Lecture 3: What Are Translations?
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Why are translations so different? In this lesson we will look at issues of how words carry their meaning, differing translation philosophies, and what it means to be "literal."
Course: Greek Tools for Bible Study
Lecture: What are Translations?
Translations [slide 1]
Translations are the topic of chapter 4 of the text book. This is one of my favorite parts of the whole course. I absolutely love comparing translations and trying to figure out why they’re different and why one set of translators went after one nuance of a word and another set of translators decided to bring out another nuance of the word. It’s a fascinating process.
I don’t think it was until I was part of the ESV translation team that I came to understand how to translate. I mean, I’ve been teaching Greek for 20 years, but that doesn’t mean you can translate. It was a fascinating process with the kinds of debates you have in a committee. These translations are all done by committees and the kinds of debates and arguments you have are tiring but fascinating.
I say that partly because what you see in this chapter is more my reminiscences of the two and a half years I spent on the ESV. I kept a yellow pad by me, taking notes the whole time we did the Bible. It’s just fascinating the kinds of issues that kept coming up.
Communication: “Languages are not codes.” [slide 2]
Before we actually get into specific examples, I need to take a step back and talk about communication. It may not sound overly relevant at first, but it is one of the most significant things I need to talk to you about, because there are some people who think that languages are codes, that you have what you want to say in Greek and you use this code and use a different set of codes for English. So, you would only need to figure out how they connect in order to translate.
I remember when I first started learning Greek, I had learned the Morse code. If I remember it correctly, a “b” is a long and three shorts. I figured, well, okay, if that’s what it is in Morse code then it’s kind of like the Greek version of Morse code, the “b” would be [di-di-daah] or something. I figured that there was this kind of exact correlation between words and grammar. Very quickly I found out that that is absolutely not the case. Any of you who know more than one language are snickering because you know very well that languages aren’t codes, that there’s not an exact equivalence between two different languages. And that’s why is so important to talk about the whole issue of how do we communicate.
“Can” – bundles of meanings [slide 3]
If I say a word, have I communicated with you? If I say “can”, have I communicated with you? No. My supervisor used to say, “ Americans eat what they can, and can what they can’t.” Words have bundles of meaning, and that is the best metaphor that I know of. Some words have larger bundles, while other words have smaller bundles, but almost any word has more than one meaning.
'''word + grammar + context = meaning'''
So, how do you communicate? You have to use words, but then you also have to use grammar to put the words in a way they can communicate. If I said, “The dog bit Bill,” who got hurt? Bill. Why? Well, because “Bill” is the direct object to the verb “bit.” If I say, “Bill bit the cat,” then--other than needing to lock me away somewhere--you know that it’s the cat that got hurt. Why, it’s the same words in both sentences! They mean different things because we have grammar. Grammar takes the words and puts them in an order that can communicate information. And yet, that’s not even enough, is it? I should say, sometimes it’s not enough.
I love billboards. It is a weird quirk, I guess. I saw one great big billboard with an image of two cute little kids on it. The big caption read: “Ugly Kids.” I have no idea what the billboard was trying to communicate because there was not enough context. Now, I saw another sign, and along the top it says, “Moving your business to Spokane? Don’t! Spokane Traffic Control doesn’t want you.” Now, that sign has words, it has grammar, and it has a whole lot more context, doesn’t it? I know a lot more about what is going on behind that billboard than the “Ugly Kids” sign. Now, I’m assuming it’s about a freeway issue or something. I don’t know all the context, but that’s how we communicate. That’s what I’m trying to say.
You take words, and you use grammar to relate them to each other. And then there’s the context in which that grammatical unit, that sentence, has to fit. Because the words aren’t the same, the grammar’s not the same, and the context is totally different, that's what makes translation so difficult. Totally different because we’re twenty-first century Americans and that’s about as far away as you can get from first century Jews or Greeks.
Now that may sound kind of simplistic, but it’s the safeguard against something I’ve seen in class for many years. People come and they say, “Well, there’s three Greek words here. Just put three English words down. There’s a noun, a verb, and an adjective. Put down a noun, a verb, and an adjective.” But you can’t communicate that way, can you? And it’s really important that we all understand that up front.
We don’t have exact equivalences, and when the Biblical writers are trying to communicate they’re going to start with context, take words and grammar, and they use that to convey meaning. That’s where the problem in translation comes. Different words, different grammar, different context.
Words or Meaning?
The interesting thing here is the relationship between words and meaning. When you read your Bible, what are you looking for? You’re looking for the meaning, aren’t you? You’re looking for the meaning. I believe in verbal inspiration. I believe that God’s inspiration extends to the actual words used. So the words are tremendously important. As you read the ESV, you’ll see how important we think words are, compared to some other translation philosophy.
Yet that’s not the end product. We want to use the words to get at the meaning. So what translators have to do is a much more difficult task than some people might think. Because they’re looking at words, grammar, and their context, and they’re trying to figure out what words to use, what grammar to use to express those words in their context. The point is, translators are trying to say the same thing. That’s what translation’s all about. Not conveying words, but conveying meaning.
“Translators are Traitors” under- or over-translate [slide 4]
There’s an Italian proverb-- and if I could speak Italian I would say it in Italian because it’s very short and concise-- but in English it comes out, “Translators are traitors.” In other words, whenever a translator tries to do their job, they are either going to under-translate or over-translate. It’s really, really hard to say the same thing.
