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Monday, June 19, 2006

Is a Paraphrase in the Eye of the Beholder?

The conversation on Bible translation continued a few days ago on Rick Mansfield's blog, with an excellent comment section. Here is the question, Is a Paraphrase in the Eye of the Beholder? Rick quotes from A User's Guide to Bible Translations by David Dewey.

    So how does one designate a work as a paraphrase in distinction to "an extreme meaning-driven" paraphrase? On p. 42 of Dewey's book, he writes, "Strictly speaking, a paraphrase is not a translation from one language to another, but a rewording in the same language."

    Of course, Dewey admits that this definition doesn't cover Phillips' NT or Peterson's The Message since they were both rendered from the original languages. To allow for this, Dewey then further defines a paraphrase as "any free rendering, regardless of whether it was made from another English version or from the Greek and Hebrew."

    I suppose that such a broad definition would then allow one to include the CEV and GNB as a paraphrase, but then again, why not the NLT, too? The real question for Dewey would then have to be how he is defining "free" in the qualifying definition.

    Interestingly, in his section about paraphrases on pp. 42-43, Dewey does not include the CEV and GNB in his discussion, but he does mention the Living Bible, The Message, and J. B. Phillips' New Testament. On p. 203, Dewey says that a paraphrase such as the Message should never be used as a principle Bible, but if he considers the CEV and the GNB to be paraphrases as well, would he say the same thing about these versions? Many people do, in fact, use these two "translations" (my designation) as their primary Bible.
So really is 'any free rendering' a paraphrase, regardless of whether the translator used the original languages or not? I would be interested in hearing from more people on this.

The traditional position would be that the Bible in Worldwide English is not a translation, since Annie Cressman was an educator, in this case, of students who used English as a second language, but there is no record of her knowing Greek. However, the Good News Bible is a translation, since the committee was well-versed in Greek and Hebrew.


At Mon Jun 19, 09:05:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

Suzanne, it's interesting that you should refer that particular blog entry. My forthcoming NLT post has been delayed longer than I intended because until recently, I was unaware how extensive the changes were between the first and second editions of the NLT. In my opinion. the 1996 edition is much freer in its rendering of biblical text. I have been fairly familiar with the first edition, and this is why in the post I made on paraphrases, I positioned the NLT to the right of the CEV and GNT along the formal to dynamic scale. Some of the changes to the NLT, such as use of more active voice over passive seem beneficial, but overall, it seems that the 2004 edition has been tightened up considerably, and not necessarily for the better--at least in my use of and reasons for liking the NLT. At the very least, the NLT has been moved to the left on said scale, making it more like the NIV and less like the "Living" tradition of its predecessors.

I have specific questions that I've sent to one of the translators whom I know well and to Tyndale themselves. If I don't hear from them soon, I plan on posting on the NLT anyway and may do a follow-up later if I receive responses back.

Anyway, back to your post, Dewey’s definition of a paraphrase still seems to leave something to be desired. I have as of yet been unable to put into words the difference between a translation (even a free translation) and a paraphrase, although I seem to know the difference when I read them. The NLT, regardless of edition, is still fairly free, but considered a translation by most, including the publisher and translators themselves. However, some passages definitely seem paraphrased. Consider the difference between Eccl 9:8 in the HCSB (a fairly literal translation) and second edition of the NLT:

"Let your clothes be white all the time, and never let oil be lacking on your head" (HCSB).

"Wear fine clothes, with a splash of cologne!" (NLT2).

Certainly "a splash of of cologne" is more meaningful to a modern audience, but is hardly anything less than a paraphrase even by the most lenient descriptions of a meaning-driven translation.

Finally, another question worth pursuing (which I may follow up on in my post on the Message) is whether or not it is always a bad idea to use a paraphrase as a sole translation. Although I (and many others) have always suggested using a paraphrase alongside a more tradition translation with the latter acting as the primary text, I often run into people who simply prefer a paraphrase. This is not even a generational issue. Just as I see a young person carrying a leather edition of the Message to church, I also occasionally see senior citizens clutching well-worn and well-read Living Bibles. If it's meaningful to them, and it's the Bible they are willing to read, in the end can it be all that bad of a thing?

