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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Don't date angry men!

Prov. 22:24-25 instructs:
Make no friendship with a man given to anger,
nor go with a wrathful man,
lest you learn his ways
and entangle yourself in a snare. (RSV, ESV)
Today, in English, the words "go with" often refer to having a romantic relationship with someone. When our children were junior high age they asked me for permission to be able to "go with" others. I told them I felt they were too young. They told me my understanding of "going with" someone was different from theirs. Mine came from the days when to "go with" someone meant that that person was your steady boyfriend or girlfriend. Our children tried to explain to me that the relationship was different these days but I never could understand how it was different. It was difficult, but I never gave in. Today they are each happily married to good spouses.

To me, the English translation wording "go with" primarily sounds like it is referring to going steady with someone. I might be able to get the intended meaning of "associate with", but it would take effort. Now, I may be nit-picking here, being too much of a literalist. I guess we'd have to field test the wording to find out what others understood from "go with" in these verses.

In any case, the potential misunderstanding of "go with" disappears when a different word with the same intended meaning is used, as in:
Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man,
do not associate with one easily angered,
or you may learn his ways
and get yourself ensnared. (NIV)

Don’t make friends with a hot-tempered man,
and do not associate with one easily angered,
or you may learn his ways,
and you find yourself caught in a trap. (ISV)

Make no friends with those given to anger,
and do not associate with hotheads,
or you may learn their ways
and entangle yourself in a snare. (NRSV)

Never make friends with someone prone to anger,
nor keep company with anyone hot-tempered;
be careful not to learn his ways
and find yourself caught in a trap. (REB)

Don’t make friends with an angry man,
and don’t be a companion of a hot-tempered man,
or you will learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare. (HCSB)
Bible translators should consciously listen to what their translations sound like. They need to reflect upon their translations to try to catch any wordings which might come across to others with meanings that they do not intend. Sometimes I recommend to English Bible translation teams that they read their translations aloud to each other, listening for unintended meanings.


At Sat May 19, 11:55:00 AM, Blogger Brian said...

You just make the case for as to why more and more I like the NRSV over the highly lauded ESV. The ESV has all sorts of those kinds of blunders, imo.

At Sat May 19, 02:49:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

More elegantly handled in the NJPS, which manages a literal translation without confusion:

Do not associate with an irascible man,
Or go about with one who is hot-tempered,
Lest you learn his ways
And find yourself ensnared.

In his ICC translation (1899), Crawford Toy (Professor of Hebrew at Harvard) goes in the opposite direction

Consort not with a man given to anger,
And go not with a passionate man,
Lest thou learn his ways,
And bring destruction on thyself.

While I agree with Brian on the superiority of the NRSV to the ESV, the NRSV's transition to a plural here changed the meaning of the verse substantially -- whereas before it was about friendships, the NRSV has it being about gang memberships.

However I wish to especially exercise my annoyance at the ISV and the HCSB, which each begin with a contraction. I was taught that using contractions in formal writing is inappropriate -- at best they should be used sparingly. (Exceptions are made for universally adopted contractions such as "o'clock", but "Do not" is preferred to "don't."

At Sat May 19, 02:50:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

By the way, I'm surprised that this post has been up for more than 6 hours without someone making a "don't post in a thread started by an angry man" comment.

At Sat May 19, 03:00:00 PM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

I also don't really like the ESV and RSV here. If they're going to translate בוא literally as "go" they would have done much better to stick with the Hebrew word order the way KJV and ASV do. Those versions are my favorite for this verse. They retain the poetic Hebrew flavor in a way that is perfectly clear in English yet different enough from the way English is spoken on the street that the passage sounds like something from the Bible when you hear it read.

But I wouldn't be too concerned with the fear of readers misunderstanding "go with" as "date" here. It would be difficult to see that in the context, nevermind the fact that readers shouldn't expect to find modern teenage jargon in the Bible. This reminds me of Bruce Metzgers labors to change "I was stoned" to "I received a stoning" in the NRSV of 2 Cor 11:25. IMHO he went a bit overboard. As long as translators put enough distance between the style of English they use in their Bible translation and modern spoken English, so that readers don't expect the Bible to sound like they do on the phone, they won't have to fear that readers will think Paul smoked marijuana when he was stoned.

At Sat May 19, 03:28:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

The NRSV is using the plural to make clear that one should also not associate with an angry woman. However, that gives way, as Anon notes, to the suggestion that it is the gang or the group, not the individual, that one should avoid.

The REB attempts to be gender neutral but the pronoun must surely influence the reader to imagine a male.

I do find "hothead" a little odd, it is not part of my expressive vocabulary. I am not sure I understand it to mean the same as "wrathful" but more one who is a risk-taker - a dare devil.

I like the TNIV better

Do not make friends with the hot-tempered,
do not associate with those who are easily angered,
25 or you may learn their ways
and get yourself ensnared.

Now we are left with the following possibilities,

1. don't date angry men
2. don't date angry women
3. don't have as your best friend an angry person of either sex
4. don't hang out with a group of angry people
5. don't hang out with dare devils

Yup, that about sums up parents' advice to their children. Unfortunately, #3 is hard to represent in written English.

At Sun May 20, 05:27:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

Anony brings up an interesting point about contractions. Is the Bible formal writing? Are parts of it formal and parts informal?

Are perhaps the psalms more formal, but in passages that include dialogue, the informal would be acceptable?

Many newer translations have gone to the use of contractions so that the Bible doesn't come across as overly formal. The NRSV doesn't seem to use contractions at all (correct me I'm wrong). The TNIV uses it only in dialogue.

At Sun May 20, 05:30:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

By the way, Anony, Crawford Toy was the subject of the very first controversy at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. When I first heard of The Toy Controversy , I thought it was in reference to a dislike of playthings. Not so.

At Sun May 20, 02:13:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

Crawford Toy was the subject of the very first controversy at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

This remark piqued my curiosity, so I looked up an article about Toy. The ending of the article was poignant:

When I first began to think about this article in 1983, I asked myself the question: Would Crawford Toy be employed today by a Southern Baptist seminary? The question is now moot, since many people far to Toy's right are no longer employable.

Paul House has said, "It is neither easy nor safe, nor perhaps even fair, to draw applications for today from a life lived in another time under different circumstances, but comparisons are inevitable." Nevertheless, here are some of the issues this case raises:

* Toy's failure or inability to comply with this commitment not to teach in a disturbing way. We can blame the students for this, who kept inquiring about the questions they had heard about and Toy's own good nature in trying to help them.

* The role of competing elements of the Baptist press. Still, today, every doctrinal point of view is represented by a regular publication. Sensationalism sells papers; bitter, vituperative attacks sell some religious papers. These were the days of J. Frank Norris and The Iconoclast of William Cowper Braun.

* The tension between formal standards/guidelines like the Abstract of Principles and the "unwritten rules" by which everyone abides.

* Can the Toy of 1879 be held accountable for the views of the Toy of 1909? Must the younger man be held accountable for how his views developed and changed, in light of the ways he was treated? The danger that he might become heterodox was considered determinative, in much the same way Southwestern Dean of Theology Tommy Lea said to Professor Keith Putt in the late 1990s.

* How do we balance scholarly pursuits in settings, like a seminary, with institutional financial needs?


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