Have you ever heard or listened to simultaneous translators? They always take longer to say it, don’t they? Because they’re hearing nuances and meaning in one language, and they can’t just have the same number of words in the second language. That’s just the way it is in translation work. I assume that if you counted words in a translated book, it would be longer than the original. That’s part of the problem in translating, and it is one of the things that accounts for differences in the Bibles.
'''Romans 6:15 [slide 5]'''
For example, in Romans 6:15, Paul is talking about the relationship of ongoing sin in the life of a believer. And the NASB translates it, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!”
ESV, “By no means!”
NLT, “Of course not!”
King James, “God forbid.”
Now, if you looked at the Greek, the word “God” doesn’t exist and the word “forbid” doesn’t exist. However, that is the better translation. Because the Greek is, “Don’t even let it be an idea or a thought in your head.” You can say negations with different strength in Greek, and Paul is saying, “NO!” That’s the best translation. All right?
Now, which of these translations says that the best? “God forbid.” Now, it is a bit of an over-translation because the word “God” and the word “forbid” don’t exist. In other words, you’re kind of adding something that’s not actually there. But “Of course not” is just way too weak. Excuse me, but I think NLT made a serious mistake in this one. It is such a strong statement. “Well, of course not” isn’t anywhere close to what it means, I don’t think.
'''Matthew 6:10 [slide 6]'''
Matthew 6:10. Believe it or not, people can find anything to argue about. And translation committees are no different. Translation committees have to work to retain their sanctification, should I kind of put it that way? Because you feel so strongly about something, and what you’re translating is so important, and if they don’t agree with you they’re obviously wrong.
When you read the NIV, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” What does that mean? When you see “your kingdom come”, what’s Jesus saying? Is it simply describing it? Well, look what the NLT and NET Bible say, “May your kingdom come. May your will be done.” The NLT adds “in here”.
By the way, you may not be familiar with the NET Bible. Again, it’s another new Bible. It’s a very interesting project. If you go to bible.org, this is the Bible. You can download it for free. They’ve got it for palm and html. The man who is sponsoring this wanted a Bible to give away on the internet. Pure missions. He couldn’t get any of the Bible people to let him do it, so he said, “Phooey, I'll just have my own Bible made.” NET Bible… pretty clever, huh? It’s the New English Translation, available on the net at bible.org. Anyway, it’s a very good translation. It’s somewhere around the NIV, in terms of looseness. But one of the nice things I like about NET is that they don’t care how other people have translated things. They’ll translate it the way they think it should be translated, and that’s not always the case on most translation committees.
Okay. Bring the translations together. What is Jesus saying in the Lord’s prayer? It’s not an indicative verb. It’s an imperative, did you know that?
Whenever you pray the Lord’s prayer, “Our Father, who art in heaven, let Your name be hallowed!” Exclamation point. “Let Your kingdom come!” Exclamation point. “Let Your will be done!” Exclamation point. They’re three imperatives.
When you read “your kingdom come, your will be done”, I suspect that 99 percent of the people have no idea that they’re calling on God to act, but that’s exactly what the Greek says.
So, this is serious under-translation, in my opinion, because the verb is an imperative. It’s called an entreaty. You’re entreating God to act. The NLT and the NET did it pretty good. I wanted the ESV to say, “Let your kingdom come,” but that wasn’t going to happen.
The illustration is to show you that when you translate, you either over- or under-translate. Every once in awhile it comes through very clearly, “And Jesus went to the ocean” or “went to the sea.” It is really hard to say exactly the same thing when people talk, so you either say a little too much or a little less. In other words, you have to interpret it. Got to figure out what the meaning is and then you say, “What part of the meaning do I want to convey in my translation?”
Translation Philosophy [slide 7]
So, what happens since you don’t have exact equivalences between language? You’re trying to use words and grammar to convey meaning. You know that much of the time you’re either going to do a little too much or a little too less. So how do you actually translate?
Well, the answer is that every translation team has a translation philosophy. They sit down beforehand, probably refine it as they go, and they say, “Okay, what kind of Bible do we want to translate?” And saying “literal” doesn’t work. I’ll tell you why in a second. But they all have a philosophy, and I want to do is to go through the kinds of questions that are part of translation philosophy. The kind of general, broad issues that they’re looking at. As we go through those, you’ll start seeing why translations are so different. They’re not different because some are good translators and some are bad. They’re not different because some translators are liberal and some are conservative. They simply have different philosophies. They have different kinds of Bibles they’re trying to produce. Because of this whole problem with languages, they are not codes. A lot of the Bibles state them up front if you look.
“Literal” [slide 8]
Before we get into that, let me say something about the word “literal” because I really don’t like the word. I encourage people not to use it, but I end up using it because it’s part of my speech.
I looked up the word ''literal'' in Webster’s Dictionary. It means “getting the same meaning, not form.” That’s really important. When people say, “I want a literal Bible,” what are they saying? Yes, most people think of the word in terms of form. Okay, if this Greek sentence has seven words, I want a Bible that has seven words in English. They used a participle, I want a participle. And that’s a “literal” translation. But, that’s not what the word means.
''Literal'' has to do with meaning. So if I tell you, “My wife’s eyes are doves.” Literally interpret that for me. (That’s a line from Song of Solomon.) Be literal in your interpretation. How would you literally interpret that? Only if ''literal'' meant ''form'' would I be saying, “My wife has eyes that look like birds.” No, if you’re going to literally interpret the phrase, “my wife’s eyes are doves,” you would interpret it as a metaphor, because that’s what I intend you to understand. My wife has beautiful eyes, lovely eyes, dove-like eyes. See, I intend you to understand it metaphorically. And so if you’re going to interpret me “literally”, that means you have to understand it “metaphorically”. See the problems with the word ''literal''?
