proofreading Bible translations

One of my goals for this blog is that its readers might grow in their ability to spot errors or other problems in English Bible translations. Becoming more sensitive to issues of accuracy and naturalness can help us read the Bible more carefully. (It has some downsides, as well, such as allowing our analytical side to interfere with hearing a spiritual message from the biblical text, but we can learn to balance this downside.)

Following are two passages I recently checked in some English Bible versions. The first is from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament); the second is from the New Testament. For this exercise it is not relevant which versions the wordings are from and I prefer not to say.

Carefully read each verse to see if you can find any error or other problem which is serious enough that you would want its translation committee to know about it.

  1. So pay attention! I’m going to make you just as obstinant and unyielding as they are. (Ezek. 3:8)
  2. Look, the curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split, and all the bodies of the holy people who had died were raised. (Matt. 27:51)

Write your suggestions for possible errors in the Comments to this post.

17 thoughts on “proofreading Bible translations

  1. starbreez says:

    1. The word ‘obstinant’ should be spelt ‘obstinate’. Also, I’m not sure if the context given in the translation helps make the sense clearer, but on its own, the verse is a wee bit contradictory: can you expect someone that you’re going to make ‘obstinate and unyielding’ pay attention to you?

    2. We can say ‘raise the dead’ or someone specific (like Lazarus), but raising the body of someone, however holy they might be, shifts the understanding of the verb towards the literal sense: that these bodies are being raised like puppets on strings.

  2. LeRoy says:

    You said:
    So pay attention! I’m going to make you just as obstinant and unyielding as they are. (Ezek. 3:8)
    There are no Hebrew words in Ezek 3:8 that indicate obstinate or unyielding.
    This is how the Hebrew is translated:
    Eze 3:8 Behold, I have appointed your face mighty to confront their faces, your forehead a strong ‘broad blade’ to confront their foreheads.
    הנה behold נתתי appointed את your פניך face חזקים mighty לעמת to confront פניהם face ואת spade מצחם forehead חזק strong לעמת to confront מצחם forehead
    Origin C16: from Ital. spade, plural of spada ‘sword’, via L. from Gk spathē; [‘broad blade’]
    http://www.ccel.org/a/anonymous/hebrewot/Ezekiel.html

    Not only that but the word for obstinate is more clearly obdurate:
    MT 19:8; MR 10:5; MR 16:14 4641 σκληρόκαρδος obdurate hard-hearted obstinate unfeeling cruel, unkind heartless, brutal, violent, lacking compassion

  3. LeRoy says:

    Correction PLEASE, my bad:
    Eze 3:8 Behold, I have appointed your face mighty to confront their faces, your forehead strong to confront their foreheads.
    הנה behold נתתי appointed את your פניך face חזקים mighty לעמת to confront פניהם face ואת your מצחם forehead חזק strong לעמת to confront מצחם forehead

    spade should have been “your” and NOT ‘broad blade’
    Thnaks

  4. Tim Worley says:

    My take is that both of these deal with issues pertaining to “hinneh” (Hebrew) and “idou” (Greek), traditionally translated “behold.” In the above translations, they seem to indicate a very direct (almost condescending) first person address toward the reader. This is perhaps acceptable in the Ezekiel passage, since God is addressing the prophet directly, but this doesn’t seem to fit the situation in Matthew at all, in which the author addresses a generic audience. “Look” in the Matthew verse comes across to me in the sense of “Now look here.” It seems Matthew intended it to draw attention to the amazing event of the veil tearing, but he certainly did not mean “Listen up, you…”

    Alternately, it could also be taken by the reader as a literal command to look (visually) at something (“Look over there!” as Matthew points toward the temple, as if he were unaware the reader wasn’t physically present).

    Just my $0.02.

  5. LeRoy says:

    Mt 27:51 και ϊδου το καταπετασμα του ναου εσχισθη εις δυο ανωθεν εως κατω · και η γη εσισθη και αι πετραι εσχισθησαν
    (Codex Sinaiticus)
    And lo, the curtain of the temple was split into two, from above to below; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were splitting,
    see also
    Mr 15:38 And the curtain of the temple was split into two, from above to below.

  6. Gary Simmons says:

    Tim, my thoughts exactly about Matthew. I’m not familiar enough with Ezekiel to comment there, other than the obstinacy and noting that hinneh is always a tricky word.

    “And just then, the curtain in the temple…”

    I think “just then” is a good dynamic for idou in Matthew there. It’s used to heighten anticipation as a storyteller’s tool.

  7. Gary Simmons says:

    Jeff: that “look” in Greek or Hebrew is used as an interjection, so it gets an exclamation point in English. It’s weird, I know.

    LeRoy: what is your native language? I’m just curious.

