Literal Bible translations: crutches for bad teachers?

In a comment on the previous post here John Hobbins suggested that I cross-post here my post at my own blog Literal Bible translations: crutches for bad teachers? This is perhaps slightly more controversial than I would normally have chosen to post here, but I think it meets the BBB guidelines.

So here it is:

ESV BibleT.C. Robinson, at New Leaven, quoted Daniel Doleys writing about why he moved back to teaching from the ESV Bible. I was being a bit mischievous when I commented:

This guy is simply showing that he doesn’t understand how language work[s] and doesn’t understand the ESV. … I’m sorry to say this, but by returning to ESV Daniel is simply helping himself continue to teach and preach badly.

Of course I didn’t write anything like this without explaining my reasons, which I have omitted in the quotation above. And in a further exchange of comments with Daniel I accepted that the example he had given was not really one of bad teaching.

Nevertheless, I would claim that literal Bible translations like the ESV are often used as crutches by bad preachers and Christian teachers.

First I need to explain what I mean by “literal Bible translations”. Henry Neufeld has rightly objected to a misuse of the word “literal”. As this word is so often abused it might be better not to apply it to Bible versions, and use the more technical term “formal equivalence translation”. But that would confuse many people – and make the title of this post too long.

Anyway, I am referring here to versions at one end of the translation spectrum: ESV, NASB, RSV, KJV, NKJV and some others which are classified as more or less “literal” or “formal equivalence”. The Good News Bible, CEV and NLT are among those at the other end of the spectrum, “meaning-based” or “dynamic equivalence”. NIV is somewhere in the middle.

Now I certainly don’t want to claim that all preachers and teachers who use literal translations are bad. Some of the very best preachers use versions of this type. But there are also many bad preachers and teachers out there. And many, not all, of them prefer literal translations. There are at least two reasons why:

First, preachers can simply explain the passage and pretend they have preached a sermon. Sadly it is common for pastors, especially less well educated ones, to reject meaning-based Bible translations because they would be left with nothing to say. These preachers have been used to reading a Bible passage from a version which their congregation does not understand clearly, because it is written in unnatural and perhaps old-fashioned language, and then spending a long time explaining its meaning. Maybe this is all there is to the sermon, or there is only a token attempt to apply it to the hearers’ situation. But if the meaning is clear when the passage is read from the Bible, as it surely should be, then there is little or nothing left for the preacher to say.

Second, and this is what I was getting at in my response to the New Leaven post, literal Bible translations encourage teachers to focus on unimportant details while missing the broader flow of the text. Daniel Doleys’ example about the phrase “in the eyes” in Judges can serve as an example here. Daniel complained that NIV was inconsistent in its translation of this phrase – but seemed to have failed to notice that his preferred ESV is also inconsistent. But should such phrases be translated consistently? If the meaning and context is the same, preferably yes. But part of the argument for literal translations is that each word in the original language should be translated consistently even when the meanings and contexts are different. Some bad teachers want this because they love to discuss how specific words are used with some kind of semi-mystical meaning through the Bible or a part of it – without taking into account that these words are perfectly ordinary ones like “eyes” used in many different ways.

Now I accept that there is a place for looking in detail at how each original language word is used in different senses and contexts within the biblical texts. But this kind of study should be done from the original language texts, and the results should be shared among biblical scholars. Only bad preachers try to impress their regular Sunday congregations with insights of this kind, supposedly based on an original language word but often in fact mainly derived from translations and concordances in English, or whatever else their mother tongue might be.

So it is perhaps not surprising that most ordinary congregation members prefer meaning-based translations while their pastors try to persuade them to use more literal ones. After all, the pastors don’t want their flocks to understand the passage too clearly, or they might feel redundant!

What is the answer here? Preachers and teachers need to realise that there is much more to a good sermon than exegesis, explaining the meaning of the text. They may have to do that, of course, whatever translation they are using, but they should make that task as simple as possible by using a clear and natural Bible version. They should also realise that finding themes and connections between texts, while fascinating for scholars, is rarely helpful for general congregations. The heart of a good expository sermon must always be applying the Bible passage to the needs of the hearers. And the best translation to use is the one which makes that task most effective.

In a comment I clarified as follows:

I know I wasn’t all that clear about “finding themes and connections between texts”. I accept that there are many genuine and valuable connections to be made. I’m sure Lloyd-Jones, as a great exegete, found these. What I object to is the fascination some bad preachers have for finding purely verbal links which are probably coincidental and have no genuine theological significance.

102 thoughts on “Literal Bible translations: crutches for bad teachers?

  1. John Hobbins says:

    Hi Peter,

    I like this post very much. It is good and snarky toward pastors most of whom, if they are expository preachers, prefer as you say literal translations.

    I am one of those. I like to be challenged.

    I would also point out that in my context, the United Methodist in which many pastors tell stories rather than exposit a biblical text, translations like CEV and the Message are used more often than in “Bible churches.” A translation like CEV or NLT allows the preacher to dispose of the text rather quickly and get on to more important things, like global warming or the joys of engaging in random acts of kindness between trips to Starbucks. See, I can be snarky, too.

    For the pulpit and teaching, I am not going to switch to NLT or CEV. In my parish, we use RSV, almost identical to ESV.

    It’s important to me that we understand that the Bible is a weird book that teaches things at great odds with the way we believe and the way we do things. A quaint translation like RSV or ESV helps in making that understood. The conclusion many people draw from reading a translation that sounds familiar is that the text is on their side. An unintended consequence, but still: translation FAIL.

    I also have ecclesiological reasons for sticking to a translation in the King James tradition. For example, when I preach on the Beatitudes, it’s important to me that the diction is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Even though literally no one knows who “the poor in spirit” are unless it is explained to them.

    The traditional diction is important because it is a bridge to the text’s embedment in literature, film, and other media and in the lives of many other believers who know the text in that form.

    The traditional diction is a “common coin.” The need for a common coin is so strongly felt by me that if I thought that NIV was the new common coin, I would switch to it even if that meant saying goodbye to the specifics of the King James translation tradition.

    As a matter of fact, NIV retains the traditional diction “poor in spirit”! The phrase is literally unintelligible without explanation, just as are technical terms like expiation and atonement. So I have less of a beef with a conservative translation like NIV than I do with NLT or CEV.

    I am happy to concur that most exegesis from the pulpit does not pass the smell test of someone who knows the ancient languages and knows how language works. This is no less true however in the case of preaching from translations like NLT, CEV, or the Message.

    If you think of a text as a rabbit hole from which, if all goes well, one extracts a rabbit, I would have to say that in most sermons the text is rather more like a hat from which a rabbit is made to magically appear.

    While listening to someone else’s sermon, I often end up playing a game. “That point cannot be derived from the text at hand. Still, it’s a valid point. From what text could the point be derived?” I can usually come up with another text because the Bible is like that: an immense treasure with just about every truth one can think of contained in it, in germinal or full-blown form.

  2. Dannii says:

    If a “common coin” consists of language which is outdated or abnormal and results in unintelligibility or confusion, is inappropriately used in popular media, and is often used for poor/wrong exegesis, what exactly is its value?

  3. John Hobbins says:

    Dannii,

    Often we are stuck with a common coin even if its meaning has been debased. The very word “Christian” is terribly debased. But there is no real alternative to using it. The word “grace” is used by many as a stand-in for what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace,” whereas the grace we receive in Christ is very expensive. The list is almost endless.

    Another example, once again of obscure language like the “poor in spirit,” which I assume you want to do away with.

    “Hallowed by thy name.” A great number of people have no idea what “hallow” means, and fewer still know what it means for us and for God to sanctify God’s name. Only people who have read the Bible in the King James Version or similar or who are well read in English literature and/or Jewish culture know something about kiddush and kiddush ha-Shem.

    The background of this part of the Lord’s prayer is of course passages like Leviticus 22 and Ezekiel 36, and far beyond, because “hallowing” something is an essential concept in the Bible, but something moderns tend not to do, moderns for whom everything is common.

