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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Modes of Communication: 1 Cor. 6:20

My wife and I are visiting one of our daughters and her family now, far from our home in Washington State. We attended church with them this morning. One of the verses projected onto the screen during the pastor's message was this one:
For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Cor. 6:20, NKJV)
Try this: read that verse wording aloud, or, better yet, have someone else read it aloud to you. Focus on the last three words. Based only on what you hear, not on what you read, what meaning or meanings do you get from the last three words?

Did you hear an ambiguity in those words? If you did (and not everyone will), the fact that you did calls for Bible versions not only to be translated so that they read well on paper, but also so that they sound good when read aloud.

Suzanne has just completed her series here on modes of communication. She has addressed issues relating to written vs. oral communication. There is direct relevance to Bible translation.

I am increasing in my appreciation for the Bible read aloud, including as part of a liturgy. I like to listen to Bible versions which have been translated with both modes of communication in mind, visual (written words on a page) and oral. As many of you probably know, the earliest copies of Bible books were often read aloud. There was no printing press nor paper, so there was no inexpensive way to mass produce books. Copies of biblical books were often scarce, so they would be read aloud to benefit more than just the reader.

I think that much of the Hebrew Bible was written specifically to be read aloud. The text has many beautiful oral features, including alliteration, assonance, euphony, repetition, and word plays. It is difficult to reproduce some of the oral features in translation but some translators have tried, including Fox and Alter.

Some English Bible translation committees today are intentionally paying attention to how their translation will sound when it is read aloud, as well as how it will sound to the mind when people read it to themselves silently. I commend such translations. I consider them better Bibles.

Most English versions translated during the past several recent decades do not have the potential ambiguity I spotted in the wording of 1 Cor. 6:20 this morning, because the Greek underlying the translation "and in your spirt, which are God's" are not found in the oldest manuscripts of the Greek New Testament. If I were translating from the Greek textual base used in the KJV and NKJV I would reword the last three words to "which belong to God" to avoid the ambiguity which, when read aloud, can communicate the meaning that our bodies and spirits are gods.


At Mon Jul 31, 07:54:00 AM, Blogger Light said...

This is an important point. I am primarly an auditory learner, meaning that I remember and internalize things better when I hear them versus just seeing them on a page. Which Bible versions do you think do the best job of considering how they sound when read aloud?

At Mon Jul 31, 08:26:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Which Bible versions do you think do the best job of considering how they sound when read aloud?

The CEV team has spoken of how they
deliberately translated for oral
(as well as written) accessibility.

I have not heard of any other translation teams who have done so so intentionally, but others may have kept in mind the need to translate so that their translation sounds good as well as reads well. I seem to recall seeing that mentioned by one or two other translation teams.

At Mon Jul 31, 05:27:00 PM, Blogger exegete77 said...

Ah, Wayne. One of my favorite topics!

Yes, there is another translation that specifically translated for oral excellence: God's Word. Even the printed version of GW helps the oral reader (by being one column rather than two, indentation, etc.). In the testing phase (late 1980's and early 1990's), we used the pericopes from God's Word, for a three year period we could read and listen to about 60% of the Bible in worship. It was amazing how much different that made for comprehension.


At Mon Jul 31, 07:00:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Yes, there is another translation that specifically translated for oral excellence: God's Word.

Thank you, Rich. I was wondering if GW was another version that had been mentioned to me as having been translated for both the ear and eye. I agree with you that it is a good version.


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