Better Bibles Blog has moved. Read our last post, below, and then
click here if you are not redirected to our new location within 60 seconds.
Please Bookmark our new location and update blogrolls.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

"Accurate" Bible translations

Helmut Richter wrote a helpful essay, Comments on "accurate" Bible translations, a number of years ago. I re-read it every once in awhile and continue to appreciate it. You might find it helpful also.

12 Comments:

At Thu Aug 17, 09:59:00 AM, Blogger M. J. Mansini said...

Yes, I reread Helmut's comments quite a bit myself.

However, it only adds fuel to the fact that, for myself, I still cannot decide if a functional or a formal translation represents more "accuracy".

I wish someone would just brainwash me and say "Hey, Matt, Functional translations are the definition of accurate" or "Hey, Matt, slime boy, formal is more accurate".

Instead I'm all like, "WHOA... confused out of my brain!!!"

Sometimes I resort to terrible English in order to express my depressive moods in a literary fashion.

Forever enslaved to the confusion of his own mind.

Truth may lie somewhere in the middle... but I hope not! (:D)

 
At Thu Aug 17, 10:11:00 AM, Blogger M. J. Mansini said...

Helmut: The best choice is to use several translations, among them one that claims to be literal but also at least one that uses the target language's contemporary style.

Ouch! I just talked about this two blog posts ago!

I understand his sentiments, but this suggested scenario is often undesired and less than practical.

I have actually seen people who bring a small "duffle" (sp?) bag of different Bibles to the meetings every week due to advice such as this. I feel for them, because I understand the confusion they go through. Most of them I have talked to either a) don't know why they bring a whole duffle bag full of Bibles or b)say that they don't which to trust and therefore bring more than one.

The heart doth throb...

 
At Thu Aug 17, 10:29:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

Matthew said, I have actually seen people who bring a small "duffle" (sp?) bag of different Bibles to the meetings every week due to advice such as this. I feel for them, because I understand the confusion they go through. Most of them I have talked to either a) don't know why they bring a whole duffle bag full of Bibles or b)say that they don't which to trust and therefore bring more than one.

You should see the bag I carry to church on Sunday! It's not full of multiple translations though. I study with multiple translations, although a lot of that is done with Accordance these days.

If only they made parallel Bibles with wide-margins! I guest THAT'S asking for too much.

I do carry a bag to church on Sunday mornings, but it's only because I'm teaching. The contents of my bag contain the following: (1) One wide-margin Bible which I will use for teaching. These days its the HCSB Minister's Bible. (2) My Greek New Testament (my Hebrew is so shoddy these days, I leave the BHS at home so I won't embarrass myself). (3) A legal-size binder with my teaching notes (I print my notes on legal paper so that I have to turn the pages less often). A master for my handout is stuck in the binder, too. (4) Two or three extra Sunday School books for the slackers. (5) My notebook in case I feel the inspiration to take a few notes during the service. And (6) whiteboard markers and an eraser because I'm certainly not going to assume that any will be in the room.

My normal custom since we have our worship service first, is to drop the bag by the Sunday School room and just take my Bible, Greek NT, and notebook into the service.

 
At Thu Aug 17, 11:03:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Matthew lamented:

However, it only adds fuel to the fact that, for myself, I still cannot decide if a functional or a formal translation represents more "accuracy".

Matthew, I don't think we can find the answer to your question on the basis of overall translation approach. Rather, I think, the answer comes by studying how accurate individual passages are translated. After awhile we can build up a sense (or is we don't have any sense(!), we can use a log or spreedsheat) of which version has a higher rate of accuracy.

There are a variety of ways that people have used to determine accuracy, one of which is to observe which translations match up word-for-word most closely with the biblical language texts. Of course, if one starts with the presupposition that such word matching is *the* primary way that accuracy is indicated, the exercise is a practice in circular reasoning.

For myself, I prefer to use a communicative model to determine accuracy for specific audiences. I like the audience of myself for a lot of testing!!