“Authorial Intent” [slide 9]
We use the phrase called “authorial intent”. Have you ever heard this word knocked around? “Authorial intent” means “the author meant something”. And if I’m going to be literal in my interpretation, if I’m going to be literal in my translation, then I want to know what the author intended. And I don’t care whether it’s a physics textbook or a book of poetry. The form’s irrelevant because I want to know what he meant to convey to me. We need to be careful with the word ''literal'', I guess is what I’m trying to say. What I mean ''literal'' I mean, I want to know what the author meant me to know.
All Bible Translations Are Interpretive. [slide 10]
All Bible translations are interpretive. Do you believe that? I know a lot of people say, “This Bible is not interpretive.” That’s absolutely impossible. Well, yes, there has been a Bible that’s been written that is not interpretive. It’s the one written in Greek. Okay, this is the non-interpretive Bible. It’s the only one that exists for the New Testament. And yet, even this is interpreted to a degree. See all this stuff along the bottom? That shows where all the Greek texts are different and the editors of this particular edition of the Greek have had to look at all these differences in the Greek manuscripts and decide which one they think is original. So, okay, yes, I take it back. Yes, even this book is interpretive, but a lot less interpretive than any English translation is. So all are interpretive. Let me give you some examples. Periodically I’m going to throw in some Old Testament stuff, which I know it is written in Hebrew, but it still illustrates.
'''Psalm 100:5 [slide 11]'''
There are things like idioms. Psalm 100:5. “For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” “To all generations,” is that literal? Well, yes, if you have the right meaning for literal. Actually, the Hebrew says, “and his faithfulness to a generation and a generation.” That’s how you say it in Hebrew. They don’t say “to all generations”. They say “to a generation and a generation”. That’s why, interestingly, the New Living translated it “continues to each generation”. See, they’re trying to get some of the nuance of the Hebrew into their translation. But, you know, you just can’t say “to a generation and a generation”. It doesn’t work. You have to interpret it.
'''Matthew 2:2 [slide 12]'''
That applies to this kind of construction. It also applies to words’ meanings. Here’s a good one: Matthew 2:2. The NIV translates the wise men asking, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
Now if you read this in the ESV, we translated it, “We saw his star when it rose.” Look at it and go, “What?” Come on, is it giving a direction or a time? Guess what? ajnatolh:/ (anatolē) It can mean both. You have to interpret. You can’t say, “We saw his star ejn th:/ ajnatolh:/ (en tē anatolē)” You can’t do that. You’ve got to get some English. So you have to make a choice. Does it mean “in the east”, or does it mean “when it arose”?
Because this is a real sensitive issue, there was quite a bit of debate. All of a sudden you have a Bible that doesn’t have the wise men seeing the star in the east. You know, the people who market Bibles look at things like that, as do those who buy them. When you look at a Bible, what do you do? You see a new Bible on the shelf and you look up your favorite verse, don’t you? You see whether we left it alone, or we changed it. Yes, well, the word means both. You have to make a choice, and we chose “when it arose”.
'''Colossians 1:11-12 [slide 13]'''
This extends even to issues of punctuation. For example, in Colossians 1:11 and 12. “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy,” comma, “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.”
Look at what the NIV does… “you may have great endurance and patience,” comma, “and joyfully giving thanks.” Does the “joyfully” go with the preceding or the following? You’ve got to make a choice. You’ve got to put a comma somewhere. Greek sentences go on forever. You’ve got to put commas in there, or they’ll kill you. Where are you going to put the comma? You have to make an interpretive decision. There’s no way to get away from it.
What we want in a literal translation is authorial intent. But we recognize that all translations are interpretive. That’s just the way it is.
All Translations Smooth Out the Greek: Romans 12:11-13 [slide 14]
Now another thing that all translations are going to do is smooth out the Greek. Here’s an example from Romans 12. It’s pretty effective if you just keep word for word, yet I can still understand why a translator would look at this and smooth it out a bit.
Romans 12:11-13. Here’s what the Greek sounds like if you were going word for word from the Greek: “in zeal, not slothful; in spirit, fervent; to the Lord, serving; in hope, rejoicing; in tribulation, enduring; in prayer, being constant; to the needs of the saints, contributing; hospitality, pursuing”. Yes, translators could have kept the order of the Greek. In this case, it is actually pretty powerful. And yet you can see why for most people they would really feel the need to smooth it out, because it is rough for some translation philosophies.
Ten Guidelines in Translation Philosophy [slide 15]
So the translation committees get together, and the publisher gets together, and everyone makes some decisions. I’ve given you ten different things we look at.
Audience [slide 16]
Number one: We look at audience. Who do you want to write the Bible for? “So why can’t you write it for everyone?” Well, in a sense, that is an audience. And if you want everyone to be able to understand your Bible, then you’re going to do it a certain way. But do you want it for kids or adults? Do you want a non-Christian to really struggle, or do you want to make it easy for them to read?
So there’s issues of audience that we have to look at. Who is the Bible for? And so we look at things, such as, age. What age do we want? Well, what age we choose is going to effect what words we choose. If I’m writing for adults who don’t mind going to get a dictionary off the shelf, then I can use a certain set of meanings when I translate. But if I’m writing for non-Christians or for younger kids, I can’t make that assumption.
For example, Romans 3:25. The NASB translates it about Jesus, it says, “whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith”.
RSV says, “God put forward as an expiation”. Propitiation? Expiation? I know most seminary students can’t figure that one out.