    How shall we then translate? My preference: bring “hallow” back. In order to do that, it is not only ESV and NIV that need to be rethought and recast in passage after passage – since ESV and NIV retain “hallow” ONLY in the Lord’s Prayer.

    Even KJV is not an adequate point of arrival, thought it is a helpful point of departure. KJV uses “hallow” early and often but not enough and has “sanctify” instead in the key background passages to Jesus’ recommendation of the phrase.

    Or choose some equivalent to “hallow” and be as consistent as possible in using it such that the term, when one comes to it in the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew and Luke, has acquired context and substance.

    The only translation that comes anywhere near to being concordant enough in this instance is KJV. Happy birthday, KJV! We still need you.

    In KJV, you hallow the sabbath by not working; you hallow the tabernacle through specific rites; the priests idem; the 50th year is hallowed by specific initiatives; you hallow God’s name by not using it in vain [another concept that cries out for explanation and that no available equivalent clarifies on the fly); God sanctifies his own Name by acts of salvation.

    Compare KJV in passages where it uses “hallow” or “sanctify” with the same in virtually all modern translations – except NJPSV, since Jews, unlike most Protestant Christians, still have a concept of what it means to sanctify – and you will find an inconsistent set of unsatisfactory paraphrases none of which are in circulation in the English language. That is, they are examples of functional equivalent Biblish – of which translations like CEV, NLT, etc., to a lesser extent, RSV, ESV, and NIV, abound.

    We need better Bibles, if we want the Bible translated in such a way as to make it clear how far our ways have come from the ways the Bible holds dear.

  4. Theophrastus says:

    Sounds dreadful.

    But my teachers are even worse, they all use original language texts — what a crutch!

    Worst of all, they value what they call “close readings” but what I now know (thanks to this post) which is just they way they try to spin “unimportant details.” I feel so angry that the wool has been pulled over my eyes all these years.

    In the library I saw whole sets of books that focused on these “details”:

    (1) The Talmud — what a stinker
    (2) The Church Fathers — a waste of time
    (3) Commentaries by some dudes named Luther and Calvin — completely useless — just detail after detail after detail

    In the end, as you point out, it is important to avoid teachers who concentrate on those “details.” What really counts is the soundbite. It seems you just can’t trust any books — better to just watch TV.

  5. Theophrastus says:

    One more thing — the other day, I was reading some book and it said this “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”

    Well, now I know that this is just some sort of defense of “unimportant details.” Of course, we should ignore the jots and tittles and instead focus on the big picture. Thanks for saving me from this false teacher.

  6. Peter Kirk says:

    John, I understand your liking for “The traditional diction”. That’s why I rather like NIV, which aims to preserve this to the extent that it remains clear in modern English. I also agree with

    It’s important to me that we understand that the Bible is a weird book that teaches things at great odds with the way we believe and the way we do things.

    The problem with ESV and RSV is that for many they make the Bible seems like a weird book which teaches nothing comprehensible. In the original the weirdness of the Bible is not in its language: the original Greek was not weird at all to its audience, and the same was probably true of the Hebrew. No, its weirdness was in the content of the message. And that weirdness needs to be brought across clearly to the audience.

    Now I accept that many modern meaning-based translations FAIL here because they make the message too normal. But the more literal translations also FAIL when they convey no message at all.

    Theophrastus, I would actually prefer preachers to use the original language text, because then they would be forced to retell it in terms which their congregation understands. As for your examples from the past, these are mostly commentaries rather than sermons, a quite different genre intended for a quite different audience.

  7. Peter Kirk says:

    Theophrastus, I will avoid responding to your second comment as I might like to, because the posting guidelines require me to “Avoid sarcasm”.

  8. John Hobbins says:

    Peter,

    I am happy that you are happy with your NIV. NIV is only somewhat less difficult and somewhat less literal than translations like NRSV, NJPSV, ESV, and RSV.

    Everything you say against “formal equivalent” translations can be said against your NIV, in somewhat fewer passages.

    And, since you see the value of traditional diction – a comment I will not soon forget since you often come across as a resolute anti-traditionalist – I’m guessing that you would be quite content with a translation in the King James tradition with attention to offering intelligible syntax and intelligible context for key passages like the Lord’s Prayer.

    We continue to need better Bibles. A translation in the KJV tradition for the 21st century has yet to be produced. When it is produced, it will reject the tendency of RSV and NRSV to depart from the received text in the Old Testament (with alternatives in footnotes); will return, against almost all 20th century translations, to a form of the received text in the New Testament (with a less interpolated text noted in footnotes), will identify key concepts like “hallow” and get them right; will be exacting in translation technique in order to make “close readings” possible.

  9. J. K. Gayle says:

    because the posting guidelines require me to “Avoid sarcasm”.

    Seems that translator Matthew Dillon has avoided “sarcasm” or at least found a way to avoid trans-literal-izing σαρκασμοπιτυοκάμπται. Here’s from his rendition of The Frogs (Line 966) by Aristophanes:

    You’ll recognize the disciples of both this fellow and myself:
    His are Phormisios and manic Meganeitos
    Sons of long-beard lancers, pine-tree flesh rippers,
    but mine are Cleitophon and Theramenes the dandy.

    τουτουμενὶ Φορμίσιος Μεγαίνετός θ᾽ ὁ Μανῆς,
    σαλπιγγολογχυπηνάδαι, σαρκασμοπιτυοκάμπται,
    οὑμοὶ δὲ Κλειτοφῶν τε καὶ Θηραμένης ὁ κομψός.

    And Ian Johnston has “flesh-rippers with the pine”; and Benjamin Bickley Rogers”flesh-tearers with the pine.”

  10. Wayne Leman says:

    John Hobbins ended:

    We need better Bibles, if we want the Bible translated in such a way as to make it clear how far our ways have come from the ways the Bible holds dear.

    It doesn’t take outdated language and non-native syntax to make that clear. Just (1) use language in use by native English speakers today and (2) don’t change any of the facts in the biblical texts. By facts I mean references to places, people, things, ideas, etc. Bible translations which transculturate change such references. The Cotton Patch translations changed such references. Transculturated translations are not true translations. Neither are translations which do not use the words and syntax of the people for who the translations are produced.

    I still can’t get my head around the idea that a translation needs to use non-standard language. It seems to me that a translation, by definition, is supposed to be in the language of the people who are the target audience of that translation.

    Using standard dialects of English in a translation doesn’t mean dumbing down a translation or simplifying the concepts in it. Instead, a true translation into the language of a people (not the language of people who previously lived and spoke a previous version of a language or a version spoken only by exegetes) simply expresses what the original texts say in another language. This is what is taught in any translation school. Like Joel Hoffman has said on here, I just don’t understand why translation of the Bible has to be any different from translating any other text. The age of the text shouldn’t matter. The time and cultural “distance” will be clearly evident by so many aspects of any translation, whether the translation uses odd English or standard English. So why not give translation users a break and use standard English so that the words and syntax don’t stand in the way of understanding? Why not let people grapple with difficult concepts, expressed with words and syntax used by those for whom we claim we are translating, not difficult language which they do not use? Such difficult language can be used in special edition translations for scholars, although scholars should be using the original language texts, if at all possible.

    I don’t know what kind of a sin causes death, but I do know that it’s not necessary to syntactically transliterate (rather than translate) by calling it a “sin unto death.” I’m not sure any English speakers of any stage of the English language used the word “unto” to have the meaning ‘leading to’. So I see no virtue in translating with “sin unto death” rather than “sin leading to death” in order to encourage users of this translation to “wrestle” with this difficult concept.

    I don’t think it is necessary to translate with the misleading and communicatively inaccurate (but formally equivalent) “sons of the prophets” to communicate the idea that these were followers of the prophets.

