Arthur Sanders Way, Bible translator

I have recently been made aware of an interesting translation of Paul’s Letters (plus Hebrews), done by Arthur S. Way and published in 1906. He was a Greek scholar who translated several of the Classical Greek works. His translation of Paul’s Letters can be found through this link.

His preface is well worth reading. I’m going to cite three small sections from it:

Conceding all that is urged in praise of the dignity and beauty of the Authorised Version, and the charm of its rhythm, it can hardly be denied that, if the first requisite of a translation is that it shall convey with absolute clearness the meaning of the original, that version is in many parts of the Epistles far from adequate. If a student handed in such a rendering of a passage of Thucydides or Plato, as the Authorised Version supplies (to give but one instance) of 2 Corinthians 10:13-16, he would be told by his tutor that he did not understand his author.

We often hear the clergy complain that to the mass of their hearers the doctrines and claims of their religion seem to be something unreal, outside their lives. May not this be in some measure due to the literary form in which those doctrines, which are elaborated by St. Paul, and by him only, are presented to them in his writings?

Still, I would deprecate the name of ‘paraphrase’ for my version, since my aim has been to follow the original closely, trying to bring out the full meaning, and even suggestion, of each word, deviating only when, to convey the significance of a passage, some expansion seemed advisable.

32 thoughts on “Arthur Sanders Way, Bible translator

  1. Peter Kirk says:

    Iver, this is interesting. I suppose that in the second extract “are presented to them in his writings” is a reference to then available English versions, not to the original Greek. I also note that in the third extract Way uses “paraphrase” in the popular sense of a rather free translation, demonstrating that this usage predates the self-description of the Living Bible.

  2. iverlarsen says:

    Bob,

    I am afraid I do not understand the intention behind your use of scare quotes.

    What is interesting to me is that even though the language is more than a hundred years old, and therefore a few words are not part of my normal vocabulary, his translation is often more readable even than the NIV, because it flows nicely and is coherent. I have not read much of it yet, nor have I made a careful comparison to other versions. You English speakers are better qualified to do that. The KJV translation of 2 Cor 10:13-16 is way beyond my capability of understanding, not because of archaic language, but because of a translation that obscures the meaning of the original.

    I have found something similar in Danish. In the 1890’s a teacher of Greek made his own translation of the NT. His name was Axel Sørensen. Some of the words are archaic now, but his translation is still much easier to read and understand than the literal authorised version published in 1992.

  3. bobmacdonald says:

    Not scare quotes just quoting his word ‘clear’. To me this is often a subjective word. I like the clarity of the one phrase I noted. The reason I asked you is that you pointed out a whole book and I might not have noted even in the example exactly what you were referring to.

    I agree that the KJV is obscure and occluded here. I wondered as soon as I read it about the problem of flying bishops today – reaping where they have not sown. The question ‘who is my apostle’ seems strange to me on first hearing, seems to breathe party spirit and faction rather than the unity of the Shema.

    The other question that is raised in this post is the problem of committee translations. Why don’t the individual translations get better press? Something to do with who we trust, I expect.

  4. WoundedEgo says:

    >>>…Why don’t the individual translations get better press?…

    I like the approach of the Anchor Bible. They have each book translated by an expert on that book. The effect is that the books all have personality, cohere with themselves and have a clear meaning.

  5. iverlarsen says:

    Bob,

    Regarding your last paragraph, I agree that trust is important, but I think it is also a matter of money, power and PR.

  6. bobmacdonald says:

    Mike – I can’t say I am that impressed. One example from his intro: Quench not the Spirit is perfectly OK with me and filling in the spaces – In your church-gatherings do not repress manifestations of the Spirit’s gifts (page 12) – makes too many assumptions.

    A writer must get out of the way. I think his style is clear and he makes his axe clear but it’s not an axe I particularly want to grind. So I must take care myself in my writing that King Robert be more silent than heard.

  7. Mike Sangrey says:

    Bob,

    Don’t confuse theory with practice. In other words, his insights into how English needs syntactic markers to effect coherence is, to me, a breath of fresh air. His comments about overloading prepositions also show great insight. Now, that’s the design aspect. It’s the underlying theoretical framework that enables good translation. However, what does that look like in the concrete and “rubber meets the road” of actually translating a text? That’s where the discussion needs to be had. There can and should be differences here as we hammer out a submissive, communal, and reasoned understanding of the coherent meaning of the original text. But, we need a linguistically informed exegetical framework upon which to perform the hammering. I don’t think we have this today. Personally, I think it’s this framework that he gets. I wish he would have written a book about the theory and practice of Bible translation and then presented this book as an example.

    As far as assumptions: Are they assumptions? Or, are they the spaces in the original text which are seamlessly filled in by the reader’s need for coherence. A coherence easily constructed by the original reader which we, separated by space, time, and conceptual differences, must have mitigated for us by reasoned and complete translation? They appear to us as assumptions; but, I don’t think they are, once we assume the text must flow.

