Accurate but not Clear?

A standard that most of us who are involved in Bible translation hold to is that a translation must strive to be clear, accurate and natural. That is the ideal, though sometimes a trade-off is involved. These are the three criteria for a good Bible translation. Sometimes acceptability is added as a fourth criterion.

I want to examine the relationship between clarity and accuracy. When there have to be trade-offs in how to translate the scriptures, I believe most people would say that accuracy is the highest goal. It is possible for a translation to be clear and accurate but not natural. It is possible for a translation to be clear, accurate and natural but not acceptable (perhaps because the audience expects and wants a translation that resembles another one that they perceive as trustworthy). But I want to challenge the idea that a translation can be accurate but not clear.

I see accuracy and clarity as two sides of the same coin. Clarity always has to be with respect to someone, as in “It wasn’t clear to me.” A text, such as a Bible translation, cannot be objectively clear. The clarity always has to be with respect to a certain audience. A Bible translation might be clear, for example, with respect to an audience of Biblical scholars, but not with respect to an audience of construction workers. So to say that a translation is clear, you have to state what kind of audience it is clear to.

Communication is a two-way street, and Bible translation is a type of communication. If the intended meaning is not understood, then the communication fails. That is why we firmly believe that a translation must be tested, to ensure that the intended meaning is communicated. And to be worthwhile, the testing process requires the further step of refining the translation to the point where the intended meaning gets across.

If a translation is not understood properly by the target audience, then can it be acccurate? I would say no, because in this case the meaning that the audience gets from the translation is not accurate and complete. (Someone could say, I suppose, that a certain translation is accurate to the extent that I understand it.) When you analyze how people use the term “accuracy,” you realize that it is used to denote that what is considered the proper meaning is clear to those who are qualified to judge the validity of  a translation. “Clarity” is used to denote that that proper meaning is accessible to the target audience.

So, really, both accuracy and clarity have to do with the proper meaning being accessible in the text, but accuracy focuses on the meaning that people on the production end see in the translation (including translators and consultants and third-party critics who consider themselves competent to judge a translation), while clarity has to do with the meaning that people on the receiving end see in it. A successful translation is one where the translators’ intended meaning and the audience’s perceived meaning are in agreement, where all parties are on the same page, literally, seeing the same thing in the text.

It would be good to avoid saying of certain translations that they are accurate but not clear. If they are not clear, that means that the translation has not accomplished its purpose in getting the audience to understand the translation the way the translators intended, and that is not good. It means that the communicative purposes have not been realized. The translation then is accurate only for the translators, and not accurate for the audience.

Similarly, it is certainly problematic to say that a translation is clear but not accurate. Something in the text may be clear, but if it is not the meaning that the translators were trying to convey, then communication has broken down, and the translators and audience are seeing two different things in the text.

So accuracy and clarity are the same thing viewed from different perspectives. Let’s avoid saying that certain translations are accurate but not clear. What that really means is that the translators are confident about what the translation they produced means, but other important partners in the translation process, namely the target audience, don’t grasp the intended meaning. Maybe the audience could get the meaning of an unclear translation if it is explained to them, but then in that case you can’t say that the translation itself that is clear and accurate with respect to the target audience, but rather it is something outside the translation, such as footnotes and teaching, that fill in the communicative gaps left by the translation.

40 thoughts on “Accurate but not Clear?

  1. WoundedEgo says:

    I recently translated 1 Cor 1:30 because I did not understand it in translation. As I pondered its meaning in the Greek, I noticed that the word “you” was emphasized (because the pronoun was included, even though it was not necessary):

    εξ αυτου δε **υμεις εστε** εν χριστω ιησου ος εγενηθη σοφια ημιν απο θεου δικαιοσυνη τε και αγιασμος και απολυτρωσις

    This was the key to understanding the verse for me. I checked to whom it was written:

    26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: 27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; 28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: 29 That no flesh should glory in his presence.

    So the emphasis on “you” (plural) shows that he was writing to people who were the weak, foolish, base and despised.

    So when I translated, wanted to communicate this contextual information that was so helpful, and so subtly communicated in the source text. So I added some info to my translation, in brackets:

    “But it is God’s idea and doing that [losers like] yourselves are included in Christ Jesus, whom we have found to be God’s means of bringing us to wisdom, righteousness and also holiness and deliverance.”

    I thought the added info added tremendous clarity, and thus by your definition accuracy. But by bracketing the contextual addition, I kept transparency about what the source verbage actually was.

  2. Peter Kirk says:

    David, I take your point. But I think it is still worth making a distinction between “accurate” and “clear” in translation. Sometimes there has to be a trade-off between the two.