    I completely agree that most current English translations fail to express the beauty of Hebrew poetry. But it’s not necessary to translate Hebrew poetry with English that communicates inaccurate ideas in our efforts to show that the original was poetry. One inaccurate idea is communicating in English the idea that Hebrew poetic parallelism refers to different things or concepts when, actually, those things or concepts are, for purposes of Hebrew parallelism the same or amplify upon a concept which is extremely close–definitely not different. All the field testing I have done indicates that English speakers get an inaccurate understanding from the use of English “and” to translate Hebrew “vav” in Psalm 119:105. But it’s not necessary to lose the poetic parallelism in order to translate this verse accurately. It is only necessary to use English syntax which allows for a parallelistic understanding. The English appositive often does that quite well.

    And if we hire English poets on our Bible translation teams, and tell that to take all the time they need, they can produce poetry using current English that is just as attractive as the poetry of the KJV. The people of the 1600s did not have a monopoly on good English poetry, including poetry with formal features such as rhythm, meter, feet, alliteration, etc. It is, IMO, not necessary to use out-dated (or “never dated”) vocabulary and syntax to translate biblical poetry into current English that sounds poetic.

    I hope these examples help demonstrate that it is not necessary to break the rules of English, which people follow at each stage of English, in order to demonstrate what is so true, that the Bible is a document written for an ancient people who had many different customs from English speakers today.

    Why do we have to give people the opportunity to think that God isn’t smart enough to help “speak” good English in the Bible when we translate the Bible using non-native English?

    Now please don’t get the idea that I believe that an English translation needs to sound like the CEV in order to be an adequate translation. Many English speakers are quite capable of reading and understanding English that is at a higher level of vocabulary and syntactic complexity than that of the CEV. I’m not calling for English Bibles to sound like the CEV. I’m only calling for us to translate the Bible using standard professional principles of translation. The result will be a Bible which uses English in use by those for whom a translation is made. The level of English is a matter which can be varied depending on which English audience (level of education, etc.) we are translating for. But whichever level we use should be actual English, not an artificial dialect of English or English that is no longer used.

  11. Dannii says:

    John, I’m trying to follow your logic, but I can’t. You want us to use “hallow” despite our modern audience not understanding it because the KJV used it concordantly?

    You obviously value concordance very highly. Which situations do you think concordance should be sacrificed for something else?

  12. Theophrastus says:

    You want us to use “hallow” despite our modern audience not understanding it

    So, despite the fact that every student in America studies the Gettysburg Address, they don’t know what “hallowed ground” is?

    And even though Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the fastest selling book in history and was made into the 10th highest grossing film in history, people don’t know what the title means?

    And don’t get me started on “Halloween.”

  13. John Hobbins says:

    I agree with Theophrastus about the value of keeping “hallow” and “hallowed” in circulation but such vocables are at best literary vocabulary, not part of the vernacular.

    That is the Achilles’ heel of the field-testing approach: since very few people would be able to say off the cuff what Lincoln meant when he called the killing fields within view when he gave the Gettysburg Address “hallowed ground,” I wonder what functional equivalent proponents will propose as a translation of the Gettysburg Address for the 21st century.

    I want to see them restructure it, rephrase it, and turn its rhythmic prose into truth made clear English.

    The Gettysburg Address is rightly referred to as “American scripture.” You don’t mess with scripture in the way functional equivalent proponents suggest. Rather, you learn scripture by heart, and sweat until you understand its awkward archaic diction. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

    It’s fine for a translation to bring back vocabulary that is not used frequently if at all in everyday speech if it serves to make essential concepts of the source text clear. The history of translation, not only of the Bible but of other classics, is littered with examples of translators doing just that.

    Wayne,

    We agree on a lot more than will seem evident given our different methodologies. When it comes to specifics, you always help me to stay away from unnecessarily unusual diction.

    Furthermore, I love the following translation of Psalm 119:105 because it is recreates the diction and repetends of the Hebrew down to the prepositions, without reproducing the connector in Hebrew by more than a semi-colon; perhaps you love it for the same reason and because I assume it would field-test well:

    Your word is a lamp before my feet;
    a light before my path.

    We would both take that translation to the bank.

    But we are going to differ on something like “Hallowed be your name.”

    I will stand with ESV and NIV and the other conservative translations whereas you, I assume, will prefer what I consider to be an unsatisfactory paraphrase composed in functional equivalent Biblish.

    I will complain to high heaven that ESV and NIV are nonetheless seriously at fault because they fail to provide substance and context to what “hallowed” means by concordant translation elsewhere in scripture.

    Hallowing things was extremely important to Jesus and is a fundamental concept in the scriptures Jesus actualized, renewed, and radicalized.

    I submit that there is no way to grasp the centrality of sanctification and sanctification of God’s name in the Bible and in the teaching of Jesus from modern translations which translate the relevant vocabulary with wordy and inconsistent substitutes.

    It’s an interesting test case: what would a better Bible look like in this instance?

    In my view, it would be a translation that would allow the reader to read passages like Exodus 20, Leviticus 22, Ezekiel 36, and Matthew 6 in sequence and for the red sanctification thread that unites them to be clear in translation.

    If I am right about this, we have lots of work to do, regardless of whether we opt for “hallow” or “sanctify” or something else.

  14. Theophrastus says:

    I don’t think “hallow” is purely literary — of course most people know the word “holy,” and “hallow” and “holy” are different forms of the same word. (All derive from “hálig” in Old English.)

    If a child or non-native speaker were unfamiliar with “hallow” (a word that I use from time to time in conversation and lectures), I would simply remind her of the connection with “holy,” in the same way that I might explain that “holiday” means “holy-day.”

    I don’t think that “hallow” is a rare or unusual word, but even if it were: can you imagine a college level book that had no unfamiliar vocabulary at all? When I pick up a book on genetics or Chinese history or symphonic music, I expect to learn new vocabulary. In fact, I would feel cheated if I did not.

    Let’s take a work that is the very height of popular writing — Conan-Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Let’s open to the very first page of the very first novel, A Study in Scarlet. There, in the first three paragraphs, we find terms such as “fusilers” and “jezail” and “subclavian” and “enteric” and “jetty” — all of them words that I think we can fairly say are rarer than “hallowed.” Now, if on this basis, you feel that Sherlock Holmes — arguably in the running for the most popular fictional character ever — is some sort of esoteric literature that is only available to the elite and lettered, then we are living in very different universes.

  15. Dannii says:

    Firstly, if we go from Harry Potter, then we would have to conclude that Jesus was teaching us that God’s name is a mythical magic object, and we had better hope that he-who-must-not-be-named will never find it!

    And Theophrastus, if you remember, I wrote last year about jargon. There is an appropriate place for jargon, but there is also an appropriate place for regular language. To keep with the example of “hallow”, if I read a translation which said “hallowed is your name”, even after looking up what it means I might think that hallowing is a very foreign concept that a westerners like me don’t do, whereas if I read “may your holy name be honored” (GNT) I wouldn’t, because I know what honouring means, and I also know that there are many things/people that I honour. (Though “holy” might be a bit of unhelpful jargon itself.) So once again this is a tricky issue. There’s a place for jargon, but I don’t think the Lord’s prayer is one of them.

    John said:

    It’s an interesting test case: what would a better Bible look like in this instance?

    In my view, it would be a translation that would allow the reader to read passages like Exodus 20, Leviticus 22, Ezekiel 36, and Matthew 6 in sequence and for the red sanctification thread that unites them to be clear in translation.

    If I am right about this, we have lots of work to do, regardless of whether we opt for “hallow” or “sanctify” or something else.

    I think that that would make for a good translation indeed. I think it would also be good for those passages to use something other than “Lord” for the tetragrammaton. While “Lord” can be good for many passages, it always strikes me as odd to use a title in passages that are specifically about God’s name.

  16. Theophrastus says:

    Dannii — “hallowed” (ἁγιάζω) does not mean “honored.” It means “separated.” Or do you believe in LXX Ex 29:26 that God was “honoring” the breast and thigh offering of the ram?

