Bible translation issues: readers’ pick

I’ve been short on time lately for creating blog posts. So I thought it would be interesting to have a post where you, the reader, get to decide what to discuss. So, click on the Comments and mention any Bible translation issue that you haven’t read about much here on BBB. You might also include some comment about why you consider it an important issue to discuss.

12 thoughts on “Bible translation issues: readers’ pick

  1. Ted Leaf says:

    First time blogging here! I’m just a lay reader of the Bible, but enjoy reading about translation philosophies and various manuscripts.

    I enjoy my KJV, but am not KJV only. However, I would like to pose the following questions:

    1. Even in light of “better” mss, can the tremendous advance of Christianity due to the KJV be ignored?

    2. Greek mss, especially, were written in long, complex sentences. Is it fair to reduce them to “Dick and Jane” sentences that may lose some of the intent of the original writers?

    3. My scanty understanding of Greek and Hebrew tells me that the meaning of many words is entirely dependent on context. Given that, do translations that try to use one definition only for a given word have a proper place in our studies?

    4. I have seen elswhere comments of noted NT scholars who were not convinced of divine preservation of scripture. Shouldn’t the Word of God be translated by persons of Faith?

    I enjoy reading everything on your website.

    Thanks for your time.

  2. Mike Sangrey says:

    Let’s say there were no English Bibles (much like the thousands of languages which do not have any portion of the Bible), what would be the steps to get it done?

    Admittedly, that’s a highly hypothetical question. However, what I think would be helpful to explore is how a Bible translation project is started, moved forward, and brought to completion. What are the Key Success Factors? What are the milestones? What’s the plan?

    For example, I believe one of the early efforts is to determine the literacy level of the intended recipients. Another is answering the question: Is there an established church? And, if there is, how does that affect how the translation is moved forward, and why?

  3. Joe Burgin says:

    Is there any interest in discussing the role of
    web hosted (only requiring a browser),
    collaborative Bible translation projects (using blogs/google docs/wikis…)
    that would expedite Bible translation projects around the globe
    (as well as better English Bibles)
    by allowing local speakers (as well as expatriates)
    to participate in translating the scriptures for their tongue
    and opening up the process to linguists/academics/ to consult on an ad hoc basis

    Admittedly editorial and version controls are crucial
    but open source collaborative software projects deal with this routinely

    Could it be a good model for “open sourcing” bible translation projects as well?

  4. Wayne Leman says:

    Joe, some open source Bible translation is already taking place. I have a colleague who opened up the tribal translation he is working on to exegetical comments on his wiki. As you probably know, the NET Bible was proactive in inviting comments from the public which improved the quality of that translation.

    As more and more projects around the world, including for major language like English, use new computer technology, the opportunities for open source translation increase. If there are good guidelines, I think that this can result in better translations, less inconvenience for travel for the translators and consultants, etc.

    Feel free to offer more ideas. This is a good topic.

    Here at BBB we have had at least one post on open source Bible translation.

  5. Wayne Leman says:

    Dave asked:

    Have you done anything on Heb. 13:17 yet?

    I can’t recall that we have yet, Dave. But my recaller is not nearly as good as it used to be so perhaps we did. In any case, it would be good to discuss it, again or for the first time. I have glanced at it and do not spot any major issues for translation. But my eyes, like my recaller, are not doing so well, so why don’t you mention any issues you think of for Heb. 13:17. I always enjoy reading what you have to say about translation of some passage.

  6. Wayne Leman says:

    Ted wrote:

    First time blogging here! I’m just a lay reader of the Bible, but enjoy reading about translation philosophies and various manuscripts.

    A warm welcome, Ted. Sorry we could not answer sooner. My wife and I made it safely to Seattle today–we see a specialist tomorrow for an illness she has been battling for several years. Anyway, I have a few minutes of time now for answering you.

    1. Even in light of “better” mss, can the tremendous advance of Christianity due to the KJV be ignored?

    Absolutely not! The KJV has had the greatest impact of an English translation on the English-speaking world. I myself grew up with it and memorized large portions.

    2. Greek mss, especially, were written in long, complex sentences. Is it fair to reduce them to “Dick and Jane” sentences that may lose some of the intent of the original writers?

    I don’t think there is a direct correlation between length of sentences and accurate translation. To go to the heart of your question, though, we should not translate the Bible more simply, or more complicated, for that matter, than the original manuscripts. This needs to be balanced with the fact that there are a variety of ways to say the same thing in translation. It is possible to use complicated Latin-based English words or more natural Germanic-based words (English is a Germanic language) to translate much of the Bible.

    3. My scanty understanding of Greek and Hebrew tells me that the meaning of many words is entirely dependent on context. Given that, do translations that try to use one definition only for a given word have a proper place in our studies?

