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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Easy as 1-2-3

By posting this I'm not just trying to lure you from the respectable Better Bibles Blog to my weird Lingamish blog. But I do want to bring to your attention a post with a rather interesting comment thread: Beg to differ. In this post I listed 9 axioms of Bible translation and begged my readers to differ. Differ they did. In fact, Iyov wasn't sure he could agree with any of them. You might check out the list and see if you agree with what I've written, but I wanted to make sure BBB readers had a chance to think about this quote (thanks again to Iyov):

As will be seen in Chapter 7, in which basic problems of style are considered for languages with a long literary tradition and a well-established traditional text of the Bible, it is usually necessary to have three types of Scriptures: (1) a translation which will reflect the traditional usage and be used in the churches, largely for liturgical purposes (this may be called an “ecclesiastical translation”), (2) a translation in the present-day literary language, so as to communicate to the well-educated constituency, and (3) a translation in the “common” or “popular” language, which is known to and used by the common people, and which is at the same time acceptable as a standard for published materials.

Source: Eugene Nida and Charles Taber’s The Theory and Practice of Translation (p. 31)

What do you think? Is this a helpful way of looking at Better Bibles? In your circumstances, what would be 1, 2, and 3? I've got some good candidates for #1 and #3 but I still haven't found what I'm looking for in a #2. How about you?



At Thu Jul 03, 10:38:00 AM, Blogger ElShaddai Edwards said...

If the REB and NJB don't meet #2, then what will?

It's interesting to compare this list with the reasons given for the New English Bible (NEB) translation project started back in the 1940s.

At Thu Jul 03, 12:36:00 PM, Blogger Iyov said...

Actually, I think REB and the NJB are more aimed at being type #1 translations. Indeed, the REB states in its preface that it was explicitly revised to be improved for public reading.

They tend to try to get the "big message" right in elegant language, but they aren't as close to the original texts. This is particularly true of the NJB, which is very interpretative in parts.

At Thu Jul 03, 02:39:00 PM, Blogger Dru said...

I agree with elshaddai edwards. I can't speak for other languages or even anglophone cultures, but I would put in 1, the AV and all the various translations that derive from it or the RV, down at least to the NRSV, the ESV and the NKJV.

So 2 contains those that try and catch something of register, expressiveness, etc and 3 those are strictly utilitarian - what has recently been described as fifth grade or lower.

I would though take issue with 'Beg to differ'. First of all, whatever ones understanding of the phrase, a translation can never be the Word of God. It can never be more than a translation of the Word of God, but that is not the same thing.

I know that in saying this, I am sticking my head in a lion's mouth and inviting it to bite, but I deprecate using the phrase 'Word of God' to describe the scriptures. And I have a strong view of scriptural authority.

The Word of God, the Logos, is Jesus. Scripture is the authoritative book about the Word of God.

Calling scripture the Word of God is attributing to it a status comparable to the Koran, where the message is actually in the text itself, not what the text is about.


At Thu Jul 03, 03:04:00 PM, Blogger Scripture Zealot said...

Where would you put the HCSB? It seems to me it's 1 in that it uses traditional theological terms but is 3 in that it does away with a lot of the archaic language while doing its best to stay true to the original language without bringing it down to a fifth grade reading level. It may try 2 a little bit but not more than trying to retain literary styles.

At Thu Jul 03, 04:00:00 PM, Blogger Iyov said...

Dru --

I think you and I see the ratings differently. I don't see Nida & Taber's scale as representing two extremes with group 2 being a midpoint. Rather, it reflects the fact that some translations "play well" in liturgical uses and others do not. (For example, it has often been claimed that the NASB -- which you put in group 1 -- does not work well in liturgical settings.)

The fact that the NRSV is the basis of the vast majority of respected study Bibles indicates most would regard it as the leading candidate of the bibles in group 2. Of course the NRSV is also used for liturgical uses, but I'm less convinced of its success in that realm (perhaps others can speak to this better than me.)