    (The Hebrew word, קדשׁת is the same root as קדשׁה — which means prostitute — see Genesis 38:21 — the point being that cult prostitute is “separated”, not that she is “honored”).

    And that’s why it is such a mistake to just start affixing “feel good” words to Scripture — you end up with a meaning that is wrong.

  17. Wayne Leman says:

    For Ps. 119:105 John likes:

    Your word is a lamp before my feet;
    a light before my path.

    Yes, John, the semi-colon turns the sentence into appositive syntax which allows for the light in the 2nd line to be the same as the lamp in the first line.

    I would not use the word “before” here since it means (to me, anyway) that the lamp is positioned on the ground in front of my feet or else hanging in the air somehow in front of my feet. But the original meaning is that the lamp shines light so that I know where to plant my feet as I walk along the path. I think changing “before” to “for” yields more sensible English.

  18. Dannii says:

    I’m not suggesting that God was honouring the beast, though I am suggesting that hallowing God’s name means honouring it. Even though hallowing and separating might mean the same thing, that doesn’t make “separated is your name” in any way an appropriate choice.

  19. Theophrastus says:

    No Dannii, keeping God’s name separate (holy) is exactly implied by the commandment given in Exodus 20:7, part of the Decalogue. Jews, Protestants, and Eastern Orthodox call this the “Third Commandment” and Roman Catholics call this the “Second Commandment.”

    Now, I would not translate this section of Matthew 6:9 as “May your name be separate” (although it would be an accurate translation) — rather I would translate it as “May your name be kept holy” — or more precisely “Hallowed be your name.”

  20. EricW says:

    Dannii wrote:

    I think that that would make for a good translation indeed. I think it would also be good for those passages to use something other than “Lord” for the tetragrammaton. While “Lord” can be good for many passages, it always strikes me as odd to use a title in passages that are specifically about God’s name.

    It seems to me that for English speakers God has a name, and it’s…”God.”

    “Lord” has the connotation of master and even being a title (as in persons who are knighted), rather than being a person’s name, so I think “Lord” is less desirable, even though that’s what Jewish prayers substitute for YHWH.

    Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan used “God” for Elohim, YHWH, and YHWH Elohim in his The Living Torah.

    So I think “God” is a good translation for YWHW. Perhaps one could spell it “GOD” when it translates YHWH and “God” when it translates Elohim, unless one wants to use a different word for Elohim (but which word?). I’m not sure what to do with YHWH Elohim – “GOD God” doesn’t work well, IMO.

  21. Peter Kirk says:

    I’m guessing that you would be quite content with a translation in the King James tradition with attention to offering intelligible syntax and intelligible context for key passages like the Lord’s Prayer.

    Well, John, if someone can come up with such a version and prove that this is not an oxymoron, yes. But I doubt if this can be done much better than NIV does it – although NIV has its weaknesses, one of which is its continued use of the archaic “hallowed” in Matthew 6:9 and Luke 11:2, but nowhere else. Also don’t forget Wayne’s words “audience, audience, audience”. Such a version would work well for me and for similar audiences, but would not work for unchurched people who are not experts in English literature.

    Theophrastus, what does the title Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows mean? Not having read the book, I don’t have a clue. Are the “hallows” people, ghosts, or a place? I took your advice and consulted a dictionary, but dictionary.com didn’t help: the only sense of the word as a noun that it offers is as a variant of “hello”, which is surely not what Rowling had in mind.

  22. Theophrastus says:

    Of course, Harry Potter hallows (plural) are hallowed objects — sometimes shrines but in this case relics.

    Thus Chaucer writes in The Legend of Good Women, “Sche sekith halwis & doth sacryfise.”

    I usually use the Oxford English Dictionary, but you can find the term defined in the current Merriam-Webster dictionary (which begins its definitions with “to make holy or to set apart for holy use”) and the Webster’s Unabridged Third New International Dictionary.

  23. Theophrastus says:

    The Common English Bible translates it as:

    Our Father who is in heaven,
    uphold the holiness of your name.

    This is clearly inferior in terms of rhythm and compactness, but it does at least approach the meaning roughly correctly, rather than something like “may your holy name be honored.”

  24. J. K. Gayle says:

    Peter,
    ESL students don’t have a problem with getting Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Many students I know start with answers.com, which references several dictionaries and encyclopedias at once. One reference for “hallow” at answers.com happens to be the wikipedia entry, which gives the Lord’s Prayer and J.K. Rowling and the word “In J. R. R. Tolkien’s tale The Lord of the Rings, the kings and stewards of Gondor were laid to rest in tombs in “the Hallows” of Rath Dínen (the Silent Street) in the city of Minas Tirith as described in The Return of the King.”

    Theophrastus,
    Who reads Chaucer’s “The Legend of Good Women”? But since some college profs still require the Canterbury Tales, how about these early lines in that General Prologue?

    Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
    And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes
    To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
    And specially from every shires ende
    Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
    The hooly blisful martir for to seke
    That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke.

  25. Peter Kirk says:

    Theophrastus, as I don’t have dead tree versions of these dictionaries I am looking at the online versions.

    Oxford: only sense of “hallow” as a noun is not as an object but

    archaic a saint or holy person.

    Merriam-Webster: “hallow” as a verb only.

    I accept that the above may not be the fullest versions of the dictionaries.

    Webster’s Unabridged Third New International Dictionary is available online only by subscription, so I was unable to check its definition. Does it clearly have one for “hallow” as an object?

    Oddly enough there is such a definition in Wikipedia:

    Hallows can refer to saints, the relics (including remains) of the saints, the relics of gods, or shrines in which relics are kept.

    See also this interesting article. If the “hallows” here are the saints of All Hallows’ Eve, then Rowling is following the OED archaic sense. Or perhaps she is using the sense of the Holy Grail Hallows, which it seems were objects, and which tie in with the Wikipedia definition.

    Chaucer wrote in a different language which I do not understand.

  26. Peter Kirk says:

    J.K. (Gayle not Rowling), Tolkien’s Hallows seem to have been tombs, which doesn’t fit Rowling’s use of the word.

    Anyway, the real point is whether the word, if used in a translation of the Lord’s Prayer, will be understood correctly by Bible readers. If those readers understand “hallow” in its Arthurian, Tolkien or Rowling sense, they will probably get the idea “may your name be treated like a sacred relic of a saint or king”. Not I think what Jesus had in mind.

  27. Peter Kirk says:

    Interesting upswing for “Hallowed”, maybe related to Tolkien on film and Rowling in print. Of course you only got American usage with “Honored”, not “Honoured”. As the search words are case sensitive, I retried the ngram search with “Hallowed,hallowed,Hallows,hallows”. “hallows” also shows a recent upswing but is used only about 1/20 as often as “hallowed” – and that includes some verbal forms.

  28. J. K. Gayle says:

    Peter,

    What if J. K. Rowling is more familiar with J. R. R. Tolkien’s “the Hallows”? What if Tolkien were the one “following the OED archaic sense” or “using the sense of the Holy Grail Hallows”?

    These are the sorts of questions George Steiner helps us with in his essay “On Difficulty” in his book by the same title. There, he outlines more than one sort of difficulty in reading, but he suggests the writer’s purposes some too, and offers a bit how to move into understanding. Here’s a snippet I found online (since I don’t have the paper version in front of me):

    “If the reader would follow the poet into the terra incognita of revelation, he must learn the language . . . . He [the poet sometimes] will labour to undermine, through distortion, through hyperbolic augment, through elision and displacement, the banal and constricting determinations of ordinary, public syntax. The effects which he aims at can vary widely: they extend from the subtlest of momentary shocks, that unsettling of expectation which comes with a conceit in Metaphysical verse, to the bewildering obscurity of Mallarme and the modernists. The underlying manoeuvre is one of rallentando. We are not meant to understand easily and quickly. Immediate purchase is denied us. The text yields its force and singularity of being only gradually. In certain fascinating cases, our understanding, however strenuously won, is to remain provisional. There is to be an undecidability at the heart, at what Coleridge called the inner penetralium of the poem (there is a concrete sense in which the great allegories of ingress, of pilgrimage to the centre, such as the Roman de la rose and the Commedia, compel the reader to re-enact, in the stages of his reading, the adventure of gradual unfolding told by the poet).”

