Last night I finished reading the book Amazing Love by Francis Chan. We’ve been reading through this book in our church growth group. The author cites this verse near the end of the book:
Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. (Rev. 3:4)
The version this wording is from is not given by the author and it doesn’t matter for this post. For me, here is something that does matter: when I read “who have not soiled their clothes,” one of the meaning I thought of was different from the one that the author of the Revelation and the translators of this verse intended. The meaning is that in my dialect this use of the word “soiled” makes me think that these people defecated on themselves. In my dialect if I want to express the meaning the translators intended to communicate, I would say:
who have not gotten their clothes dirty
I asked my wife what meaning she got from the published translation wording and she said the same thing I was thinking. She said, “It sounds like they pooped on themselves.”
Now, perhaps many other speakers of English don’t get this unintended meaning. But even if only, say, 25% or so do, that is enough that we can suggest that translators try to find a different wording that doesn’t trigger the wrong meaning.
Better Bibles are ones whose wordings their translation teams reflect upon to determine if any unintended meanings are triggered in the minds of the translation users. Such reflection requires that translators read and listen to what they write, thinking about what other people will think about when they read their translation. Such reflective thinking can be assisted by field testing that is thorough enough that translators will discover what people think their translations mean or can mean. In the translation above of Rev. 3:4 most readers can probably figure out from the context that people pooping on themselves is not the intended meaning. But it’s not even necessary that they have to go down that path when other wordings can state the intended meaning without the unintended lack of clarity.