    For example, when translating the Old Testament the team I was part of had to decide on renderings for young sheep and cattle of different ages. We had to choose between being accurate in the sense of using the precise terms which shepherds etc would use for the animals, and being clear by using the words in general use which would be considered inaccurate (as the age of the animal was also specified) by the experts. Similarly with a number of other technical and semi-technical words in the Bible, which could be rendered either accurately or clearly, but not both.

    I think we can also say a translation is clear but not accurate when it clearly conveys the wrong meaning!

  3. WoundedEgo says:

    Peter, I recently had a discussion on this issue (age/type of animals) in relation to the passover. It seems that the traditional reading by both Jews and Christians is that the passover animal was a lamb. I understood the text to be referring to a flock animal (either a sheep or goat) that was a year old. This would make it a sheep or goat, rather than a lamb or kid. Is that what you concluded? Thanks.

    PS: I also concluded that the “matzo” was actually Pita bread rather than crackers.

  4. WoundedEgo says:

    I was just reading the preface to a translation of the Psalms from the LXX and I thought it would be of interest here. The document discusses, among other features of the translation, the penchant of the translator(s) of the LXX Psalms for formal equivalency, and “isomorphism,” and some of the problems it causes.

    Go to page 543 of this:

    Click to access 24-ps-nets.pdf

    It starts almost half way down the page.

  5. John says:

    I believe a translation can be accurate and not clear, when the original is itself somewhat opaque and thought-provoking. It may be a mistake to make the text clear than it should be. One definition of accuracy would demand not making explicit what the original leaves implicit.

  6. sidleejr says:

    To: WoundedEgo;

    You have mistranslated the pronoun (EX AUTOU) which reads, “from Him.”

    So then, there is no double “you” as you have contended.

    The phrase, “from Him” is repeated later in the verse as, (APO THEOU) “from God.”

  7. David Frank says:

    John, you have a good point in that if the meaning of the source text is not clear to the translator, then a faithful (accurate) translation would not be clear to the target audience either.

    However, I just thought of an exception to this. With respect to translation into minority languages around the world, I understand that there are times when the target audience can understand the translation more readily than the translators themselves, because their worldview is closer in some respects to that of the people who lived in Biblical times.

  8. Joel H. says:


    I agree with your general point. I think some translators claim that their translations are accurate, and that any lack of clarity is the fault of the readers who just don’t understand the text. The same claim can be made for the original Greek and Hebrew, though. The whole point of translation is to bring the text to someone. If the “someone” doesn’t understand the translation, the translation — by and large — is a failure.

    But I think there are two important exceptions, and John brings this up. Sometimes the original text is unclear. I don’t mean that the translator is unclear as to what it means. Rather, I mean that the translator has correctly understood that the original is unclear. In these cases, I think accuracy demands that the lack of clarity in the original be conveyed in the translation.

    For example, we now know that parts of Samuel are missing from the canonical texts, so some of the official text makes very little sense. It seem to me that the translator has a choice: fill in the gaps (sacrificing accuracy) or translate what’s there (sacrificing what I would call an artificial clarity). This is one way that a text might be unclear.

    A second way a text might be unclear is that the material might legitimately be difficult. For example, good poetry is often difficult to read. Similarly (as regarding animals), the text might assume knowledge that is no longer common. And so on.

    At any rate, in general I think your point is well taken. I also think we should keep the exceptions in mind.


  9. WoundedEgo says:

    >>>You have mistranslated the pronoun (EX AUTOU) which reads, “from Him.”

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on that one, Sid.

    >>>So then, there is no double “you” as you have contended.

    I was referring to the implied subject, not AUTOU. Are you familiar with the concept of an implied subject in a declined verb, Sid? See “Subject” in the following link for an explanation:

    >>>The phrase, “from Him” is repeated later in the verse as, (APO THEOU) “from God.”

    According to Liddel, EK can refer to the “author or occaision” of a thing, and that is what I tried to reflect in my translation choice:

    “3. of the Author or Occasion of a thing, ὄναρ ἐκ Διός ἐστιν Il.; θάνατος ἐκ μνηστήρων death by the hand of the suitors, Od.; τὰ ἐξ Ἑλλήνων τείχεα walls built by them, Hdt.”