  29. J. K. Gayle says:

    Not I think what Jesus had in mind.

    Now, this is an interesting point! Did Jesus have in mind what Luke or Matthew had in mind, as they Greeked his prayer? And, another problem related, did anyone ever (before Jesus) ask God “our Father” to sanctify his name? So, if this is a novel utterance, how then were the common people to hear it? And if the translation into Hellene were unusual (it is in the LXX or in Greek theo-logic-al literature before that?), then how are the Greek readers to understand it? Where’s their OED?

  30. Peter Kirk says:

    Kurk, I think the problem is that, with a few honourable exceptions like John, Theophrastus and yourself, Bible readers do not want to “follow the poet into the terra incognita of revelation”, they just want to read and understand what the text says.

    As for “what Jesus had in mind”, I was of course begging a number of critical questions. Jesus, as presented in the gospels, was breaking new ground in the way he related to God as Father, but there is Hebrew Bible background for this in Isaiah 63:16, 64:8. And in Isaiah 29:23 God foretells that Israel “will keep my name holy” (NIV 2011), rendered in LXX as hagiasousin to onoma mou with the same verb as in Matthew 6:9. So the concepts in the Lord’s Prayer are hardly novel.

    This link will of course be completely lost by readers of English translations which use the traditional “hallowed” in Matthew 6:9, as they use “sanctify” or “keep holy” in Isaiah 29:23. In this case a literal translation is a broken crutch.

  31. John Hobbins says:

    Peter,

    You say,

    “The real point is whether the word will be understood correctly by Bible readers.”

    If that is the case, you are a CEV spirit trapped in an NIV body.

    I think you fail to adequately acknowledge an obvious fact. A seeker, a non-religious person, even a seasoned believer, stands a chance of understanding the Bible if and only if he reads it along with and in the context of a community that makes it its rule of faith and practice. Depending on which Bible we are talking about, that would be a synagogue, a Catholic church, an Ethiopian Orthodox church, a Protestant congregation, etc.

    I grant of course that religious communities tend to have a tenuous relationship with the scriptures they claim to hold dear. Gone are the days when people would be treated to series of sermons based on the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and Lord’s Prayer. Or taught the same in catechism.

    Still, those are the natural and inevitable contexts in which to teach and to learn what Jesus meant when he said, “Hallowed be your name.” Jesus offered an equivalent context to his disciples by calling them to participate in his ministry and teaching them along the way.

    If I am right about this, the field-testing approach to determining what constitutes a better Bible is in flat contradiction to the pedagogy of Jesus.

    You ask what’s wrong with “Holy be your name.”

    It is better than all of the alternatives discussed on this thread, except for “hallowed be your name.” I can make the sense of that phrase reasonably clear in less than a thousand words.

    The request being made is that God and everyone else, including the supplicant, sanctify God’s name by acts appropriate to each’s station.

    In the Ten Commandments, we are asked to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy – that’s a fair translation of Exod 20:8 (by means of a hendiadys: so NJPSV). In the same unit, God is said to have blessed the Sabbath and hallowed it (Exod 20:11). To hallow something is to consecrate it for a specific purpose. When God hallows something, he brings perfection to it. He endows it with meaning that is thenceforth its true meaning.

    Leviticus 22 and Ezekiel 36 provide further background to the petition of the Lord’s prayer under consideration.

    Leviticus 22 makes it clear that the one who does not sanctify God’s name – in word and deed – incurs guilt. The conclusion of Lev 22, vv. 31-33, is to be read in light of the whole chapter. The conclusion of the conclusion:

    I am YHWH your sanctifier; the one who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God; I, YHWH.

    This clarifies the meaning of “sanctify” with God as subject and the ineluctable association of sanctification with sanctification of God’s name; note the double occurrence of God’s name, YHWH, precisely in this context. God sanctifies his people by saving them, setting them apart in that sense, and consecrating them for a hallowed purpose.

    In short, he sanctifies his name by sanctifying us. In Ezek 36, God promises to sanctify his great name among the nations. “I will manifest my holiness,” “I will hallow myself in plain sight through you” (Ezek 36:23).

    Through us because God sprinkles water on us and cleanses us from all our fetishes. Through us because God gives us a heart of flesh in place of a heart of stone. Through us because God compels us to walk in his ways and keep his commandments (Ezek 36:23-27).

    We, therefore, sanctify God’s name by walking in his ways and keeping his commandments. Every Jew with a minimum of religious culture knows this. It would be nice if a few Christians got at least as far.

    It should now be clear what it means to pray, “hallowed be your name.” We are asking God to hallow himself through us in plain sight of all. We are asking God to give us a new heart so that we act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before our God. So that we hear God say to us, as God said to Abraham, “Walk before me, and be blameless.”

    In other words, we are asking that God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

    Blessed are you, YHWH our God, king of the universe. You hallow yourself and you hallow us by means of your commandments.

    The chief commandment is to love our God, the God revealed to us in the pages of the Bible, the embodiment of all that is good and true and beautiful, with all our heart, mind, and strength. Another commandment is like it, that we love our neighbors as ourselves.

    And we have received a new commandment, a heightening of the old. “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another, as I have loved you. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

    Our Father, who art in heaven: hallowed be your name.

  32. Peter Kirk says:

    John, the problem with your comment is that you use “hallow”, “sanctify” and “keep holy” more or less interchangeably as renderings of the same original language word. You are doing that because you are working from inconsistent translations. Your own rendering is “keep it holy” for Exodus 20:8 and “hallowed it” for 20:11, for the same Hebrew word. Why? You may be doing a good meaning-based translation here but you are clearly going against your own principles.

    As for me being a CEV spirit, I won’t deny it. I prefer NIV for my own use but versions more like CEV for many others, depending who they are. Perhaps the difference for me is that I don’t live in a conservative part of America where one can assume that most people are Christians or at least have some Bible background. My heart is for evangelism of people, the majority around here, who have barely read with understanding a word of the Bible, and for discipling of these people when they have first become Christians. I don’t want them to have to spend years being confused by what they hear in church etc while they learn a foreign language, Biblish, or become experts in historical English literature. Am I supposed to teach them Chaucer, or even Tolkien, before the Lord’s Prayer?

  33. J. K. Gayle says:

    Peter says, the LXX has the same verb as in Matthew 6:9.

    John discusses, what it means to learn what Jesus meant when he said, “Hallowed be your name”…. [is] asking God to hallow himself

    What Matthew and Luke do with the same verb is something extremely novel: they make Jesus use a third person imperative form. Where in the LXX or in all of Greek literature do you ever find that?!

    Even the KJ English isn’t so odd, so extreme. But then again, “Hallowed be your name” is reflexive, is a command form, for God in this prayer.

    Did Jesus say this, intend this strange imperative? Well, Matthew and Luke did. And the KJV translators did. And such a novel oddity was not such a problem, I imagine, for the original readers or those who grew up after them.

  34. J. K. Gayle says:

    Matthew (and Luke) as translators were playing with language. Maybe Jesus was too, but how can we know what he said in Hebrew or Aramaic?

    As mentioned, ἁγιασθήτω does not appear in literature before Matthew.

    Likewise, neither does μετανοεῖτε (a novel, strange, odd imperative for a common verb) appear in Greek writings before Mark uses it in 1:15 for something Jesus is commanding. And then Matthew uses it to translate what Jesus said but also what John his cousin had earlier said, in Mt. 3:2 and 4:17.

    Seems that Mark and Matthew were not at all worried that “the majority around [t]here, who have barely read with understanding” would have a problem with this un-common creative and unique wording in translation.