The New RSV and the NIV talks about a “sacrifice of atonement”. I think I saw one translation the other day that just said “sacrifice”. See what they are doing? Well, the word obviously is a difficult word in Greek, and the only words that we have in English are “propitiation” and “expiation” depending upon what the word means. Kids are not going to be able to figure that one out. Non-Christians probably are not going to figure that one out either. So, some translations say they interpret it as a sacrifice that brings atonement. So they say “sacrifice of atonement”. But see, that was a decision motivated by several things, but partially motivated by age. All these translations are graded by age. They have an age they want to hit. The New International Reader’s Version is at grade 3. They couldn’t use 4th grade words. They could only use 3rd grade words.
'''2 Timothy 1:3 [slide 17]'''
What age you are writing for will determine sentence structure. Greek writes very, very long sentences. In the ESV on 2 Timothy 1:3 we kept it. “I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.”
The New Living says, “Timothy, I thank God for you. He is the God I serve with a clear conscience, just as my ancestors did. Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.” See what they’re doing? They’re saying, “That’s too long of a sentence for our audience. We don’t want them to think that hard. So we’re going to break into smaller chunks.” That’s just a philosophical decision they made. So age affects audience issues.
Audience (Christian Background) [slide 18]
But another interesting thing when it comes to audience is if you are writing for Christians or non-Christians. I know that that sounds kind of odd, but do you remember seeing the ad for the New Living, a two page ad with a fisherman with a cigar hanging out of his mouth? It was in the magazines about a year ago. And the caption read something like, “Preacher, watch your language.” And underneath the image it said, something to the effect of, “If you want to talk to me, you have to talk my language.” “You have to speak in terms I understand.” The New Living is saying that, “Our audience is not for Christians only, that we want to translate in such a way that the duck hunters--“ stereotypical, I should say-- “duck hunters, can actually understand this stuff.” See, that’s the philosophical statement that’s going to affect your translation.
Things like the Christian metaphor of walking, like in Ephesians 5:2. I was surprised to find that most modern speech translations don’t translate peripatevw (peripateō) as “walk”. It’s a great metaphor, I think. The Christian walk, that we walk one step at a time in the Christian life. It’s a series of steps. It’s a walk. It’s a journey. But a lot of translations say, “No, people can’t understand that,” and they translate “walk” as “live”. So they talk about the Christian “life” or living as a Christian. Well, those are decisions that are motivated by a philosophical decision to reach non-Christians, by getting rid of language they may not understand.
ESV. Ephesians 5:2. “And walk in love, as Christ loved us.”
NIV. “Live a life of love.” So they removed the metaphor. They figured you wouldn’t understand it.
Audience (Technical Language) [slide 19]
Another example, when it comes to writing to Christians or non-Christians, is about technical language. That is a real hard one. If you look through the New Living, you simply won’t find technical language. "Justification", that kind of language, just doesn’t exist. They got rid of it all and just tell you what it means.
But what about something as simple as the word “saint”? You know, the word “saint” has a rich heritage from the Old Testament. The idea of holiness, of belonging to God, and being set aside for His purpose.
But yet, for example, in Acts 9:13, God is talking to Ananias, and Ananias answers, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem.”
NLT, how much he “has done to the believers”. Now there actually is a totally different word that means “believers”. But they don’t want to use the technical language of “saint”. They don’t think people will understand it.
Elsewhere, they used words like “the Lord’s people” or “God’s people”. In other words, they want to stay away from technical words. It is not necessarily bad. It all depends upon what your translation philosophy is. Who are you trying to reach? What kind of Bible are you trying to produce?
So, the first thing they look at is audience, age, Christian or non-Christian. We made a decision on the ESV that we wanted to translate a Bible that Christians could study from. That was our translation philosophy. So all the technical language is in it. That means that a non-Christian is going to have to work a little harder, perhaps, to understand it. We figured, that’s okay. That was our philosophy statement.
Words or Meaning [slide 20]
The second philosophical question that translations ask: do I translate words or meaning? This is the biggest decision there is. Am I going to translate words, or am I going to translate meaning? Now, I need to put a qualification here. We all know that you can’t just translate words, right? We’ve already settled that. You can’t just sit down and translate words. But, the question is, how close to the words are you going to try to stick? That’s the question. And translations fall into two basic categories.
There are some Bibles that are called “formal equivalence”. The “formal” has to do with grammar. That a Bible that is following this translation philosophy is going to, as much as possible, stick to the grammar of the Greek. If the Greek has seven words, they’re going to try to represent every word in the translation. If this is a participle, they’re going to try to use a participle in English. Not always possible, but as close as they can, they’re going to try to stick to that.
New American Standard, King James, and ESV are all formal equivalence. NASB is the most formal, then the King James and the ESV.
Dynamic (functional) equivalence
The other camp is called the “dynamic” or, they’re using a new word now, “functional equivalence”. Now, some people would use the word paraphrase connected with this. I’m not sure that’s the right word. I prefer to keep the word paraphrase for things like The Message and the original Living Bible which is as much commentary as it is Bible.
What this category says is, “No, we don’t really care what the grammar was in the Greek, because what we’re trying to convey is the meaning.” And so, if the Greek has five words, if it takes eight words to in English, we’ll use eight words in English. If Greek used a preposition and in English that thought is best represented with a participle, then we will do it. But we really don’t care grammatically to tie back into the Greek.
So those are the two different ones. NIV, obviously, fits in this category. And then as you move out, you get into things like the New Living, which is significantly further out. I’ll map all the translations when we’re done.
