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Monday, October 31, 2005

ESV wordings poll analysis - Prov. 21:18

This post continues our series analyzing responses to our poll on 10 translation wordings from the ESV. The fourth sentence polled was the first clause from Prov. 21:18 in the ESV:
The wicked is a ransom for the righteous.
This wording is unchanged from the RSV of which the ESV is a light revision.

Only 55 of 350 poll respondents regarded the wording of Prov. 21:18 as being proper English. 84% of respondents considered the wording improper. I agree. According to English grammar (usage), adjectival substantive phrases, such as "the wicked," "the rich", "the poor", and "the righteous" refer to plural referents. If you are unsure about this, listen to the difference between the quality of English in the following English sentences:
The poor are asking for help from the government.
The rich promise to share their wealth with the poor.
The righteous are going to inherit eternal life.
in contrast to the quality of English in these sentences:
The poor is asking for help from the government.
The rich promises to share wealth with the poor.
The righteous is going to inherit eternal life.
The ESV, along with the RSV, NRSV, and NASB, has "the wicked" as the sentential subject where the verb it is to agree with is singular, "is" not plural, "are." So native English speakers, most of whom have the rule of subject-verb number agreement established firmly in their mental grammars, hear the wording "the wicked is" as ungrammatical, with the clash of a plural subject with a singular verb.

Now, the ESV translators, of course, did not intend to have any ungrammatical sentences in their translation. They simply left in the text what the RSV had, and assumed, presumably that the English was grammatical. The RSV (and ESV) wording grammatically corresponds to the original Hebrew. Hebrew, unlike English, allows adjectival substantives to refer to either plural or singular entities. So there was no problem with the original Hebrew, only with the English translation which formally corresponds to the Hebrew.

The ungrammatical wording of Prov. 21:18 is one of a number of ESV translation wordings where there is a clash of plural-sounding adjectival substantives with singular verbs they are to be in agreement with. In contrast, the HCSB, an essentially literal translation like the ESV, has proper English grammar for Prov. 21:18:
The wicked are a ransom for the righteous
In the HCSB the verb has been changed to a plural which grammatically agrees in number with the plural subject "the wicked."

The HCSB translation illustrates one solution to translating the Hebrew of Prov. 21:18 to grammatical English, namely, to use a plural verb to agree with the plural subject. Another solution is to leave the subject singular but insert a "placeholder" word which allows the Bible reader to know that the noun phrase is singular. Acceptable words to insert would include "person" or, less preferable stylistically, "one." The revised Prov. 21:18 would then read:
The wicked person is a ransom for the righteous.
If "the righteous" is intended to be singular, as well, it, also can have a placeholder word inserted:
The wicked person is a ransom for the righteous person."
Does insertion of a generic word decrease the accuracy of the translation. No, not at all. The Hebrew is referring to a person, so it is appropriate to include the word "person" in the English translation which then results in a grammatical wording.

One of the most important lessons to learn from the translation of Prov. 21:18 is that the grammar of every language is different. Bible translators must not force Hebrew or Greek syntax upon the English language. Doing so can create, at minimum, unnatural wordings in English translations, and, at worst, ungrammatical ones. Only English syntax should be used in English translations. The result will be better Bibles, ones which can be not only accurate, but also grammatical, clear, and natural.

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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Logos Bible software for the Macintosh

Thanks to email friend and regular blog visitor, Rich Shields, for a heads up that Logos Bible software will soon be available for Macintosh computers.


What Bible version was he using?

Last week I blogged that the teacher of the Sunday School class Elena and I have started attending (since we moved to Spokane) was using the NRSV and said that it was his version of choice. That teacher was substituting for the regular teacher.

Today the regular teacher was back. I had my Contemporary Parallel New Testament with me in case the regular teacher might use a version other than the NRSV. The 8 versions in it are:
The Message
Our study continued in Acts 18. I listened as our teacher read the passage. I quickly scanned my 8 versions, but the reading was not from one of them. So I pulled the pew Bible NRSV out and checked it. That wasn't the version either. Yet the reading was clear and in contemporary English. I could not figure out which other version it might be.

And then the thought came to me that our teacher might not be using a translation. Perhaps the book he was using was the Greek New Testament and he was directly translating from the Greek, "on the fly." The more I listened throughout the class, the more I suspected this to be the case.

After class the teacher greeted me and thanked me for an email message I had sent him this week. I glanced at the book in his hand and, sure enough, its title was "Greek New Testament." This was my first experience to be in a Sunday School class where the teacher was so proficient in Greek that he taught directly from it, including doing fluent translation on the spot.

One of my hopes for many years has been that I might be able to be part of a church fellowship where more of my spiritual and intellectual needs would be met than they had been in the past when I was giving so much of myself during Bible translation work onsite. I have needed rejuvenation after our many years of translating the Bible on the reservation. God is giving me the "desire of my heart" (Ps. 37:4). I thank him.

I wish I could read Greek as fluently as our teacher, who is one of the religion professors on the college campus where the church is located. My three years of Greek in Bible school were good, but they didn't bring me to the level where I could pick up the Greek and directly read from it. And that probably will not happen now since I have other Bible translation responsibilities in life that do not allow me enough time to get to that level of Greek fluency. But it is special to sit under the teaching ministry of someone who is so fluent in Greek that he was able to keep me going for quite some time trying to figure out which English version he was using. And there was no flaunting of his Greek reading abilities during the class. Our teacher is humble and genuinely concerned about mutual ministry, something he emphasized as he taught us about how Priscilla and Aquilla took Apollos under their wings and taught him about the way of the Lord more clearly.

Oh, in case you are wondering who our teacher is, his name is Jim Edwards and he has just published a book titled Is Jesus the Only Savior? We went to a public bookstore reading for this book this last Tuesday and, again, were glad we could sit under such good teaching.

I think both of our children who attended the Christian college here (the same school my wife attended) had classes under Jim Edwards. And there are other really great teachers at the college also, ones our children have spoken highly of and with whom we have interacted. I thank God for people who have invested their lives in many years of education to minister academically.

Have a good week, everyone. And may we all translate God's Word the best we can this week, whether we do it from Hebrew or Greek to English, some other language, or through our attitudes and actions.

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Psalm 91:3 What is a fowler?

In one of my email messages to the TNIV translation team recently, I pointed out that the word "fowler" in Psalm 91:3 is probably not known to a large percentage of the TNIV target audience. For that matter, I didn't know the meaning of "fowler" until I looked it up in a dictionary. I don't think the original biblical texts used language that required people to consult the equivalent of a dictionary (perhaps a knowledgeable person) to understand the words used in those texts. So, for a translation to reflect the register of the language of the original, neither should English translations today require that readers consult dictionaries to understand the words in them.

The TNIV, of course, is not alone is using the word "fowler" in Ps. 91:3. So do the KJV, ASV, NKJV, RSV, NRSV, ESV, REB, and NIV.