  35. Dannii says:

    John said:

    It should now be clear what it means to pray, “hallowed be your name.” We are asking God to hallow himself through us in plain sight of all. We are asking God to give us a new heart so that we act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before our God. So that we hear God say to us, as God said to Abraham, “Walk before me, and be blameless.”

    If that’s what Jesus meant he could hardly have picked a more obscure and obtuse way to say it!

  36. John Hobbins says:

    Peter,

    I am not going against my own principles. Concordance is not an absolute rule; it is an ideal towards which to tend. I am after a translation that is at least as concordant as KJV. I won’t settle for less, and neither should you.

    I see that your anti-traditionalist spirit has the upper hand again. First your praised the retention of traditional diction in NIV, now you count it as a negative.

    Dannii,

    Note that according to J.K., ἁγιασθήτω is in effect a new coin. I realize that you ban new coins in your linguistic Republic. By definition then, you also, like Plato, ban poets. I simply note that the biblical authors marched to a different drummer.

  37. Robert says:

    John Hobbins > “I think you fail to adequately acknowledge an obvious fact. A seeker, a non-religious person, even a seasoned believer, stands a chance of understanding the Bible if and only if he reads it along with and in the context of a community that makes it its rule of faith and practice.”

    IF and only IF…?

    It seems to me that as we try to build our own “Tower of Bible,” -forgive the pun please, and please Mr John understand that I’m not attacking you personally (the If and only If caught my eye), nor do I mean to implying that you are guilty of what I’m try to convey, for if we were really honest with ourselves we are ALL guilty to a degree- WE (ALL) like those of that time have forgotten who is in control. For the sake of argument everyone’s ideas and understanding about the scriptures could be wrong. For the sake of argument we have to remember that all translations are based upon copies of copies of copies, ect. For the sake of argument, the originals are all gone forever…but Gods original purpose/His plan/His intent is still being lived out everyday by His people who are called by His name. God didn’t leave us as orphans. Gods Holy Spirit is the “If and only If.” And please don’t miss my point by thinking that I don’t believe this is an important topic, I’m just looking at it from a different perspective.

    Ipsissima Vox vs Ispissima Verba

    Living In Gods Grace Daily

    GB,bg

  38. Theophrastus says:

    Peter — for the online definition of hallow in the OED, look at definition hallow, n.1, 2.a “In pl. applied to the shrines or relics of saints; the gods of the heathen or their shrines.”

    For the M-W, I am using the Collegiate 10th edition and the Unabridged Third edition.

  39. Peter Kirk says:

    Relevant comment from Revd Drayton Parslow, as found at Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley:

    How can we hope to win souls if we read from a Bible translation that is easily comprehensible, when the Inerrant word of God was written in Jacobean English? How can we bring the country to its knees in prayer unless we look it straight in the eye and challenge it with its failings of iniquity and transgressions? Surely we must tell people that they have gone “a-whoring with their own inventions” – no matter how much that makes them laugh? We must nail the colours of a 6-day creation to the mast of our faith. Or vice-versa. I am still working on that metaphor.

    (This is satire, not sarcasm, so I hope it is allowed here!)

  40. Peter Kirk says:

    OK, Theophrastus, I will accept that this is an obscure sense of “hallow”, only found in the fullest versions of dictionaries. So indeed you were right to say of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that “people don’t know what the title means”. But is it relevant to translation of the Bible verse? I think not.

  41. Theophrastus says:

    The translation “Holy be your name” is not terrible, but it does not match Greek as well as “hallowed” — for one thing, it is a noun and not a verb.

    Now it is sometimes said in English that we can “verb” any noun, so let’s try that — let’s make this a command — to holy God’s name. Now ἁγιασθήτω is a passive verb, so we get something like:

    Holied be your name.

    It doesn’t quite seem right. What’s the problem? The word “holied” seem to be correct — unlike, other verbal forms of nouns (e.g., “verbed”).

    If we are fortunate enough to remember that the verb form of the noun “holy” is “hallow”, we get

    Hallowed be your name.

  42. J. K. Gayle says:

    Well, this is “better” then?

    “played the whore in their deeds” (ESV)

    “by their deeds they prostituted themselves” (NIV)

    “and their love of idols was adultery in the LORD’s sight” (NLT)

    “(By doing such gruesome things,) they also became filthy” (CEV)

    Yep, that ought to bring ’em to their knees, with clarity.

    (This also is satire, not sarcasm, so I too hope it is allowed here! I certainly don’t want anyone to accuse me of being one of those “a-whoring with their own inventions” – whatever head-scratching dictionary-wearing thing that might mean.)

  43. Peter Kirk says:

    If we are fortunate enough to remember that the verb form of the noun “holy” is “hallow”, we get

    Hallowed be your name.

    Indeed, Theophrastus. But sadly some people are not so fortunate. Indeed there seems to be a strong modern tendency to create new verbs from nouns, or in this case adjectives, even when there is a perfectly good but slightly obscure verb already in the language. I wish someone would reinvent “holy” as a verb, then we could use it!

  44. Theophrastus says:

    JK is right. Further, as both JK and John Hobbins have suggested, the request to “hallow” the Divine Nameis completely natural in the Jewish context (even to observant Jews of our own age) because it is a major Jewish concept (Leviticus 22:32): Kiddush Hashem — as opposed to Chillul Hashem.

    In fact, were it not for the fact that the Lord’s Prayer is now indivisibly associated with Christianity, it could be a completely pious Jewish prayer.

    Which brings me now to a point I wish to make about translations. It appears that most Christians — and even some Bible translators! — don’t understand the Jewish context of this prayer. The Synoptic Gospels (and the New Testament generally) presume a fair degree of understanding of Judaism — an understanding which many Christians lack.

    To teach the Lord’s Prayer requires educating the reader about the Jewish context. This is an area where most translations fall short (among contemporary translations, only the NAB seems to require an explanatory footnote for this term), and it is a far more serious pedagogical problem for ordinary readers than uncommon vocabulary.

  45. Mike Sangrey says:

    Kurk,

    You made it sound like 3rd person, active imperatives were extremely rare. That’s not really true. I wouldn’t say they’re an obvious, slap-in-the-face common thing either. But, it’s not a weird construction.

    I’m just clarifying for many of our readers.

    Also, FWIW to the whole discussion, I’ve often thought the meaning of Mat. 6:9 was along the lines of:
    Please, make how you’re known set apart and pure.

  46. J. K. Gayle says:

    But, it’s not a weird construction.

    Thanks for clarifying to those readers, Mike. To be even clearer:

    Where before Matthew writes ἁγιασθήτω does it appear in literature? And does Matthew use it again? No and no. And, after Matthew’s use are there any others in the NT? Yes, but only two: Luke and the writer of the Apocalype use the construction just once each. That’s it. (And I don’t think I said it was “weird” but that it’s just a unique Hebraic “playing with [Hellene] language.”)

  47. Mike Sangrey says:

    As I read what people are saying here and elsewhere, it seems to me that Matthew 6:9 says:

    Our heavenly Father, set yourself apart as holy by making us holy and using us. Do these things in the plain sight of everyone.

    Now, to be clear (since there are accusations on at least one other blog that BBB is saying things we’re definitely not saying)–we dare not confuse referent with the referrer. The referrer is the text in the translation. The referent is the audience’s context within which they understand the meaning. The text signifies. The informed mind grasps what is signified.

    If we translate using words and grammatical constructions which need to be multi-processed in order to be understood to refer to a much more fully expressive context, then we’ve done one thing.

    However, if we translate using words and grammatical constructions which are tuned to the cognitive and linguistic patterns wired into an audience member’s mind in order to be understood to refer to a much more full expressive context, then we’ve done something else.

    Only in the later case have we pointed the audience in the right direction. For many, the former case has created no pointer at all.

    All text, no matter how large or small, seeks to catalyze a meaningful result. But, the meaning is not contained in the text. It is generated by the text using the linguistic patterns embedded into the cognitive ability of the audience member. The meaning is catalyzed since the text remains fully intact, but the audience member has been changed (in some way).

