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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Moving day: come visit our new blog home

We've been working hard behind the scenes to get our new home ready for you. Today we move from this home, which has many warm, good memories, to our new home, where we will build more good memories. We invite you to our new home at this address:

Please change your bookmarks and blogrolls for the Better Bibles Blog. Feel free to ask for help if you have any difficulty commenting on the new blog. You can email me privately: wayne dot leman at gmail dot com if you are unable to post a comment on the new blog.

We intend to continue bringing you good quality posts on Bible translation issues. In fact, we hope to do an even better job. If any of you know of any Bible scholar who is trained in Bible translation principles and who might enjoy joining our blogging team, please email me about that privately, as well.

We could not have made this move without the wonderful, time-consuming labor of ElShaddai Edwards (of He is Sufficient blog) and David Ker of Lingamish.

At this time of transition some of our blogging staff have evaluated their priorities and decided not to continue blogging at BBB. So we want to thank each of them for their contributions to BBB over the years. They are Suzanne McCarthy, David Lang, and David Ker.

Please do join our housewarming party at our new address. We welcome you there and hope you feel just as at home there as you have here on the Blogspot system. We also hope you will notice improvements to the blog which come from the features of the Wordpress system we are using on the new blog.

The door is open at our new home, and we'll leave the lights on for you!

Monday, October 27, 2008

2 puppies: Goodness and Mercy

Whenever we visit my father-in-law in his nursing home, we end our visit by saying Psalm 23 and the Lord's Prayer together. We all love the Shepherd psalm.

My wife tells me that the Hebrew word for "follow" in the last verse is quite vivid, meaning something like 'pursue.' She says it's the kind of action like when a puppy follows you everywhere you go. I'm assuming my wife has been telling the truth because she is a careful, wise person. But even if something got mixed up where she heard this from, I like the thought anyway, that goodness, and mercy follow me around so closely they are like little puppies. (I like puppies, also.)

Do any of you know if the Hebrew for "follow" has the sense of 'pursue'?

If so, how might we revise the last verse of Psalm 23 to reflect that connotation?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Should translations run with puns?

Over at He is sufficient, ElShaddai observed the pun between cunning and naked in Genesis 3.

He wrote (Cunning punning in Genesis 3):
With this in mind, we might think about how a “Literary Equivalent” English translation might convey a sense of this linguistic relationship in the original Hebrew:

The serpent was the smoothest operator of all the creatures the Lord God had made. He asked the woman, ‘Is it true that God has forbidden you to eat from any tree in the garden?’ (3:1)

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that their naked skin was smooth; so they stitched fig-leaves together and made themselves loincloths. (3:7)

I commented, however, his observation made me wonder whether paying better attention to puns would improve translations. Here's what I said in the comment; but, first my question is:

To what extent should the observance of puns influence translation?

Your mentioning the pun made me think of an exegesis of this text I’d never considered before. Though the exegesis doesn’t change the main point, it arrives at it in a different way.

My thought stems from the fact that puns usually have an underlying semantic tie. That’s the beauty of the pun in that you can say something that really isn’t in the words of the text, and yet it makes the meaning of the text more precise. With many puns it’s this non-textual tie–determined and caused by the pun–that bursts into the mind and brings about laughter [though the pun here in Gen. 3 is far from funny].

I often wondered what the issue was with naked (not that I walk around the house nude or anything like that). However, if the core, but explicit, concept is smoothness, then that brings another thought to mind.

Let me take Gen 3:7, paraphrase it and elucidate it through expansion so as to quickly get to my point.
“Then they suddenly became aware of something they hadn’t seen before: the smoothness of their bodies showed they were exposed and unprotected.”

The point wasn’t the nakedness. The point was their exposure evidenced by the smoothness. So, to remedy the problem, they put on some kind of protection against the elements.

