The other WBT you didn’t know about

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When I heard about WBTC I thought, “Wycliffe Bible Translators, Canada” But it turns out the WBTC is a different organization involved in Bible Translation since 1973. It appears that they have a number of major world languages as well as some I’ve never heard of (not surprising considering there are 6,912 languages in the world today…).

I really liked this translation example (see graphic below) which they used to show how the Bible translates itself. Here they’ve shown four versions of a statement by John the Baptist as recorded in the Gospels and then an instance of Paul quoting John. Supposing that Luke was the chronicler of both the Luke and Acts citations you might expect them to be similar but they are quite different.

It’s an excellent example of how translation and verbal inspiration do not preclude literary license.

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Downloads of the English version are here: http://www.wbtc.com/site/PageServer?pagename=main_downloads_english. In the text it is referred to as Easy Reader Version. I don’t see it referred to at either Bible Gateway or Crosswire/SWORD.

I haven’t studied the translations in depth. The English translation seems quite well done and easy to understand. I wasn’t able to determine if it was based on another translation. The Portuguese translation seems indebted to the Portuguese NIV but I haven’t looked at it enough to determine whether this is demonstrably so. I’ve emailed the WBTC people and asked for clarification.

If anyone has information about how WBTC translations are being used in other ways online please let me know. Also, if you are able to evaluate any of the translations and give us your impressions that would be terrific.

HT: Thanks to BBB reader, Jonathan Morgan for pointing this site out to me.

26 thoughts on “The other WBT you didn’t know about

  1. Eric Fellman says:

    David,
    Thanks for your notice of WBTC and its work. To clarify, our translations are original work, based on Greek and Hebrew, however, since we use “mother-tongue” translation teams in each language, sometimes the chosen consultants work on more than one project, as was the case with Portuguese.

    We work in the major languages, with 30 of the top 100 finished and more underway. Our target is the pre-believer and mass audience hence the focus on simpler language, basically 4th or 5th grade reading level. All our texts are available as downloads on our web site and through many other providers like Olive Tree for apps, including the I-Phone.

    We have major works going in India, since so many of the larger languages are on that continent. We have an office in Bangalore and the website http://www.wbtcindia.com.

    Eric Fellman
    President, WBTC

  2. David Ker says:

    Eric, it was a pleasure to read several passages from the Portuguese translation today. It was clear with understandable vocabulary. I also found the margin notes to be helpfully placed and informative.

  3. John Andersen says:

    Thanks, David. Yes, we have been around for over 35 years now. And yes, we are commonly confused with our friends at Wycliffe, whose headquarters are not many miles from ours. We began with the desire to translate Scripture into the world’s 100 most-spoken languages. Back in 1973, our first attempt was with Farsi, but after finishing Luke/Acts, the project was suspended. Soon after, however, we became convinced of the need of a Bible translation for the deaf community and began to work on what became known as the English Version for the Deaf (EVD), still available from Baker Publishing Group. With the EVD New Testament complete, we discovered the text was serendipitously useful for hearing individuals, especially those who wanted a simple and accurate translation. While the Old Testament was still in a draft phase, we licensed the text to Sweet Publishing, who adapted it for the International Children’s Bible (ICB) and New Century Version (NCV). They enlisted their own translation team to review the New Testament and solidify the Old. In the end, the NCV and ICB texts were sold outright to Word Publishing (and later Thomas Nelson).

    Meanwhile, WBTC retained the rights to the EVD and the original English text, which we continued to adapt and improve over time. Currently, we publish that revised text as the Easy-to-Read Version (ERV). To date, we have completed 19 Bibles (counting two English translations) with six more to be finished soon. In all, we have New Testaments in 30 languages and have three more translations in progress. As of this year, we have distributed over 20 million Bibles and New Testaments and million of portions.

    As members of the Forum of Bible Agencies-International, we are involved in several cooperative efforts in both translation and distribution. Many agencies reference our languages of wider communication in their own translation work. Several agencies have published and distributed our texts. With over 4 million copies distributed, our Spanish translation (La Palabra de Dios para Todos or PDT) has been widely used by translators of indigenous languages.

    Admittedly, we have been a bit behind the curve in making our text through electronic sources. We do, however, have contractual relationships with BibleGateway, eSword. You will see our texts available through them soon. We have PDF’s available of all our texts on our website and they are accessible from several electronic publishers and websites such as BibleKeyCD, Bible-Library.com, BibleScope, BibleSoft, Digital Bible Society, GMPSoft, Handmark, HeartLight, KidsTalkAboutGod.org, Laridian, Logos, Mantis Software, OliveTree Software, PalmBible Plus, TractsOnline, VerseView, and YouVersion.

  4. J. K. Gayle says:

    It’s an excellent example of how translation and verbal inspiration do not preclude literary license.

    And your statement here is excellent, David!

    But what do you think of the WBTC attempt to reconcile the differences? Their note is this:

    “Of special interest is Matthew’s apparent use of a different figure—that of carrying the sandals instead of untying the sandals. But most English translations are misleading here. Although the word used by Matthew usually has the meaning “to carry,” it can also have the meaning “to remove,” which it most certainly does in this context. So Matthew was just expressing in different words the same idea found in the other translations of John’s statement.”