    You might want to peruse the many ways that these prepositions can be used in real life:

    I highly recommend downloading the Tyndale House **free*** toolbar for **free** immediate access to some of the best scripture study resources, including a searchable Liddel lexicon! Here is the link:

  10. Peter Kirk says:

    WoundedEgo, if I remember correctly the difficult translation issues were with other sacrificial animals, for which the age as well as the species are specified in the text. I agree that the Passover lamb could also be a young goat, according to the Hebrew, but I think we stuck to the word for lamb there for the same reasons that most English translations have done so.

    The Hebrew matsa was unleavened. But according to Wikipedia pita bread contains yeast. So your identification cannot be right.

  11. David Frank says:

    John again, you suggested that “One definition of accuracy would demand not making explicit what the original leaves implicit.” I can see that someone might define accuracy that way. I’m not sure I would agree with such a definition. People can define technical terms any way they want to, but that is not a definition of accuracy that I would want to use.

  12. David Frank says:

    Joel H, I’m sticking with what I said, that “clarity” must always be in relation to someone. I suppose the way you point out that some Biblical texts are simply not clear, you mean not clear to anyone. That would include the translator, of course; it would mean that the translator is unclear as to what the text means, and that might be because nobody can be sure what the text is supposed to mean. I don’t think I would argue with you and John when you say that accuracy demands that the lack of clarity in the original be conveyed in the translation.

    Thank you for understanding my point, as you phrased it, that “some translators claim that their translations are accurate, and that any lack of clarity is the fault of the readers who just don’t understand the text…. The whole point of translation is to bring the text to someone. If the ‘someone’ doesn’t understand the translation, the translation—by and large—is a failure.”

  13. David Frank says:

    Back to John again, regarding what you said, that accuracy means not trying to make the text more clear than was the original: Are you familiar with the concept of weak vs. strong communication? I have normally seen that discussed in the context of relevance theory, though I am not sure relevance theorists can take credit for being the first ones to be able to understand this distinction. And I’m not sure whether weak vs. strong communication has previously been discussed on the Better Bibles Blog. If not, it would be worth discussing. It relates to the point you were making, about whether everything in the Bible was meant to be crystal clear, or whether some things (e.g., parables and proverbs) were intended to force someone have to search for the meaning. But this goes along with what I was saying, that accuracy and clarity go hand in hand. I did not mean to suggest that a good Bible translation should make the meaning of everything immediately clear, like in simplified English that loses all literary quality. Sometime we should discuss passages where (arguably) the original was intentionally less than perfectly clear, and where an accurate translation should reproduce that same puzzling effect in the target audience, if possible.

  14. David Frank says:

    Peter Kirk, you and I and lots of other Bible translators have benefited from being taught that a good translation is clear, accurate and natural. I should not disagree that accuracy and clarity have somewhat different definitions. And of course, as you and I both pointed out, a text that purports to be a translation can be clear but wrong. Then it is not a good translation. My comments were intended to be about a good translation, where accuracy and clarity are discussed in relation to the proper meaning of the text. One way of putting it is that the term “accuracy” normally is used to say that the proper meaning has been invested in the text, and “accuracy” normally relates to the perspective of the translators and consultants and expert third-parties who evaluate the text. The term “clarity” is normally used to mean that the proper meaning of the text is retrievable by the reader. My point was that if a user of the translation gets the wrong meaning out of it, or if the correct meaning is not as accessible to the reader as it ought to be, then to that extent the translation is not faithful and accurate for the reader. Communication does not take place until someone understands what someone else meant to express.

  15. John says:


    I do agree with your general point—that a translation is only as accurate as its meaning is understood by its readers. (For example, though the use of the word ‘prevent’ in the KJV used to be accurate, it no longer is for the vast majority of readers.)

    I am not well read in relevance theory, so I don’t know the distinction between strong and weak communication. (Time for some reading up!) But I think my general exception is something to think about, namely that a translation should accurately reflect what the original says. And as I see it, clarity is part of that accuracy. So yes, clarity does equal accuracy in a way, but only so far as if reflects the clarity of the original.

    And of course perfect fidelity to the accuracy/original is not possible.

  16. iver larsen says:

    David mentioned a fourth criteria, acceptability, which I thought it would be helpful to comment on.
    Sometimes we use the illustration of a three-legged stool to describe ANC (accuracy, naturalness and clarity). All three legs must be present at the same time and of equal length. It is possible to sit on a stool where one leg is stronger and longer than the others, but the seat would be slanting and it is awkward. Literal translations are like that – awkward to read and somewhat uncomfortable in the long run. You need to discipline yourself to read a literal version, and people usually only read small sections at a time.

