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Thursday, March 27, 2008

my favourite translation

I have been enjoying tremendously the exchange between Henry, Iyov, El Shaddai and others on the KJV.

I have to say that I have some sympathy with Henry since I once knew a KJV only evangelist and it can be a very stressful thing. Dear old "Uncle" Jim. Before he came to visit, my dad used to sit me down with the Greek text and get me to prep him with a counter argument. That lasted until I was 17 and had read enough text criticism that even my dad didn't want to know about it. Then I was excused. But now I find that many people from various backgrounds that I know are quite fond of the KJV as a translation. They are lucky - they have never been evangelized by an onlyist.

But my favourite translation at the moment is not even in English. I have been studying the Psalms lately, three hours on Wed. night with the Hebrew tutorial some other time during the week. But Wed. night is basically in English with passing references to Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, German and Cree.

We sit 6 to a round table and study the psalm together charting it in coloured pencils à la Brueggemann. (I would appreciate hearing more from Bob about this.) I am a novice at this as well as the many other ways the psalms are studied in this class - 5 or 6 reformation and other psalters, modern music, ancient music, dance, clay, poetry, muttering, reciting, window painting, etc.

The basic study takes place by marking up the NRSV version of the text, with several parallel versions available for reference. There is always the KJV and sometimes the other 4 or 5 will be translations produced between 1520 and 1545 or some other specific era.

However, the main study is done on the NRSV text. The other pieces of paper pile up underneath. I obstinately keep open my Kohlenberger's Psalter with the Hebrew, RSV, NETS, LXX. The two English texts are too small for me to read, and my Hebrew is nascent, so, yep, my default version is the Greek. No one else in the room is interested much in the Greek so I don't blurt out random insights or anything like that.

But last week, working on Psalm 146, I thought that I had wandered completely off course. I thought that I must have been daydreaming or distracted and was not looking at the same psalm as everyone else. The group had decided to solve the problem of "voice" first. Who was speaking to whom? Nothing matched for me.

There was some discussion of imperatives and a soliloquy to self. I never was able to articulate exactly how I knew what was going on because I was reading the Greek in my head and I have no idea what language I was thinking in. However, in Greek all imperatives are marked as singular and plural, in fact, all verbs are marked as singular and plural.

Ultimately, without saying anything, I just took my copy of the psalm and wrote down the side "singular" and "plural" for the different sections and placed it in the centre of the table.

The KJV, if carefully considered would help, but it is not as clear as the Greek in this psalm. Quite simply there have been many times when I have found the Greek easier than the English. It matches up with other scriptures nicely and I always know if the psalmist is addressing one person or the congregation. Here is some of the text,
    αἴνει ἡ ψυχή μου τὸν κύριον
    Praise (singular verb), my soul, the Lord,

    αἰνέσω κύριον ἐν ζωῇ μου ψαλῶ τῷ θεῷ μου ἕως ὑπάρχω
    I will praise the Lord in my life I will make music to my God while I have being

    μὴ πεποίθατε ἐπἄρχοντας καὶ ἐφ υἱοὺς ἀνθρώπων οἷς οὐκ ἔστιν σωτηρία
    Do not trust (plural verb) in rulers and the sons of men in whom is no salvation.
It is somewhat easier to understand this in the KJV but not quite as clear as in the Greek. Overall the loss of the distinction between the singular and the plural of the second person is enormous in the Psalms, greater I think than the subsequent loss of the distinction between singular and plural for the third person in the inclusive translations such as the NRSV and TNIV.

Another feature which is maintained in the KJV can be seen in the next verse,
    His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.
I don't know of any other translation, which has "his" although it is there in Hebrew. However, no translation, including the Septuagint, can reproduce what the Hebrew says,
    Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, (בְּבֶן-אָדָם beben-adam) in whom there is no help.

    His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth (לְאַדְמָתוֹ leadmato) in that very day his thoughts perish.
The pun is lost in translation and to a certain extent the purpose for choosing the vocabulary in this line.

Back to the pleasures of reading the Psalter in the Septuagint. This translation is literal in many places, obscure in some and given to commentary at other times. I even perceive flashes of humour. Look at this line in Psalm 51:6,
    הֵן-אֱמֶת, חָפַצְתָּ בַטֻּחוֹת
    Behold, Thou desirest truth in the inward parts;

    ἰδοὺ γὰρ ἀλήθειαν ἠγάπησας τὰ ἄδηλα
    For behold, truth you love - the unclear

    וּבְסָתֻם, חָכְמָה תוֹדִיעֵנִי

    make me, therefore, to know wisdom in mine inmost heart

    καὶ τὰ κρύφια τῆς σοφίας σου ἐδήλωσάς μοι
    and the hidden things of thy wisdom you made clear to me.
What is so funny about this is that some of the Hebrew words are obscure and unclear, so the translator created a word play in Greek that does not exist in Hebrew. I think the translator did a little creative translating to the effect that the Hebrew was unclear at this point.