Some versions which use other terms which can be more easily understood are:
Bishops "hunter" (This version preceded the KJV.)
Geneva "hunger" (This version preceded the KJV.)
NASB "trapper"
NET "hunter"
HCSB "hunter's net"
GW "hunter's traps"
BBE "bird-net"
Some might insist that accuracy in translation calls for using the word "fowler" rather than the more general terms such as "trapper" or "hunter." But we can maintain accuracy by using a term such as "bird hunter" which means the same as "fowler" but can be understood by more people. There is no translation requirement that a single word in the original text must correspond to a single word in a translation text. Many times the words of languages do not align in that way, one-to-one, but accuracy can still be obtained with short descriptive terms.

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Saturday, October 29, 2005

ESV wordings poll analysis - Psalm 55:3

This post continues our analysis of the sentences in our poll on 10 verse wordings in the ESV.

The second sentence in the poll is one clause excerpted from the verse sequence of Psalm 55:2-3:
Psa 55:2 Attend to me, and answer me; I am restless in my complaint and I moan,
Psa 55:3 because of the noise of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked. For they drop trouble upon me, and in anger they bear a grudge against me.
The excerpt in the poll was
They drop trouble upon me.
126 respondents, out of a total of approximately 350, voted that this sounded like proper English to them. This response, from less than half of all voters, indicates that many respondents found some problem with the wording of this sentence. I do, too.

The problem is that the English lexicon does not sanction the word combination (lexical collocation) of "drop trouble." No native speaker or writer of English would ever say or write this word combination. Instead, they would write something like "bring trouble" (which is exactly what the RSV, from which the ESV was revised, had).

Better Bibles honor the source language from which they are translated, as well as the target language into which they are translated. Honoring a language means that its syntactic and lexical rules are followed. Not following those rules creates processing difficulties for listeners and readers. And it creates the unfortunate impression that the Bible is a strange book, that God doesn't talk my language very well, and, at worst, that the Bible and its teachings are distant from me. Something which is distant does not need to be paid attention to as much as something that is close, that speaks to us in our own language, with the syntax and word combinations which are familiar to us, which touch not only our minds but also our spirits.

According to the ESV website
more than sixty of the world’s leading Bible scholars pored over every word and phrase to achieve the unique accuracy, excellence, and beauty of the ESV Bible.
The ESV is a light stylistic revision of the RSV. In this case the ESV translators revised the proper English of the RSV clause from Ps. 55:3
they bring trouble upon me
to the strange English of
they drop trouble upon me
Hopefully, a future edition of the ESV will restore the word "bring" in Ps. 55:3 so that there is, once again, a proper English lexical collocation. Use of proper language is a major component of what it means for a translation to have literary excellence.

We will continue analyzing other verses in the ESV poll in upcoming posts.

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Friday, October 28, 2005

TEV Sirach 20:21

Today I stumbled upon a wording in the TEV (known today as the Good News Translation) which makes no sense to me. It is the translation of Sirach 20:21:
If a person is too poor to afford sin, he can rest without a guilty conscience.
Can you spot the problem?

It is the strange word combination, "afford sin." To me, anyway, in this context, these two words do not fit together, according to my understanding of the guidelines and constraints of the English lexicon. Technically, such a mismatch of words is called a collocational clash.

The TEV has some of the most natural English of any of the many English Bible versions. Yet, because translations are done by humans, translation mistakes, including poor quality English, can slip through the checks and balances of the translation of any Bible translation. I remember spotting a page heading error in the TEV in one of its first editions, many years ago. I wrote the American Bible Society, which produced the TEV, to notify them of the error. They thanked me, and the error was corrected in future editions.

It is a good thing to spot problems in English versions and graciously let translation teams know about them, so that we can have better Bibles. That is why this blog exists, to encourage more people to be alert to ways that English translations can be made better, and then to let the proper people know so that revisions can be made in future editions. Also, if we sensitize ourselves to observe translation wordings more closely we ourselves also benefit. We learn to pay better attention to what is written. In the process we can learn better what is the meaning of Bible passages and if we are willing, our lives can change when we follow the biblical teachings.

UPDATE: I have continued to think about the collocation of "afford sin" and I have eventually been able to get some meaning from it, although the collocation still strikes me as quite unusual for English. It might be possible to say of someone that they can "afford sin." By that might be meant that they have the financial (or other) means to pay for a sinful lifestyle. I do not know if that is the kind of meaning intended in the TEV wording in question here.

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NRSV register - followup

Could it be said, or, would it be said?

When critics of English in Bible versions point out how strange or unnatural some translation wording is, one response sometimes is: "Well, but it could be said that way."

I believe that the "could" approach is the wrong way to speak, write, or translate. It typically leads to wordings which make it sound like God and his human helpers don't know our language very well.

A better question to ask is: "Would it be said that way?" This second question honors the rules of a language, patterns which speakers and writers have developed over the long life of that language. Writing or translating with the "would" approach allows for creative usage of one's language. It does not, however, allow for widespread breaking of the rules of a language, so that a composition (including a translation) sounds like it was not written by a native speaker of that language.

The original texts of the Bible were not written in strange Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek. The biblical authors generally wrote in a way that followed the rules of the biblical languages. Therefore, we should translate in the same way. It does not accurately reflect the literary quality of the original biblical texts if we translate using strange, unnatural, foreign-sounding English.

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

What is literary excellence?

I have been challenged by recent comments to my last post to think more about how I define literary excellence. I have blogged on this and related topics in the past:
The Courage of Clarity
Domesticating vs. foreignizing Bible translation
Translation elegance
What is good quality English?
Linguistics and Translation
Proper English
Literary Non-excellence?
Literary style -- Part 2
Literary style -- Part 3
Literary Style -- Part 4
Literary style -- Part 6
Latinization of the English Bible
Good literary English, spoken English, and contemporary English
Literary style -- Part 7
ESV: Literary excellence examples
Literary excellence poll
Literary un-excellence poll
Literary excellence Bible version contest
Bertrand on Literature, Language and the KJV
But it would be good to try to define more clearly what I understand literary excellence to be, especially since it is a topic that I have blogged about so often with reference to English Bible versions.

I believe that literary excellence is a complex matter. It is to a large extent subjective, but there are also many pieces of literature which a large percentage of people would consider to be of "excellent" quality.

