Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Choosing a Bible Translation


I shifted gears tonight and used a verse in Amos 4 to explain some of the difficulties of Bible translation and why I choose the type of version that I do.

Below is the handout that I gave my congregation:


stick to the text”
Different Bible versions were translated by different philosophies governing the committees responsible for producing the English text.  For example, consider a comparison of 2 Timothy 4.1 between different standard translations:
I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; (KJV)

I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: (NKJV)

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: (NASB)
 I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom, (LEB)
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: (ESV)
 What is striking about this comparison?  What’s striking is that nothing is striking.  Notice, though, how these translations handle 2 Timothy 4.1:
And so I solemnly urge you before God and before Christ Jesus—who will someday judge the living and the dead when he appears to set up his Kingdom: (NLT)
I solemnly call on you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge those who are living and those who are dead. I do this because Christ Jesus will come to rule the world. (God’s Word) 
When Christ Jesus comes as king, he will be the judge of everyone, whether they are living or dead. So with God and Christ as witnesses, I command you (CEV) 
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and because he is coming to rule as King, I solemnly urge you (GNB)
Do you see the difference?  The first grouping of translations, called formal equivalent translations, largely read the same.  However, in the second grouping, called dynamic equivalent translations, it may be more difficult to follow along with someone reading from another translation because the wording patterns have changed.  However, that is not the real culprit as I see it.  Notice one phrase from the first grouping again:

    at his appearing and his kingdom; (KJV)
    at His appearing and His kingdom: (NKJV)
    by His appearing and His kingdom: (NASB)
    by his appearing and his kingdom, (LEB)
    by his appearing and his kingdom: (ESV)

They all consistently translate Paul’s Greek phrase: 

    και     την   επιφανειαν    αυτου     και     την     βασιλειαν   αυτου
    And   the   appearing       of him     and    the      kingdom     of him

The second grouping translates this phrase as follows:

    when he appears to set up his Kingdom: (NLT)
    Christ Jesus will come to rule the world. (God’s Word)
    When Christ Jesus comes as king (CEV)
    and because he is coming to rule as King (GNB)

They rather stray from the more literal translation, don’t they?  Also, it introduces a possible theological question; if someone reads, “...when he appears to set up his Kingdom” (NLT) then he may think this alludes to the premillennial belief of a physical 1,000-year kingdom based in Jerusalem.  But Paul didn’t explicitly write that view.  He literally wrote that when Jesus appears his kingdom appears with him.  To see Christ is to see his Kingdom breaking in with visible power.

Does 2 Timothy 4.1 by itself either prove or disprove amillennialism or premillennialism?  No, it doesn’t.  Paul’s actual words in this verse are more ambiguous than some translations may be read to infer. 

Where the Scripture is ambiguous I think it is prudent to keep it ambiguous in the English translation.

Another issue is highlighted in the prophecies of Amos:

“I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me,” declares the LORD.(4.6 ESV)

What does “cleanness of teeth” mean? The NIV11 puts it this way:

“I gave you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.

The NLT puts it plainly:
“I brought hunger to every city and famine to every town. But still you would not return to me,” says the Lord.

Should a translation keep idioms intact from the original language as much as possible? To what extent should an English translation “help” people not familiar with the biblical world? That is the question. Understand that it is impossible for scholars to be strictly literal as they translate from one donor language to another receptor language.  However, it is important to understand how free—based on their philosophy of translation—they feel they have the right to tweak the words and still call it a faithful translation.  Some translations lean more toward the word-for-word philosophy.  Others believe it is more faithful to the definition and nature of translating to adopt a thought-for-thought. 

For another example, consider Ecclesiastes 9.8 from the ESV:
Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.


Contrast this translation of the Hebrew with the NLT:
Wear fine clothes, with a splash of cologne!

"inclusive language"
This is another thorny issue today.  Some in society wish to speak of humankind rather than mankind.  A fireman is now a firefighter.  The mailman is now a "letter carrier" and a waiter/waitress is now a "server."  The English use of the generic "man" to mean "person" has come under fire.

Some feel that English, itself, has a problem: the third person singular pronoun only comes in a masculine sense—"he."  In English there is no genderless third person pronoun.  For example, proper English would say:
Anyone wanting extra credit should stay after class to learn how he can earn it.
Some have a problem with that because they believe it belittles or ignores females.  Some would have us change it to a plural:
Those wanting extra credit should stay after class to learn how they can earn it.
Some go so far to commit a grammatical faux pas and pluralize the singular pronoun:
Anyone wanting extra credit should stay after class to learn how they can earn it.
This makes for implications in biblical translation.  Consider this well-known verse from the King James Version:
 And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. (Luke 9:23)
Okay, the word "man" is not in the Greek.  We could translate, "If anyone..." without a problem.  But the Greek speaks of a single person yet some may have us pluralize it:
Those who will come after me, let them deny themselves, and take up their crosses daily, and follow me.
I have a problem with this solution.  Why?  Because the Greek New Testament does not use plurals here.  It uses singulars.  If God wanted Luke to write it in plurals he could have made him do it.  But he didn't.  Keep the Word of God as it is!  To keep it singular some may recommend this:

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (NIV11)

The NLT changes from third person to second person:

If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.

I was taught to translate Greek from the word-for-word school by the late Reverend Doctor Malcolm W. Shelton.  The English Standard Version (ESV)—itself a revision of the RSV—and the New American Standard Bible (NASB) are my preferred English translations.