    Acceptability is not the forth leg of a chair but refers to the whole design of the stool and how pleasing it looks to the one who thinks about sitting on the stool. Is it solid enough to sit on?
    There are examples of translations that fulfill the three criteria but were not accepted by the intended audience. And there are many more examples of translations that have been accepted, but do not fulfill the three criteria. In fact, this has been the norm until recently.

    I prefer to use another illustration for acceptability, namely a book. In English, you may say “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” (In Danish we say: “Don’t judge a dog by its hair.”)
    Acceptability is related to the expectations of the buyer and it is something that the publisher is very keen on, more than the translators. Publishers often write praises for the book and its author on the back and/or inside. This is rarely done for Bibles, but people’s knowledge and/or perception of who the translators are is still important. Are they “liberal” or “conservative”? Do I agree with their theology?
    In some parts of the world, a Bible is not a Bible if it does not have a black cover or if it does not have “the Holy Bible” written on its cover.
    When the meaning-based version of the NT was first published in Danish, it looked like an ordinary book and had a one column layout (but still with tiny verse number). The translation was made with an unchurched readership in view, and the normal book appearance was intended to indicate its readability. However, when the whole Bible was to be printed, the publisher insisted on the normal two-column format. The argument was that most buyers would be Christians, and they cannot perceive a proper Bible without two columns, because that is tradition in Denmark. I gave in, but it spoiled the format of the poetic sections. (We should have used a one-column format for poetry and the two columns for prose.)

    Some potential readers from the state church (Lutheran) rejected the translation because it was published by a company that is normally associated with the free churches. It just happened that the sponsors of the translation (International Bible Society) had a publishing and marketing agreement with this company.
    One pastor rejected the translation as a whole, because we had added one word in one verse that was not in the authorised version. We eventually took out that word and added a footnote with alternative translations. This was a theologically important and controversial verse (John 1:1).

    In our case, we did several things to enhance acceptability, but the following were the most important:
    1. I wrote a number of articles about communication and modern translation principles in a weekly Christian magazine.
    2. We included many footnotes, especially at places where our version was different from the authorized version.
    3. We established a website that explains translation principles.
    4. I made presentations in several seminaries.

    Only number 2 involves material in the book itself. Someone from the Lutheran church commented that they were willing to recommend the translation only because of these footnotes with alternative translation possibilities, because then they could chose the option that fitted their traditional theology. In fact, the popularity of this Bible translation is to a great extent based on its many footnotes.

  17. John says:

    Now that I understand the weak/strong communication concept, I have an observation for further discussion.

    When translating one must try to find out what was intended as part of the meaning, and what was said merely because of the language in which it was said/written. Sometimes this line is blurry.

    A translator can under-translate. In other words, this is keeping the form of a sentence when the only apparent reason for that particular form is that that’s how the language works. For example, the following passage recreates a Hebrew idiom:

    The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”

    (1 Samuel 17:37a NIV)

    Using “hand” for “power” is characteristic of Hebrew. However, it is debatable whether moderate under-translating is necessarily a bad thing. In this case, the sense may not be obscured, and indeed the average person might not even recognize it as unnatural English. Since this part of the Bible was written in Hebrew, is it not correct to say that using “hand” for “power” is characteristic of the Bible?

    Over-translating can also be a problem. When the CEV turns metaphors into similes—Yes, it may be accurate to the meaning. But if clarity is really entwined with accuracy, is it not inaccurate to provide clarity beyond what is original? Many people would say that a metaphor is just as (un)natural and (un)common in Greek as in English.

    For me, the sum of all this is: That’s why we have multiple translations. NIV, REB, NLT and CEV are all excellent in their own ways, and we can get maximum benefit by using a combination of all these.

  18. David Frank says:

    I was aware that Iver Larsen had published a paper about acceptability as the fourth criterion of a good Bible translation, and in fact I started getting off on a little bit of a tangent in my post about that, but I ended up deleting that paragraph. Iver has written here what might have been a good post in itself.

    John, your point is good when you say that “perfect fidelity to the accuracy/original is not possible.” In fact, I’m not sure it is even appropriate to think in such terms. Because of the differences between languages, no translation can be expected to be a perfect reflection of what was in the source text, written in a different language. Yet God’s message to us can come out loud and clear in a translation, and the way God seems to work in the world to reach out to other people is through us, and our imperfect lives, cultures and means of communication. We can communicate God’s message for all people through translation, but just don’t expect a translation to be a perfect mirror of everything in the source text. Well, I’m getting off into something that should probably be a separate post too.

  19. David Frank says:

    Gary, “grip” sounds good in that context. Often elegant solutions can be found for sticky translation problems, if you work with it long enough. As John said, simply turning all of the figurative language non-figurative and explicit is not a very elegant solution.