    So, an informed context is always assumed in all Bible translation. In fact, it is assumed in every single text ever written. There are different levels of informed context–so, don’t misunderstand me. There are different audiences. No one should assume otherwise.

    The goal of a Better Bible is to render a text in such a way so that a minimal context is required by the intended audience to accurately obtain the intended meaning. It’s a two variable problem–minimal signifier, maximal signfied.

    The destination language we are given determines what is grammatical and what is tuned to the audience. We don’t get to dictate that to the audience. It’s the language we are given that provides the connecting capability. It provides the building blocks for the catalyst. It provides the mechanisms the Bible translation can use to make the connections between God’s message and an audience member’s mind and heart. We don’t get to go to the audience and tell them, “You don’t know the right language.” We can, and should, say, “You need to get better informed.” But, those two are two entirely different things.

    Otherwise, we could simply translate the entire Bible with the single letter ‘X’ and expect the audience to go get itself properly informed as to what that means.

    You know! That’s not a bad idea. That certainly would solve the whole multiple version problem. [Now you’ve got me slip-sliding toward sarcasm.]

  48. Theophrastus says:

    The goal of a Better Bible is to render a text in such a way so that a minimal context is required by the intended audience to accurately obtain the intended meaning.

    This clearly is not the case. If it were, then instead of translating a passage, we could simply explain a passage. At the extreme, we could simply “translate” the Bible by producing a catechism.

  49. Mike Sangrey says:

    This clearly is not the case. If it were, then instead of translating a passage, we could simply explain a passage. At the extreme, we could simply “translate” the Bible by producing a catechism.

    Obviously, you wouldn’t be rendering a text, then. Perhaps it would be clearer if I had said, “…rendering the original text…”.

    Also, I’m not using the word minimal in the sense of an absolute. It’s relative. As my second to last paragraph shows. Maximal is also necessarily relative because of our human frailty.

    Basically, the rendered text is minimal in the sense that it has to approach the audience’s linguistic capability. I think of this as minimizing since the translator must assume the reader does not have an absolutely fully informed context–no reader does. So, one works “down” from a fully informed context. However, the accuracy must be maximized. I think of this as maximizing since the text (to be absolutely accurate) must convey truth, and truth is an absolute. Because of our sinful failure and its affects, we will always approach the truth from “underneath.”

    “Translating” the Bible by producing a catechism is a silly suggestion. No one is saying that. I’m a bit surprised by the comment since it is quite obvious that no one here would say or teach such a thing.

  50. Dannii says:

    If ἁγιασθήτω is a new bit of language, it seems quite ironic to try to use a very old bit of language in our translations!

    Kurk, how would the prayer have been composed if Matthew/Luke (Q?) hadn’t coined a new word?

  51. Theophrastus says:

    Well, Mike, of course it was a reductio ad absurdum, as I clearly indicated. The point of it was that the notion of “translating” carries its own responsibility. The primary issue is to really translate, and we’ve already seen some examples in this comment thread where that has abandoned, e.g., “may your holy name be honored.”

    Further, there are many aspects to “translate.” As you know, a good fraction of the Bible is poetry — it is possible to translate this as prose, but I suspect you would agree with me that this does not meet the minimum requirements of “translation.” Neither is it enough to simply write prose but format it as a set of irregular lines — that is not translation but typesetting! Similarly much of the Bible contains very subtle word games, repetition, emphasis, etc.

    And the Bible, at least the Hebrew Bible, is frequently extremely beautiful. If the translation is not also beautiful — and moreover beautiful in the same way, we don’t have a true translation.

    Now, once all of these characteristics, which JK (especially), John, and I have all argued for are present in the translation, then I am willing to entertain your secondary concerns of “the goal of a Better Bible is to render a text in such a way so that a minimal context is required by the intended audience to accurately obtain the intended meaning.”

    However, I wish to note the extreme hubris in your criteria. You talk about “intended meaning.” If you are a prophet, perhaps you know all of Scripture’s “intended meaning.” But if you are not, then you’ll have to admit that many, many parts of the Bible are obscure to us. (Further, there are many doctrinal disputes over the “intended meaning” of Scripture.) We can of course partially determine the meaning of Scripture, but a sense of humility in the face of God requires us to be conservative in translation — staying as close to the original as possible, lest out of ignorance we fail to transmit meaning.

  52. Mike Sangrey says:

    Well, Mike, of course it was a reductio ad absurdum, as I clearly indicated.

    It can’t be. As I clearly stated, “No one is saying that.” Reductio ad absurdum implies that there is some kind of continuum. I can understand, given other comments you’ve made (see next), that there is a continuum in your mind, but you are the one assuming it. It is not something we’ve stated (in fact, we’ve repeatedly stated the opposite in answer to such Paper Man arguments). In any case, implying that I or any author on this blog would even think that producing a catechism is on the continuum of translation…well…that’s a totally absurd statement. I normally don’t come out this strongly in rebuttal. But such completely absurd statements should either be poignantly rebutted or totally ignored as silly.

    Clearly, we disagree on some very fundamental levels.

    For example, you say, And the Bible, at least the Hebrew Bible, is frequently extremely beautiful. If the translation is not also beautiful — and moreover beautiful in the same way, we don’t have a true translation.[emphasis mine] And then go on to say (in the very next paragraph), Now, once all of these characteristics, which JK (especially), John, and I have all argued for are present in the translation, then I am willing to entertain your secondary concerns of “the goal of a Better Bible is to render a text in such a way so that a minimal context is required by the intended audience to accurately obtain the intended meaning.”

    You place the original forms above the original meaning. This blog does not. Accuracy in similarity of form between two different languages (whatever that could possibly mean) is paramount to you. Accuracy of equivalency in meaning is vital to me. Should a resulting text be beautiful? Sure. There’s many kinds of beauty. I think many Pauline arguments are beautiful. I think the humor in the Gospel of John is beautiful. I think there are many “turns of phrase” that are beautiful and such beauty can and should be used in translation. But, maximizing accuracy of meaning is priority one.

    However, I wish to note the extreme hubris in your criteria. You talk about “intended meaning.” If you are a prophet, perhaps you know all of Scripture’s “intended meaning.” But if you are not, then you’ll have to admit that many, many parts of the Bible are obscure to us. (Further, there are many doctrinal disputes over the “intended meaning” of Scripture.) We can of course partially determine the meaning of Scripture, but a sense of humility in the face of God requires us to be conservative in translation — staying as close to the original as possible, lest out of ignorance we fail to transmit meaning.

    Your ‘hubris’ comment is unfounded. Notice what I said. Because of our sinful failure and its affects, we will always approach the truth from “underneath.” There’s no presumption of Prophet in those words or any other that have been stated by me. If that’s not clear, then read again what I said above in it literary context. No one is saying that we know all meaning. No one is saying we know meaning perfectly. The relative terms of ‘minimal’ and ‘maximal’ clearly indicate that.

    You can’t argue all the following simultaneously:
    1. [T]he request to “hallow” the Divine Name is completely natural in the Jewish context (aka kiddush Hashem)
    2. Translating so as to approach accuracy implies hubris (however one understands ‘accuracy’)
    3. And obscurity of the original text is the norm.

    Hubris lies with translation criteria which seeks to keep people ignorant of what the Bible teaches and motivates. Servanthood lies with criteria which seeks to help people know their God and their Savior.

  53. Theophrastus says:

    Because of our sinful failure and its affects, we will always approach the truth from “underneath.”

    That’s a complete non-sequitur. Translation has nothing to do with sin. We manage to get decent translations of the Odyssey and Illiad and Aeneid and Plato and Dante without fretting about sin. In fact, we have much higher quality translations of those works than we do of the Bible. You are welcome to feel you are sinful if you wish — but that has nothing to do with your ability to translate.

    My point has nothing to do with sin: as a basic example, we don’t even know the meaning of many of the words in the Hebrew Bible (for example, see my challenge below).