Now, does that help explain 3:10? Here, too, I’ve often wondered what the big deal of nakedness was. In fact, they had already covered themselves so they weren’t technically naked. I can come up with explanations; however, all of them feel like I’m reaching outside the text in order to explain the text. I’m uncomfortable with doing that. However, if I consider that Adam and Eve had now experienced sin and their whole being was changed (metaphorically and spiritually, they had died), then being exposed to a Holy God walking through the Paradise would have been a very fearful event. They would have felt totally unprotected. That’s not injecting anything into the text.

God then works to get to the bottom of this issue. That is, "Who on earth put my two wonderful creatures, the height of my creation, into a place where they are fearful of me and think that I would not protect them." The immediately questions from Him were, “Whose responsible?” and “Have you sinned?”

The pun between 3:1 and 3:7 sets the mind into the right frame to be able to more easily grasp this flow of thought. And, more importantly, the danger of being a sinner in the presence of God. That’s excellent and very basic theology, IMO. Ideal for this location of the development of the text.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Upcoming ESV and NLT Study Bibles Review

John Hobbins has promised a full review of these two study Bibles. He gives a teaser of what we’ll be in for here: Upcoming Reviews on the ESV and NLT Study Bibles.

I have found examples of running commentary that are top-notch, such as that of David Reimer on Ezekiel (ESVSB) and that of Scot McKnight on Matthew (NLTSB). I have read essays that had me singing for their precision, clarity, and vigor, such as that by Peter Gentry on the Septuagint (ESVSB) and I don’t know who’s Introduction to the Time After the Apostles (NLTSB).

I admit that personally I’m too intimidated to do a review of any study Bible. These books are so massive and complex that any review will be superficial. Plus, a study Bible tends to show its virtues over time. One of the things I always appreciated about the NIV Study Bible is that when a question came to my mind about the text, there was consistently a note addressing that question.

About the best you can hope to do in reviewing a study Bible is giving anecdotal or hit-and-miss stories about what you liked or didn’t like. Unless, that is, you intend to take the job seriously and invest a lot of time and energy together with an open mind.

Check out John’s teaser: Upcoming Reviews on the ESV and NLT Study Bibles.

Faith does not come by hearing (Rom. 10:17)

A number of English Bible versions translate Rom. 10:17 inappropriately, as, for instance:
  • So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (KJV)
  • So then faith does come from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (NASB)
  • So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (ESV)
  • So then faith does come from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (REB)
There are several problems with these translation wordings. Taken literally, they claim that when someone hears they come to have faith. Presumably, those who are deaf do not come to have faith. But we know many deaf people do have faith, so something must be wrong with the translation. And here is what it is: in the context of Rom. 10:17, the first Greek noun (akoke) behind the English gerund "hearing" was semantically, but not syntactically, transitive. That is, there was an object of hearing. That is what is meant by a semantic object. But that object could be ellipsized (not physically present) in this context in Greek. The object is implicitly understood. That object is "the word of Christ" (or, "word of God" in some Greek manuscripts). English syntax, however, unlike Greek, does not allow the "hear" to be left implicit in this context. English requires that the object of hearing be stated if there is one. (For those who might wonder if a noun can be transitive or intransitive, the answer is yes; nouns referring to actions can be semantically transitive or intransitive. I realize that this is not the way English is normally taught in school, but it is a sound principle of modern linguistics which can inform how English is taught in school.)

The moral of the story, here, then, is that we must pay just as much attention to the language we are translating into as we do the language we are translating from. If we do not, we create translation problems, including, sometimes, as in Rom. 10:17, inaccuracy. In the original Greek, there was a semantic object of hearing, the word of Christ. Greek speakers could understand that that object was there because it is clearly stated in the context, although it does not explicitly appear as the syntactic object of the verb. But English, which requires that semantic object to be explicitly present, gives us a wrong meaning if that object is omitted, namely, that faith can come about from hearing.