  20. Gary Simmons says:

    Agreed. Besides, “grip” loosens the attachment to paws, since the idiom refers to power/influence. I’d be more scared of the vicegrip of a lion’s jaws.

  21. Iver Larsen says:

    Hi, John,

    A brief comment on metaphors. I agree that it is usually not helpful to change a metaphor to a simile. What is crucial for translation and communication is not whether a meataphor/simile is used or not, but whether the illustration used in the metaphor/simile is known to the audience. A well-known example is Isa 1:18: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” In some translations in Africa, especially among cattle people, snow has been replaced with milk. But whatever illustration is used, one needs to make sure that the idea of purity is conveyed. If the illustration is not known, the metaphor loses its meaning and impact. Sometimes another illustration can be substituted, but at other times, it is best to drop the metaphor in the interest of clear communication. On the other hand, if the illustration is known, then it is good to keep the metaphor, even if is a live metaphor that is not usually found in the receptor language, e.g. when Jesus says “I am the light of the world.” John 11:9 reads in the RSV: “If any one walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.” NIV mishandled this, because it lost the connection to Jesus=light of the world.
    Sometimes a small adjustment is needed, like changing “night” to “darkness” or “day” to “light”. It all depends on how words are used in an extended sense in the receptor language.

    You quoted NIV which is a good example of an English translation that is not particularly good in terms of ANC, but it is well accepted, because it is not too far from tradition.
    NLT has for the same verse:
    “The LORD who rescued me from the claws of the lion and the bear will rescue me from this Philistine!”

    If you look at the Hebrew text, a more literal translation would be “JHVH who delivered me from the hand of the lion and the hand of the bear will deliver me from the hand of that Philistine.”

    Even the KJV did not keep the 3 times “hand”. In all cases, the hand here stands for potentially destructive power, so I prefer “claws” for “paws”, because “claws” is commonly used in an extended sense that applies to humans, too. “Paws” reminds me of a kitten, but that may me my Danish mindset. “Grip” might work in English, but it would not work well in Danish. We used “claws” like the NLT and CEV. NET and GNB did not mention hand, claw or paw, and they sound too tame and unemotional to me.

  22. Joel H. says:

    I suppose the way you point out that some Biblical texts are simply not clear, you mean not clear to anyone. That would include the translator, of course; it would mean that the translator is unclear as to what the text means, and that might be because nobody can be sure what the text is supposed to mean.


    I think there’s a more subtle distinction.

    One case is where the translator doesn’t understand what the text is, perhaps because of of an obscure idiom or an unknown word.

    The other case is what I’m talking about, though. It’s when the translator understands the text perfectly, and understands that it is not clear.

    (Regarding your central point — and I agree with it — I’m reminded of the teacher who laments, “I’m teaching and teaching, but the students aren’t learning.” That’s not teaching. Similar is the translator who translates into English but English speakers can’t understand the translation….)


  23. Joel H. says:

    p.s.: Yes, I have another book coming out next week: And God Said: How Translations Conceal the Bible’s Original Meaning. I’ll try to post some information about it after the weekend. (In the meantime, there’s some information here.)

  24. WoundedEgo says:

    The key to creating a clear and accurate translation is to “completely” understand the text as it appears in its context.

    It is amazing how complex a bad teacher can make any subject if they don’t really have a mastery of the material. Conversely, it is jaw-dropping to see how clearly and effectively a teacher can communicate a grand theme, if they completely understand the material themselves.

    Good communication “makes the lights come on” in the hearer/reader. “Aaah! I see! Wow!” It should inspire or offend, or you probably got it wrong.

    Until you have that “wow” yourself, you’ll probably produce a reading designed to perplex and bore your readers.

  25. Mr PSb says:

    Lets never forget that God communicated his revelation to man compatible to the endowments of man. Therefore translator should keep to the forefront that God’s word is holy and that they should translate in a way to honor God and be swayed by the perception of others. A translation is only worth it work when it seeks to faithfully translated that which is written in the manuscripts available to us, without trying to separate words and meaning and stretching the concept of Dynamic Equivalence too far. Good hermeneutics and exegesis is also necessary to have with a proper translation and such a translation should be able to be able to allow readers to exercise full hermeneutic and exegetical potential. Lazy translations make for lazy readers.

  26. WoundedEgo says:

    >>>…I agree that the Passover lamb could also be a young goat, according to the Hebrew, but I think we stuck to the word for lamb there for the same reasons that most English translations have done so.

    What is that reason?