My guess would be that the NIV is the most widely used translation for liturgical purposes today. (If you look at the highly unscientific poll on the front page of this blog, you'll see that the results of the poll are consistent with my claim.) Of course, popularity does not prove that the NIV is fit for this purpose.

I think the translators aspired to make the HCSB meet the needs of group 2, but the translation has not yet demonstrated that it can achieve those goals.

At Thu Jul 03, 05:46:00 PM, Blogger ElShaddai Edwards said...

I agree, Iyov, that the NIV fits bucket #1, as well as what we typically categorize as the Tyndale line, less perhaps the NASB, but certainly the ESV.

You are correct in stating the REB revision included a strong emphasis on public reading, but I would hesitate to call it a real success for liturgical use, just as you question the NRSV for the same.

If you've had a chance to read the link in my original comment, you'll see that the NEB - and ultimately the REB - were conceived as complementary translations for the educated worshiper to use alongside an "ecclesiastical translation". In your parlance, perhaps a commentary...

The question then for #2 is whether "well educated" means (a) a higher literary and stylistic reading level, regardless of a functional or formal approach, or (b) more appropriate for original language study, or (c) both.

At Thu Jul 03, 09:57:00 PM, Blogger David Ker said...

I can see the need for #1 and #3 but what real advantage is there to producing a #2? Many of the well-educated set will either prefer #1 for historical reasons or be able to read the Bible in the original languages. I've pondered the task of getting a room full of scholars and academics to agree on a single literary translation and it seems a Sisyphean endeavor.

At Thu Jul 03, 11:20:00 PM, Blogger Iyov said...

David, are you really saying you can't understand the need for a scholarly contemporary language translation?

Who buys all of those study Bibles?

At Fri Jul 04, 02:13:00 AM, Blogger David Ker said...

I'm not sure how to answer your questions. Can someone help me out here?!?

At Fri Jul 04, 04:42:00 AM, Blogger ElShaddai Edwards said...

I wouldn't muddy the waters by throwing in study bibles on top of this discussion of translations - those come in all flavors and styles as well, and can use any of these translation buckets.

David, you wrote: Many of the well-educated set will either prefer #1 for historical reasons or be able to read the Bible in the original languages.

I cannot read the original language, nor did I grow up in a church that attached one specific translation to the ceremony of a liturgy. And unless you are including pew Bibles in that designation, I still do not attend a "liturgical church".

For myself, I desire a contemporary translation of the Bible in idiomatic English that is sensitive to the stylistic features of the original text. We've written reams of blog posts on what "sensitive to" and "stylistic features" mean; suffice it to say that I am not primarily interested in a literal or literary parrot of the Hebrew or Greek.

I've grown convinced that there are two literary camps: those that want the stylistic features of the Hebrew and Greek faithfully reproduced in English, and those who want equivalent idiomatic and natural English (that doesn't mean a lower reading level) literary features used, replacing the Hebrew and Greek. The former would be your "Sisyphean endeavor"; the latter has been the endeavor of translations like the REB.

Where the originals are simple, the English should be simple; where the original are complex, the English should be complex, but not foreign in the sense that the grammar or vocabulary creates an artificial barrier to comprehension (unless the originals are grammatically twisted and poorly written). Vocabulary should not shy away from difficult or unique words like mataiologia, but translate their uniqueness into equally unique English, e.g. "a wilderness of words".

At Fri Jul 04, 10:32:00 AM, Blogger Iyov said...

I wouldn't muddy the waters by throwing in study bibles on top of this discussion of translations - those come in all flavors and styles as well, and can use any of these translation buckets.

Good point. I was referring to academic study Bibles -- these seem to be oriented primarily towards people interested in Group #2.

I suppose another way of thinking of it is this -- one can directly pick the translation you use in group #2, but for group #1, one's control is much more indirect (you can vote with your feet.)

At Fri Jul 04, 11:02:00 AM, Blogger ElShaddai Edwards said...

Iyov noted: "... one can directly pick the translation you use in group #2, but for group #1, one's control is much more indirect (you can vote with your feet.)"

Very well put - I agree completely.


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