    They have a proper place if a person does not know Greek or Hebrew and wants to discover each time a particular Greek or Hebrew word was originally written. But, as you point out, since meaning is so dependent on contents, having a Greek or Hebrew word translated by the same word each time actually reduces translation accuracy. Notice how the Greek word sarks does not mean the same each time it occurs in the New Testament (or Septuagint, for that matter). Greater accuracy is achieved in an English translation if the different meanings of sarks in different contexts are translated by an appropriate English for each of those contexts. Sometimes the translation will be ‘meat’ or ‘flesh’. At other times it will need to be some English word or words having to do with our baser nature.

    4. I have seen elsewhere comments of noted NT scholars who were not convinced of divine preservation of scripture. Shouldn’t the Word of God be translated by persons of Faith?

    Accurate translation can be done by anyone who knows the biblical languages and also knows how to express it in good quality English. Grasping the spiritual insights of what one is translating cannot take place adequately unless the person’s spirit has been made alive by God himself. Spiritual things are spiritually “discerned.” This refers, I believe, to understanding the spiritual concepts, to grasping their spiritual significance. I personally would prefer to have people of faith translating the Bible but there are people who do not have faith who can translate the Bible accurately. We would hope that through the translation process they would become people of faith. Taking what is written in the Bible seriously is life transforming.

    I enjoy reading everything on your website.

    Thanks, Ted.

  7. Joe Burgin says:

    Thank you Wayne for the tips:

    “Here at BBB we have had at least one post on open source Bible translation.”
    http://betterbibles.com/2007/01/18/translation-checking-2/

    “I have a colleague who opened up the tribal translation he is working on to exegetical comments on his wiki.”
    http://www.abellen.org/wiki/

    I have also found…

    ISV Open Source™ program, by which all ISV readers are invited to comment on how specific passages of the current release of the ISV can be rendered clearer and even more insightful in the next version. Final decisions on acceptance of textual suggestions will remain with the Committee on Translation so we can maintain scholarly standards set by the ISV Foundation.
    Send us a suggestion on improving a specific verse
    Report a typo error in the current edition of the ISV text
    Ask us a question about why we rendered a passage the way we did.
    We promise to look at every submission received. If you make enough suggestions that are incorporated into the text, we’ll list your name as a Contributing English Reviewer, if you also send us your permission to do so.
    http://www.isv.org/index.htm

    Open Development Models and Bible Translation (excerpts)
    “How to make a Bible translation project “open”
    1. The project should begin by addressing needs of the actual intended end-users…
    2. Modify the Scripture already in use…
    6. Treat local speakers of the language as experts and co-developers of the Bible translation…
    7. Don’t wait until it’s perfect to get it into the hands of people who can help you make it better…
    10. If you treat the people who evaluate your translation as your most valuable resource they will become your most valuable resource…
    13. When everyone involved thinks your translation is accurate and natural then it’s acceptable and you’re ready to do a major printing…
    18. If your Bible translation is going to be interesting to people you must make an interesting translation…”
    http://lingamish.com/2006/10/03/open-development-models-and-bible-translation/

    Blue Cord Bible Dictionary is a wiki written only by biblical scholars. In order to contribute to this site, scholars must hold a master’s degree or higher in the field of biblical studies or a related field such as archaeology, classics, Egyptology, or Assyriology.
    http://www.bluecord.org/biblewiki/

  8. Joe Burgin says:

    Excerpts form links on topic of open source Bible translation:

    “In a way I kind of view our small efforts here on this blog as the beginning of what could happen through Open Source Bible
    Translation (OSBT). Through OSBT exegetes and translation scholars could work from their home or school offices. There could be interdisciplinary cross-pollination with linguists, translation theorists, literary critics, English editors, English professors, and the hoi polloi, all of whom could give input even more easily and interactively than through the “open”
    welcoming mechanisms which the NET Bible team has had in place to improve their translation through input from visitors to
    their website.”
    http://englishbibles.blogspot.com/2005/08/open-source-bible-translation.html

    “About the New Testament in Plain English
    Inspired by Wayne Leman’s Better Bibles Blog, this blog will be a multi-authored project to translate the New Testament into
    plain English. Although if it is ever finished the result will be a full Bible translation, the process of translation will
    be the aim in itself. The discussions and debates will themselves be the whole point, with the final translation almost a by-product.”
    http://plainbible.blogspot.com/

    “…put the text online (www.abellen.org/wiki) for review by others (ala the NET Bible). We basically are putting online Back
    Translations that are only half baked and need some work. The main reason for doing this is that our translation committee
    can’t read English (thus severely limiting their ability to do their own exegesis) but are eagerly revising the CARLA draft
    to the point where I can’t keep up with my doing the exegetical checks while they do revising for naturalness. Hopefully we
    can get the bulk of the exegetical problems isolated online through massive review…”
    http://betterbibles.com/2007/01/18/translation-checking-2/