    Not only is the word “lamb” not used, but the word is clearly “a flock animal” which would most likely be a goat. But even if it were a sheep, it would be a “son of a year” which is the idiom for “a year old.” Goats and sheep become adults after a year. So there is no way that it would be a lamb.

    Was the reason “acceptability?”

    >>>The Hebrew matsa was unleavened. But according to Wikipedia pita bread contains yeast. So your identification cannot be right.

    Since they had a word for “unleavened,” they clearly had “leavened” bread in the ancient world. However, they did not have yeast as an additive. We have recently acquired the ability to breed the fungus and sell it in little envelopes.

    But yeast is ubiquitous. If you set wet flour in a bowl, it will gradually rise, because yeast in the air begins feeding on the starch in the dough.

    Bread with no rise is disgusting. No one would have served it to an honored guest:

    Genesis 19:3 And he pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.

    What they would do is take about nine gallons [three “measures” of about three gallons each] of flour and “hide” in it a small piece of dough from a previous batch, called as “starter.” Eventually, the whole would be leavened. When it was time to bake some bread, they would degas a portion of it, and then let it rise until it doubled in size and then bake it.

    But when you cook Pita bread, you degas the dough and cook it immediately. It rises just a bit and is quite delicious, but relatively flat. I’m sure you’ve seen Pita bread before:

    The word Matsa comes from the root for “to drain out” or “to suck out” and surely signifies bread that has been “degassed” and not re-leavened.

    Paul certainly saw it this way. Note what he says:

    1 Corinthians 5:7 ***Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump***, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:

    One cannot purge yeast from a lump and make in new, but one can de-gas it.

    1 Corinthians 5:8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven [first rise], neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness [a second rise]; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

    It is anachronistic to understand “purge out” as expelling “packets of yeast” from one’s homes. One was just to de-gas one’s bread and not wait for the second rise.

    The view from here…

  27. Peter Kirk says:

    Was the reason “acceptability?”

    Yes, in part, but also the simplicity of using a single word in the target language rather than having to say “young sheep or goat” every time. As for the age, who is to say whether an animal a year old can still be called a “lamb” – in English first, then in the language I was referring to.

    As for leavened bread, that is off topic here, so let me just say that your expert (?) opinion on this subject contradicts the expert opinion of many learned professors, not to mention Jewish and Christian tradition. That doesn’t mean you are wrong, but it does mean that if you want to convince anyone you need to do a PhD at least on the subject.

  28. WoundedEgo says:

    >>>Yes, in part, but also the simplicity of using a single word in the target language rather than having to say “young sheep or goat” every time.

    “sheep or goat” seems overly specific, while “young” seems overly nebulous. I think it might have been simpler and more accurate to just say “a one year old animal from your flock – a sheep or a goat.”

    >>>As for the age, who is to say whether an animal a year old can still be called a “lamb” – in English first, then in the language I was referring to.

    Unlike in human society, animals are categorized by biological maturity. A lamb becomes a sheep at one year old. Sheep are just wooly goats. Their kids become goats (a ram or a ewe) at a year. It is based on when they become sexually viable.

    In this same vein, I find that there are other places where the wrong word is used. For example, Isaac’s surrogate:

    Genesis 22:8 And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb [**an adult flock animal**] for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.

    Later on in the account, the ram gets his horns caught…

    The most glaring inconsistency is in the Isaiah song:

    Isaiah 53:7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb [adult flock animal] to the slaughter, and as a sheep [ewe] before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.

    >>>As for leavened bread, that is off topic here, so let me just say that your expert (?) opinion on this subject contradicts the expert opinion of many learned professors,

    My “expert opinion?” The sarcasm is unnecessary. I did not appeal to any credentials, just to the text.

    >>>not to mention Jewish and Christian tradition. That doesn’t mean you are wrong, but it does mean that if you want to convince anyone you need to do a PhD at least on the subject.

    Are you saying that you personally will not be convinced by scripture, only by credentials? I only ask you to ponder Paul’s directive. What is the “old leaven” that Paul wants them to “purge out?” It is the law. Nor does he want them to now be leavened with a new leaven of hypocrisy and malice. These are not two different yeast packets, because they had no such thing. These are the two different rises. This is similar to John:

    John 15:3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.

    Paul says “ye are unleavened.” He “flattened” the law right out of them! Now, he directs them to not get all puffed up again with pseudo intellectualism and such.

    His figures not work with “yeast” because that is an anachronism. It is the “rises” he is concerned with.

    Think about it!

