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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Close to his heart

There are some interesting new posts on Bible translations. Iyov introduces The Inclusive Bible and Gary Zimmerli blogs about the NRSV. (HT: Iyov) I have to say that the NRSV should get more attention on this blog.

I recently looked at one of my favourite verses, and one that is basically slaughtered in most modern translations, I might add, and noticed that the NRSV does, in fact, know what it is doing.
Here is John 1:18 in the King James Bible.
    No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.
In the Greek the word "bosom" is κολπος and might also be translated over literally as "in the fold of". In any case, it denotes great affection and tenderness. Let me write first in favour of the word "bosom". In spite of what might leap to mind, the dictionary does honour a wider range of meanings.

From we get,

  • the chest considered as the place where secret thoughts are kept; "his bosom was bursting with the secret"
  • a person's breast or chest
  • cloth that covers the chest or breasts
  • embrace: a close affectionate and protective acceptance; "his willing embrace of new ideas"; "in the bosom of the family"
  • heart: the locus of feelings and intuitions; "in your heart you know it is true"; "her story would melt your bosom"
  • hide in one's bosom; "She bosomed his letters"
  • breast: either of two soft fleshy milk-secreting glandular organs on the chest of a woman
  • embrace: squeeze (someone) tightly in your arms, usually with fondness; "Hug me, please"; "They embraced"; "He hugged her close to him"

In God's Secretaries, Adam Nicolson often writes about the intensity with which the translators expressed affection and tenderness. He records a line from a letter written by one of the translator's, Sancroft, as a young man to his roommate at college who had just been sent home with TB.

    O lett me bosome thee, lett me preserve thee next to my heart and give thee so large an interest there, that nothing may supplant thee.

We should feel this warmth and closeness between the Father and Son when we read John 1:18. A quick scan of citations from the King James offers some insight into how "bosom" is used.

This word is engraved in my imagination because, as a child, I had a plaque on the wall with a picture and this text,
    He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young. Isaiah 40:11.
Many modern translations, the NIV, HCSB, ESV replace "in the bosom of the father" with "at his side" and the TNIV and NET Bible has "in closest relationship with the father ". Neither of these really does it for me. The first seems just downright inaccurate, and the second a little too much like legalese.

I note that the TNIV has translated Is 40:11 as,
    He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
    and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.
But only the NRSV has used this expression in John 1:18.

    No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, F5 who is close to the Father's heart, F6 who has made him known.

Surely one test of a good translation is that it stirs our hearts with an understanding of God's love for his Son, and engenders in us affection and tenderness for God and for others. The NRSV has my vote.


At Sun Jun 24, 05:18:00 PM, Blogger Iyov said...

Thanks for your wonderful post.

For me, the strengths of the NRSV are:

(1) It is an ecumenical translation, and thus less likely to reflect sectarian bias;

(2) It contains the most complete version of the Scriptures (Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox) of any widely distributed Bible;

(3) It is connected to the main family of Tyndale translations, and is thus easy to relate to historical translations;

(4) It is far more literal than most contemporary translations (with perhaps the exception of the NASB) while still being written in fairly straightforward contemporary English;

(5) The footnotes that form part of the translation are more complete than most translations; and

(6) There are a wide variety of study aids keyed to the NRSV, including a number of study Bibles and commentaries.

At Sun Jun 24, 05:19:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Suzanne, I agree with you that the NRSV rendering of "who is close to the Father's heart" is outstanding. Such literary elegance is relatively unusual for the NRSV, which is otherwise not usually expressed in very idiomatic English, although it is one of the most highly respected versions among biblical scholars.

BTW, the NLT has a similar wording:

"But the unique One, who is himself God,* is near to the Father's heart."

But I think that the NRSV is even better on this one.

At Mon Jun 25, 06:01:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Iyov, I agree with you that NRSV has many good points. I have grown to appreciate it more over the last few years. However, I consider it to have one serious bad point which stops it being among my favourites. That is that it far too often follows speculative textual reconstructions, or ones supported only by unreliable versions or single manuscripts, rather than the major scholarly textual tradition. I accept that some such speculations may be correct, but I am sure that many are not. I would much prefer, for scholarly as well as religious purposes, to have a translation of the major scholarly text (except in cases of very obvious corruption), with variations noted in footnotes.

This is not intended to be an argument for the Textus Receptus or the Byzantine Text in the New Testament, because I do not consider this to be the major scholarly textual tradition.

At Mon Jun 25, 09:42:00 AM, Blogger Iyov said...

Peter -- Have you ever noticed such a reconstruction where the NRSV did not note it in its footnotes? I understand that this does not remove the problem in your eyes, but surely the presence of the documentation is preferable to no documentation at all.

At Mon Jun 25, 02:28:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Yes, Iyov, a distorted text with a footnote presenting the correct text is better than a distorted text without a footnote. But better still would be the correct text alone, or the correct text with a footnote giving speculative "corrections".


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