At Fri Mar 28, 12:15:00 AM, Blogger tc said...

Here's the rub: the KJV will always be with us.

But these days I'm down with the TNIV.

Why did the TNIV translate 2 Thess 1:8 as one group instead of two, as the underlying Greek suggests?

ἐν πυρὶ φλογός, διδόντος ἐκδίκησιν τοῖς μὴ εἰδόσιν θεὸν καὶ τοῖς μὴ ὑπακούουσιν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ.

Here's the NRSV:

"in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus."

Now the TNIV:

"He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus."

If there were one definite article, then I'd get the TNIV's rendering.

But I don't get it.

At Fri Mar 28, 03:46:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne, you have mis-transliterated the Hebrew in Psalm 146:4, the word in question is ovdu "they perish". The word leadmato "to his ground", from adama, is also in the verse, so your pun does exists.

In Psalm 51:6 I suspect that τὰ ἄδηλα was originally a translator's note "unclear words here" which got incorporated in the text.

TC wrote:

the KJV will always be with us.

Well, yes, in the sense that it will remain a part of history. But I suspect that when the generation which thinks like Iyov has passed on it will gradually become simply something of history, like Wycliffe's and Tyndale's versions are now, not something which anyone actually uses for study or devotion. I guess some KJV-only extremists might be around for a bit longer than one generation. But here in the UK KJV can more or less be ignored now, and that will soon be true in the USA as well.

Suzanne as well as Iyov may regret it, but it's true - but probably new versions will come out which use "y'all" for plural "you" to preserve the important distinctions.

Why did the TNIV translate 2 Thess 1:8 as one group instead of two ...?

I don't know, but in this case they copied NIV so the error, if it is one, is not new. There are no relevant textual issues.

At Fri Mar 28, 07:57:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


Got it. Working too late at night.

You have an interesting theory about αδηλα but why was it then said that it was "made clear"?

At Fri Mar 28, 10:03:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Good question, Suzanne.

First, let's clarify the Greek (Psalm 50:8 LXX ~ 51:8 Hebrew, 51:6 English): ἰδοὺ γὰρ ἀλήθειαν ἠγάπησας, τὰ ἄδηλα καὶ τὰ κρύφια τῆς σοφίας σου ἐδήλωσάς μοι. (Punctuation as in Rahlfs edition.) So the LXX translator has divided the line in a different place from the Hebrew division indicated by the accentuation.

He or she has also turned Hebrew battuchot ubesatum into the main part of the object of "you have made known to me", with "wisdom" as the dependent part of a construct relation, and not noted that b- here, twice, is the locative prefix. Actually according to BDB battuchot is a word, meaning "security", in Job 12:6, but the translator may not have known this. besatum, however, is probably meaningless if b- is not taken as a prefix.

My conclusion is that the translator totally misunderstood this verse, not recognising the lexical items and mistaking the syntax. So he or she guessed the meaning, and since the final verb was correctly recognised as "you made known to me", the guess made was "hidden and secret things". And there was perhaps a tinge of translator's humour in the guess.

As for where σου, "thee" in KJV language, came from, the easiest guess is that it is a corruption of σύ "thou" which fits the context.

At Fri Mar 28, 10:33:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I do agree that "thy" must have come from "thou". I am going to do more on this verse because the history of it is fascinating.

I just wanted to show how the LXX has little touches here and there of commentary like insertion into the text. It is quite interesting to read.

More on what this verse might mean later.

At Fri Mar 28, 01:08:00 PM, Blogger Nathan said...

Incidentally, I've never understood why the KJV is considered by "only-ists" to be the first/best English Bible, rather than Coverdale or Geneva, or even Wycliffe or Tyndale. (Of course, I only learned about these translations relatively recently, after years of thinking of the KJV as the first E.B.; maybe some only-ists simply have the same historical blind spot.)

At Fri Mar 28, 01:48:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I tend to think that KJV-onlyists have lots of blind spots, perhaps so many that it is easier to talk about the spots where they can see.

At Fri Mar 28, 10:11:00 PM, Blogger Bob MacDonald said...

Great discussion. Suzanne, coloring has its real learning potential - sometimes it seems obvious - as in Psalm 51 and the concentric circles, and sometimes it is less obvious. My first passes at the psalm (LXX145-H146) is here

As usual - pretty raw but colourful. Jonathon Magonet - A Rabbi Reads the Psalms - should be in your libraries - short book very clear on colouring. Would you like to come over to Victoria and give us a class on a few psalms some day? St Barnabas is where I worship. We have a spare room for overnighters.

If I get a chance, I will work some more this weekend on this psalm and write what I learn on my blog.

At Fri Mar 28, 10:55:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I attend classes on the Psalms, Bob, I don't give them. ;-) Maybe some day. :-)

At Sat Mar 29, 11:09:00 AM, Blogger solarblogger said...