  29. WoundedEgo says:

    One damaging side effect of inaccuracy in translating these animal references is that it promotes an artificial correspondence between John’s references to Jesus as “the lamb [AMNOS] of God” and Isaac’s vicar, and Isaiah’s “ewe” (RACHEL). The figure of the “lamb” as “God’s child” (we would say “God’s kid”) is lost in the process.

  30. Gary Simmons says:

    WoundedEgo: Your sheep-goat-lamb distinction is probably better based on Genesis 22 than Isaiah. It’s easy to see the Isaiah passage as two parallel statements, which (at least to me) could make perfect sense referring to two similar but distinct animals.

    How do you treat the use of diminutive words in Greek with reference to animals? The diminutive and (for lack of the technical word) normal forms of an animal or child name can be used interchangeably. Examples would be Matthew 25:32f for eriphos and its diminutive eriphion. Also, there’s Tobit 2:12f for the same two words. Although Tobit’s use of eriphion seems almost pejorative, belittling the goat because he dislikes it. It’s still at least roughly interchangeable.

    I realize your arguments are from Hebrew, but I don’t think we can seriously consider this topic without discussing how Greek will play loose with diminutives.

    A similar note: strouthos and its diminutive strouthion can both be used of sparrows or ostriches, according to my LXX lexicon (Lust, et al.).

    Though the unleavened bread question may be off-topic, I believe one’s approach to diminutives relates to clarity and the issues of under- or overtranslation.

  31. WoundedEgo says:

    >>>…Your sheep-goat-lamb distinction is probably better based on Genesis 22 than Isaiah. It’s easy to see the Isaiah passage as two parallel statements, which (at least to me) could make perfect sense referring to two similar but distinct animals…

    First of all, we should be clear that Isaiah’s sheep/ewe is not a sacrifice. Sheep were not a significant animal in the Levitic system. Goats [SAWYR] and bulls were the animals that figure in most prominently (and it is a living goat that bears the sins of the people on Yom Kippur). The focus is either on a lack of protest…

    Isa 53:7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb [LXX=PROBATON] to the slaughter, and as a sheep [LXX=AMNOS] before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.

    Or, his mouth is held closed:

    In the NT quote, it follows the LXX:

    Act 8:32 The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep [PROBATON] to the slaughter; and like a lamb [AMNOS] dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth:
    Act 8:33 In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth.

    Sheep and goats are no longer lambs or kids by eight months, when they are sexually mature. A sheep or goat that is one year old is called a “yearling.” A mature sheep, before its first shearing, is called a “shearling.” An adult female sheep is a “ewe” (RACHEL). A young female sheep is a “ewe lamb.” A goat younger than 8 months is a “kid.”


    I would also point out what the NETBible has for Abel’s offering:

    Gen 4:4 But Abel brought some of the firstborn of his flock — even the fattest of them. And the LORD was pleased with Abel and his offering,

    The firstborn were the oldest. This pleased YHVH because these were the ones that he had the most invested in. They had lots of meat on them, that he was sacrificing to YHVH instead of enjoying himself. Sure beats leftover zucchini. But it is clear that there is zero concordance with John’s “lamb of God” and this is important. Much error is perpetuated because of all of these “lamb” translations that have nothing to do with the John’s “lamb of God.”

    Note the parallel with Psalms and Romans of sheep/slaughter:

    Psalms 44:22 Yea, for thy sake are we killed all the day long; we are counted as sheep [flock animals] for the slaughter.

    Romans 8:36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep [PROBATON] for the slaughter.

    ISTM that if we want translations that give the correct accordance (unlike all that I’ve seen) then we need to get these animals straight. John’s “lamb of God” is not linguistically linked to Isaac’s vicar, Isaiah’s suffering servant, the Levitic sacrificial system, Abel’s offering or the passover! The figure is akin to “God’s kid” in our tongue, and most likely was drawn from the Testament of Joseph:

    “19. Hear ye also, my children, the visions which I saw. There were twelve deer feeding, and the nine were divided and scattered in the land, likewise also the three. And I saw that from Judah was born a virgin wearing a linen garment, and from her went forth a Lamb, without spot, and on His left hand there was as it were a lion; and all the beasts rushed against Him, and the lamb overcame them, and destroyed them, and trod them under foot. And because of Him the angels rejoiced, and men, and all the earth. And these things shall take place in their season, in the last days. Do ye therefore, my children, observe the commandments of the Lord, and honour Judah and Levi; for from them shall arise unto you the Lamb of God, by grace saving all the Gentiles and Israel. For His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, which shall not be shaken; but my kingdom among yogi shall come to an end as a watcher’s hammock, which after the summer will not appear.”