I examine a particular biblical text. I try to determine (often with exegetical helps of various kinds) what is its meaning. I then examine various English versions to discover which ones communicate the meaning accurately to me.

Let's say the biblical text would literally be translated, "Is the Lord's hand shortened?" (there is such a verse). Let's assume that I do not know that that is an idiom and so I only understand such a translation literally. But I learn from my exegetical resources that the biblical text is an idiom which means, "Is God's power lessened?" I then comb through English versions to see which ones give me that idiomatic meaning. For me, those are the versions which accurately communicate the actual meaning of the biblical text. For me, those are the only versions which translate accurately. Now, please remember that this is an audience-oriented approach to accuracy. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach. For an audience which already knows all the biblical idioms, translating biblical idioms literally may be just as accurate as translating their idiomatic meaning directly to English.

 
At Thu Aug 17, 11:06:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Matthew lamented:

However, it only adds fuel to the fact that, for myself, I still cannot decide if a functional or a formal translation represents more "accuracy".

That's a key question for so many people, isn't it, Matthew. I'm glad you asked it. It's a difficult question to answer, especially in the climate of some of today's Bible translation debates.

I personally don't think we can find the answer to your question on the basis of any overall translation approach. Rather, I think, the answer comes by studying how accurately individual passages are translated for special audiences. Specific, specific, specific, is this getting repetitious yet or not?!!

After awhile we can build up a sense (or is we don't have any sense(!), we can use a log or spreedsheat) of which version has a higher rate of accuracy.

There are a variety of ways that people have used to determine accuracy, one of which is to observe which translations match up word-for-word most closely with the biblical language texts. Of course, if one starts with the presupposition that such word matching is *the* primary way that accuracy is indicated, the exercise is a practice in circular reasoning.

For myself, I prefer to use a communicative model to determine accuracy for specific audiences. I like the audience of myself for a lot of testing!!

I examine a particular biblical text. I try to determine (often with exegetical helps of various kinds) what is its meaning. I then examine various English versions to discover which ones communicate the meaning accurately to me.

Let's say the biblical text would literally be translated, "Is the Lord's hand shortened?" (there is such a verse). Let's assume that I do not know that that is an idiom and so I only understand such a translation literally. But I learn from my exegetical resources that the biblical text is an idiom which means, "Is God's power lessened?" I then comb through English versions to see which ones give me that idiomatic meaning. For me, those are the versions which accurately communicate the actual meaning of the biblical text. For me, those are the only versions which translate accurately.

Now, please remember that this is an audience-oriented approach to accuracy. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach. For an audience which already knows all the biblical idioms, translating biblical idioms literally may be just as accurate as translating their idiomatic meaning directly to English.

 
At Thu Aug 17, 11:58:00 AM, Blogger M. J. Mansini said...

Wayne, your audience-driven approach is a fair one. I have read up on some of your accuracy charts and whatnot that you have completed/started.

Martin Luthers words must continue to haunt translators when they are doing the work of translating.

We do not have to ask the literal Latin how we are to speak German...Rather we must ask the mother in the home, the children on the street, the common man in the marketplace. We must be guided by their language, by the way they speak, and do our translating accordingly. Then they will understand it and recognize that we are speaking German to them.

The literal Latin is a great obstacle to speaking good German.

So I must let the literal words go and try to discover how the German says what the Hebrew says with ish chamudoth.

A translator must have a large store of words so that he can have them all ready when one word does not fit in every context.

And yet, Luther was frequently cautious, On the other hand I have not just gone ahead and disregarded altogether the exact wording in the original. Rather, with my helpers I have been very careful to see that where everything depends upon a single passage, I have kept to the original quite literally and have not departed lightly from it.

 
At Thu Aug 17, 12:25:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Matthew suggested:

Martin Luthers words must continue to haunt translators when they are doing the work of translating.