But now I find that many people from various backgrounds that I know are quite fond of the KJV as a translation. They are lucky - they have never been evangelized by an onlyist.

I may be an exception to that one. I worked in a Christian bookstore when a book called New Age Bible Versions came out. There was one man in particular who accepted the book hook, line, and sinker. Not just bad reasoning about criticism, but ad hominem arguments made sense to him.

My preference for the KJV is shared with its other children, esp. the RSV and NASB. And it developed after using the NIV quite comfortably for years.

At Tue Apr 01, 08:21:00 PM, Blogger Jacob said...

Why did the TNIV translate 2 Thess 1:8 as one group instead of two, as the underlying Greek suggests?
ἐν πυρὶ φλογός, διδόντος ἐκδίκησιν τοῖς μὴ εἰδόσιν θεὸν καὶ τοῖς μὴ ὑπακούουσιν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ.
Here's the NRSV:
"in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus."
Now the TNIV:
"He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus."
If there were one definite article, then I'd get the TNIV's rendering.
But I don't get it.

I suspect there is some parallelism going on here - i.e., "those who don't know God" are then described/clarified/emphasized as "those who don't obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus." Thus, a single article is sufficient in translation because the author is not talking about two different groups or types of people. From the New American Commentary and the NIGTC on 2 Thess:

The recipients of the punishment (ekdikēsis) are those who “do not know God and do not obey the gospel.” Both clauses begin with the definite article, and such a construction would normally indicate that the author was thinking of two distinct groups. The two groups could be interpreted as the Gentiles who do not know God and the Jews who know God but are disobedient to the gospel. Although this is possible, the Greek construction does not require it, and the distinction is misleading. “Know” in this context refers to obedience as much as knowledge, and given this sense of the word both Gentiles and Jews may not “know God” (see John 8:54–55; Jer 9:6). Both unbelieving Jews and unbelieving Gentiles were willfully disobedient to the gospel as far as Paul was concerned (Rom 1:18–20; 2:12–16). Thus either a Jew or a Gentile could be described as one who does not know and does not obey God. Rather than presenting two groups, these two parallel clauses probably reflect the Old Testament background of the passage and utilize parallelism to describe a single group: unbelievers of any ethnicity.
In support of both clauses referring to a single group it should also be remembered that both clauses apparently describe those who are troubling the church (v. 7). Thus the words “do not know God” could not apply to people who are ignorant of God and/or of the gospel but only to those who have rejected them.32 The second clause in the parallel, “and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus,” adds emphasis and at the same time brings back into focus the thrust of the passage. God’s judgment will fall on those who neither acknowledge God nor obey the gospel, and the ultimate expression of such rejection is the persecution of the church (cf. 1 Thess 2:14–16). Thus condemnation is earned not by ignorance or by an isolated act of persecution of believers but by the settled rejection of God inspiring the persistent persecution of God’s people.

Martin, D. M. (2001, c1995). Vol. 33: 1, 2 Thessalonians (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (212). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

- - -

Some, like Frame (233) and Marshall (177f.), believe that the Greek construction refers to Jews and Gentiles as distinct groups. They correctly take the phrase “those not knowing God” as modeled on OT texts such as Je. 10:25 and Ps. 79:6 (LXX 78:6 S†; these two texts reflect literary dependence or a common tradition) that describe the Gentiles (τὰ ἔθνη) as those not knowing God (τὰ μὴ εἴδοτα; cf. Is. 55:5). They then see an allusion to the Jewish people in the words “those not obeying the gospel,” which is probably derived from Is. 66:4 (LXX), where οὐχ ὑπήκουσάν μου (“they did not obey me [God]”) is found (cf. Rom. 10:16).
This interpretation has a major problem. For Paul the second phrase applies equally to Gentiles and Jews, as Rom. 11:30–32 demonstrates. Moreover, the Jewish people are frequently described in the OT (cf. Je. 4:22; 9:3, 6; Ho. 5:4) as not knowing God. For this reason it is unwise to distinguish between allusion to Jews and Gentiles. Besides it is questionable whether the Thessalonians, who as Gentiles lacked in-depth knowledge of the OT, could have correctly interpreted such an allusion in the first place.
In all probability Aus (Comfort, 88) and Trilling (56) are correct when they claim that “those not knowing God” and “those not obeying the gospel of our Lord Jesus” form a synonymous parallelism (cf. 1:9f.). Trilling’s further assertion that this is a characteristic of the author of 2 Thessalonians but atypical of Paul is misleading. As I will show later, vv. 7b–10 were a pre-formed unit (see comments of v. 10).

Wanamaker, C. A. (1990). The Epistles to the Thessalonians : A commentary on the Greek text. Spine title: Commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians.; Includes indexes. (227). Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans.


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