  32. Dru says:

    This is a bit of a tangent but I’m a bit uneasy about ‘acceptability’ as a criterion. Fonts, columns, black covers etc are one thing, but what would be our reaction to the following:-

    ‘You shall not commit adultery’ – no we can’t have that. It’s so old fashioned. It means adulterers won’t read the bible. We’d better change it.

    No references to animal sacrifices at all, because people don’t understand them.

    This is fairly obvious. It’s the sort of thing we mock (rightly) the Patriot’s Bible for changing the message where it doesn’t sound free market enough.

    It is taming God’s message, using him in support of us, rather than the other way round.

    But what about:-
    Changing Ps 127 so as to conceal the fact that it clearly attaches particular importance to sons because they are better for intimidating people. Where is that different from omiting all references to animal sacrifices?

    Preferring some translations because they choose the translation options that fit our own theology.

    Rejecting a translation because it does not fit our views, rather than because we genuinely think it is inadequate, incomprehensible or misleading.

    Or preferring a translation because it sounds more like what we’re used to irrespective of theology. At Luke 2:14, is the angel proclaiming goodwill to everyone, or only those that meet a fairly important test?

    There’s a lot of very important decisions people have to make as they try to achieve this but this would appear to me fairly fundamental. The prophetic role of scripture means we must make sure we are translating it so that it conveys what it means rather than what we’d like it to mean or what our readers would like to hear.

  33. Peter Kirk says:

    Dru, I wonder if you have in mind what I wrote a few months ago about Psalms 127 and 128. If so, let me assure you that nothing could have been further from my mind than “Changing Ps 127 so as to conceal the fact that it clearly attaches particular importance to sons …” Or perhaps you have in mind the translators of ESV (yes, ESV!), TNIV and KJV (yes, KJV!) who used “children” in vv.3-5, where RSV, NIV, NRSV and HCSB have “sons”. The issue is in fact that, according to many exegetes including the translators of ESV and TNIV as well as of KJV, it is by no means a “fact that it clearly attaches particular importance to sons”.

    Now I accept that some translators and exegetes disagree and take your view. This is an issue for legitimate exegetical debate, along the lines shown in the comment thread on my post. But it is not the kind of debate that can be pre-empted by using words like “fact” and “clearly” about matter which are in fact very uncertain.

  34. Dru says:

    Peter, I regret what I said wasn’t inspired by what you wrote, or at least a conscious recollection of it. Thank you for pointing me to it. It was more a random example chosen because it’s a less obvious example of the ‘sexist language’ debate, though one where I think the context forces one – or at least me – in the less fashionable direction. As I have been putting psalms into metre recently, it was natural to choose a psalm as an example. In this particular psalm, the reason why the psalmist prefers sons is one that we might regard as at least outdated, if not reprehensible.

    Unless Israelite society was in reality very much more civilised than the way it is described in scripture, it does seem to me,to be clear, ‘factual’, however unacceptable this may be, that this writer sees a key role for ones children as being to stand behind one looking threatening – or worse. So I would stand by the view that irrespective of what might be the case in other contexts, the writer is referring to sons.

    It does seem to me that the squeamishness of, for example, the CW psalter here, conceals why a quiverful of children might be a benefit in a dispute in the gate.

    I had a slightly similar dilemma with 112, where whatever one does with gender, the psalm appears to be addressed primarily to heads of households. Does one play this down, so as to make it more accessible to those that have not got households of their own? It’s my impression that the usual solution of making all the verbs plural loses the sense of individual responsibility. I don’t know the solution in Psalm 112,. A head of household may well be female. But this wasn’t something to which people’s ears had become sensitised much before about 1985, yet alone in ancient Israel.

    Also, I wasn’t choosing my example so as to make a point about sexist grammar itself. It is because this is an area where it is controversial whether a person chooses to translate scripture one way rather than another is doing so for reasons of acceptability or because of changes in target language usage, and if the former, whether this is necessary in the interests of a good cause, or a misrendering of the original. I could have chosen examples where the controversy was one that was no longer live, like the Douai preference for ‘do penance’ over ‘repent’ – though even ‘repent’ as an English word is in my view misleading.

    What I have reservations about is choosing a translation by reference to what general message the translator thinks scripture might have – or perhaps that the translator would like it to have – in preference to what that particular writer in that particular passage was saying. I am suspicious this is the case with some of the KJV only arguments.

    Most of us (I hope) would feel a bit uncomfortable singing Ps 109, 58:8 or the last verse of 137, but I would be very uncomfortable at any suggestion we censor them altogether.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s