It might haunt some translators, Matthew. I myself find Luther's words inspiring. He has set a wonderful goal for translation into any language.

 
At Thu Aug 17, 01:54:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At Thu Aug 17, 02:24:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Anonymous (is it Larry?) wrote:

Of course, some combinations of audience and purposes appear simply incompatible.

So true. And there are likely even other parameters that could be considered, which you may have subsumed under those two. These could include language register, reading level, presence or absence of study notes, etc. etc.

This suggests to me that the barrier for many people in learning the Bible is not an issue of translation but a broader issue of pedagogy.

Yes, pedagogy will obviously help. But some people don't like to be stretched much further. I would like to see the Bible accessible to them also. Many English speakers today are nearly functionally illiterate. Oh, sure, they can read road signs and the newspaper, but do they? And do they want to read more? It's a great loss but sometimes we just have to meet people where they are and hope for better days (besides Better Bibles!).

There are a number of people dealing with issues of biblical literacy who are suggesting that for some people today non-print media may be the only way that they will gain access to the Bible.

We could do worse: many of the original audiences of the Bible did not read the biblical texts as individuals, but rather listened as groups while they were read by an individual.

I appreciate your wrestling with the issues. They are complex.

 
At Thu Aug 17, 02:56:00 PM, Blogger M. J. Mansini said...

Anonymous said, Ah, but this all depends on what questions you choose to ask, doesn't it? For example, if your question was "how is Hebrew/Greek word X used elsewhere in the original" or "what are the characteristics of Hebrew poetry in the psalms" or "what are the multiple meanings possible in the Greek/Hebrew" or "how is this passage quoted elsewhere in the Bible" or "what are alphabetic features used in this passage (such as an acrostic or even gematria)" then you will end up with very different criteria for how to judge your audience.

This pretty much falls down to knowledge of the original languages (in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) and access to a Good Hebrew OT and Greek NT.

Much of what you say falls down to your definition of a Bible "Student" which doesn't match very closely with what I would bet is a standard Bible student. Your student probably needs a) college or b) an incredible drive to learn many prerequisites.

I doubt even many of the original speakers of the source languages even understood some of what you wish the typical bible student would learn.

I highly doubt that it mostly comes down to teaching principles and methods. Most "students" by your definition need full out, daily University training. It is unrealistic for pastors to undertake teaching on the scale of a Univ. Professor (ette).

Now, what do I agree with you about? I agree that many translations aim far too low. One thing I find interesting is the correspondance (more or less) between reading level and translation method. Also, I agree with you that much of what you detailed are important things to understand or to learn for those of us who are interested in that sort of thing.

However, the basic Christian needs to know what the Bible says about "stuff", while many of us fall into your "how else is this word used in the Bible?" category.

I think we must acknowledge that many tools have been created to give "basic" Christians access to information that only scholars were previously privy too. Think: Greek and Hebrew Lexicons, Exegetical Commentaries, Word Studies (often called word Pictures), History Books (biblical), Handbooks, and on and on.

I believe that much of what we do, should be teaching laity how to effectively and responsibly use these tools. You don't have to thoroughly know Greek or Hebrew in order to have a fair and functional understanding of how specific Greek or Hebrew words are utilized in the source languages.

This is a long post, and a messy thought process, but it should suffice for now...

I think one thing we need to keep in mind when discussing the "Christian Student" or "Biblical Student" is that not all students are going to be a carbon copy of one another. And not all will be experts. My wife and my parents keep things in perspective for me, as I can clearly see that they are not equipped to study in the typical fashion nor with the typical eye to details that I feel most accustomed too.

 
At Thu Aug 17, 04:04:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At Thu Aug 17, 06:33:00 PM, Blogger lingamish said...

anon aka Ishmael aka Larry,

Call me...with me

That's a wonderful paragraph.

"Anonymous" works for me. Plus you get to take credit for some of the greatest unattributed quotes in history.

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home