Bible publishing

The task of Bible translation is not complete until the translation is published so it can be used by others. I suspect that all of us would agree. And I suspect that most, if not all, of us share the same essential meaning for what “published” means in that first sentence.

This last Sunday, however, I heard a usage of “published” which struck me as odd English, something that we would not actually say. It was read from Isaiah 52:7 during the church service:

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news (tidings: RSV),
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (ESV)

As some recent posts on this blog have emphasized, a translation should not be difficult to understand because it uses odd English. A translation may be difficult to understand because it is translation of a difficult idea. But there is no instrinsic reason why we need to express difficult ideas using difficult words. And there is no instrinsic idea why we need to express non-complex ideas using English wordings which none of us would ever normally say or write.

If we use odd English in a translation, we run the risk of distorting the biblical meaning and/or obscuring it from translation readers. I have no idea what it means to “publish peace” or “publish salvation.” I would need a Bible teacher familiar with the original Hebrew to explain what these English words are supposed to mean. But it would take less time if the translation used standard English words to express that same idea. Let’s keep our Bible teachers for the jobs we really need them for, to explain difficult concepts and help us apply them to our lives. Their job should not be to explain odd words in English Bibles.

The Hebrew ideas behind the words “publishes peace” and “publishes salvation” are not difficult. There are a variety of ways they can be translated to English, some using words that we would all agree are in common usage, while others are not.

How would you re-translate the odd English phrases “publishes peace” and “publishes salvation” to more standard English?

22 thoughts on “Bible publishing

  1. danny says:

    I don’t think there’s any reason not to use the normal “announce” or “proclaim” (or “declare” as Black Hat has suggested). Of course, “salvation” may not be readily understood outside of Christian circles, but perhaps that’s another question for another post.

  2. Chaka says:

    To be fair, it’s not like ESV or RSV went out of their way to choose an odd translation. They chose not to update an expression whose meaning has shifted since it was used by KJV. I agree that translations should aim for natural language use, but I sympathize with revisers who have to choose not to update everything for various reasons (time, money, making sure the audience will accept the revision, etc.).

    I should say that I assume the usage was natural English at one point and that the meaning of “publish” has narrowed since then.

  3. danny says:

    Chaka,

    I understand what you’re saying, but part of the reason revisions are done is to update language such as this. It’s an odd translation to keep, because you don’t really gain anything by keeping it. I can understand why some want to keep words like “justification” or “atonement” and so on, even though those words are not in everyday use anymore- because they keep continuity with Christian theological tradition. But the use of “publish” doesn’t fit that category, unless I’m missing something.

  4. Stan McCullars says:

    Oddly enough, the NKJV updated the term.

    How beautiful upon the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news, Who proclaims peace, Who brings glad tidings of good things , Who proclaims salvation, Who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

  5. Mike Sangrey says:

    Has the irony struck anyone else like it has me?

    In a passage that should be lauding the beauty of someone communicating the message of salvation, it talks about pretty, mountain climbing feet publishing (?) peace and salvation.

    Reminds me of Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

    I prefer my translations to be more Rockwell: Intriguing, grabbing, clear…and still thought provoking.

  6. Mark Strauss says:

    Thanks, Wayne, for your insightful post. I’ve added this example to my new list of ESV examples. Perhaps I’ll “publish” it in a year or so.

  7. Chaka says:

    @danny: Yeah, I don’t see what the positive reasons for keeping “publish” might have been. (I thought the text might have shown up that way in Handel’s “Messiah,” but it doesn’t.)

    I would say that “proclaim” and “declare” skew toward biblish, though. How about “broadcast”?

  8. CharlesPDog says:

    I hate to keep saying I don’t understand, but I don’t.

    If you don’t like the ESV then don’t read it. There are plenty of other translations out there.

    Do people really think that the publishers of the ESV are going to keep track of these points and re-publish it and still call it the ESV. I assume this is the Bible they wanted to publish and the people who bought it understood there would be some amount of archaic language.

    When RSV came out no one felt the need to make the publishers of the KJV to change it so it really was the RSV. If Crossways did this, did what point would there be. They would probably come out with an EPV, and english preferred version.
    .
    What not just call the ESV a translation that uses awkward, archaic words and leave it at that?

    It almost? smacks of some sort of literary/Biblical fascism, i.e., fix everything I don’t like reading to my satisfaction.

    What’s wrong with just saying “I think the ESV is a crappy translation and I would rather read whatever……” Why are we “worried” about re-translating the ESV.

