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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Running eyes (2 Chron. 16:9)

My eyes would get tired of running like this (2 Chron. 16:9):
For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of [them] whose heart [is] perfect toward him. Herein thou hast done foolishly: therefore from henceforth thou shalt have wars. (KJV)

For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show his might in behalf of those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this; for from now on you will have wars. (RSV)

For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars. (ESV)
I'm not sure that "eyes ranging" is an improvement on eyes running:
For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war. (NIV, TNIV)

For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to show Himself strong for those whose hearts are completely His. You have been foolish in this matter, for from now on, you will have wars. (HCSB)
How might good speakers of current English express the meaning intended in this verse by "eyes running" or "eyes ranging"?


At Sat Mar 11, 04:09:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

"For the eyes of the LORD look around..." maybe? Or does that lose the idea of speed, if that really is in the original?

At Sat Mar 11, 09:12:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

The NASB, usually accused of being too literal, may render it most simply: "For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth..."

That makes good sense, doesn't it?

God's Word Translation: "The Lord’s eyes scan the whole world..." Not bad either.

NET: "Certainly12 the Lord watches the whole earth carefully"

At Sat Mar 11, 10:45:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Rick, I'm not sure about the NASB rendering, either. From one angle it sounds about as odd as the other two wordings I listed. But I haven't been exposed to English usage from every dialect, although I have been a student of many different dialects for many years. So I don't know if speakers of some non-church dialect might consider "eyes moving to and fro throughout the earth" to be natural, understandable English.

I agree with you on the appropriateness of the GW and NET translations of the Hebrew idiom. There are several other versions which have good sounding English, as well, for this verse. As with all wordings which strike any of us as odd, I think it is ultimately best to field test a statistically significant number of people of a wide range of ages and social groups.

At Sun Mar 12, 01:14:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

My eyes run throughout the whole earth, or at least wherever I may be on it, when I see the English language abused in this way - that is, they run with tears.

This needs both a smiley :-) and a crying face :'( .

At Mon Mar 13, 05:01:00 AM, Blogger peter hamm said...

how bout "the eyes of the Lord scan..."

At Mon Mar 13, 07:14:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

how bout "the eyes of the Lord scan..."

That's good, Peter, and "scan" is the verb used in the NCV.

At Fri Mar 17, 02:26:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

Wayne, sometimes I get the sense that you think good English requires not having any metaphors that aren't common enough in English to be outright English idioms. Surely not every idiom in Hebrew needs to be translated sense-for-sense for it to be good English. This is a perfectly understandable metaphor in any language. We know what running throughout the whole earth is like, and if that is applied to the eyes then we have to figure out what about the eyes is like running throughout the whole earth, and we're done. If we build the interpretation of the metaphor into the translation, we are not allowing the original metaphor to stand as a metaphor. Unless it's a common Hebrew idiom that no longer stands as a metaphor, and thus translating the sense might be more appropriate, we really ought to translate it as a metaphor so that the metaphor is there as a metaphor in the English translation. Otherwise we're not being faithful to the original and we're in fact translating inaccurately.

At Fri Mar 17, 03:33:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Jeremy claimed:

This is a perfectly understandable metaphor in any language.

No, it's not, Jeremy. I would encourage you to do some careful checking with speakers of other languages to try to find out if they can understand what it means for eyes to run throughout the earth. Of course, to be objective, please don't tell them what the figurative meaning is. You are trying to determine if they can understand what the idiom would mean in another language. So you would need to word the checking question as something like: "If someone said to you in your language that God's eyes are running throughout the earth, what do you think this means?"

There are very few idioms in any language which can be literally translated to another language so that their figurative meaning is understand in that other language. This is simply an empirical fact. It has been observed countless times. Many of the funniest jokes on the Internet are due precisely to misunderstanding literal translations of idioms and metaphors.

I have given a number of examples in the past about the difficulty of literally translating figurative language would be happy to give others, but I don't want to waste my time on it if it's not desired.

I would suggest that you are speaking from the viewpoint of someone who is familiar with Bible English, rather than of someone who is not. The question, then, for English Bible translators is: Should English versions be translated for Christian like yourself who are already familiar with biblical idioms, or should English versions also be translated for people who are not familiar with biblical language.

For that matter, if we pursue this to its logical conclusion, why should we translate at all. Since the greatest accuracy, and for those who us (myself included) who believe in that wonderful gift of divine inspiration of the biblical texts, is found in the original biblical language texts themselves, would it not be better to teach people to read Biblical Hebrew and Greek? Then we wouldn't have to deal with these translation issues. If it is true that we do not need to translate for those outside the church (I don't know your position on this, but it is the position of some who visit this blog), we would have a smaller audience to each the biblical languages and, surely, that audience would be fairly highly motivated to learn the biblical languages.

At Fri Mar 17, 03:38:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Well, Jeremy, to test the claim about translating biblical idioms literally, let me ask you what you understand to be the meaning of this biblical idiom, without consulting any external references:

God's nostrils grew large.

I can try to find others also.

At Fri Mar 17, 03:43:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Jeremy, I can tell you for sure that in Cheyenne, the language I have worked with the past 30 years, they would get absolutely no meaning out of a literal translation of eyes running. For those who are familiar with one English idiom, they would only think of someone's eyes exuding pus or other matter due to some medical condition.

So it would not be true that the Hebrew idiom could be understood when translated literally to any language. And if it is not understood accurately, due to the way it is worded, the wording is not accurate. Accuracy is not determined by what translators intend to communicate but by what they actually communicate through their translation.


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