There are English versions which accurately translate the meaning of the Greek while following the rules of English for the syntactic frame of "hear," for instance:
  • So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ. (RSV)
  • So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ. (NRSV)
  • Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (NIV)
  • Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (TNIV)
  • So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ. (HCSB)
  • Consequently faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the preached word of Christ. (NET)
  • So then, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message comes through preaching Christ. (TEV)
  • So faith comes from hearing the Good News, and people hear the Good News when someone tells them about Christ. (NCV)
  • So faith comes from hearing the message, and the message that is heard is what Christ spoke. (GW)
I suspect that the Greek of this verse was a particular rhetorical form (something like a chiasm) which Greek scholars have probably given a technical label, but I don't know what that label is. The form is something like: If A then B, and if B then C. With this form, I suggest, there are not two different (independent) statements being made in Greek, but, rather one single message using the particular rhetorical form.

The NLT translates the meaning of the Greek by having the second clause clarify the first one:
So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.
The CEV makes the Greek meaning clear in English while reducing the two clauses to the most natural English, a single compressed sentence with one independent clause followed by a dependent clause:
No one can have faith without hearing the message about Christ.
There are also translation problems with the second clause of this verse, as in "hearing by the Word of God." But those can wait to be discussed in another post.

Faith does not come by hearing (Rom. 10:17) -- P.S.

I have withdrawn my post on this topic, due to some errors I made. Hopefully I can rescue the essential point of the original, revise it, and re-post it. The basic notion was correct that in English there needs to be an explicit object after the gerund "hearing". A gerund is a verbal noun which can function as a noun, yet can take objects as does a verb.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

paragraph translation

As my wife and I were nearing the end of the Cheyenne Bible translation project, we benefitted greatly from the insights of a translation consultant. One of her primary means of checking the Cheyenne translation was for a Cheyenne person to hear an entire paragraph of the translation and then summarize it (BBB blogger Mike Sangrey calls this a precis, I believe). This checking procedure was very helpful and showed us whether or not the Cheyenne translation had the same cohesion (compositional "glue") and coherence (making sense) as the source text. If a Cheyenne person could not summarize a paragraph, we could suspect something wrong with the translation. It didn't hang together properly. Perhaps we didn't use proper word combinations (collocations). Perhaps we hadn't structured the Cheyenne to be true Cheyenne, instead of being too close to the structure of the source text.

I suggest that this kind of procedure can be used for checking any Bible translation, including those in English. It is also a valuable Bible study method.

I am rushing as I post this, since my wife and I are about to leave for the airport, so I can't write more on this topic right now. But I would invite others of you to comment on making summaries of a paragraph (or other natural discourse unit, such as an episode or pericope) as a means of checking a translation, as well as a Bible study method.

Perhaps someone could even comment suggesting a translated Bible paragraph which could be checked to see if it has cohesion and coherence like the source text does.

Friday, October 17, 2008

In hiding…

The new Better Bibles Blog is currently in hiding while we make some changes.


We’ll let you know when you can have a peek.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

An outsider's view of a Bible controversy

It is somewhat unusual to find a view on a controversy related to Bible translations expressed by someone writes "I'm not a Christian", which goes beyond praise for the supposed literary excellence of the King James Version. Indeed that is just where Tim Footman starts his article in The Guardian, one of the UK's main left-leaning newspapers. What is interesting is the direction he takes it in.

The background for this is the work in progress on translating the Bible into Jamaican Patois, a language in which there is so far no Scripture although it is the mother tongue of five million people. Eddie Arthur reported several months ago on the controversy in Jamaica about this project, linked to a Christianity Today article, and then wrote a follow-up post. But it has taken until today for the Church Times (yes, and the contributors to this blog) to take any notice of this controversy. The new post at the Church Times blog is prompted by an article in the right-leaning Telegraph (actually not their first article about this) which quotes "Former Conservative Minister Ann Widdecombe, who left the Church of England to become a Roman Catholic" (she left because she could not accept ordination of women), who
said: "It's one thing to turn the Bible into modern vernacular, but to turn it into patois is utterly ridiculous. When you dumb down you take away any meaning it might have."

