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Monday, October 23, 2006

Prov. 21:31

Our daily Bible reading today included Prov. 21:31:
Do your best, prepare for the worst-- then trust GOD to bring victory. (The Message)
That spoke powerfully to me.

But then I compared that wording to translations of other versions, from literal to the idiomatic GNB (TEV) and CEV and discovered that Eugene Peterson very much paraphrased this verse:
The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD. (ESV)

The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the LORD. (NIV)

The horses are prepared for battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD. (NLT)

You can get horses ready for battle, but it is the LORD who gives victory. (GNB)

Even if your army has horses ready for battle, the LORD will always win. (CEV)
I like Bibles to speak clearly in English, but I think the original message in Hebrew comes through clearly enough if we leave the horses in the translation.

What do you think? (Let's try to have any comments follow our blog guidelines in the right margin so we don't simply dismiss The Message with a broad sweep of a brush, but, rather, that we actually deal with specifics of translation issues at stake here.)


At Mon Oct 23, 06:22:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

This is why we use the Message for devotional purposes, but not for Bible study :-)

At Mon Oct 23, 06:23:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

If you keep in mind what Eugene Peterson intends The Message to be, I have little problem with this. He considers it closer to summaries, paraphrases, and devotional reflections than translations of the biblical texts. He doesn't think it's suitable for public reading as scripture and just envisioned as something people could read the way they read devotionals.

Now the publisher, on the other hand, does market it as a translation, and if you want to evaluate it as a translation given their marketing strategy I have no problem offering a critique with that in mind.

It seems to me that what Peterson has done in this verse is that he's thought about how it applies across contexts and then presented the conclusion of that thought process in place of this verse. I don't think that counts as translating it at all. Part of the content of this proverb is the implied analogy between the case of the horse that it explicitly gives and the perhaps different case that the reader might supply (or at least the generalized case that Peterson has in mind, but again that is implicit in the content of the verse, not explicit).

This is one case where the publisher's marketing of it as a translation really is at odds with what he's done. I don't think that's true of the whole thing, but it's true enough of most of it.

At Tue Oct 24, 05:51:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

Jeremy makes a good point here. I love the Message and bought it in portions as it was being released. But once the full Bible had been paraphrased by Peterson, NavPress eventually began putting leather covers on it (in fact I have one like--blue aligator!). The problem is once leather is put on it, people start treating it like they would any other version of the Bible and start using it for purposes beyond its intended meaning.

Note also that the original copies didn't have verse numbers. Many of the recent edition do. That also sends mixed signals. Before it could be read almost like a book. Now we're looking up specific verses and memorizing it as scripture.

I ran across someone's blog yesterday who mentioned the Message in passing saying that he hated it. I declined to comment, but I run into quite a few folks that feel this way toward the Message sometimes. And most of the time, the reason they hate it is because (1) they don't know the purpose of a paraphrase or (2) they think that the Message is being offered as something more than a paraphrase. And when taken as more than a paraphrase--as perhaps an actual translation--the Message will fall short such as in Prov 21:31.

At Wed Oct 25, 09:17:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I would like to comment on this from a different angle.

It is often considered legitimate in Bible translation to replace metaphors which are not properly understood when translated literally with more literal language, or with a different but equivalent metaphor. Indeed all translations that I know of do this in places, at least with the literal "long of nose" of Exodus 34:6, usually correctly but non-metaphorically translated "slow to anger"; I posted about this last year.

I'm not sure if a proverb should be treated in the same way as a metaphor, whether it is legitimate to replace a poorly understood figure of speech in a proverb with literal language or a different figure. But if this is legitimate in principle, this is a case where that principle might be applied. For in the modern world horses are no longer used in battle, and so there is a danger that a literal translation would be misunderstood. Perhaps Peterson could have used an equivalent figure using tanks rather than horses; I don't think I would recommend that as it is an obvious anachronism, but Peterson has not avoided anachronisms elsewhere. Here, however, he has chosen to replace the figure with a more literal wording without the figure of horses and battles. As such, I would suggest that he has stayed within the limits of what is legitimate in Bible translation; if what he has done here is judged to be "paraphrase", then the same judgment must be made about every rendering (as far as I know) of Exodus 34:6.

On the other hand, I would expect any reader of the Bible who has had an elementary education (which should be everyone in the "western" countries targeted by Peterson) to know that until rather recently horses were used extensively in battle. (The last major cavalry charge, I remember learning in Australia, was the Australian cavalry's attack on Beersheba during the First World War, which opened the way for the British and our allies to conquer Palestine and so for the state of Israel, and for the Palestinian problem.) So, although not strictly contemporary, the figure of speech concerning horses used in battle should be rather clearly understood. As such there was probably no good reason for Peterson to abandon it.


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