    Why do people people here wonder why some people think this blog is anti ESV? Gee I don’t know! I looked long and hard at buying the new ESV study Bible but didn’t because it doesn’t read easy enough for me, and bought the NET Bible instead. I don’t think anyone is really saying the ESV is theologically wrong and think some could make it sound theologically wrong, but that would be true of any translation.

    I don’t think anyone rationally argues that because the words that Shakespeare used are archaic and hard to understand, that it should be re-written because some people don’t understand the language. What’s wrong with Cliff’s notes for them.

    Do these same people who are constantly picking on this point, archaic words, want to change the KJV translation of Psalm 23? There are plenty of things I still like about the KJV. Show we list the archaic words used there. Why aren’t there any posts about that? Is this really about translation or is some of it motivated by dislike conservative Christians.

    BTW, publish is not some bizarre word than no one will understand. I think there is or was a saying in “modern” language that said something like “You can think whatever you want, but you don’t have to publish it. Just like broadcast it and shout it, to some the can still be understandable as a metaphor even not if mean’t to be taken literally.

  9. Wayne Leman says:

    If you don’t like the ESV then don’t read it. There are plenty of other translations out there.

    The purpose of this blog is to help all of us, not just the translators, understand how to improve Bible translations. If we all work together, sometimes we can have some influence upon Bible translation teams to improve their translations. I have been blessed to have the opportunity to give such input to a number of translation teams, including the ESV team.

    No translation is perfect. But the more we learn about how translations can be improved, the better we ourselves understand the Bible. And the more chance there is that translations will be improved. It has become easier, with modern technology, to revise translations. Blogs like this can be a part of helping make revisions.

    The NET Bible team specifically put their translation on the Internet and asked for input from the public. They received thousands of suggestions. And the NET Bible is now better because of helpful suggestions.

    Please be assured that there is such a thing as positive critique. That is, it is possible to give people suggestions which can result in positive changes. Some of us, myself included, have experienced so much negative criticism that it is difficult for us to think about the fact that many people truly want to help things in life improve. If no one tried to improve things we would not keep getting better computers, cars, telephones, etc.

    Please try to remember the purpose of this blog, as it is given at the top of the blog next to the title. This blog is not here to tear down any Bible versions or put down any of their translators. Bible translation is a difficult job and no one can make a perfect translation. It takes the Body of Christ working together to help there be better translations. And it takes a learning process to discover what kinds of things can be improved. We want this blog to be a place for learning, for positive working together, not a negative place for putting anyone down, including people who suggest that translations are fine just as they are or people who suggest changes which would make the translations better for them.

  10. CharlesPDog says:

    I clearly understand your points, and the goals of this BB.

    I hope you do not take this as any kind of attack or negative comment.

    I don’t see these things clearly accomplished in the anti ESV posts.

    I don’t think Crossways asked for beta comments and I don’t think they are asking for them now. So the Net Bible example doesn’t seem to apply.

    Why spend time in pure well mean’t academic criticism of a text that was intentionally written with the very words used in mind. Apparently, the ESV was intended to come as close to the RSV as possible. (It is questionable about using Virgin in Isaiah but I don’t call that a translation error either) I don’t think they are de facto mistranslations as such nor should they be characterized as such.
    The word published is NOT a mistranslation, nor a poor translation. The meaning is there, it is not the literary modern equivalent but when used as metaphor it is understandable. No it is nor as easy as some would like, but this edition was never intended to be anything that was readily accessible to all people regardless of level of education of literary or prior Biblical experience. It was written for people who were familiar with the RSV and possibly event the KJV. As I have said before, then Message Bible certainly does well for its purpose. So what is wrong with this Bible for its purpose.

    You know as well as I do that Crossways does not intend the modify the archaic words when they found them acceptable in the first place. Its not like they didn’t have the knowledge or expertise to have done otherwise. So I don’t see the high spiritual goal of improving something that they thought was fine in the first place and that we all knew and know what they intended in the first place.

    We are not telling them something they already didn’t know. If they didn’t then I follow your points, but they chose not to use those words.

    To me this is really criticism of the concept of what they set out to do rather than the accuracy of the translation. This is what bothers me.

    Its like criticizing Bach because he didn’t use #5ths which our ears are now accustomed to.

    If the people who thought they produced what they set out to produce for the people who wanted to read what they produced and if they are not trying to do away with all other Bibles, who cares.

    One last shot at trying to explain my point here, yes I am just as frustrated with my ability to communicate what I mean as you are with bring up you points.