Those are the two different categories of thought in translation. As you look at your Bible, as you are in Sunday School, as you listen to differences, you will start seeing the same kinds of differences come up. The NASB is beautifully consistent. NASB always does the same thing, the same way. The NIV always does things the same way. They’re beautifully consistent books, just radically different in their philosophy.
'''John 16:30 [slide 21]'''
Let me give you kind of a sliding scale on this whole issue of you translate words or meaning. I’m going to start with something really simple. Greek doesn’t say that “I need”. Greek says “I have a need”. That’s the way the say it. “Need” is not a verb. It’s a noun in Greek. All right?
For example, in John 16:30, the ESV says, “Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone.”
NASB says, you “have no need”. So the NASB is trying to stick to the fact that “need” is a noun. NIV says, “That’s not how we talk.” We say, “I don’t need something.” “Need” in English is a verb in this sense. Okay, it is kind of a non-sensical little illustration, but it starts showing the difference between “formal” and “dynamic”.
'''Romans 12:16 [slide 22]'''
Let’s go down to Romans 12:16. In Romans 12:16 the NIV translates it, “Live in harmony with one another.” “Live in harmony”. There is no word “live”. There is no word “harmony”. But that’s what it means.
The Greek word-for-word is, “The same toward one another think.” But they say, “Think the same? What? We’re all robots?” You know, “Well, we can’t have any difference of opinion?” And so they look at something like that and they go, “Well, what does it mean?” Well, it’s actually a Greek expression for living in harmony with one another, of being of one mind.
Now the NASB translates, “Be of the same mind.” See, they’re struggling to get as close to the words as they can, but they can’t be identical. So, “think the same thing”, “be of the same mind”, “live in harmony”. You see what’s going on? You see, NASB is sticking to the words. The NIV is trying to stick to the idea behind it. Okay. As you go further down this scale, it starts getting-- silly’s not the right word, but it gets more so.
'''John 20:13 [slide 23]'''
John 20:13. I remember struggling with this even when I was a kid. This is the angels at the tomb, the NASB says, “And they said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ ” I thought, “No angel’s going to talk to my mother that way. No one’s calling my mother ‘Woman’.”
It is the same illustration in John 2 at the wedding at Cana, where Jesus says, “Woman” to his mom. I am never going to say “Woman” to my mother! That’s not nice. That is not polite. It’s what the Greek word is, but guess what? It’s absolutely polite in Greek. There is nothing rude about it at all. So, here you have a problem. If you are going to say “Woman”, in English it is rude, but it is not rude in Greek. So what do you do?
Well, the NLT just jumps ship and says, “ ‘Why are you crying?’ the angels asked.” I can just see these translators just sitting around saying, “Do you have any word in English that we can use? “Ma’am”?” I’ve lived in Kentucky. “Ma’am” to me is a polite form of address. If this were the Southern Bible, we would’ve said “Ma’am”. However, don’t say “Ma’am” to my wife because in this area of the world, “Ma’am” means something else. So if you look at America as a whole, there is no equivalent for the Greek word. So the NLT says, “Give up. We’re not willing to suggest that the angels were rude, so we’re going to say, ‘Why are you crying?’ ” But you can see why they’re doing it, can’t you? They don’t want to teach something that’s not in the text.
'''1 Timothy 3:2 [slide 24]'''
Now, one more example. Can divorced men be elders? The passage is 1 Timothy 3:2. The Greek word-for-word says, “of one of woman man” or “of one of wife husband”. The words can mean both. All right. Listen to how the translations work:
ESV. “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife.” And then we footnoted it, and said, “or a man of one woman.”
The NRSV says, “married only once”, “married only once”. You can’t do that with this text.
NIV. “the husband of but one wife”. There’s no word “but” there.
NLT. “He must be faithful to his wife.” Guess what? I think the NLT’s right. I think that’s what “man of one woman” means. It’s an odd way of saying, “You’ve got to be faithful.”
The word “divorce” doesn’t occur. The word “married” doesn’t occur. But they’re looking at this and saying, “To say ‘a man of one woman’ is just odd. So, well, I’m sorry. Our translation philosophy says we’re going to stick to the words, if possible. We don’t know for sure what it means, so we’re not willing to take a risk. So we’re going to give the reader the words and let them figure it out for themselves.” Okay, you go over here, “a husband of but one wife” to “not remarried”.
Those are all little illustrations of you can translate words or translate meaning, and the problems you have with that.
Problems with Formal Equivalence [slide 25]
There is a lot of discussion in the book about the advantages and the disadvantages of the two different ways of translating, and I’ll leave it up to your reading.
The biggest problem with formal equivalence is it becomes ugly literature. It makes the writers look like they never graduated from 1st grade. It’s stilted and awkward, and the Greek is not. Yes, there is grammatical mistakes and what-not in the Greek, but for the most part it is a very well written book.
In their attempt in formal equivalence to stick to words, they can really mislead people. For example, formal equivalent translations tend to try to use the same English word for every Greek word. So the Greek word povliV (polis) means “city”; and the NASB, every time povliV (polis) comes up they translate it “city”. So they refer to the “city of Jerusalem” and the “city of Nazareth”. Do you know the problem with that? Nazareth was a wide spot on the road. Maybe 600 people, was the estimate I’ve heard. Well, see, we don’t call that a city. We call that a wide spot in the road. We call it a hamlet, a village or something, but we don’t ever call it a city. In the attempt to be faithful with the word level, these translations can often lead you to misunderstanding.
Problems with Dynamic Equivalence [slide 26]
The problem on the dynamic side is the same thing. That the more readable they become, the more interpretive they have to become and the more you’re reading what a group of translators think the passage means.