    I think that Matthew uses the word in two other contexts only (albeit with different tenses and such)–both other instances in reported speech also mean (to me anyway) “to carry.”

    And the other NT writers using the verb βαστάσαι in the very same form all seem to mean “to carry”: see, Acts 9:15, Acts 15:10, & Revelation 2:2.

    So, do you think Matthew is playing here somehow with John the Baptist’s and later Jesus’s prophetic announcement: “Repent, for the kingdom… is at hand”? Look at Matthew’s (JohnTB’s) verbs in verses 8,9,10,11 with μετανοίας & μετάνοιαν for action-like repentance. Is this Matthew’s literary license to use verbs that connote a productivity like bearing fruit and carrying sandals and such?

  5. Peter Kirk says:

    Kurk, could it be that what is happening here is that John the Baptist used an Aramaic or Hebrew word which meant both “carry” and “take off”, and different translators into Greek have rendered it differently?

    Is there a reason why the WordPress template for this blog has disappeared? Perhaps it is just a temporary glitch.

  6. David Ker says:

    John, thanks for what y’all do.

    Peter, I noticed that yesterday but it seems to be OK today.

    Christopher, wonderful news. Were you working only on English or other languages as well?

  7. J. K. Gayle says:

    Peter, Plausible speculation! Which ambiguous Aramaic or Hebrew word might John have spoken?

    Note: the LXX translators always collocate ὑπόδημα [hypodema, “sandal”] with some form of the verb *λύω, when speaking of removal or untying of shoes or shoestraps — as in Ex 3:5, Dt 25:9 & 10, Dt 33:25, Josh 5:15, Ruth 4:7 & 8. (The exception is ἐκτενῶ in the translation of Psalm 108:9, where the verbal idea is of tossing the shoe in disgust). Matthew’s verb seems unique indeed.

    But WBTC translators haven’t always been true to the claim that Matthew’s βαστάσαι in 3:11 “can also have the meaning ‘to remove’.” I’m reading through the various translations made freely available here: http://www.wbtc.com/site/PageServer?pagename=downloads_main.

    For example, the Vietnamese has xách (which means “to carry by the handle”). Similarly, the Chinese has 提 (which means “to carry or lift by hand”). (Interestingly, there’s a Chinese-English bilingual version in which the verb in Chinese is 提 but in the English next to the Chinese the exact phrase is “to take off.”)

    And the Brazilian Portuguese has tirar (which means “to take” and might be ambiguous “take away / take off” — David?); and the Spanish has quitarse, which is likewise ambiguous.

    Granted, the Indonesian has membuka (which means “to open”); and the “English of Jesus of Nazareth” (an apparent composite of the four gospels) does have John saying, “unties.”

    (I didn’t look at the other translations because I’m not familiar with the other languages).

  8. J. K. Gayle says:

    Oops! Dt 33:25 is talking about a sandal of metal and doesn’t have any such verb.

    But maybe we also should note that Matthew’s verb here is one Luke uses with “sandals” in a different context as he translates Jesus speaking (Lk 10:4a) –

    Μὴ βαστάζετε βαλλάντιον, μὴ πήραν, μὴ ὑποδήματα· “Carry no money belt, no bag, no shoes” (NASB)

    And Matthew’s verb here is always used in LXX as “to carry.” See Sirach 6:25, Bel and the Dragon 1:36, 4 Kings 18:14, Judges 16:30, and Ruth 2:16. This latter verse actually repeats the verb:

    καὶ βαστάζοντες βαστάξατε αὐτῇ καί γε παραβάλλοντες παραβαλεῖτε αὐτῇ ἐκ τῶν βεβουνισμένων καὶ ἄφετε καὶ συλλέξει καὶ οὐκ ἐπιτιμήσετε αὐτῇ

    And NETS translator Frederick Knoblock renders that into English as:

    By all means carry for her [the sheaves bundled], and even throw aside something for her from the bundles, and leave it, and she will glean, and do not rebuke her.”

  9. Peter Kirk says:

    Kurk, the Russian has nesti which means “carry”, and I don’t think it can also mean “take off”. As for the Hebrew or Aramaic, one possibility is Hebrew nasa. This verb usually means “lift”, “carry”, but can mean “take away, carry off”, including taking off a head (Genesis 40:19 – it was the word play with 40:13, the same phrase with a quite different meaning, that I had at the back of my mind), but I’m not sure if it can ever mean taking off footwear or clothing.

  10. Ken Berry says:

    My WBTC colleague who authored the piece on the website is on vacation. Perhaps he would like to give a fuller response when he returns. In the meantime I will note that BDAG’s entry on βαστάζω (3.a) gives “remove” as a gloss for its sense here in Mt 3:11, as well as in Mt 8:17 (of disease).

  11. J. K. Gayle says:

    Thanks Peter. After reading Ken’s comment, it seems even more possible that Matthew was rendering an Aramaic or Hebrew statement of the prophet(-like) John the Baptiser.