    Say I wanted to list all gender neutral words in the TNIV and criticize the translation as being a “Better Bible” if they were removed. The translation is not poor. Its what they set out to do and its what was wanted by a fair number of people who wanted to read it even when they knew translation wasn’t always dead on accurate as to the specific he/she, brothers and sisters, etc.

    There is a difference between unbiased criticism of translating a specific passage, and the choice of words which may in fact be accurate translation and a conscious choice of archaic language as there is a choice of gender neutral language.

    In Christ
    Paul Larson

  11. Wayne Leman says:

    I don’t think Crossways asked for beta comments and I don’t think they are asking for them now. So the Net Bible example doesn’t seem to apply.

    Charles, actually Crossway has even publicized an email address specifically for people to use to submit suggestions for revisions. I have included it in the ESV section of this blog. I am glad for each translation team that welcomes constructive criticism, seeking to improve their translations. As a Bible translator myself, I know how difficult it is to translate the Bible and I have welcomed suggestions for others for improving the translations I have worked on.

    This is a good work, to do Bible translation, and to help Bible translators. It is not a good thing to tear down the work of God’s people. But it is a good thing to help others improve their work. It is especially good when translators welcome suggestions.

    The ESV team continues to revise its translation and accept suggestions for revision. No team can catch all problems in a translation the first time. We cannot assume, as you have in your comment, that because a particular wording, perhaps archaic, is in the ESV, that the team intended to have an archaic wording. I know that I sure didn’t see every problem the first time through in the main translation we worked on. It took years of proofreading and checking with other native speakers to improve the translation as well as possible.

    You mentioned the TNIV. The TNIV team welcomes revision suggestions also. I have given far more revision suggestions to the TNIV team than I have to the ESV team. There is a webpage for submitting TNIV revision suggestions.

    The TNIV is by no means a perfect translation. Like any other translation, it can be improved. We have discussed some of its needed improvements on this blog.

    Each translation can be improved and we all benefit if we work together to improve them. And a wonderful side benefit is that when we study a translation so carefully that we discover ways it can be improved we ourselves learn the Bible better and can share it better with others.

  12. Mike Aubrey says:

    Paul,

    Two thoughts:

    1) The comparison to the NET is relevant. Whether the publisher is Crossway, Zondervan, B&H, or whatever, there is a distinct problem with the fact that the vast majority of our translations do not receive translation checking with native speakers before publication. To be honest its embarrassing.

    2) Giving feedback on the ESV is perfectly acceptable, especially in light of the fact that in many cases the translators themselves disagreed on how to render the text. William Mounce has made it quite clear that there were plenty of times when he was very frustrated with how the text was translated (see his book Greek for the Rest of Us). Its seems quite likely to me that many of Mounce’s (or any of the committee member’s disagreements will parallel the suggestions proposed by external sources (e.g. Wayne Leman).

  13. Peter Kirk says:

    Paul/Charles, you wrote:

    I don’t think anyone is really saying the ESV is theologically wrong …

    Yes, some people are, especially for the way in which it allegedly distorts gender-related language and makes the human nature of Christ male only. There is also the accusation that ESV is being used to push certain theological agendas, such as complementarianism and Reformed theology in general, and that the translation was to some extent designed for this. These discussions have in the last year or two moved mainly to other blogs, but they haven’t been forgotten.

    “You can think whatever you want, but you don’t have to publish it.”

    If I heard this, I would understand “publish it” not as a synonym for “broadcast it and shout it” but as referring to putting it into a published book, newspaper article, blog post etc.

  14. Tim Bulkeley says:

    I regularly click “publish” to make a post on one of my blogs or changes to a page on the college website… available to others. Maybe the usage “publish” = “make public” is not so strange in the 21st century as it was in the 20th? 😉

  15. Wayne Leman says:

    Tim suggested:

    Maybe the usage “publish” = “make public” is not so strange in the 21st century as it was in the 20th?

    True, Tim. There is one reliable way to find out whether “publish” is acceptable today to translate the Hebrew word: field test it with a scientific sample of the intended audience for the Bible translation.

  16. Peter Kirk says:

    Tim, I thought when I clicked “Publish” on a blog I was doing the electronic analogue of publishing a book or magazine article – except that it’s easier!

  17. davidbrainerd2 says:

    “Publishes peace” was probably originally chosen for alliteration, so keeping that consideration in mind “proclaims peace” is superior to “declares peace.”

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