Clarity in translation

Translation from one language to another often requires additional words to clarify the meaning of a text. For example, in Romans 5:16 there are 37 words in the New King James Version, 11 of which are in italics to indicate that they are not in the original Greek:

And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned.  For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification.

This is how the verse would read without the italicized words:

And the gift not like through the one who sinned. For the judgment from one in condemnation, but the free gift from many offenses in justification.

It is interesting to note how the King James Version translated this verse:

And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offenses unto justification.

Here there are only six words in italics, but I think you’d agree that this rendition is more difficult to read and understand than the New KJV.

I’ve put a line through the prepositions to highlight the variation between the KJV and the New KJV. This reflects the range of interpretation that a given text can offer.

Although the Contemporary English Version uses just one more word (38) than the New KJV, it conveys the meaning of the verse more clearly and naturally:

There is a lot of difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gift.  That one sin led to punishment.  But God’s gift made it possible for us to be acceptable to him, even though we have sinned many times.

7 thoughts on “Clarity in translation

  1. Bob MacDonald says:

    It is very difficult to consider this one verse by itself. It is in a larger section and the contrast is between the one and the many (Romans 5:12-19). There is a remarkable wholeness to Romans that is not heard by ‘the many’. I have outlined this chapter here. Verses 1-11 emphasize the first person plural. 12-29 then deal with the one and the many. These two sections are a response to his ‘test’ of his thesis against the example of Abraham in chapter 4. Chapters 6 [we and him] [sin and you] and 7 [sin and me] and 8 [flesh and spirit] [creation spirit and us] continue the argument in chunks. I am not kidding – it is a remarkable rhetorical construction and the repetition of words and the shift from person to person is tangible and provable on the surface. So how to deal with this verse – it must not include helping verbs as if they were important when the clarity is only possible if the original thrust of the one and the many is made clear. The many has absolutely nothing to do with many sins – it has to do with many people!

  2. Dan Sindlinger says:

    Thanks for your comments, Bob. I don’t fully agree with the meaning conveyed in the CEV. My translation of this context is very different in “The Better Life Bible”.

    In this post I was just trying to illustrate that the meaning presumed to be there by the CEV translators is conveyed more clearly and naturally than the meaning that the KJV and NKJV translators wished to convey. The accuracy aspect of the meaning conveyed is another important matter, but I didn’t want to address that here.

  3. WoundedEgo says:

    What this verse deals with is the unevenness of numbers:

    Adam = a single sin, resulting in condemnation for many.

    Jesus = a single act of righteousness, resulting in many made righteous.

    So far, they are even.

    But then:

    * Adam’s one sin, resulting in many being made righteous
    * versus, one obedience offsetting many transgressions!

    So in some ways, Jesus is “just like Adam” but in another important way, his righteousness abounded a heck of a lot more, since it counteracted a whole *slew* of transgressions:

    Ro 5:15 But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.

    Ro 5:20 Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:

    Get it?

  4. WoundedEgo says:

    This was the purpose of the law (according to Paul) – to turn sins into transgressions, and thus make the act of Jesus more fantastic. In other words, until the law came, Jesus and Adam had an even score. Once the law came, transgressions [of the law] multiplied. This made the Jesus event more glorious because it was in apposition to an incalculable number of law transgressions!

  5. Gerald R. Collins says:

    Clarity in translation it is required that the terms we use are understood by those that read the comment. In the article we use the term, “sin” as I read the New Testament there is only one sin in man and that is, “being in rebellion against God the Father”. In the New Testament sin is always in the singular and never in the plural. We hear the term in sevice that we should confess our sins or we sin many times each day. When we take the attitude that Jesus died once for our rebellion and washed us and set us apart from those that are in the world. We we take that position then some of the translation which use the word belief and confession and many more terms of that nature have a difficult time trying to translate the Greek into English by using terms that are foreign to the Greek text.
    When doing a lexical translation of the entire text I find that the meaning of the passages in English are easily under- stood. For example when we read that Jesus prepare mansion for us and that he will take us to that place. The word for mansion is the word for spot now we would like to believe that he would provide more for us than just a spot in heaven therefore we translate it more to mean what we desire that what it says in the text.
    I find that translating each word to a Lexical that the meaning of the passage seems to be rather clear but I do admit that it is not easy to read but after several times through it is not as hard as it seems the first time through.
    I see in many translation the “desire” of the translators rather than the voice of the writers coming through.
    Take a look at John chapter one in the Collins New Testament Polyglot and see if the Lexical translation provides the meaning of the passage to an untrained reader of biblical text when we use the the word “word” for “logos” when we know that Jesus said more than one word. In my work I
    translate “logos” equal “something said” then the reader knows that Jesus was the something said.
    A lexical translation provides the reader much insight to the mind of the writer than some passage of these other types of translations
    Gerald R. Collins

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