    Ken, It would be great to hear your colleague’s thoughts. The BDAG entry is very interesting, especially with respect to Mt 8:17.

    The Hebrew (which Matthew is translating from Isaiah 53:4) seems very unambigously to mean something like “to carry” for that second verb (סבל cabal) — and something parallel like “to bear” for that first verb (נשא nasa’).

    The LXX translators render the verbs of Isaiah as φέρει (“to bear”) and ὀδυνᾶται (“to agonize”); while Matthew translates them ἔλαβεν (“to take”) and ἐβάστασεν (“to carry”).

  12. Peter Kirk says:

    Kurk, that’s interesting, bastazo as a rendering of sbl. Matthew is clearly bringing out the point (healing in the atonement?) that Jesus by bearing our suffering, i.e. suffering it himself, also took it away from us – as he also did our guilt, Isaiah 53:11 sbl. So maybe sbl can also have the sense “take away”. But it’s a long shot to make it mean “take off” concerning sandals.

  13. Brian McLemore says:

    Peter,

    The current WBTC Russian texts read

    Mat. 3:11 Я крещу водой в знак покаяния. Но Тот, Кто придёт после меня, сильнее меня. Я недостоин даже быть рабом, который наклоняется, чтобы снять Его сандалии.

    Gen.40:19 не пройдёт и трёх дней, как фараон снимет тебе голову, и повесит твой труп на шесте, и птицы будут клевать его!

    The verb in question means “to take off.”

    There is a lag time between what’s in print or pdf and the “live” texts. I’ve heard it said about Bible translations that they are never done, you just stop to print!

  14. Peter Kirk says:

    Thanks, Brian. I’m not sure this revision is an improvement, but it is more consistent with other WBTC translations. The verb indeed means “take off” but also “take away” which implies carrying. But the last part of the Matthew verse can be translated literally “I am unworthy even to be the servant who bows down to take off His sandals”. This addition of “who bows down” leaves no doubt that the translators went for the “take off” option rather than the “carry” one.

  15. Brian McLemore says:

    Kurk,

    Though the Easy-to-Read English version serves as a model for our other translations, it is not their master. For example, WBTC’s Vietnamese translation in Mat 3:11 attempts to reflect the customs and culture of our readers. According to our editor, in Vietnam taking off the shoes of someone is not a sign of lowliness, carrying their shoes is.

  16. Peter Kirk says:

    Brian, that’s an interesting cultural observation. It makes me wonder if the differences between the gospels on this matter reflect a similar cultural distinction. Could it be that for Matthew’s Jewish audience carrying sandals was lowly, but for the other evangelists’ more Hellenistic audiences the lowly thing was taking them off? I don’t know.

    But I do know that for Jews taking off sandals had another quite different significance (Ruth 4:7). Maybe Matthew is deliberately distancing himself from those connotations – he certainly wouldn’t have wanted John’s reluctance to be misinterpreted as a refusal to defer to Jesus as would be symbolised by taking off a sandal.

  17. J. K. Gayle says:

    For example, WBTC’s Vietnamese translation in Mat 3:11 attempts to reflect the customs and culture of our readers. According to our editor, in Vietnam taking off the shoes of someone is not a sign of lowliness, carrying their shoes is.

    Thanks Brian. Does your editor believe Matthew is unique? The Vietnamese for John the Baptist’s verb for Mark, Luke, and John is mở (“to open”); and for Luke it’s cởi (“to untie,” “to take off”).

    Peter, There may be much to what you’re thinking about Matthew and his presumed Jewish audience. But doesn’t Luke’s translation of the Jewish Jesus’s instructions to his Jewish disciples (“Carry … no shoes” Lk 10:4a) suggest that it was the normal thing for them to do? Or did carrying one’s own sandals mean something different from carrying another’s?

  18. Brian McLemore says:

    Peter, good questions—I’ll leave them for my more capable colleagues and others who regularly respond on this blog. Let me say thank you to all those involved in making this blog successful. WBTC’S Translation Department has found this blog useful for correcting faults and considering other ways to improve our texts. I can make our texts available in other formats besides the PDFs found on our website for interested persons.

    Kurk, good point, which I’ll pass on to our editor. We appreciate all comments, both positive and corrective. Let me add one last comment about Spanish, even though I’m not a native speaker. There is nothing ambiguous, in the context of Mat. 3:11, about quitarse. Our former editor wrote, “Nada ambiguo, no te preocupes”.

  19. bill says:

    I’ve seen “Easy English” translations before. But they were stilted, awkward, ugly things. What I love about this ERV translation, based on admittedly a cursory reading, is how lovely it “sounds”! This is a Bible I’d love reading out loud to children.

    Also, they have for download a lovely harmony of the Gospels. The pdf shows a well-designed single-column reading format. But I don’t see it available for purchase in a bound copy, UNLESS that is the difference between the ER102 and the ER103 New Testaments. If the WBTC folks are still following this blog, can they inform what is the difference in those 2 NTs?

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