    “..This is the feedback forum for the NET Bible. Here you can submit comments directly to the translators and editors about
    how they translated a specific passage, notify us of typos, etc…”
    http://www.bible.org/comments/index.php

    “…We’ve been impressed with the quality of suggestions that have come in from serious students of the Bible, so we’re
    announcing the ISV Open Source™ program, by which all ISV readers are invited to comment on how specific passages of the
    current release of the ISV can be rendered clearer and even more insightful in the next version. Final decisions on
    acceptance of textual suggestions will remain with the Committee on Translation so we can maintain scholarly standards
    set by the ISV Foundation. Send us a suggestion on improving a specific verse Report a typo error in the current edition of
    the ISV text Ask us a question about why we rendered a passage the way we did.We promise to look at every submission
    received. If you make enough suggestions that are incorporated into the text, we’ll list your name as a Contributing English
    Reviewer, if you also send us your permission to do so…”
    http://www.isv.org/index.htm

    “…Is the WEB a one-man translation?
    Many people have been involved in the production and editing of the World English Bible from a variety of backgrounds.
    Because this is a revision of the American Standard Version of the Revised Bible, we start with the over 50 Evangelical
    scholars who worked on that project. They, in turn, relied on the work of those who had gone before them. We also rely on the
    work of many scholars who have found, compiled, combined, and published the excellent and highly accurate Hebrew and Greek
    texts from which we work. We also rely on the excellent lexicons of Hebrew, Chaldee, and Greek that are available to us.
    In addition to these excellent references that represent literally hundreds of years of combined labor by many committed
    Christian men and women, we have access to the United Bible Society handbooks on Bible translation and a large number of
    other English translations to compare and consult.
    Among the volunteers who have contributed to this project, we have people who attend various churches, including Baptist,
    Methodist, Pentecostal, non-denominational, and many more. This broad representation helps guard against introducing
    sectarian bias into the work. In addition, the novel technique of publishing draft copies of the World English Bible on the
    Internet provides additional protection against bias, because all serious comments are carefully considered and the wording
    compared to the original language.
    Although we don’t demand credentials from people who comment on the translation by email, we do validate their comments
    before deciding what to do with them…”
    http://ebible.org/web/webfaq.htm

    “…The Blue Cord Bible Dictionary is a Bible wiki. A wiki is a site where numerous people are able to contribute freely to
    the content of the pages. Unlike standard wikis, however, the Blue Cord Bible Dictionary is a wiki written only by biblical
    scholars. In order to contribute to this site, scholars must hold a master’s degree or higher in the field of biblical
    studies or a related field such as archaeology, classics, Egyptology, or Assyriology…”
    http://www.bluecord.org/biblewiki/

    “…How to make a Bible translation project “open”
    What I’ve listed below are some ideas based on some of Raymond’s numbered ideas in his paper applied to Bible translation. I
    didn’t address all Raymond’s numbers that’s why there are missing numbers.
    1. The project should begin by addressing needs of the actual intended end-users.
    What do the churches or individuals need right now? Do the churches need liturgical readings? Are evangelists in need of
    tracts in a local language?
    2. Modify the Scripture already in use.
    If there is an existing church, they are probably using some translation of the Bible. If it is a neighboring language can it
    be adapted? If it is an antiquated translation can it be revised?
    6. Treat local speakers of the language as experts and co-developers of the Bible translation.
    7. Don’t wait until it’s perfect to get it into the hands of people who can help you make it better.
    How many stages is your translation required to pass through before any actual speaker of the language can get their hands on
    a copy? If your organization is set up like mine there is a daunting list of requirements before anything can be
    provisionally printed and distributed. The result: few translations ever reach the users and by that time no one wants to
    make major changes. Ouch!
    10. If you treat the people who evaluate your translation as your most valuable resource they will become your most valuable
    resource.
    Community testing is the ugly secret of Bible translation. Nobody does it. Translators hate testing their translations.
    Because they don’t get feedback, the translation suffers.
    13. When everyone involved thinks your translation is accurate and natural then it’s acceptable and you’re ready to do a
    major printing.
    18. If your Bible translation is going to be interesting to people you must make an interesting translation.
    I’m not talking about being eccentric just to get attention. But your translation must be interesting in itself: the story is
    fascinating (For example, Genesis or Revelations). Or, it is a novelty: “Amazing, this sounds like our language!” Or, maybe
    you need to consider packaging: color cover, audio versions, Scripture on bumper stickers)…”
    http://lingamish.com/2006/10/03/open-development-models-and-bible-translation/

    “…one of the features in the bible navigation window is the ability to ‘create’ your own translation…this is a convenient
    way to translate when you don’t have all your resources with you…”
    http://www.zhubert.com/tutorial-user-trans

    Thank you Wayne for the tips!
    Does anyone know of other open source Bible translation projects?

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