Some factors that can contribute to literature excellence are:
1. The test of time: Do people still consider it a great work several generations later?
2. Effective use of figurative language, turns of phrase, etc.--in other words, creative writing
3. Rhythm (this can be rhythm in poetry or even in prose; it can involve literary flow)
4. Aesthetic appeal (yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but, still, many people consider the Mona Lisa to be a great painting; many consider the Tale of Two Cities to have a powerful and excellent opening paragraph; Dylan Thomas' poem, "Do Not Go Gently...," is powerful and evokes common feelings about death; Shakespeare has some wonderful lines and timeless plots that deal with common human issues--no one can better his "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps on this petty pace from day to day until the last recorded syllable of time"--if I recall it correctly--not the beauty of the metaphor of "syllable of time" where a word from one semantic domain (speech) is used within another (time))
5. Coherence: Words simply thrown onto a page like paint from different cans seldom produce anything of sense or literary excellence. Such abstract writing may evoke some interest in some people but few, I think, would consider such gobbledygook writing to have literary excellence.
6. Conformity to most norms of the syntax and lexicon of a language. I sincerely don't think a piece of literature can be considered to have literary excellence if it has a large number of strange wordings which no fluent speaker or writer of that language would ever say or write, but, rather, which most would consider odd, or nonsensical, or convoluted. Good authors know how to write well using the appropriate syntax and lexical combinations of their own language. There is great room for literary creativity, including much use of figurative language, within the general boundaries of the syntax and lexicon of a language. This point #6 is where some English Bible versions, including the ESV, have the most literary difficulties.

I have not really wrestled with trying to define literary excellence before, but I need to. I don't think I could actually "define" it even now, having given it more thought. But I can, as I have done in this post, state factors which often constitute literary excellence. I am grateful to each of you who have challenged me on this topic. It is directly relevant to the question of whether or not a particular Bible version has literary excellence.

As I was trying to find thoughts from others on literary excellence (and in the search finding out that it is also difficult for others to define what it is), I came upon a webpage on the subject. At a minimum it is interesting, but I think it also has value in that it brings up important issues involved in determining literary excellence. I may be naive but I want to believe that literary excellence can exist apart from the market value of a literary piece, unlike the author of that webpage, however.

Well, gotta run. My wife wants me to help her shop for groceries. And that is an excellent thing to do (helping the wife, anyway, although I don't mind shopping for groceries either)!

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ESV wordings poll analysis - Part 1

A day or so ago we blogged giving the results of our poll surveying how visitors responded to wordings of 10 verses from an English version. We mentioned that the wordings were taken from the ESV. I put up this poll to empirically test a number of wordings in the ESV, a version which its translators and publisher promote as having "literary excellence." To my mind, if sufficient numbers of fluent English speakers regard wordings from a Bible version as not being "proper English," then that version, by definition, lacks literary excellence. Now, a poll of only 10 verses does not evaluate nearly enough of the ESV to draw any clear conclusions about whether or not the ESV actually has literary excellence or not. But I have studied enough of the ESV to know that there are hundreds, probably thousands, more sentences in it which are similar in quality to the 10 which we chose to be tested in the poll.

My own sense is that the ESV probably does have a literary quality which might be called "literary excellence" in some passages. But, overall, the ESV is one of the poorest English versions to be produced in the last 100 years. It is replete with renderings which use English words but they do not relate to each other according to the syntactic and lexical rules of English. Even the NASB, which many point out reads "woodenly," often has wordings which are better quality English than the ESV, even if they are wooden.

My impression is that the ESV was produced as a rush job, with very little attention paid to whether or not its sentences are actually good quality literary English or not. The ESV team appears to have simply taken the RSV text and basically revised it to make it more conservative theologically. A few other minor changes were made, but very few, if any, revisions were made to improve on the literary quality of the RSV.

In contrast, the translators of all other recent English versions have paid attention to English quality, translating afresh, rather than retaining an original English text, including Formal Equivalent versions HCSB, NRSV, NIV, ISV, and NET, not to mention Dynamic Equivalence translations, such as the NLT, TEV, CEV, GW, and NCV which, by nature, almost always have better quality, more natural English.

Let us now begin looking at some of the test sentences from the poll.

The wording which received the most votes (351) as being proper English was from Prov. 8:11:
Wisdom is better than jewels.
I agree with respondents that this wording is good English. It has, in my opinion, the best quality English of any of the 10 test sentences.

The sentence which received the next number of votes (212) is from Ps. 38:11:
Rebuke me not in your anger.
This is the one sentence where I disagree with the relatively large number of respondents who voted for it. First, though, let me say that this sentence sounds like pretty good English if a respondent is accustomed to obsolete English from older versions of the Bible. The wording is concise and those of us, like myself, who grew up on the KJV, understand immediately what the meaning of this sentence is. But understanding an English wording does not mean that it is good literary English, nor that it will be understood by other segments of the English speaking population.

ESV Ps. 38:11 is not worded in proper current literary English. It contains the obsolete negative inversion "rebuke me not" which was replaced by modern English negative word order in spoken and written English by 1740 A.D., except when a writer or speaker wished to sound "elegant," using the older word order. There simply is no reason why the translators of the RSV, let alone those of the ESV, should have used any of the negative inversion word orders in their translations. Fluent speakers and writers of English have naturally and normally used the obsolete negative word order for 200 years.

The second problem with the ESV wording of Ps. 38:11 is the unnatural syntax of "in your anger." Fluent speakers of English occasionally will speak or write of someone doing something "in anger." But, as far as I know, no one would ever include a pronoun, as in "in your anger."

Next, the prepositional phrase "in anger" is not the most natural way of expressing the intended meaning today. It is perfectly grammatical English; it just isn't as commonly used today as it might have been at one time, if it ever was commonly used. (My own suspicion when I see many "in" phrases in a Bible version is that there was a great deal of importing of biblical language dative syntax to English.)

If we want a Bible version to speak most accurately and clearly to fluent speakers today, a better way to express the meaning of Ps. 38:11 is:
Do not rebuke me when you are angry.
This wording would be what is called the closest natural equivalent in English to the original Hebrew text. There is no change of meaning using such a closest natural equivalent.

We will continue analyzing the remainder of the ESV poll test sentences in upcoming blog posts.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Grudem's TNIV presentation on Focus on the Family

A few days ago I blogged that Wayne Grudem would be a guest on the Focus on the Family radio program. Dr. Grudem strongly opposes some of the translation wordings within the TNIV. If you would like to hear today's FOTF program, click on the title of this post and then click on the provided link to whichever audio software, Windows Media Player or Real Player, you would like to use to hear the broadcast.

If you have MP3 capture/player software such as iPodder, you can download the broadcast in MP3 format, save it, and listen to it at another time.

Dr. Dobson, the host of the FOTF radio program, did not invite any guest on his program to counter any of Dr. Grudem's claims about the TNIV.

Tomorrow will be the second installment of Dr. Grudem's appearance on the FOTF radio program. You will be able to hear the second installment from the same URL linked to the title of this post, and will also be able to download the broadcast in MP3 format.