I was teaching on 1 Peter in Sunday School once back when I lived in Boston. I knew that some of the people had an NLT with them, and I pointed out that the NLT insert a couple words into this specific verse, and it turns out I agreed with it. But I, for the course of the discussion, wanted to say, “That word isn’t there. They’ve added that in, so understand that.” Then went through the discussion. At the end of the class, a man came up. I didn’t recognize him, and he said, “Hi. I’d like to introduce myself. My name’s Mark Taylor.” Mark Taylor’s the son of Kenneth Taylor who wrote the Living Bible, started Tyndale Publishers, and Mark is in charge of the New Living. His daughter went to the local college and he was there for homecoming, so he came to Sunday School. I was very thankful I had not said anything harsh against the NLT.
Having said that, as you get more dynamic, you get less trustworthy. Because you have no idea whether the words you are reading actually are in the Bible or not. You just do not know. Because the New Living, the new NIV, you know the new one that’s coming out, is even more so that way. The Message and Living are off the charts; they’re not Bibles. They’re on-going commentaries on the Bible. You can’t trust them. Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re not right.
As you look at your Bibles and decide which ones you want your kids to read, the people in your church to read, what you want to read, you need to understand there’s this dynamism that’s going on. Am I going to try to stick to the words, or stick to what I think it means?
Ambiguity [slide 27]
Seven other things. Again these are issues that are raised up in translation philosophy. Number 3, what are you going to do with ambiguity? This is a fascinating question. Sometimes the Greek is truly ambiguous. What are you going to do with it? Well, some translations are going to leave it alone. Other translations will remove the ambiguity. Now, sometimes it’s not possible to remove the ambiguity. Sometimes there’s something in the grammar or the word. You simply have to make a choice.
'''1 Timothy 3:11'''
Like in 1 Timothy 3, verse 11, the discussion of deacons. The RSV translates it, “The women likewise must be serious, no slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things.” What they are getting at is that these are deaconesses, which is certainly possible. The word can bear that meaning.
The ESV translates it, “their wives” must be this kind of person. In other words, in the ESV, Paul has not changed from deacons to deaconesses, and then later back to deacons again. Now, you have to make a choice. It’s either “woman” or “wife”, and if it’s “woman” it means “deaconess”. So, in issues of ambiguity, sometimes there is nothing you can do about it. You have to make a choice.
But in other cases, you have situations where English can retain the same ambiguity that the Greek does. Some translations will go, “Fine. I’m going to retain the ambiguity.” Other translations, like the NIV, absolutely refuse ambiguity. They will make a decision, and I think the NIV most of the time is right. Now, if you know that the translation you use is making up your mind for you, fine. But if you don’t know that it’s making up your mind for you, then that’s dangerous because you are reading interpretation, as we are with all of them.
'''James 1:20 [slide 28]'''
The NASB has a verse, “for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God”. What does “righteousness of God” mean? Well, it could be God’s righteousness or it could be the righteousness that God intends us to have. English has that ambiguity. Greek has that ambiguity. NASB left it.
The NRSV says, “Nope. Not going to leave it.” “For your anger does not produce God’s righteousness”.
For some reason, the ESV said, “for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires”. Now, the ESV almost always leaves ambiguity. For some reason, we didn’t do it here. But see, we took a position that’s different from the NRSV.
NASB says “righteousness of God”. NRSV says it’s “God’s righteousness”. ESV says it’s “my righteousness that God requires”. Here you have translations struggling with an ambiguous phrase. What do you do with it?
So anyway, ambiguity. When I started this project, I thought that the Bibles would be contradicting each other all the time, like this passage here. I found that is not generally the case. Generally, one Bible will leave it ambiguous, the other will take a position. When you’re in your Bible Studies, and the Bibles are different, that’s often what it’s going to be. One’s ambiguous, one took a position. And when you look at that, you’ll be able to see it real easily.
Implicit to Explicit [slide 29]
Number 4. A fourth decision in translation is, if something is implicit in Greek, do I make it explicit in English? In other words, there are a lot of little indications in Greek that are implicit in the Greek, and if you look and you study then you will understand. But, for some translators, that’s too nebulous and they want to take what’s implicit and make it explicit.
For example, supplying an antecedent for a pronoun. That’s a very, very common one. In Ephesians 1:22, which is part of a very long sentence, the NRSV says, “And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church.”
The NIV says, “And God place all things under his feet.” In other words, the sentence is so long and they actually have chopped it at this part and started a new sentence. The NRSV says, “Well, we’ll just say ‘and he has put all things’.” The NIV says, “Who’s the ‘he’?” It’s a new sentence.
In Greek there is linkage, grammatical linkage, from the pronoun back to its antecedent. There’s no question what the antecedent is. It is grammatically connected. So, they’re not making it up. They are just taking what’s implicit in the Greek and making it explicit in English. Instead of saying “he”, they say “God”. Okay? Moving from implicit to explicit.
'''Matthew 6:32 [slide 30]'''
Often when somebody’s moving from something that’s implicit to explicit, it has to do with meaning, that we want to clarify the meaning, that we’re afraid that you’re going to misunderstand something.
For example, Matthew 6:32. The NRSV translates it, “For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” “For it is the Gentiles”-- I think the Greek word e[qnh (ethnē) means “Gentile”. What’s the problem with saying that? Jews don’t? All Gentiles strive? I mean, it’s a broad stereotype. Is that what Jesus really meant to say? Well, you can see the translators struggling.
The NIV says, “for the pagans run after all these things”. See, they’re saying, “It’s not so much that they’re not of Jewish blood. It’s that they’re not believers. They’re pagans.”