  8. Russell Allen says:

    I’m a bit surprised that Way’s translation is clearly so little known, really, given his stature as a classics translator.

    One of the things which struck me when I first read it was that it makes clear that there is a distinction which must be made between clarity and reading level, especially where reading level is considered in a reductionist statistical manner. They may be correlated but are not the same.

    Also his point about conjunctions prompts me into saying that it is maybe possible to be too focused on the understandability of small phrases at the expense of the overall flow. This is something I struggle with when reading the CEV: every individual phrase/sentence (in the CEV those two terms are almost coterminous) is clear, but reading whole passages is paradoxically harder than it should be. It feels somewhat atomised and disconnected.

  9. WoundedEgo says:

    >>>Nice – 1 Cor 10:15 – I am not the man to filch the fruits of another’s toil.

    Ha! That definitely sets him apart from your average preacher, no?!

    >>>Did you find an example that shows his ‘clarity’ over the AV where the Greek also is ‘clear’?

    Yeah, I would like it if Bob’s question evoked some examples.

  10. WoundedEgo says:

    This post is especially poignant as we are posed on the 500th anniversary of the Authorized (by King James) Version:

    “Conceding all that is urged in praise of the dignity and beauty of the Authorised Version, and the charm of its rhythm, it can hardly be denied that, if the first requisite of a translation is that it shall convey with absolute clearness the meaning of the original, that version is in many parts of the Epistles far from adequate. If a student handed in such a rendering of a passage of Thucydides or Plato, as the Authorised Version supplies (to give but one instance) of 2 Corinthians 10:13-16, he would be told by his tutor that he did not understand his author.”

    !

    I still love the old girl (the KJV) though, just as much as when her lips were pink, her skin smooth and she didn’t drool!

  11. iverlarsen says:

    Bob,

    I am sure I could find several individual translation choices that Arthur Way has made based on the context and his background that I would disagree with. But as Mike said, I like his approach to translation. It is refreshing to hear a professional translator speak – and daring to translate Paul’s letters. Theologians who delve into Bible translation are rarely professional translators.

    For 1 Thess 5:19, I like the (KJV and) RSV phrasing “Do not quench the Spirit”. But the main reason I like it is because it is familiar to me.
    Way’s translation makes me think and reconsider. Maybe he is right after all? Or at least he has a point. Did you read his long footnote on p. 13 where he explains his reasoning?

    One of the severe shortcomings of the English language is that there is no distinction between singular and plural commands. This whole section in Thess is plural. Paul is speaking to the church about what to do in church, how to behave towards one another as a community. We miss that if we read the text as if it was written to an individual. I believe Way is right in understanding “the Spirit” here as a metonym for manifestations of the Spirit, in particular the three utterance gifts: tongues, interpretation of tongues and prophecy. v. 19 needs to be read together with v. 20-21. v. 20 is a specific example within the more general admonition of v. 19.

    I do not agree with his translation of “prohecy” as “inspired preaching”, but he wrote before the advent of the modern Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, so I can excuse him. Or maybe “preaching” meant something different 100 years ago than it does today?

  12. Mike Sangrey says:

    One of the seemingly paradoxical things about a clear translation is it places the translator into an accountability relationship with the group of readers. If a text can be made to say a variety of mutually exclusive things, then the translator has effectively removed himself or herself from any accountability. Iver intimates at this and then gets right to the point: it prompts the discussion. This discussion can be, as Iver says, for the individual to ask things like, “Am I right? How am I right? How is he right?” This discussion can and should also be corporate. Ideally, and especially so in today’s digital age, the discussion can and should feed back into the translation for continual improvement. This is all possible when clarity is part of the translation goals.

    If a translation isn’t clear, or worse, the underlying communication theory and translation methodology does not allow for clarity, this discussion can not happen. The lack of clarity, at least it appears to me so, to too greatly encourage a “what’s right for me is right for me, what’s right for you is right for you.”

  13. bobmacdonald says:

    Thanks for the pointers, Iver and Mike. I like particularly the issue of accountability of the translator – I will be called to account for what I have written with all its foibles. So I am not advocating ambiguity to escape accountability. I also would prefer to be clearly wrong if I must be wrong. As to being ‘right’ – well and good, but it’s not my horn to blow. I would like to be rhythmic and beautiful too – but maybe some of the poetry I wrestle with is awkward and disjointed. So I ought not to smooth it out.

    Anyway – I know one thing – the Psalms will keep me so busy I will scarcely have time for Paul – too bad in a way, but there’s only so much time to study. (I love Paul, by the way – and I am an egalitarian and a liberal :O !)