She said that she supported attempts to widen the readership of the Bible, but believes that this goes too far.

Well, Ms Widdecombe, do you actually realise that this is not "dumbing down" but translation into a foreign language, even if it is one which has some superficial resemblances to English?

It is to these comments, and similar ones from Prudence Dailey of the Prayer Book Society, that Tim Footman responds. After accepting, as a non-Christian, that his preference for the King James Version is purely aesthetic, he writes perceptively:
If I believed that people's only hope of avoiding hellfire was by accepting Jesus Christ as their saviour, then I'd want his message packaged in the most accessible shape or form. If sinners respond best to theological versions of chick lit and James Blunt, that's what the church should offer, ideally without jettisoning the old stuff entirely. It's bums on pews and souls in the right place that matter, not the Booker prize.
Yes, Tim, you are right. And since I do believe your premise (although I wouldn't primarily express my belief in terms of hellfire), I accept your conclusions, not so much about "bums on pews" but certainly about "souls in the right place". But, he continues,
Funnily enough, some people who profess to be Christians don't appear to think this way.
- and proceeds to quote Widdecombe and Dailey. Then he makes the following sensible comments (although I don't expect my American readers to understand the "MCC tie" reference!):
These are exactly the arguments that traditionalists used against the reforms of Vatican II, which led to the Catholic mass being said in a language that most of the congregation could actually understand; the same arguments, in fact, against translating the Bible itself into languages other than Latin in the first place.

The most significant aspects of their religion would appear to be the social and political, rather than the spiritual. They speak of a Christianity not of love and forgiveness and justice, but of order and tradition and control, a society frozen at some point in about 1860. Everyone knows his or her status: the rich man in his castle and the poor man at his gate; women content to polish the pews and make the tea; gay people utterly invisible. If Jamaicans wish to hear the word of God, it must be enunciated in cut-glass tones; Tunbridge Wells, not Trenchtown. God, after all, sports an MCC tie.

This whole attitude strikes me as being a tad un-Christian. But what do I know? I'm just a poor bloody heathen. And the more I hear from Widdecombe and Dailey and their ilk, the more likely I am to stay that way.

I wonder if Widdecombe and Dailey, and others who express similar views like Dr Leland Ryken, realise what kind of witness they are being to outsiders like Tim Footman. And if they did, would they care, or do they consider preservation of 17th century English literary style more important than saving the lost?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Your favorite post at BBB

image We are still getting lots of great input from our readers on how to improve this well-loved blog. You can see a long string of suggestions (and leave your own) here: Tell us what you think!

The results so far on the survey What is the primary reason you read Better Bibles Blog? are split evenly between “Comparisons of Bible versions” and “Discussions of translation puzzles.”

JK Gayle suggested asking people about their favorite post which seems like a great idea.

In the comments on this post, tell us about your favorite post at BBB, or series of posts and why.

Bonus points if you can find your first comment ever on this blog. (The earliest comment I’ve found for me is here in November 2005).

Have a great week!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Still tinkering…


The process of getting the new BBB is still underway. There is a lot of behind the scenes work going on as well as discussion about how to make this blog even better. If you have not had a chance to see the blog you can do so here: I also encourage you to leave suggestions (Tell us what you think!) and take a brief poll (Why do you read BBB?)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Eye-popping Bible


What do you think about having Angelina Jolie on the cover of a Bible?

“First published in Sweden last year, "Bible Illuminated: The Book" is the glossy fashion magazine-style publication that features Jolie. It looks like it might be more at home on a coffee table or the nightstand of the latest hipster hotel than a church.

The creation of former advertising executives, it pairs intense photo essays — including images such as a child with a gun or beatings in the Belgian Congo under King Leopold's II's regime — with the scripture of the New Testament. It is aimed at people who might not otherwise ever read the Bible.”

Read the article: New Bibles alter form _ not word _ to draw readers

HT: Chri$tian Capitali$m Strikes Again: Publisher Uses Angelina Jolie Photo to Market Bible

Other resources: