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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Tyndale's one note

I have been moved this morning reading John Piper's account of the passion of William Tyndale. Piper's theme is the one note that Tyndale sang:
Stephen Vaughn was an English merchant commissioned by Thomas Cromwell, the king’s adviser, to find William Tyndale and inform him that King Henry VIII desired him to come back to England out of hiding on the continent. In a letter to Cromwell from Vaughan dated June 19, 1531, Vaughan wrote about Tyndale (1494-1536) these simple words: “I find him always singing one note.”1 That one note was this: Will the King of England give his official endorsement to a vernacular Bible for all his English subjects? If not, Tyndale will not come. If so, Tyndale will give himself up to the king and never write another book.

This was the driving passion of his life—to see the Bible translated from the Greek and Hebrew into ordinary English available for every person in England to read.
Piper gives many more details of the life and death of this courageous Bible translator. I cannot compare myself with Tyndale, but I do share his passion "to see the Bible translated from the Greek and Hebrew into ordinary English available for every person ... to read." Ironically, Piper encourages others today to adopt the ESV as their main Bible, but the ESV is not translated into "ordinary English" as several scholarly reviews and my own observations and those of others show. The ESV honors Tyndale in retaining many of his translation wordings, but if Tyndale were translating for English speakers today, his passion would still be to translate "from the Greek and Hebrew into ordinary English available for every person ... to read." But "ordinary English" today uses different words and syntax from what was ordinary English in Tyndale's day. Tyndale would translate into today's "ordinary English."

May more of us have Tyndale's passion "to see the Bible translated from the Greek and Hebrew into ordinary English available for every person ... to read."

HT: Justin Taylor

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At Sat Feb 25, 01:16:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

Even though I'm not a complementarian, or a conservative, or even an Evangelical for that matter, I'm going to try to step into those shoes for a moment (if that is possible). I'll just try to look at the ESV in terms of it's use of English.

Taking that into account, the endorsements and adoption of the ESV still confuse me. IMHO, it still needs a lot of work if it's goals are to communicate to the people of "today". If I was a conservative Evangelical, I'd endorse the HCSB over the ESV in a heartbeat. The HCSB still holds on to many of the same principles behind the ESV, is fairly literal, but it has the added benefit of communicating in English better. Not to say that I can't find flaws with the HCSB, but it does try to take on a more conscious approach in respecting English syntax, vocabulary, and translating idioms in a more consistent way.

I'm sure that somebody has done an extensive analysis between the two (and if not, then perhaps someone should), but I'll provide a small example anyways. Perhaps these smaller problems pointed out in the ESV will be indicative of it's general problem.

I'll just use one verse to illustrate my point:

Isaiah 1.2

Listen, heavens, and pay attention, earth,
for the Lord has spoken:
"I have raised children and brought them up,
but they have rebelled against Me."

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. [ESV]

Three things stand out to me:

1) "O" heavens...."O" earth

What is "O"? Perhaps it was great English 500 years ago, but I've yet to hear anyone speak like that today (except in churches, of course). Even in the most formal of situations (a Presidential speech, for example), I still never hear this kind of language. It's neither formal or "heightened" English -- It's simply antiquated English....And therefore, not English as modern speakers know it (even the most scholastic and pompous ones).

2) "Give ear"

I think Wayne has addressed this Hebraism before. But needless to say, it's just that: A Hebraism. An idiomatic phrase. And translating idioms word-for-word is usually not the best approach (that is, if your goal is to communicate in English).

What's strange is that even the ESV translators don't always translate idioms literally. In Daniel 5.12, for example, the Queen of Babylon describes Daniel as one who "solves problems". However, the Aramaic literally says that she describes him as one who "loosens knots" (actually, translating it as "solves problems" is the work of the RSV translators, but I'll give the ESV credit anyways).

My point is: Why are they translating some idioms literally and some not? How about some consistency here? If this is supposed to be a Bible for "today", then translating idioms with respect to the receptor language, and doing it consistently throughout, is a big step towards the goal of communicating to the people of "today".

3) "Children have I reared and brought up".

Not only is this sentence grammatically weird, but what in the world does "reared" mean anyways? I haven't met one parent in my entire life who told me that they "reared" their children (*ahem*....and I would hope that I never do). I hear people speaking plenty about "raising" their children however.

Problems like these can be found throughout the ESV. So it puzzles me as to why it's being promoted and adopted as a modern translation. If it's goals are to communicate in modern English, then another revision could help meet that goal -- But I don't think it has met it yet (but of course, that's just my opinion).


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