  14. iverlarsen says:

    One of the most significant portions of Romans is 3:21-31. It is not an easy text in the Greek, and much discussion has taken place by people who at times seem to have more respect for their own theology than the Greek text and context.

    Therefore, it is refreshing to listen to Arthur Way, who obviously knows his Greek, but he also knows Paul’s writings and intentions very well. I like his use of Glad-tidings as well as Messiah for Christos. I have recently opposed the KJV rendering of 3:31 which uses “establish”, since we obviously do not establish a Law that was established long ago. Nor do we uphold it as if everything continues as before. Way’s suggestion for 3:31 is one that I have also seriously considered, and only recently did I abandon it for “fulfill”, based on standard OT prophetic language and thematic parallels in the speeches of Jesus and other writings of Paul.

    Let me quote section 3:21-31 from the Way translation:

    But now we have a new revelation – the offer of God’s gift of righteousness quite independently of obedience to the Mosaic Law. And this revelation is actually attested by that very Law, and by the words of the Prophets as well. This righteousness of God’s bestowal is attained through trust in Jesus the Messiah, and is vouchsafed only to those who believe in Him. We find no distinction made. All – Jew as well as Gentile – have committed sin: all lag far behind the attainment of the glory of the Vision of God. They can obtain acquittal only as an act of charity, an act of free grace on His part. Now this act of grace is made possible by the ransom paid for them in the person of the Messiah, of Jesus. God ordained Him from of old to be the atonement for a world’s sin. The essence of this atonement consisted in the shedding of His blood: the channel whereby we profit by it is faith in Him: the effect is a new revelation of God’s justice. He suspended judgment on the sins of that former period, the period of His forbearance, with a view to the revelation of His justice under this new dispensation, when He, while remaining a just judge, can actually acquit the sinner who makes faith in Jesus his plea.

    Well, what has become of the vaunted superiority of the Jews? The doors of God’s justice-hall are shut in its face. By virtue of what clause in God’s law? Because they have not performed the deeds prescribed? Not that; but because they have not exercised the faith prescribed.

    We arrive at the conclusion that a man must gain his verdict of acquittal by exercising faith, the plea of performance of legal ordinances being invalid. After this, can it be maintained that God is the God of the Jews exclusively? Is He not quite as much the God of the Gentiles? Most certainly He is. He must be, if it be true that God is one, and not dual. He will acquit of guilt alike the circumcised Jew who relies only on the exercise of faith, and the uncircumcised Gentile who approaches Him only through the gate of faith.

    ‘Why, you are making the Law,’ I shall be told, ‘a mere nullity by making this faith of yours everything!’ Nothing of the kind. I tell you, I am fixing the Law firmly upon its true foundation.

  15. Peter Kirk says:

    Way’s translation sounds to me like a strange mixture between rather colloquial dynamic renderings, e.g. the last paragraph you quoted, and turgid Victorian prose. Was “vouchsafed” really in regular use in 1906? It sounds to me as if Way lifted it from the 1662 prayer book in which it is common. The phrase “the attainment of the glory of the Vision of God” sounds like a reflection of a rather unusual eschatology. As for “acquittal only as an act of charity”, at that time accepting charity was considered something very demeaning, a bit like accepting welfare among conservative Americans but more so – but maybe that is Way’s point.

  16. iverlarsen says:

    Peter,

    Is there a way to find out which English words were in regular use in the last part of the 19th century? Vouchsafe? Charity?

    I, too, was surprised by the “Vision of God.” I don’t see it as eschatological, but rather going back to God’s vision for mankind before the fall of Adam and Eve. People sinned and did not measure up to God’s standards and vision for them. In Danish we said: “We do not live up to God’s ideal.” It is not a matter of losing the “glory”, but not being able to live up to it.

    If nothing else, a striking wording makes you think, doesn’t it. What did he have in mind?

  17. Peter Kirk says:

    Iver, in answer to your first question, I wish I knew. There might be corpora available somewhere. “Charity” was certainly in widespread use, but in the 19th century meant more like “welfare” before shifting in the 20th to “humanitarian aid”.

    I understood “Vision of God”, capitalised, in terms of something like the Roman Catholic idea of the Beatific Vision, “The immediate knowledge of God which the angelic spirits and the souls of the just enjoy in Heaven.” This quote is from a 1907 article so almost contemporary with Way. Or you could see this 1931 book by Bishop K.E. Kirk, no close relation of mine.

  18. iverlarsen says:

    Peter,

    I just looked up charity in the Oxford online dictionary. It gives 3 different senses of which the third is:
    3 [mass noun] kindness and tolerance in judging others: she found it hard to look on her mother with much charity.
    It also gives the now archaic sense that is closer to Way: archaic – love of humankind, typically in a Christian context: faith, hope, and charity.

