and our will. But what I think is the concern of many is whether we allow experiential "reality" to have primacy over revelational reality. For instance, can experience trump what is revealed in the Bible?

Given those comments to try to show that I think I am tuned in to what you are asking, let's now try to deal with the actual question. Why are we moved sometimes by more by Bible versions that are less accurate than by those that are more accurate?

Part of the answer to that question depends on how we define accuracy. If we define translation accuracy as existing primarily and the word or word and phrase levels, then it is fairly easily to answer the question, because there is so much more to language than just what we gain of meaning from words and syntactic phrases. There are the critically important figurative meanings we get not from the sum of the meanings of the individual words, but from the a meaning which is unique to the entire idiom. Usually idiomatic meaning cannot be translated accurately at the word or phrase level, so if biblical authors intended us to be emotionally impacted by idioms, then we must have translations that accurately convey their figurative meaning in order to be impacted by them.

Next, there is no inherent reason why exegetically accurate translation of the Bible should not move us as much as the biblical authors intended to move their audiences. If we are not moved by an exegetically accurate translation, when the author intended to move his audience through what he wrote, then the exegetically accurate translation is not communicatively accurate. That is, it is not accurately conveying the connotations and all other emotive aspects of the biblical texts.

Finally, a big reason why we are often moved by translations which may be somewhat less exegetically accurate is that such translations are often made by individuals who are quite gifted at writing English well. Most translators of translation teams are not so gifted. Most exegetes are not so gifted. Being able to exegete well is a very different skill from being able to write well. The ideal translator is someone who knows their own language so well and is creative enough with it that they will only translate to language which is natural. And, because they are good writers, they can add stylistic quality that is above average. We are moved by good style, by powerful figures of speech, by rhythm, and a number of other aspects of language which are often overlooked in translations.

I believe that we should try to choose some exegetes for Bible translation teams who are recognized as being talented writers of their language. Or at least we should have literary stylists on translation teams who truly can make a difference in the literary quality of the translation. They should not be outvoted by the exegetes on a team if what they propose has the same meaning as what the exegetes propose, but is written more naturally and more emotively appropriate and accurate.

I hope this helps some, Dickie. I think I should copy this to be a post, beside a comment response to you, since it is such an important part of what it means to produce adequate Bible versions.

 
At Fri Feb 24, 02:43:00 PM, Blogger Dickie Mint said...

Yes, thanks Wayne, it does help some - much in fact. It strikes me that your comment that "there is so much more to language than just what we gain of meaning from words and syntactic phrases" is very important and one that I, as a preacher, might be apt to overlook. No doubt that is as true, as you suggest, of the tranlational task.

I can remember vividly the first time this issue raised its head in my experience. I had changed from using the NIV to the NKJV (due to the negative press the NIV received in some quarters) but felt I had lost something of the emotional impact of the scriptures - and I struggled to admit that such an impact was both legitimate and necessary.

(Incidentally, my exposure to some of the issues that go into translating scripture at Bible college helped me to make the move back to the NIV without any sense of compromise)


Thanks again, Wayne.

Dick.

 
At Fri Feb 24, 04:39:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Dickie noted that I blogged:

Spiritual and emotive impact in translation can cover a multitude of translational sins!

I want to be clear that my tongue was poking into the cheek when I wrote that. I don't believe at all that naturalness or emotive impact can trump other important translation qualities, in particular, accuracy. I was trying to be funny, while alluding to a well-known Bible verse.

 
At Fri Feb 24, 05:00:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

I'm not trying to exclude the translational/exegetical aspects of this conversation, but allow me to emphasize a simple point: It isn't wrong to appreciate this statement on it's own merits.

"forgiveness is your habit"

Regardless of what the Biblical text says exactly, who here wants to say that God disagrees with such a statement? Coming to a decision on it's worth has nothing to do with choosing between the two choices of "emotionalism" vs "biblicism". Either God makes a habit out of forgiving people, or he doesn't -- Those are your two choices. Not emotional truth vs biblical truth. Truth is just truth.

 
At Sat Feb 25, 01:17:00 AM, Blogger Dickie Mint said...

Straylight wrote, "Regardless of what the Biblical text says exactly, who here wants to say that God disagrees with such a statement?"

That's an interesting question. In my language-environment, habit would not necessarily carry with it the idea of volition - I might do something out of habit rather than because I deliberately chose to do it. In which case. I would prefer a different translation of that verse because I think that the volition of God is at least implicit there.

So would God disagree with the statement? It depends what the statement means in that receptor language (hey, I'm beginning to sounding like you guys!).

Dick.

 
At Mon Feb 27, 11:39:00 AM, Blogger Glennsp said...

The liberties taken with the text in the Message, for me, outweigh the places where it seems to give a fresh approach.
When I say liberties, I am refering to reading the Message in parallel with the NASB, ESV, KJV and having to check 2 or 3 times that I am actually reading the same verse in the Message.
Too often now I have come across passages where the impact and meaning of the text has been completely lost or mutilated almost beyong recoqnition.
As a consequence I can no longer, in good heart, recommend the Message for serious/any study of the Bible. Maybe as an appendage after more serious study, but certainly nothing more.

 

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