The NET Bible talks about the “unconverted”. See, they don’t just want to say “Gentiles” because it’s such a broad stroke that they want to try to get at what Jesus meant by that, and so they start using other interpretations.
So they’re moving from what’s implicit and making it explicit for ease of understanding.
Fill Out the Story [slide 31]
The fifth issue that we look at is filling out the story. Okay, you can see how I’m kind of going down the road. It’s not actually implicit, but the verse is just kind of left hanging there without it.
'''2 Timothy 2:3'''
Harmless example. 2 Timothy 2:3, Paul tells Timothy, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” The word is actually “suffer together with”, but it doesn’t tell you with whom. And you generally can’t say, “share in suffering with”. So, listen how they struggle.
The NIV, “endure hardship with us.”
New Living, “endure suffering along with me.” The NIV has it Paul and all his buddies, or perhaps Paul and all Christians.
The NASB says, “suffer hardship with me”, but it puts “me” in italics, which is an old typographical thing that started with the King James. It’s their way of saying, “I’m sticking a word in here.” See, they are just trying to fill it out.
'''1 Corinthians 10:10 [slide 32]'''
1 Corinthians 10:10, the NASB says, “Don’t grumble as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.” That’s what the word means. But if you look at its use, it’s almost always the “destroying angel”.
So the NIV says, “were killed by the destroying angel.” They are trying to fill it out, and to make sense of it. Not necessarily bad, but the word “angel” isn’t in the Greek. The NIV translators would say, “It’s part of the word ‘destroyer’, that it doesn’t mean just ‘destroyer’. It means ‘destroying angel’, so we can put the word ‘angel’ in it.”
Misunderstanding [slide 33]
Number 6. Misunderstanding. This is one of the things that I learned a lot of in the translation project, and that is, nobody hears the same words the same way. I mean, if I gave you a sentence and asked each of you to explain the sentence, we would have differences. There is just going to be misunderstandings, and translators do not want to mislead you. The whole reason they are doing it is because they love the Word and they want you to understand it. And so, people were super sensitive to misunderstanding. What was crystal clear to me, made no sense to someone else, and vice versa. We are always dealing with this issue of misunderstanding.
The illustration in the book is the best one I know of. It is the one in the Sermon on the Mount, and it says, “whoever looks on a woman lustfully has committed adultery with her in his heart.” Now that’s been a very, very difficult verse, for many reasons. I know of kids in youth programs that when a lustful thought flits through their head they feel like they are a sinner going to hell. Now, I would ask them, is temptation a sin? No. Dwelling on it is, isn’t it? Doing the sin is.
The Greek is explicit, “whoever looks on a woman with the intention of lusting has committed adultery.” Now, you may disagree with my exegesis, but it’s the best illustration I know. The Greek doesn’t say “the passing thought” breaks the commandment. It’s “looking with the intention to lust”. And if you just translate the way I have, you’re going to mislead people as generations of people, I think, have been misled.
The ESV said something like that, “to look with lustful intent”. We were very explicit because the Greek is completely and totally explicit. That’s what I mean by misunderstanding.
'''1 John 3:6 [slide 34]'''
Perhaps the most interpretive the ESV ever got is in 1 John 3. In verse 6, the NASB says, “No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.” Hard verse, huh? It’s one of the proof texts for the whole Wesleyan Doctrine. I shouldn’t call it a Wesleyan, because Wesley wasn’t an eradicationist. But for the people who believe in the eradication of the sin nature, that God destroys your ability to sin, this is one of their primary verses.
Well, if you read this section in the ESV, we’re saying, “whoever makes a practice of sinning, whoever continues in sin”, and it’s one of the possible meanings of the Greek. We did not feel that leaving it ambiguous was fair, because then anyone who thinks they are a Christian, who is a Christian, and who sins, all of a sudden has lost all the assurance of their salvation.
Okay. These are the kind of things that we wrestle with because we do not want to convey something that is wrong. Misunderstanding.
Sensitivity [slide 35]
Number 7. The only caption I could come up with is sensitivity. There is simply a lot in the Bible that I really wish were not there. There is a lot of anatomical language. The Jews know what they’re doing when they do not let any Jewish boy read the Song of Solomon until he is 30. How do you translate that stuff? We are translating a Bible that is going to be read in church, and you want to be faithful to the text. But we called it the giggle factor, that if you are too explicit, you know all the kids are going to start laughing and not listen to the rest of the sermon. So, how are you going to translate it?
Let me give you an example. This is from Psalm 19. I preached this a while back, which is why I noticed it. This is, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hand. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no place, for their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out throughout all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun,” Then here is the joy that the tent has, or the sun has as it goes across the sky. “In them he has set a tent for the sun which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber.” Guess what chamber it is? It is his honeymoon chamber. Now, how are you going to--with a bunch of children--read that if we were explicit in our translation? Well, it’s what the Bible says, but this is American sensitivity. Probably in other cultures, no big deal. They would be sensitive about other things.
'''Acts 28:2 [slide 36]'''
Sensitive to that kind of stuff and sensitive to cultural issues. Acts 28, when Paul is at Malta. The RSV says, “And the natives showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold.” When the “natives” saw the creature, the snake, you know, hanging on Paul’s hand…
Now when I say “natives”, what do you see? Yes, Native American Indians, you know, hula dancers, and Tahiki, Bora Bora, whatever. This day and age, you can’t say “natives”. But the word means “indigenous peoples”. But if you say “indigenous peoples”, it is terrible English.
