I have read about another new Bible translation into English. This is the Freeware Bible project, and you can read about it online at www.freewarebible.com. The translator is Bill Jemas, who apparently is well-known in comic book circles. Jemas apparently felt the need to completely rethink how the original scripture texts were translated into English, so he undertook studying Hebrew in order to be able to make a new translation that breaks with tradition as much as possible. He hasn’t gotten far yet, but has released Genesis chapter 1 in a book entitled Genesis Rejunenated: Read the Word, Word for Word, where he explains what he is trying to accomplish. Genesis 1:1 reads, “In principles, the powers-that-be conceive the heavens and the earth.” A purpose in this translation is to show readers that the standard translations that they are familiar with are unreliable. However, according to a Religion New Service report, Jemas’ translation of that one chapter “has won the general approval of some religion professors who view it as a worthwhile endeavor.” A religion professor at Bard College is quoted as saying that Jemas’ translation shows how Genesis is “filled with possibilities of meaning, and not just limited to a single meaning.”
I’m not writing about the Freeware Bible translation project just to sneer at it, but to simply report on it. But what I have really been wanting to write about is the proliferation of translations of the scriptures into English. I have seen it mentioned in the comments on the Better Bibles Blog — maybe more than once — that “the more translations, the better.” And I can see the logic of that, if you know how to make proper sense of all these variant renderings of the scripture texts in English. But I think there can be harm in this as well, in that it can fragment us and lead to arguments. Well, I guess you can have arguments about how the Bible should be translated even if you don’t have hundreds of published translations. But still it seems that having literally hundreds of translations, and a small core of those competing for dominance in the English Bible market, leads to the impression that the Bible is not really translatable, or else it leads to the notion that “our group has it right and everybody else has it wrong.”
In my translation work, which is geared more toward languages that don’t yet have the scriptures, I do reference a variety of English translations, from traditional (KJV) to literal (RSV) to various flavors of free translation (CEV, NLT, Message), with the NIV right in the middle. I use these variant English renderings for reference alongside the Greek text and commentaries and other translation aids. I do see a value in having different translations for different purposes or audiences. Still, it seem things have gotten out of hand.
I raised the question the other day how many English translations of the Bible there were, and a colleague was quick to say that he had heard a figure of about 150. I’m sure that whatever figure he had was low, because just within the previous day or two of asking that question, I had heard of two more Bible translations being released. Does anybody have the latest figures?
I can see two good reasons for adding another translation to the English. First the language has changed, and the language of today is not the language of 400 years ago. Secondly, there are different sub-audiences, and the general category of “English” is really too broad for a target language for translation. Another very good reason for making a modern translation to take the place of the KJV, besides the language changing, is that we have a much better idea now what the source text should be. I do think it is legitimate to have different translations for different audiences, such as one for people who are highly biblically literate, and another where you don’t presume the audience is already familiar with biblical concepts. You may or may not want yet another translation that is good for liturgical use, or is geared toward aural use or is geared toward speakers of English as a second language.
No translation is “perfect,” and all should be subject to revision to improve them. I would have preferred if the TNIV could have been seen as an improved version of the NIV rather than as an alternative translation to stand alongside the NIV. I realize there are political reasons why that might not have been possible. I would have preferred if the NRSV could be seen similarly as a revision of the RSV rather than an alternative translation, and maybe that is the case and I just don’t realize it. The name change is part of the problem, and the fact that both versions are still available. In saying this, I have to admit that I regularly consult the NIV and the RSV in my work, and not the TNIV and the NRSV, but it is just because I haven’t done what it would take to make the switch in my Bible software, and I think I know how to make proper use of these translations.
It seems that often a motivation for a new translation is an attitude of something like, “They didn’t get it right, and we are going to show you how it should be done.” Maybe that attitude is even justified sometimes. It just seems to me that things have gotten out of hand, and we should recognize there is a down side to this.
Keep in mind that the purpose of the Better Bible Blog is to discuss ways that the Bible should be translated into English, and to suggest improvements on existing translations, and its purpose is not to promote greater fragmentation of the English Bible translation market, nor to advocate one translation over another.