An essentially literal translation "strives to translate the exact words of the original-language text in a translation, but not in such a rigid way as to violate the normal rules of language and syntax" of the translation language.It is appropriate to ask if Grudem and Thacker are right in their claim that the wording of an essentially literal translation does not:
"...violate the normal rules of language and syntax" of the translation languageGrudem and Thacker do not define how they are using the word "normal" in this sentence, but normally (!) we would understand the word "normal" to refer to something which conforms to a standard. I assume that Grudem and Thacker would agree with me that the normal rules of language and syntax of English would include those rules which fluent English speakers of some standard dialect of English regard as the usual, typical rules to follow to produce grammatical wordings.
I assume that Grudem and Thacker (as well as most other fluent speakers of some standard dialect of English) would agree with me that each of the following sentences break at least one "normal" rule of English grammar, at least in dialects of English which are considered to be "standard":
Now, do essentially literal translations of the Bible to English follow such normal rules of "language and syntax"? In general, yes, they do. But over the years as I have evaluated different English Bible versions I have often observed some translation wordings in literal and essentiallly literal translations which seem not to follow some normal rules of English.
- The man are sleeping on the bench. (The rule of subject-verb number agreement is broken.)
- I is a man. (The rule accounting for the first person form of the verb "be" is broken.)
- The tree laughed at me. (A tree cannot laugh.)
- My father teacheded me how to throw a frisbee. (incorrect past tense of "teach"; I heard one of my grandchildren say "teacheded" a few days ago)
In English it is possible to form a noun phrase which consists solely of the definite article "the" followed by an adjective. Such a noun phrase is typically called a substantive. Some examples of English substantives are:
the richIf such a substantive is the subject of a sentence, does it require plural subject-verb agreement, singular subject-verb agreement, or can it have either? To check, read the following two sentences:
Do both of these sentences sound grammatical to you? If only one of these sentences sounds grammatical to you, which one is it? For me, only #2 sounds grammatical. I have field tested this fairly extensively and most respondents agree with me that only #2 sounds grammatical. This means that in English a substantive phrase is considered plural. This seems to be a "normal" rule of English grammar. "The rich" would be equivalent to "rich people."
- The rich oppresses the poor.
- The rich oppress the poor.
If it is true that such substantive phrases are only plural in English, as we are claiming, do literal and essentially literal Bible versions always follow this rule. In many cases they do, as in:
Job 5:16But in a number of cases literal and essentially literal translations do not follow the English rule, as in:
So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts her mouth. (RSV; ESV)
So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts its mouth. (NRSV; HCSB)
Thus the poor have hope, and iniquity shuts its mouth. (NET)
The wise lay up knowledge (NRSV; ESV)
The wise store up knowledge (HCSB)
Psalm 37:12If our claim about the ungrammaticality of singular number agreement with English substantives is true, how might such ungrammatical examples have gotten through the editing and checking processes for essentially literal translations? My guess is that they did so because Biblical Hebrew, unlike English, allows for both plural and singular number agreement with substantives. Those who translate following an essentially literal approach sometimes follow the forms of the biblical languages so closely that they do not notice that they have created a translation wording which is not "normal" for the translation language, in this case, English.
The wicked plots against the righteous (RSV; ESV; NASB)
The wicked schemes against the righteous (HCSB)
When the wicked dies, his hope perishes (RSV)
When the wicked dies, his hope will perish (ESV)
When the wicked dies, his expectation comes to nothing (HCSB)
The righteous is delivered out of trouble (KJV)
The righteous is delivered from trouble (RSV; ESV; NASB)
The righteous is rescued from trouble (HCSB)
The simple believeth every word (KJV)
The simple believes everything (RSV; ESV)
The naive believes everything (NASB)
Prov. 21:18Prov. 22:3
The wicked is a ransom for the righteous (RSV; NRSV; NASB; ESV)
The prudent sees the evil and hides himself (NASB)
The prudent sees danger and hides himself (ESV)
And when the wicked turns from his wickedness (RSV; ESV)
But when the wicked turns from his wickedness (NASB)
When the wicked turns from his wickedness (NET)
It turns out that there are some simple solutions to translate singular Biblical Hebrew substantives to "normal" English. A substantive is a generic form which implicitly assumes a generic noun such as "person" or "persons" which is being modified by the adjective of the substantive. So, one solution is to make the implicit noun of a singular biblical substantive explicit. For example, if the Hebrew is literally "The rich oppresses the poor," if we make explicit an implicit noun modified by the adjective "rich," we can get the grammatical English, such as, "The rich person oppresses the poor." If the context is referring to an indefinite "man," a singular substantive with "man" as its implicit noun stated explicitly would be grammatical.
Is this good translation practice? Yes. As Susan recently posted, essentially literal translations often make some implicit words or meanings explicit, when they are needed to make the original biblical meaning clear or grammatical. Indeed, making an implicit noun explicit is exactly what some essentially literal translations have done in some passages, as in:
Prov. 10:14The result is translation which is both accurate and grammatical. Essentially literal translations can be even more grammatical if their translators pay as much attention to the rules of English as they do to details of the biblical languages they are translating. Both languages, the source language and the target language, must be fully honored and their rules observed and followed during the translation process. Better Bibles will result.
Wise men lay up knowledge (RSV)
Wise men store up knowledge (NASB)
The righteous person is delivered out of trouble (NET)
Categories: Wayne Grudem, Jerry Thacker