Oh, BTW, as I listened to Dr. Grudem, I heard him utter a sentence using a third person plural verb to agree with a preceding indefinite pronoun subject of the sentence. I didn't catch the entire sentence but you can, if you listen. I did transcribe this much of what he said:
"anybody in the world who have ..."
So his own speech contradicts his claims of the impropriety of having plural agreement with indefinite pronouns, something he repeatedly criticizes the TNIV translators for doing in Rev. 3:20:
... If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them and they with me.
Dr. Grudem, like many, perhaps a majority, of English speakers today, has within his own language usage at least some plural agreement with indefinite pronouns. This is parallel to the long historical usage of singular they (grammatically plural, but semantically singular) as one of the generic pronouns of the English language. And Dr. Dobson himself has used the singular they in the prose of one of his books on rearing children:
"Shaking a baby can cause brain damage that will affect them the rest of their lives."
So, it seems to me that some of the opposition to the TNIV's reflection of current (as well as longtime historical) natural usage of singular they or plurals agreeing with indefinite pronouns is not supported by the actual language usage of those who criticize the TNIV for the very speech forms which they, the critics, also use.

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ESV wordings poll results

For several months we have had a poll up asking respondents to state whether or not 10 translation wordings sound like proper English to them. The wordings were taken from the ESV, but not identified as such, so that knowing which version they were from would not bias the results.

Here are the results of the poll:

Check (tick) each of the following that sounds like proper English to you.

The righteous are bold as a lion. 208 votes
They drop trouble upon me. 126 votes
Wisdom is better than jewels. 351 votes
The wicked is a ransom for the righteous. 55 votes
Jerusalem's people are a gladness. 82 votes
Rebuke me not in your anger. 212 votes
I will send and bring you from there. 92 votes
If you are wise, you are wise for yourself. 189 votes
Disaster from them will rise suddenly. 87 votes
Let not oil be lacking on your head. 136 votes

My own votes, which I cast as the first respondent, were for the first and third sentences.

In subsequent posts I will give the reference for each wording and explain why eight of the sentences were in one way or another aberrant English

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005


If we could decide the merits of the ESV vs. the TNIV solely on the quality of their website technologies and blog currency, the ESV would win hands down. The ESV Internet team is superb. (I wish the English in the ESV were the same; much of it is rather strange.)

Yesterday, however, the TNIV blog posted notice of a new Flash presentation of the TNIV on the Zondervan website. Turn your speakers up and click on the titled boxes on the flash screen.

If you are more concerned about translation quality than technological superiority, my own quantified studies demonstrate that the TNIV is superior to the ESV. And as an editor and longtime student of English, I can also easily affirm that the literary quality of English in the TNIV surpasses that of the ESV.

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Monday, October 24, 2005

Strict constructionism and Bible translation

What do interpretive approaches to the Constitution of the U.S. (a big issue now as the U.S. needs another justice on its Supreme Court and the President has nominated someone whose constitutional philosophy is unknown) and Bible translation have in common? Read today's post by Jeremy of the Parableman blog to find out.

Jeremy's application in his penultimate sentence is more right (!!) than much of what I have read about Bible translation.

Curious? I hope so. Go ahead and read Jeremy's post, then come back here and comment on the application to Bible translation.

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NRSV register

Yesterday my wife and I worshipped in a church where the pew Bible is the NRSV. The Sunday School lesson from Acts 18 was excellent, very thorough. The teacher was on the pastoral staff, I believe. It was obvious that he was a sharp student of the book of Acts. My ears perked up when he mentioned that the NRSV was his favorite version.

The sermon was also good, from Col. 3, and stayed close to the biblical text.

I have not personally used the NRSV very much, but from my exposure to it yesterday, I noticed that the vocabulary of the NRSV is in a higher register than that used in several other English Bible versions used today. This requires that users of the NRSV know a more technical and "higher level" (more "educated") vocabulary than that used in other versions. This tells me that whether intended or not, the NRSV is targeted at an audience of readers who are more highly educated than those who read most other recent English versions. This would be true even if the NRSV ranks the same as other versions on reading level tests such as Flesch-Kincaid. F-K is not a smart enough test to measure vocabulary register. For vocabulary, F-K only measures reading level in terms of average word length, not register level.

Given the higher register of the NRSV vocabulary, it is no surprise that the NRSV is highly recommended by many biblical scholars. Of course "ordinary" readers can still use the NRSV. But some of them may need to use an annotated edition of the NRSV which defines the higher register words, if there are such editions. Or they may need to have an English dictionary beside them when they read the NRSV.

When I can free up some time, I would like to create another poll to be posted on this blog, field testing how well Bible readers understand some of the less well known words in the NRSV.

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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Biblecast: 1 John

It is now 1500 UTC Sunday, October 23. The podcast from New Zealand is nearing the end of the Bible. The reading has just started in 1 John. I have been impressed with this Biblecast each time I have tuned in to listen--and I have listened often and at length. The readers have pronounced clearly, with appropriate inflection to help bring out the meaning of the biblical text.

Thank you to each one who participated in this event. May God take your efforts and bring spiritual fruit from them as people listen to God's Word from this Biblecast.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

TNIV: Focus on the Family guest Wayne Grudem

Next week the Focus on the Family radio program will have Wayne Grudem, TNIV opponent, as its guest on Wednesday and Thursday. For more information, click on the title to this post. Should you wish to contact FOTF about these broadcasts, you may do so by clicking here.

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Target audience: The Bible for Dummies

On this blog we emphasize how important it is that those who produce a Bible translation have their target audience clearly in mind. Who your specific target audience is determines to a large extent how your translation will be worded, what level of vocabulary will be used, how much obsolete older English can be used in the translation, etc.

Pastor Shaun has just blogged about the book, The Bible for Dummies. Pastor Shuan makes an important theological point about the target audience of the Bible being "dummies."

I'm sure that Pastor Shuan would not advocate "dumbing down" the Bible, just as I do not. But his points are well taken, as he states them.

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Friday, October 21, 2005

Psalm 73

It is now 0437 UTC (Greenwich Mean Time, Saturday morning). The podcast of the entire Bible is now transmitting Psalm 73 to the Internet world. Pass the news of this wonderful event on to others in person, by phone, or via email or your own blog. It would be great if major media markets throughout the world would pick up on this positive event so that English speakers everywhere could hear this clear reading of God's Word.

Stu McGregor is a blogger who has eight of his church youth group reading in this Biblecast.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Biblecast readers have made it to Deuteronomy

The entire Bible is being read to the world right now live. Blogger Tim Bulkeley is a key organizer of this special event. Click on the title of this post to listen to this Bible podcast. I'm listening as I write this and the reading is so clear. The Bible version being read (CEV) was specifically designed for oral reading and that design is being proven well during this Bible reading marathon.

The readers have made it Deuteronomy and will continue on for the next few days until the entire Bible is read.

Pray God's blessing on this special event.

Ahah! There has just been a change of readers. Both were good. This is special!

Thanks, Tim, and all the rest of you who have put this Bible reading together.