At Mon Jun 19, 09:12:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Suzanne, I'm glad that you blogged on this topic. It's a very important topic for Bible translation. One reason it is important is that the term "paraphrase" is seldom defined with an preciseness by those who speak about different Bible versions.

Here is my understanding of meanings of the word "paraphrase." Technically, as used by linguists and others who have analyzed language, the term paraphrase refers to *any* restatement of something within the same language where the restatement has the same meaning as the original statement. There is no pejorative connotation to this traditional technical definition.

Users of Bible versions, however, have for quite a few years used the term paraphrase with a related, but significantly different, meaning. And because this new meaning senses is used so widely today, it must be recognized as one of the legitimate meaning senses for the word "paraphrase." As I understand how people use the word paraphrase to refer to a Bible version, it typically means any Bible translation which is freer than the one using the term "paraphrase" thinks a Bible ought to be. That meaning always has a pejorative sense. There is a sub-meaning of this usage which does not necessarily have a pejorative connotation. It is used of any Bible translation which would be viewed by many as significantly lacking a formal equivalence between the forms of the source language and those of the target language. In this sense, most agree that the Living Bible, J.B. Phillips, and The Message are paraphrases. Under this meaning sense it doesn't matter whether or not the original statements being paraphrased were in English (as was the case with the LB) or in Greek or Greek and Hebrew, as was the case with Phillips and The Message, respectively.

I am not sure that everyone would agree with the definitions I have tried to word here. And I hope there will be a lot of discussion on this topic.

I don't think there is any clear-cut boundary where a translation stops being considered a "true translation" (which the NLT is now considered by many today) and where it becomes a paraphrase. To some extent paraphrase is in the eye of the beholder. Different people will place the boundary (even one which is indeterminate) at different places on the continuum between very literal and very free translations.

I would not consider the TEV or CEV to be paraphrases. They were created as true translations. But others would consider them paraphrases.

I do consider The Message to be a paraphrase.

I think it would be helpful if a more informative term could be used than "paraphrase". That would take some time to develop and get common agreement on.

At Mon Jun 19, 10:17:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I think that reurning to the idea of a circumlocution, which was mentioned the other day in the comment section is interesting.

In my next post I am going to show some good cirucumlocutions and some bad ones in the BWE. But the problem is, if you are working in a language that has no single word for one Greek word and you have to use a phrase intead, does that make it a paraphrase. Obviously not.

So, one can make the definition dependent on the qualifications of the authors, or one can talk about the language. However, "Splash of cologne" is a little free, I do agree!

At Mon Jun 19, 10:34:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

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At Tue Jun 20, 01:49:00 AM, Blogger Glennsp said...

I would be concerned if someone used The Message as there main Bible and thought that would be sufficient.
Peterson manages to change the meaning of a text, for example;
Romans 8:8
8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (ESV)
8 And God isn't pleased at being ignored. (Message)

James 2:15
15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, (ESV)
15 For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved (Message)
Now it is only your 'Old Friends' that God is requiring you to provide for according to the Message.
The list goes on and on.

This is not just paraphrasing, this is re-writing with new meanings all together.
This sort of liberty gives paraphrases a bad name.

At Tue Jun 20, 03:52:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

My own feeling is that we should abandon the word "paraphrase" in relation to Bible versions, because it seems to generate more heat than light.

Anonymous, I don't think many of us on this blog can read unpointed Aramaic, so would it be possible for you to give us a literal translation of that Targum rendering, or let us know which word you think is correctly translated "cologne"? I can make enough of the Aramaic to realise that the NLT rendering is significantly shorter than the Targum, so it seems to me that you have some work to do to justify your contention.

