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.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

a quiet post

Yesterday I announced on the TNIV Truth blog that the complete TNIV Bible in The Bible Experience dramatized audio version will soon be available. I included a sample from the newly recorded Old Testament, Psalm 23. Blog visitor Jason listened to the sample and noted that he heard the noise of children in the background when the translation came to the words "he leads me beside quiet waters." Jason pointed out that the background noise conflicted with the word "quiet" of the translation.

Jason and I discussed this further in the post comments and we both came to recognize that the word "quiet" in the translation was not referring to lack of noise. Rather, it has a different meaning sense of the word "quiet," having to do with calmness of water, lack of much movement. Sheep do not like to drink from water that is turbulent. They drink from water that is calm, still.

Jason knows the Bible well enough to realize on his own that his first reaction to the word "quiet" was a simple human error, and that the intended meaning of "quiet" had to do with calmness.

I wonder how many other people, especially those who do not know the Bible as well as Jason, misunderstand the word "quiet" in Psalm 23 in the same way. After all, Jason did what is most logical. His brain selected the most common meaning sense of the word "quiet", at first.

The translators had unintentionally introduced an ambiguity into the text of the translation which is not there in the original Hebrew. That Hebrew literally means "waters of rest," not "waters of silence".

Some English versions which accurately and unambiguously translate the meaning of the Hebrew "waters of rest" to English include:
he leadeth me beside the still waters (KJV)

He leads me beside still waters. (RSV, NRSV, ESV)

He leads me to calm water. (NCV)
There is an important translation lesson here. Bible translators need to read and listen carefully to their own translation wordings, to see if they have introduced any ambiguities or other meanings into the translation which were not there in the original biblical text. They can invite others to help them read and listen to their translation to spot any problems introduced like that, so that their translation can be as accurate and clear as possible.

Have a quiet day!

9 Comments:

At Tue Aug 07, 10:25:00 AM, Blogger hook said...

Hi Wayne.

After reading your post, I went to look at a bunch of other translations of this verse. The NET Bible uses the word "refreshing", which I find conveys even better the intent of the Psalmist, especially for those of us who aren't sheep buffs. After reading several translations, I didn't find the NIV/TNIV use of "quiet" to be misleading, any more than "still" in the AV. A still water for me as a former sailor is a place I don't want to be -- the doldrums. A still water as a hiker is not a place I want to drink from -- a quiet flow would be much better.

I take your point, and I do think it's an important one. On this particular wording, though, in answer to your question of how many misunderstand it, count me as one who didn't see any ambiguity, and actually likes the poetic sound of "quiet waters."

- occasional visitor, hook.

 
At Tue Aug 07, 12:33:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Also some discerning human drinkers prefer sparkling water to still. I mention that as another possible misleading connotation of "still waters".

 
At Tue Aug 07, 12:40:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

It's good to hear others mention problems with my suggested wordings. This is the kind of discussion that needs to occur within Bible translation teams to try to ensure that they have the best possible English. I do know that the TNIV team spends a great deal of time wrestling over issues of English literary quality. They are true scholars, both exegetical and in relation to concern for good quality English.

 
At Tue Aug 07, 12:47:00 PM, Blogger ElShaddai Edwards said...

Also some discerning human drinkers prefer sparkling water to still. I mention that as another possible misleading connotation of "still waters".

Perhaps "He leads me to distilled waters" would then be appropriate... ;)

 
At Tue Aug 07, 08:17:00 PM, Blogger Jim Swindle said...

After reading all of this, I'd suggest using "peaceful" or "tranquil" or "restful." I dislike "refreshing," because it can bring up images of a brisk mountain stream, which is beautiful, but too exciting to fit the meaning. Maybe to avoid the idea of a stagnant pool, a person could say, "beside tranquil streams." Am I right in assuming that "waters" implies flowing water?

 
At Wed Aug 08, 05:17:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Am I right in assuming that "waters" implies flowing water?

In this case I don't know why "waters" is plural. I would think that the English translation equivalent of the Hebrew plural would simply be singular "water."

And I agree that "tranquil" would be a good translation. The water is not stagnant. It is moving a little, so it is fresh, but it is not moving so much that sheep do not want to drink from it. It is difficult to find an adequate word for that kind of water.

 
At Wed Aug 08, 01:07:00 PM, Blogger hook said...

This post and thread has really gotten me thinking in fresh ways about the difficulty of the translators' job. Wayne says that the Hebrew says simply, "waters of rest." Should the translators have simply used that phrase?

As I see it, there are two thoughts being expressed within the comments here. One is the idea that David is emphasizing rest. The other is that David is really writing about having our needs supplied. These two ideas aren't antithetical.

Does the translator have the responsibility to go back through the text, determine whether "lush pastures" and "quiet waters" are synonymous or synthetic parallels, and take that into account? Is the parallelism not with pastures, but with guiding along right paths? Seems to me that they do have to do that. How far do they dip into interpretation before pulling back and making the translation? In The Message, for example, Peterson decides that David was talking about God's perfect supply of his needs, and that the quiet is not especially about rest, but about drink.

I've always been a proponent of the need for dynamically equivalent translations, not for all uses, nor for exclusive use, but this little phrase in Psalm 23, tantalizes me with the thought that a literal translation would be superior to most of the translations we've mentioned here.

 
At Wed Aug 08, 06:02:00 PM, Blogger exegete77 said...

Jim wrote: I'd suggest using "peaceful" or "tranquil" or "restful." I dislike "refreshing,"

God's Word has "peaceful," which I like. But interestingly I think "refreshing" adds an overlooked dimension. To me the context suggests more than "safety" ("tranquility"), but includes the sense of restored nourishment. "Refreshing" seems to catch that nuance. I usually don't care for multiplied adjectives but perhaps it could work in this case:

"He leads me to peaceful waters that are refreshing."

"He leads me to peaceful, refreshing waters."

And of course, I would have to contemplate the rhythm of such a wording for liturgical usage. LOL

Rich

 
At Wed Aug 08, 06:35:00 PM, Blogger ElShaddai Edwards said...

Rich said:

I usually don't care for multiplied adjectives but perhaps it could work in this case:

"He leads me to peaceful waters that are refreshing."

"He leads me to peaceful, refreshing waters."

And of course, I would have to contemplate the rhythm of such a wording for liturgical usage. LOL


And if you are using the TNIV, then you have the added problem that the phrase grammatically ends in v3a, not at the end of v2: "he refreshes my soul." So using this approach, you'd have a double "refresh", which sounds poetically wrong to these ears.

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home