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It takes a team

As Elena and I packed and moved to our new home in Spokane, I realized again how true it is that many activities in life require teamwork. It would have taken Elena and me much longer to pack and move if we had not had the help of a good team. One of our daughters, Esther, drove with her family from Spokane to our home on the reservation to help us. Esther worked beside her mother, helping pack our things into boxes. Her husband, Pete, is mechanically gifted. He has keen spatial intelligence and that was especially helpful stacking boxes and furniture in the U-Haul truck. We had many boxes, so we got help from a couple of teams of younger men who are strong and have a lot of energy. Pete enjoyed driving the rental truck, so he shared that responsibility with me while Esther and Elena (and Pete, when I was driving the truck) drove their car. On the Spokane end, Josh, our other Spokane son-in-law had recruited a friend from their church to help unload the truck. Josh's father was able to help for awhile also.

Moving takes a team.

So does Bible translation.

Yes, translations of the Bible have been done by single individuals. And if those individuals are especially good with the English language, as was J.B. Phillips, the result can be a translation which is stylistically more vibrant and attractive than a translation produced by a committee. But, still, there are aspects of the translation process for which teamwork is best.

Although few English versions have undergone rigorous fieldtesting of the kind that computer software programs do (during their Beta and similar tests), translation teams are better equipped, by virtue of their greater numbers, to conduct such important tests. Such fieldtesting among people who have the ability to objectively spot non-English and other odd wordings can help improve the communicative accuracy, clarity, and literary quality of a Bible translation.

Translation teamwork can maximize the gifts that different individuals bring to the translation task. Some are trained and/or gifted at exegesis. Others have a gift for expressing the meaning of the biblical text in good quality natural English. Sometimes, although not very often, a single individual will have both gifts.

Some exegetes on a team are better equipped to do translation of the Hebrew Bible. For others, the New Testament is their translation turf.

Increasingly, we are seeing the value of in-depth footnotes which are oriented toward the forms of the biblical languages and the translation options a translation team face. The NET Bible has the most extensive notes detailing the various decisions that a team faced as the translated the Bible. Hopefully, other Bible versions will include extensive translation notes, such as those of the NET Bible, in the future.

Production of a translation is not the end of a translation project. It is important how the translation is published, whether it is published only in print form or also in some non-print medium. It takes people skilled in publication issues to know what font faces and sizes are good for published Bibles.

And the audience who uses a Bible version can be an important part of a translation team. Bible translation teams are increasingly recognizing the value of inviting public feedback to their translations. This continues with the NET Bible. The ESV team provides an address on their website where ideas for improvements can be emailed. Perhaps other translation teams are also benefitting from feedback, whether through Internet websites or compiled from comments from Sunday School teachers or others observing the reactions of non-scholars to translation wordings.

Bible translation truly takes a team. I am thankful for Bible translators who recognize the value of getting as much team input as possible. I am thankful for teams which invite the Bible-reading public to give input which can help them make even better Bibles. Better Bibles communicate more accurately and more clearly the eternal message of God's written Word.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Safely in Spokane

Elena and I, along with one of our daughters and her family, who helped us so much with our move, arrived safely in Spokane tonight at 7 pm. Our other Spokane daughter had kept watch over our new house in Spokane for us and it was ready for us to walk in and try to catch our breath and get some needed rest after all the work of packing and moving.

On Sunday the Cheyenne Bible Translation Committee put on a surprise going
away service for us at our Busby church. It was very moving. There were many
of the people with whom we have worked over the years. Of course there were
many tears. Please continue to pray for us as we adjust to living in a city
and having less contact with the Cheyenne language. I will, of course, work
hard to complete editing of the recorded Cheyenne Scripture. I can do that
in our new office here in our Spokane house. Now, let's see where is my
desk? Oh, yes, it's still on the U-Haul truck. And that will be unloaded
tomorrow, along with many boxes and other things.

I have a temporary way to access the Internet at our new house. In a couple of days I will get better service.

I have noted in a comment to my previous post that at least one blog reader tried to email me but was unsuccessful. Unfortunately, one of the things I forgot to do before we left the Cheyenne reservation was change the forwarding address for the email address I use on this blog. So for anyone who has tried to email since midday on Monday, when we started driving west with the U-Haul truck, please send me your message again. I will get it this time.

Monday, October 17, 2005

A Translation of Revelation from the Byzantine Textform

The Bible Translation email discussion list was just notified by Charles Wiese of a translation of the book of Revelation from the Greek Byzantine text family. If you wish to read his translation, you can visit Charles' website.

On his website Charles states that his work is "based on Reformed methods of textual criticism and Bible translation."

I have only had to the chance to skim the preview of Charles' translation.

This afternoon my wife and I, helped by one daughter and her family, finish packing, loading our U-Haul rental truck, and begin our move from Montana to Spokane, Washington, where our two oldest daughters live with their families. Their four children (plus one more on the way) have been calling the hearts of their grandparents. We are glad that we will be able to live near them now. I happen to think that every child should have grandparents of some kind, whether biological or socially adopted, in their lives.

We will continue our fulltime Bible translation work from Spokane.

Please pray for safety and alertness as we drive. It will take us two days to get to our new home in Spokane. My next post should be from our new home. And it should be via DSL broadband, rather than a dial-up connection. Tune in again to see if my posts sound any different from a different place and a broadband connection! :-)

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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Bible translation dissertation

Professor David Bell recently completed and defended a dissertation for a doctorate in translation theory "with a specific focus on Bible Translation." The title of his dissertation is "A Comparative Analysis of English Bible Translations with a View Towards Defining and Describing Paradigms."

Dr. Bell analyzes the following ten English versions:
  1. KJV
  2. ASV
  3. RSV (the results should be essentially identical to those for the ESV)
  4. NASB
  5. HCSB
  6. TEV
  7. NEB
  8. NIV
  9. NJB
  10. The Message
Dr. Bell's dissertation can be downloaded from his website. Please note that this is a free Geocities website which means that there are download limits. You may find, as I did, that the limits have been reached for a specific time period. You will then need to wait until the next time period to try to download. I have contacted Prof. Bell, asking if he would be willing for his dissertation also to be posted on a website where there are no download limits. If he consents I would expect his dissertation to be posted to this webpage with downloadable files about Bible translation.

Prof. Bell recently notified the Bible Translation email discussion list about his dissertation and website. In that notice he invited questions or comments on his dissertation. I do not see an email address on his website for such feedback, but you are welcome to respond here as comments to this post. Or you can join the BT email discussion list and post your comments there.

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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Translating chiasmus

Chiasmus (sometimes called chiasm) is a rhetorical structure of four parts in which the second and third parts are linked to each other and the first and fourth parts are linked to each other.

In whom should we have faith?