  8. David Dewey (UK) says:

    I have two favourite Bible misprints. The first is in the 2001 ESV which, in Gen 30:35 had Jacob’s sheep put ‘in charge of his sons’ (intsead of ‘in the charge of his sons’). The second is in an early NIV which instead of condemning ‘sexual immorality’ condemned ‘sexual immortality’

  9. Wayne Leman says:

    Keep the comments coming folks. Thanks for them. Several of you have spotted the spelling problem in the first passage. The problem that I spotted in the second passage is exegetical, having to do with translation accuracy. Hint, hint: you may have to read the underlying Greek text or compare the translation in the post with other English translations of this verse.

  10. Gary Simmons says:

    Ooh, ooh! *Raises hand!*

    This actually encompasses Matthew 27:51-52.

    1. it leaves out “and the graves were opened.” It would be very sad to be resurrected into an unopened tomb, then die of asphyxiation!

    2. “Those who were asleep” is paraphrased as “who had died.”

    3. Stylistic: the verbs in 51 are not all passive, though I don’t see how they could be rendered passively in good English anyway.

    4. “Holy people” for hagioi.

    I’m guessing you’re looking for number four? 🙂

  11. Jonathan Morgan says:

    I don’t know if this is a translation problem, but when I read the Matthew verse it suggests to me that all of the holy men who have ever died have been raised. Every other version I have compared with says “many” or “a number” or something similar instead.

  12. Peter Milloy says:

    I think Gary Simmons is onto something with his #3 comment on Matthew 27:51. The passive verbs should all be rendered as such in English: “…and the ground was shaken and the rocks were split…” Rendering them as passive would lead readers in the direction of understanding them as “divine passives,” meaning God shook the ground and split the limestone bedrock.

  13. Wayne Leman says:

    More good ideas from you all. Thanks.

    Jonathan, you spotted the issue I was thinking of. It is definitely a translation problem to have a difference between “many” and “all”. Greek uses very different words for these two quantities.

  14. Peter Kirk says:

    I see a different problem with the Matthew rendering. “All the bodies of the holy people…” suggests that these holy people (not necessarily every holy person) had multiple bodies, and that every one of these bodies was raised. More accurate (or in fact inaccurate) is “The bodies of all the holy people…”

  15. LeRoy says:

    Temρtation of Jesus
    Then the Sρirit led Jesus up intο the desert: sο that the devil might tempt him. (CEB)
    Then, Jesus was driven into the wilderness, by the Spirit, to be tested by the accuser; 1225 διάβολος ‘accuser, slanderer’ fiend demon troublemaker see 4567 & 1140(Corrected)

    Now after he had fasted fσr forty days and forty nights, be was starνing (CEB)
    and, fasting forty days and forty nights,––afterwards, he was hungry.

    The tempter came to him αnd said, “Since yοu’ re the Son οf God, order these stones tο become bread.”(CEB)
    And, coming near, to make a test of, the vexer said to him,––If you are a son of God, speak! that, these stones, may become, loaves. (προσελθων and coming near ὁ πιραζων the vexer)(Corrected copy)

    ‘Jesus αnswered, “It’s written, Ρeορle won’t Ιiνe only by bread, but by every ωοrd thαt comes out οf Gοd’s mouth.”(CEB)
    But answering, he said, It is written,––”Not by bread alone, shall a man live, but by every word proceeding from the mouth of God.”(Corrected copy)

    Αfter that the deνil brοught him into the holy city, stood him αt the highest ροint of the temρle,(CEB)
    Then, the accuser takes him into the holy city,––and places him on the wing of the temple;(Corrected copy)

    αnd said to him, “Since yοu’re the Sοn of God, thrοw yουrself down; for it is written., I will command my angels cοncerning you, and they will tαke you up in their hands sο thαt you do not hit your fοοt on a stone.”(CEB)
    and says to him––If you are a son of God, cast thyself down,––it is written, “That to his messengers, he will give charge of you; and, they shall raise you up, with hands, lest you strike, your foot, against a stone”. (Corrected copy)

    Jesus replied, “Αgαin it is written, Υοu will not test the Lοrd your God.”(CEB)
    Jesus said to him, Again, it is written,––”you shall not tempt, the Lord your God.”(Corrected copy)

    Then the devil brought him to a very high mοuntain, showed him αll the kingdοms οf the world and their glory, (CEB)
    Again, the accuser takes him, into an exceeding high mountain,––and shows him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory; (Corrected copy)

    αnd said, “I will give yoυ αll these if you bow down αnd worship me.*(CEB)
    and says to him, All these things, will I give you,––if you will fall down and do homage to me.(Corrected copy)

    Jesus responded, “Go away, Satan, because it’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serνe οnly him.” (CEB)
    Then Jesus said to him, go away, adversary! for it is written,––”The Lord your God, you shall pay homage to, and, to be in servitude to him alone. (Corrected copy)

    Αt that the devil left him, αnd angels cαme αnd took care of him.(CEB)
    Then the accuser left him; and lo, messengers came and ministered to him.(Corrected copy)

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