The King James says, “and the barbarous people showed us no little kindness.” The word is bavrbaroi (barbaroi), people who don’t speak Greek.
The NIV, “the islanders showed us unusual kindness.” Hula skirts and all.
We ended up with “the native people”. Okay, you’ve got to be sensitive to some of these things in this day and age, and you cannot go around calling people “natives” like this.
Theological Biases [slide 37]
All translators have theological biases, and you want them biased. The ESV is and the NASB and the NIV are all biased towards the conservative theological side of things. It affects words you use. It affects punctuation.
Romans 9:5. Is Jesus called God? All depends upon where you put your comma and period. We put a period. We called him God.
Isaiah 7:14. It is a virgin. Remember when the RSV came out, it translated Isaiah 7:14 as “a young woman”. Then they translate the passage in Matthew, a fulfillment of the prophecy, with “virgin”.
Anyway, you can read about that stuff. There are theological biases.
Inclusive Language [slide 38]
Inclusive Language (Singular to Plural)
The whole gender language issue. This is number 9. The issue of whether “he” and “man” can mean “he and she” and “man and woman” is the hottest topic in translation today. You are never going to please everyone. It is impossible on this issue.
Psalm 1. “Blessed is the…” What are you going to do with it? If you say “man”, you’ve alienated a bunch of the people. If you say, “Blessed are the people”, you’ve alienated a whole other bunch of people. I mean, you can’t win on this issue.
So, what translations do is that they make their choice and they take their licks. It is impossible to please everyone, and it is unfortunate. It is a tremendously difficult issue because the Bible is not written in an inclusive language. It is a 2000 to a 4000 year old book written in a patriarchal culture. The only way to get rid of “man” and “he” is to remove it completely from its culture and make it sound like a modern book. So you have to ask yourself a question, “Am I willing to do that?” The NRSV, the NLT, and the new and Today’s NIV all said, “Yes. We are not willing to use ‘he’ for people. We’re not willing to use ‘man’ for people.”
The ESV said, “We’re not willing to make that choice.” People may not like “man” and “he”, but they understand it. And if you’re going to get rid of “man” and “he”, you have to fundamentally retranslate the entire Bible. You have to fundamentally alter it. The NLT has done a marvelous job at that. I read the NLT for a long time before I realized I hadn’t seen a “man” or a “he”. The NRSV is a little more abrasive. You are going to alienate people no matter what you do. It is a lose-lose situation, in that sense.
Let me show you the kinds of things, because in terms of changes in the different translations, this will account for the vast majority of the changes you see. They like to change singular to plural. They change “he” to “they” in order to get away from it.
So for example, the ESV says in Luke 17:3, “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.”
The TNIV says, “If any brother or sister sins against you, rebuke the offender; and if they repent, forgive them.” Okay. Yes, there are times in which “brother and sister” work beautifully. And I thought when I read it, “That’d be a good thing to do. I do not want to offend my sisters in the Lord.”
But look what happens as soon as you make it plural. Your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke the “offender”. They get rid of “him”, that’s okay, but if “they” repent… What?! I thought there was one person who had offended me and I have gone to that one person. Now all of a sudden, “they” are repenting? But see, they were not willing to break English grammar. And if that “person” repents... See, I like the word “person/people”. That is how I tend to translate it.
There is another thing that happens. When you make things plural, you lose some of the force of the passage. I have noticed now that I am preaching more that if I say things in the plural to cover the church as a whole, they do not understand the personal force of it. But when I say, “When you became a Christian, God changed you.” All of a sudden, the people in the congregation go, “Yes, He changed me.” See, blessed is the “man” who walks. Blessed is the individual. You make those plural, you lose all of the force of the singular in English. This is the kind of stuff that happens moving singular to plural.
“For he had to be made like his brothers in every way.” The TNIV says, “He had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every way.” No, I do not think that is right. Now, the NLT says, “He had to be made like us, brothers and sisters.” That is a great translation. If you do not want to say the word “brother”, you can do that.
Inclusive Language (Son to Child) [slide 39
“Son” is being changed to “child”, and you lose all of the Old Testament connection with a father disciplining his son.
Hebrews 12:7. ESV, “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” You can hear all the wisdom literature from Proverbs, can’t you? God is a father who disciplines his son, whether it be an individual or the nation Israel. There is a ton of stuff there.
The NRSV, “Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline?” And so, either God has become a parent or they are, for the sake of not using male oriented language, they are severing the connection with all the wisdom literature. I can’t do that.
The TNIV, “God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their parents?”
Many, many other examples, but this is the hot bed and you will see it in your translations.
Practical Issues [slide 40]
One last thing: practical issues. You will find that there is a thing called translation history. People are used to hearing things a certain way, and they do not like it changed. If you as a publisher translate John 3:16 any other way, people will not buy your Bible. But, do you know what? Every Bible, in my opinion, every Bible in the world, except the NET Bible, mistranslates John 3:16.
“For God so loved the world”--Do you know what the word “so” means? “In this way”. It doesn’t mean “so much”. Be honest. There’s a very, very rare usage of it where it’s possible, but you’d have to have something in the context that says, “I’m intending that little rare thing.”
John 3:16 says this, “For God loved the world this way:” Colon. “He gave his son.” And the NET Bible did it. Yea, NET Bible!
I hope that gives you the range of the kinds of things that go on in translation work. Again, my encouragement to you think through these issues when you see these kinds of differences; and I’ll bet you, three-fourth’s of the time, you will be able to say, “Oh, I see what’s going on.” In your Sunday School, please bring them together. Do not let people say they mean opposite things. They are two different translations. Bring them together.
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