Many Biblical scholars believe that there is a chiasmus in Philemon 5. Those who find chiastic structure here base their conclusion on the frequent occurrence of chiasmus in the Bible and the theological implications within this verse. That is, does Philemon have faith in other saints as well as the Lord Jesus, or only in the Lord Jesus? Whether or not there is a chiasmus determines how the verse will be interpreted (Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek). The formally equivalent NASB retains the form of the original Greek:

NASB Philemon 5 because I hear of your love, and of the faith
which you have toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all the saints.
The four parts of the structure in question are:
(1) love
(2) faith
(3) toward the Lord Jesus
(4) toward all the saints
The NASB wording seems to say that Paul has heard of the (2) faith that Philemon has toward two different referents (grammatical indirect objects), first (3) the Lord Jesus, and secondly, (4) all the saints. The use of the comma after "Lord Jesus," however, allows for the possibility that the NASB translators noticed chiastic structure here. If they did, the comma may have been intended to cause the reader to pause, to allow for the chiastic reading that Philemon's (1) love was toward (4) all the saints, while his (2) faith was toward (3) the Lord Jesus. One would doubt that translators would put such heavy responsibility upon a single punctuation mark, the comma, however. And even if they did, no English readers would know that the comma was intended to link parts (1) and (4), unless they had enough guidance or background in chiastic structures to be alert to the possibility of a chiasmus here. Normal rules of English structural interpretation call for an interpretation of the NASB reading to be linear, rather than chiastic, that is, that Philemon's faith is toward both (3) the Lord Jesus and (4) all saints.

Other versions which, similarly, do not make a chiastic reading of this verse clear are KJV, NKJV, RSV, Wms, JBP, REB, NJB, NAB, ISV, LB, HCSB, and ESV.

This list includes all of the most commonly used formally literal versions, that is, those which place a higher premium upon preserving the form of the original when possible, except for the NRSV, plus a few others which are not (JBP, REB, LB, NJB; the ISV promotes itself as "literal-idiomatic").

The non-chiastic translation in the ISV is unexpected, since one of its translators is Dr. David Alan Black who recognizes the chiasmus of Philemon 5, as noted on page 134 of his book, Linguistics For Students of New Testament Greek. Dr. Black correctly states:
"Failure to recognize chiasmus can sometimes lead to a misunderstanding of a passage (see Matt. 7:6 and Philem. 5)."
The NIV gives a chiastic reading, linking Philemon's (2) faith to (3) the Lord Jesus, and his (1) love for (4) all the saints:
NIV Philemon 5 because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints
The TNIV retains the chaism in translation but revises the word order to be closer to that of the underlying Greek:
TNIV Philemon 5 because I hear about your love for all his people and your faith in the Lord Jesus
Other versions which indicate the chiastic relationship between the first and fourth parts of the Greek of Philemon 5 are Barclay, Wuest, NRSV, TEV, CEV, NCV, GW, NLT, and NET. The NET footnote about the chiastic wording is interesting.

Books describing chiastic structure are:

The following webpages are devoted to Biblical chiasmus:

  • Chiasmus or Inverse Parallelism
  • Chiasmus Bibliography
  • What is Chiasmus?
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    Tuesday, October 11, 2005

    ESV poll on literary excellence

    I have had a poll up on this blog for several months asking visitors to this blog if they agree with ESV advertising that it has "literary excellence." 175 respondents have answered so far, with the following results:

    ESV poll
    Do you agree with ESV advertising that it has "literary excellence"?

    yes in some passages, no in others35.4%62


    total votes: 175
    powered by blogpoll

    As we can see, respondents are split as to whether or not the ESV has "literary excellence," as claimed. I recall when the poll was first posted and I was discussing literary excellence in the ESV in blog posts, more votes came in to the poll disagreeing with the claim that the ESV has literary excellence. Somewhere about halfway through the life of the poll, the votes for and against the claim drew closer together. In the last month or so, more responses have come in from individuals who believe that the ESV has literary excellence than from those who do. And all along, a strong percentage of votes came from individuals who feel the ESV has literary excellence in some passages but not in others.

    A more accurate poll on this issue would need to test what respondents understand literary excellence to be.

    Thank you to each person who voted in this poll. It is now time to end this poll.

    My own opinion continues to be that the ESV would have a higher degree of literary excellence if it were written more in some form of standard English (many examples of poor English in the ESV can be found by visiting the ESV section of this blog and by clicking here). I personally find it difficult to consider that a written work has literary excellence if it is composed of many English phrases and sentences which do not follow the rules of good contemporary English, as written by good English authors. The ESV shows a lack of adequate care to ensure that its wordings truly are English, and not English words put together in a way that sound like they might have been written by people who are not native speakers of English.

    I expect, or at least hope, that the quality of English in the ESV will improve as its Translation Oversight Committee continues to makes revisions and incorporate them into future editions of the ESV. Good quality English cannot diminish the accuracy or literary quality of a translation. On the contrary, good quality English allows the readers of a translation to understand its intended meanings more accurately and clearly, and appreciate its literary qualities even more.

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    Sunday, October 09, 2005

    celebrating 30 years of translation

    Celebrate with us: 30 years of God's faithfulness. October 9, 1975, Wayne and I drove onto the Cheyenne Reservation in Montana, pulling a small blue trailer with all our earthly belongings in it. We couldn't begin to fit all our belongings into that trailer anymore! Since we arrived on the reservation, we've had four children (two sets of twins) each of whom God has graciously "grown" into adults who are walking with Him and have families of their own, giving us 6 grandchildren and another one on the way. Now we plan to move to Spokane on October 17th.. Our daughter, Esther, her husband, Pete, and their children are here with us to help us with the final stages of packing before we load up the rental truck. Please pray for us as we move to a new location but still continue our full-time Bible translation work. We look forward to living in the same city as our daughters, Karen and Esther and their families.We are also grieving knowing how much we will miss our friends here and hearing the beautiful Cheyenne language regularly.

    God has also given us many wonderful friends and coworkers. Time and again when we have let them know of needs or struggles that we were experiencing, they prayed, and through their prayers, God has answered in powerful ways.

    Over the years, we have mentioned Cheyenne people we have worked with, like Ted, Elaine, Josephine, Joe, Aline, Louise, Leroy, and Verda. They have last names like Walksalong, Risingsun, Killsontop, and Strangeowl. The first four of these people have gone to be with Jesus already. There are many others whose names we have not mentioned, but who have also helped us in many ways, including the ministers in the local churches. We are thankful for each one.

    In our newsletters we have also talked about things the team has published in Cheyenne: three reading books, a Cheyenne grammar, a calendar each year since 1983, a Cheyenne hymnbook, four dictionaries (one a student dictionary, another a topical dictionary, and the third a comprehensive dictionary—which is also on CD, and a picture dictionary), a book of Cheyenne names, and another one with pictures of elders with their Cheyenne names under each picture.

    Other names we have mentioned: Luke, James, Philippians, 1 John, 1 Peter, Genesis, John, Matthew, and others. The first 5 are complete books that we have translated and audio recorded. Much of Genesis, selections from John, Matthew, and other books in both the Old and New Testaments are also translated and recorded. These have all been audio recorded. Luke and the Genesis Joseph story are also on video. The production of the Cheyenne Panoramic Bible is almost done. We are grateful for the responses people have given us to hearing God's word in their heart language, such as "This is powerful. It really helps me in my own spiritual life to hear it in my language.", "In English it (Scripture) is kind of fuzzy but in Cheyenne it is really clear." and (referring to a Scripture reading class) "It's like coming home. I can picture what God is like, how he works, what he is doing, how much he loves us. I always leave there encouraged. Last night I was pretty down, but I went anyway and left feeling good."