    The last example is from the KJV of 1 Cor 13, where the word occurs no less than 9 times. In the context of late 19th century and realising that most of Way’s readers would be familiar with the KJV of 1 Cor 13:13 I don’t think people would have misunderstood the word. Way adds an apposition to clarify it: an act of free grace on His part.

    People today who may not be familiar wiht the KJV might misunderstand it, but that is a common problem with a text written for one audience being read by another audience 100 or 2000 years later.

    For the glory of the vision of God, I accept this might be misunderstood. Concepts like the “Beatific Vision” are foreign to the context of Romans, and should not be evoked.

    Bishop Kirk is talking about seeing God in relation to the beatitude of Matthew 5:8, which is similar to the above, but foreign to the context of Romans. Bishop Kirk says (p. 109) that the New Testament offers the vision of God to all. Way says: “All – Jew as well as Gentile – have committed sin: all lag far behind the attainment of the glory of the Vision of God.” So these visions are entirely different. Kirk’s is to see God, Way’s is God’s vision for humankind, at least the way I understand Way in context.

  19. WoundedEgo says:

    >>>…Bishop Kirk says (p. 109) that the New Testament offers the vision of God to all. Way says: “All – Jew as well as Gentile – have committed sin: all lag far behind the attainment of the glory of the Vision of God.”…

    This is an obvious allusion to Romans 6:23:

    Rom 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

    For the dear “Bishop Kirk” (who is nothing to me) wants to understand this as referring to an *appreciation of* the majesty of God. So be it. No one really knows what in the heck Paul intended, so that is as good of a guess as anyone.

    However, *my* guess would be (and Paul, speak up if you object):

    “all have sinned and all have fallen short of God’s [INTENDED] radiance.”

    But my reading requires an added word, so it probably is just stooopid.

    But to me, it makes a lot more sense than anything else I’ve read.

  20. iverlarsen says:

    WoundedEgo,

    You are not stupid, but on the right track. Maybe a clarification. Bishop Kirk was not commenting on Rom 3:23, but his key verse is Matt 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” I have not read the book, but I can imagine that he will also refer to 1 John 3:2 “But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
    All of that is future glory, somewhat different from the “glory” Paul talks about in Rom 3:23. Although you could say that the future glory will be a realization of the initial glory that was lost through sin.

    The word “glory” (DOXA) is a difficult word to translate clearly, and it has many different senses. Louw and Nida list nine. In 3:23 it is probably greatness, honour, a praiseworthy and godly life.

    The other key word in the verse is hUSTEREW. This is the opposite of TELEW, which basically means to reach the goal. hUSTEREW (in the middle-passive form) means not to have reached the goal, to come short of it, even if you might have tried.

    So, since all people have sinned, they have come short of the goal of being sinless, which would have been the praiseworthy, honourable, godly (radiant?) life God had originally intended for humankind, if they had only been obedient.

  21. WoundedEgo says:

    >>>…So, since all people have sinned, they have come short of the goal of being sinless, which would have been the praiseworthy, honourable, godly (radiant?) life God had originally intended for humankind, if they had only been obedient.

    And I will go with that, pending the other viewpoints as they are expressed…

  22. Peter Kirk says:

    Iver, I agree that people familiar with KJV might not have misunderstood “charity” in Way’s translation. The same is true today with versions like ESV, which assume that readers have a background in KJV-type language. But in that case why read Way or ESV rather than KJV? Yes, for the improved textual basis, but why else?

    On the vision of God, I guess we can’t know exactly what Way meant – unless of course he wrote about it elsewhere. I wondered if Way was Roman Catholic or associated with the Oxford Movement, who would have had Kenneth Kirk’s idea of the Vision of God. But the Wikipedia article about him suggests he was Methodist, because he taught at three different (then) Methodist schools. So Way might have meant “God’s vision for humankind”, but I think this is far from certain. Of course this is the old ambiguity of subjective or objective genitive: does “vision of God” mean we see God or God sees us?

  23. Shoeb Raza says:

    Hello,

    Can anyone inform me about the upcoming Bible translation by the name THE WAY. Who is producing it? What’s its philosophy of translation? Or any other related information about it.

    Thanks.

  24. Wayne Leman says:

    Shoeb asked:

    Can anyone inform me about the upcoming Bible translation by the name THE WAY.

    I have never heard of this new translation. I am aware that quite a few years ago there was an edition of the Living Bible titled The Way.

    I have been unable to find any information about the new translation you refer to on the Internet. If you have any link about the new translation, please provide it for us. Thank you.

  25. Peter Kirk says:

    I suspect that Shoeb is referring to The Way which is shortly to be published by Tyndale, and appears to be an edition of the New Living Translation, probably with some added material, targeted at the 16-30 age group.

    The translation philosophy of NLT is well known. I can say nothing more about The Way, except that amazon.com (affiliate link) quote a publication date of this Friday, and a price of $16.32 (paperback), so we will soon be able to find out more.

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