Glenn, concerning The Message I think you need to realise that this was not translated verse by verse. From the context of Romans 8:8 it is clear that the one who is ignoring God is "Anyone completely absorbed in self". It may be debatable whether this is an adequate rendering of what ESV renders as "Those who are in the flesh", but you can't claim that this thought has been completely omitted. As for "old friend" in James 2:15, James is referring to Christian brothers and sisters. Are these not friends?

At Tue Jun 20, 05:14:00 AM, Blogger anonymous said...

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At Tue Jun 20, 05:29:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Thanks for the explanation. It is sad but true that your point, like a good joke, lost a little of its bite in translation. But now I understand what you were getting at.

So this verse does not command white clothes, but clean clothes? That's a relief, to me, and in fact to almost all Christians, because although many will wear only white shirts there seems to be no rule against dark suits. Well, Benny Hinn dresses in white, suit and all, but I don't suppose he does so because of this verse. As for oil, or cologne, is shampoo also a sufficiently close dynamic equivalent? ;-)

At Tue Jun 20, 05:59:00 AM, Blogger Glennsp said...

'Old Friend' implies someone you have known well for a while, as opposed to 'brothers & sisters' in Christ who could be anyone who is a Christian and not dependant on having known them for long enough to call them an 'Old Friend'.

At Tue Jun 20, 07:36:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

Regarding the idea that new terminology be introduced to replace the term "paraphrase," would this word be encompassing of all versions that are considered paraphrases are just the ones translated from the original languages (since the latter doesn't meet the traditional definition)? We would all agree that The Living Bible and even something like Rob Lacey's The Word on the Street are paraphrases defined by the dictionary meaning of the term. Maybe the distinction doesn't even fall along those lines. Maybe some paraphrases (regardless of whether the translator used the original languages or not) need a category if they are colloquial in nature, such as Lacey's work or even offerings such as The Cotton Patch Version, The Golfer's Good News, etc. (and isn't there a version in Australian dialect?). Some of these are simply novelty in nature, but on the other hand, something like the Cotton Patch Version (which was rendered from the Greek) was an attempt to make a point about racism and civil rights in US southern culture in the latter half of the 20th century.

Just an attempt to start the conversation. Maybe we need to start delineating different types of paraphrases.

At Tue Jun 20, 10:32:00 AM, Blogger Dan Sindlinger said...

Great post, Suzanne.

The problem with calling a free translation a paraphrase is that the distinction between "a paraphrase of an English translation" and "a free translation based on the original Greek and Hebrew texts" is lost. I think it's important to maintain that distinction, no matter how free a translation may be.

At Tue Jun 20, 03:03:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Rick, it seems that we need several words to replace "paraphrase", because the only thing in common between the various "versions that are considered paraphrases" are that the person doing the considering doesn't like the version in question. But you have complicated the matter by introducing into the equation at least two different kinds of "paraphrase". So we have the following types of alleged "paraphrase":

- A version prepared from another version in the same language (Living Bible, Annie Cressman's version)

- A dynamic equivalence translation from the original languages (JB Phillips, NLT)

- A translation which is perhaps too free to be "dynamic equivalence" (The Message, Word on the Street)

- A transculturation of the Bible (Cotton Patch Version)

- A translation into a colloquial language register or regional dialect (Australian dialect version)

Although some versions fall into more than one of these categories, there is nothing necessarily in common between them, e.g. a free translation could be into high level formal English, or the Australian dialect version could be entirely literal and prepared from the original languages, but some people would still call it a "paraphrase".

Or perhaps the other thing which these "paraphrases" have in common is just "not in the KJV tradition".

At Tue Jun 20, 04:52:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

We also need a word for translations into imaginary languages. I understand the New Testament has been translated into Klingon, but I have no idea how paraphristic it is. I would think that ideas like love and forgiveness would need a lot of paraphrasing in Klingon! :)

Sorry - couldn't resist it...

At Tue Jun 20, 05:33:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

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At Tue Jun 20, 05:52:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

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