    Now for a new name that some of you have not heard from us yet: Elianna Tamara (all the "a"s pronounced as in the word "Ahh"). This is the name our daughter Deborah and her husband Nick chose for their little girl, born September 14. We got a call from Nick early that morning telling us that we needed to come right away and not wait until our planned departure date of the 17th. But Elianna was impatient and was born just before we boarded the plane in Billings, not waiting for us to arrive in Cincinnati. We got word of her birth between planes in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. We are thankful that despite complications following the birth, Deborah is doing well and Elianna is thriving. We spent almost three weeks with these three, having a very special time.

    An added treat to our time in the east was that our son James, his wife Abby and their son Sam, who live near Chicago, visited with us in Cincinnati. Sam turned 2 on September 24. We enjoyed playing with him and talking with his Dad and Mom.


    Elena and Wayne

    Friday, October 07, 2005

    the meaning of "faith" in Hebrews 11

    Hebrews 11:1 is translated this way in the New King James Version:

    Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
    I sometimes hear people use this verse to support the view that faith does not involve works. They focus on the beginning and end of the verse: Faith is ... not seen. But they misinterpret the meaning of the verse by overlooking a key part of it: Faith is the substance ..., the evidence ...

    By the way, there are hundreds of doublets in the New Testament, in which two or more words express the same or similar meaning. The phrases the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen constitute a synonymous doublet.

    Throughout chapter 11 the author of Hebrews illustrates James’ assertion (James 2:20-24) that works are an integral component of faith:

    By faith ...
    ... Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain
    ... Noah prepared an ark
    ... Abraham obeyed & went out, not knowing where he was going
    ... Sarah bore a child
    ... Abraham offered Isaac
    ... Moses chose to suffer affliction with the people of God
    ... the people of God passed through the Red Sea on dry land
    In this context, faith conveys the idea of following God’s advice, so I’ve clarified verses 1-3 for my target audience as follows:

    Our ancestors demonstrated long ago that following God’s advice is the only way the world can be restored to the way it was when God originally created it.

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    Thursday, October 06, 2005

    Translating hilasmos (propitiation)

    The ESV Bible blog has a recent post on use of the theological word "propitiation" to translate the Greek word hilasmos. The post quotes from the ESV Preface:
    [The ESV] retains theological terminology—words such as… propitiation—because of their central importance for Christian doctrine and also because the underlying Greek words were already becoming key words and technical terms in New Testament times.
    The ESV translators are in good company if numbers count. Most English Bible translators have used technical theological terms to translate hilasmos and a number of other Greek words which they believe are technical terms.

    But is the assumption correct that "the underlying Greek words were already becoming key words and technical terms in New Testament times"? To answer that question requires careful lexicographical work, comparing the meanings of Greek words in the New Testament to the meanings those words had outside the New Testament. I have not done this required careful, extensive study myself, but others have. And I can say that for any Greek word which I have studied I have yet to find one which had such specialized usage in the New Testament, compared to its extrabiblical usage, that a technical term was required for its translation to English.

    The Greek word hilasmos was commonly known to Greek speakers. It referred to appeasing or neutralizing the anger of the gods. Most English speakers today do not know what the word "propitiation" means. If we translate a Greek word which was well known by an English word which is not, we have not translated accurately. That is, we have not translated so that the meaning of the English word (or words) used are as well known to English Bible users as was the meaning of the original Greek word to its users.

    I propose that the most accurate translation of hilasmos would be to an English word (or words) whose meaning is the same as that of hilasmos and which is just as well known as was the meaning of hilasmos to those who read or heard the original Greek New Testament passages which contained this word. And the same principle would hold for other technical terms which have been used in English translations, such as "righteousness", "sanctification", "predestination", etc.

    What might such an accurate translation of hilasmos be for today's English speakers? Why not translate it as it is defined by careful lexicographers of ancient Greek, as something like "appease his anger" or "cause him not to be angry with you any more"? When someone is angry at you and you do something which causes them no longer to be angry at you, what English words do you use to refer to what your action did to their anger? Those words, it seems to be, would be the most accurate translation of hilasmos.

    True, a clear, accurate translation of hilasmos might take more than one English word, but it is well known that it often takes a different number of words to translate a single word or more than one word from one language to another. The Cheyenne language, with which I work, has verbs which almost always must be translated to English with more than one word. The single Cheyenne verb Naohkesaa'one'seomepevetsisto'aneherequires several English words for an accurate translation, which, in this case would be: "I truly do not pronounce the Cheyenne language well." Greek verbs are similar to Cheyenne verbs in that they typically are composed of more than one meaning part (morpheme). No one objects to translating Greek verbs with more than one English word. Similarly, we should not object when a Greek noun requires more than one word for its meaning to be accurately translated to current English.

    Better Bibles will translate the meaning of the original words (and syntax) of the Bible into English which not only accurately communicates the same meaning, but does so with words which are as well known to English speakers as were the original biblical words to those who heard or read them.

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    Tuesday, October 04, 2005

    Are we polytheists?

    The NIV translates the first two verses of majestic Psalm 91 as:

    He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

    I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

    The NIV follows the practice of most other English versions here, literally translating four different ways of referring to God in the original Hebrew.

    Stepping back from my lifelong familiarity with these verses, it sounds to me that such English translations imply that there are four different referents, that is, four different beings in whom we "dwell", "rest", "take refuge", and "trust." (Actually, I think that the second sentence is clear the "the Lord" and "my God" are co-referential, so, technically, the two verses appear to refer to three entities.) It requires teaching beyond the words of the translation for the uninitiated hearer/reader to know that all four names refer to a single deity, the God of the Hebrew Bible. If this is startling to you, you will also need to step back from this particular text and think about how English refers to different entities. Think, for instance, about the following English:
    Today I am flying back home with my wife and my friend and my director and my co-worker.
    How many people am I flying with today? Just from these words, as they would normally be interpreted according to English syntax and semantics, it sounds like I will be flying with four different people. In actual fact, all four are the same person, my wife, Elena. But English grammar does not permit me to refer to them all as expressed in that sample sentence. To make it clear that they are all the same person, I would need to use English rules of reference to do so. I could do so with a revision of the sample sentence:
    Today I am flying back home with Elena. She is my wife, my friend, my director, and my co-worker.
    The most referentially accurate translation of Psalm 91:1-2 and other passages like it requires, if I understand English grammar correctly, revision so that it is clear that each reference to an entity is to the same entity. These beautiful verses refer to the same God who is referred to in four different ways:

    the Most High
    the Almighty
    the Lord
    my God

    In the Hebrew (which has different referential syntax from that of English), these verses refer to only one god, not three or four different gods. So translation of these verses should accurately reflect that all of the names for deity refer to the same god.

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    Saturday, October 01, 2005

    Blessing God

    Recently on a private email discussion list there has been an active thread on the topic of translating biblical references to "blessing God." One of the posts in that thread impressed me and I asked permission of its author, my friend and fellow Bible translator, David Frank, to post it here. He gave his permission. Here it is:
    from David Frank:

    I have been trying to follow the discussion on "blessing God." It has been interesting. My initial reaction is to side with those who say we must translate according to meaning in context according to forms that are natural in the receptor language, and that would lead us away from trying to translate Hebrew BRK or some form of the Greek εuλογεω consistently as "bless" in English.

    I am glad to see now that all parties acknowledge that there is not just one kind of valid translation. That is important. One translation that says "we bless God" and another that says "we praise God" for the same thing in the source text can both be valid.

    Now I might have missed something in all the discussion that has been flying by, but I wanted to emphasize that it is crucial, when discussing translation variables, to also keep in mind audience and purpose. It is a mistake to debate translation options without bringing audience and purpose into the discussion. One person promoting one translation strategy might have a particular audience and purpose in mind but does not make that clear in his argument. Another person with a different strategy in mind probably has a different audience and purpose in mind but doesn't make that explicit either. When there is disagreement, probably each party is assuming that the audience and purpose they have in mind is the most appropriate. We must not only acknowledge that there are different valid types of translation, but also that one translation strategy might be best for one audience and purpose while a different strategy might be best for a different audience and purpose.

    M--- M---, it is good that you have challenged our assumptions. In answer to your question, why can't we stretch the limits of the receptor language somewhat in order to try to more completely convey the categories and world view reflected in the source text, my answer is that there is no reason why we can't. It is even a good thing to do in some circumstances. Despite some of the things that have been said in the recent discussion, I would say that nothing is "impossible" in linguistic expression. Okay, maybe sometimes comprehension is highly unlikely if you say things certain ways. The translation may even be rejected by the intended audience. But that doesn't mean that it is impossible to say it that way. The fact that sometimes people (such as translators) do say it that way is reason enough to know that it is not impossible to do so.

    I--, when you use the word "impossible" to describe certain collocations such as "we bless God" or the equivalent in Danish, German or Dutch, I think there must be some important implicit information that you are not stating. Impossible to say it that way and... what? Impossible to say it that way and still conform to traditional patterns of language usage? Maybe so, but still it is not impossible to express oneself that way, strictly speaking. Poets do that sort of thing all the time. Impossible to say it that way and be immediately understood? Maybe so, and if we all agree that the goal of a translation is that it should must be immediately understood, without cross-references or reflection or footnotes or consultation with anyone else, then I think it is helpful to state that what you mean is that it is "impossible" to say it that way and still achieve the desired results you have in mind. (I am not really saying that I really would agree that we might expect to be able to produce a translation that can be immediately understood, without cross-references, or reflection, or footnotes, or consultant with anyone else. That probably would be impossible, no matter how you tried to go about it. It wouldn't even be desirable, as far as I am concerned. I'm just saying, if you want to say it is impossible to have a highly concordant translation, you should also state what else you are trying to accomplish at the same time, thus making the combination of factors impossible.)

    Some of the resulting expressions in a translation may sound unnatural, but as we know, naturalness is only one of several factors to balance in translation. Not everything we are going to say in a translation will sound natural, if we are going to challenge people's world views and try to bring them into closer conformity with God's perspective. Naturalness is only one of several values to keep in mind in translation, and the different values sometimes are in competition with each other, and I don't think we want to say that naturalness always trumps everything else. It is a judgment call in every translation, how to balance all the factors for a particular audience.

    Now in the two translation projects I have been involved in, we did not strive for an especially high degree of concordance at the expense of naturalness and comprehension. We did not use the same word to translate εuλογεω when God was the object that we used where a person was the object. When God was the object, we used something like "thank" or "worship." Even after the recent thought-provoking discussion, I would not go back and change the translation into these two languages, where the target audience is not highly sophisticated and there is no literary tradition and no other vernacular scripture translations available. In James 3:9, for example, we followed the suggestion of the Translator's Handbook, which says,
    "Blessing God is something all Jews understood. Whenever the name of God was mentioned, they had to respond by saying 'Blessed be he!' Every day in the synagogue devout Jews had to repeat the so-called Standing Prayer, in which each thanksgiving closes with the words 'Blessed art thou....' And the continuing use of this formula by early Christians is seen in the thanksgiving prayer 'Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ' (Eph 1.3; 1 Peter 1.3, TEV). To bless in this context is 'to worship,' 'to praise,' and 'to give thanks' rather than 'to bestow goodness and favor.' The latter is done by God to human beings."
    However, currently, for another very different (English-speaking) audience, which is much more highly educated and already has a wealth of different Bible translations at their disposal, I am also making a translation of the Book of Hebrews, for study purposes, with footnotes, to be accompanied by verbal explanation and discussion. Well, I'm not calling it a translation, but rather (somewhat facetiously) a "literal-literary rendering of the original Greek text." It is a translation, but not the type we normally do. It is even more literal and concordant than any other English translation I am aware of. One type of translation is appropriate for one audience purpose, and another type of translation is appropriate for another audience and purpose.

    When M--- M--- dreams of a highly concordant type of translation, I presume the intended audience would be someone like himself, who is educated in Biblical studies in a way that 99.99% of the population is not. Why not such a translation? There is no reason why not. It could be fully legitimate, for the intended audience. On the other hand, most of us in this discussion, when we talk about translation strategies, have in mind language groups as the target of translation who do not have a literary tradition, are not highly educated, do not have multiple scripture translations at their disposal, and are not strong in Biblical knowledge. That is an important kind of audience, but not the only possible audience to translate for.

    It is important to note that a translation can be rejected by the target audience. I have in mind what M--- M--- said, that surely the audience will recognize that this is God's word and that they must make every effort to make sense of it, even if it doesn't sound clear at first, and natural to them. First of all, the audience may not be interested in the scriptures. Or secondly, they may be interested in God's word but may easily conclude that it is above our understanding, so they may not make the processing effort to try to understand it. Or thirdly, people may accept that God's word is important and meant to be understood, but they may reject this particular translation as being a legitimate expression of it. Those sorts of things constrain how we do translation, as we want the product to be accepted and embraced and understood. It is a judgment call.

    Sorry for the long posting. These are some of the things I am currently processing in my mind.
    Thank you, David, for wrestling with these important translation issues. They are just as important for translation of the English Bible as they are for translation into any other language. Many readers of English Bibles do not know what it means to "bless God." Somehow we have to face that fact and address it in the translation itself, a footnote, or through extrabiblical teaching.

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