    If the “intended meaning” of the NT were so clear, we wouldn’t have had the 30 Years War, would we.? If you are so certain that you can divine the meaning of the NT, why don’t you convene a congress of Calvinists, Armenians, Unitarians, Catholics, etc. and have them all agree on your meaning of the Bible.

    You can’t argue all the following simultaneously:
    1. [T]he request to “hallow” the Divine Name is completely natural in the Jewish context (aka kiddush Hashem)
    2. Translating so as to approach accuracy implies hubris (however one understands ‘accuracy’)
    3. And obscurity of the original text is the norm.

    Fortunately that is not my argument. My point is that your philosophy of translation (where you claim to know the “intended meaning” — or at least you would except for your sinfulness) is hubris. I advocate a conservative approach to translation, where one stays close to the original languages, rather than speculate. You are much freer in your approach, and so the burden of proof is on you to show that your translation is “accurate.”

    Now folks on this blog are fond of quoting something like a comic strip, translating it literally, and then showing out that the literal translation is absurd. That’s fine because anyone can figure out the meaning of a comic strip. The problem is that the Bible is a little harder to figure out. If you are so confident of your abilities — I challenge you to translate Job 6:10 in such a way that all reasonable people will agree on its meaning.

  54. John Hobbins says:

    Mike,

    I see nothing wrong with what you are doing. You unpack the source text within your translation even if that means that the result is super-sized relative to the source text. You offer a linguistically sophisticated Amplified Bible.

    There are ancient and modern paraphrases of the biblical text that depart from the semantics of said text far more than your translation does. Some of the ancient Targumim and the recent Cotton Patch version, for example, are truly transculturative. You are taking a different tack.

    Still, there are good reasons why most of us will continue to keep, insofar as we are able, text and unpacking of text separate. It goes back to the need to have a common coin, a common point of departure.

    Most of us, whether we prefer KJV, NJKV, RSV, ESV or middle-of-the-road translations like NIV, will continue to prefer translations that are as compact as the original. We want to unpack the text, but will look to a commentary, an expository sermon, a study Bible, and other tools to help us in that task.

  55. J. K. Gayle says:

    If ἁγιασθήτω is a new bit of language, it seems quite ironic to try to use a very old bit of language in our translations!

    Dannii,
    There’s no reason to invoke the “new vs. old” binary here. If you can allow yourself to see how ἁγιασθήτω is Greek (translational) wordplay in a Jewish context, then I think you might get some of the reason why “may your holy name be honored” has little to absolutely no understanding of that. No common, ordinary Greek (or English) will do here.

    (The context itself is, if you will, Hallowed. It’s Hebrew poetry and prayer, a very personal request, a divine trust to Holify the Name of G-d, which Matthew does not pronounce. Why would we think Q or Jesus might speak the Name? Matthew and Luke do understand. A specialize Hellene form marks the moment and doesn’t rob the reader of the concept of kiddush Hashem. An English language translator who presumes to know and to exhaust the mysteries here — in the name of evangelizing the lost who must have the Bible on their own terms or else — acts with hubris, recklessness, disrespect, and desecration.)

  56. Peter Kirk says:

    Thank you, White Man. Well, I guess on this point the NIV should satisfy John Hobbins, who is “after a translation that is at least as concordant as KJV.”

  57. John Hobbins says:

    Nice snark, Peter. I love it.

    In general I am pleased when NIV follows KJV, but not necessarily in an instance of this kind, in which NIV may only be parroting an arbitrary pattern of KJV.

    What I don’t understand is the disdain of functional equivalent proponents to the value of concordant translating technique.

    Plenty of translators of literary classics are careful to render key terms in the same way throughout the text. They keep lists for that purpose.

    Fortunately, the principle has made some headway in revisions to relatively free translations. REB improves on NEB in this sense; NLT2 on NLT1, etc.

  58. Peter Kirk says:

    What I don’t understand is the disdain of functional equivalent proponents to the value of concordant translating technique.

    Nor do I, John. I fully agree with you that functional equivalent translations should generally be concordant, as far as is possible within the natural structure of the language, when the same original language word is used in the same sense – and when it is a significant word. My original point against Daniel Doleys was that “eyes” is not a significant enough word to worry about. But I later agreed with him that at least in Judges “in the eyes of” is sufficiently significant that concordant translation would be good.

    When I was checking translations, not into English, one of the tools I used was for key terms. This enabled me to check how concordant the translators had been in rendering these terms. Where there were differences without good reason I suggested harmonisations, and most were accepted. The number of terms covered was perhaps not as large as might have been desirable. But this was a lot better than nothing, and perhaps better than many English translations ended up with.

  59. Wayne Leman says:

    John wrote:

    What I don’t understand is the disdain of functional equivalent proponents to the value of concordant translating technique.

    I’m not aware of any such disdain nor even that functional equivalent proponents do not believe that same meaning of the same forms in the original texts should be translated concordantly.

    As Peter has, I am checking translations in other languages. I check for concordance when different passages have a word or other form that has the same meaning in those passages. Translators should not change what is concordant in both form and meaning to be different in form. Not even a desire for stylistic variation justifies such non-concordance. A translator does not have the right to change concordance that occurs in original texts.

    Of course, as you know, the same form in one language can have a variety of different meanings. The English word “run”, for instance, has many different meanings, most of which could not be translated by the same word in another language which lacks polysemy in its word for “run.” But for each same meaning in the source language text, there should be concordance of the equivalent translation form in the target language. Conversely, there cannot and must not be concordance in translation when the same forms in the source text do not have the same meanings, *except* for the rare instances where the source language form and target language form have matching polysemy. Retaining concordance where meaning is not the same is translating inaccurately, obviously.

    So concordance has to do with maintaining the same form in a target language when the meanings of each occurrence of the corresponding form in the source language is the same, AND when the meaning of a form in the target language is the same in each occurrence.

    Would you please cite anything written by F.E. proponents which leads you to your conclusion, quoted at the beginning of this comment of mine?

  60. Peter Kirk says:

    Wayne, I suspect John is inferring disdain from the evidence of lack of concordance, when that evidence can equally well be explained by disregard. I suspect that translators are simply not bothering to check for consistency as well as they should – or at least as John, you and I all think they should. Users then point out the inconsistencies and they are fixed in revised versions. At least that is my guess at what is happening.

  61. Mike Sangrey says:

    I see nothing wrong with what you are doing. You unpack the source text within your translation even if that means that the result is super-sized relative to the source text. You offer a linguistically sophisticated Amplified Bible.

    I suppose as long as you and others understand that in the vast majority of translation choices, I’m suggesting no such thing.

  62. Mike Sangrey says:

    Regarding the “meaning is clear” vis-a-vis “meaning is not clear” comments: Some meaning is clearer than others. Again, my maximal vis-a-vis minimal comments apply.

    There are also multiple reasons for the lack of clarity. Adopting the goal of translating with ungrammatical constructions or with an unfamiliar lexis is certainly not a solution. I believe accepting reality and yet striving to improve translation results at every opportunity is a worthy goal. I don’t think we yet have a translation which has truly benefited from a solid discourse analysis.

    The burden of proof is always on the exegete. No one has said anything different. I’ve asked repeatedly for a list of skills which a reader needs in order to properly understand a translated text–one which is translated in a “non-free” way[1]. I’ve never received an answer. As I see it, there has been a long standing burden on the proponents of such translations to supply this list. Otherwise readers assume (rightfully, I think–at least understandably) the text has been translated with them in mind.


    [1] I’ve never really understood what “free translation” means, so I use “non-free” here to refer to the “other way”. “Free translation” always comes across to me as an accusation directed toward a translator who wants to use a text to express his or her own opinion. And yet it so very frequently directed against a translation where such is not the case. Of course, obviously, any translation has specific occurrences where one can ask why it is translated that way.

  63. Mike Sangrey says:

    I think concordance is one of those “where do you draw the line” issues. I suspect that if each of us came up with a list of word occurrences we think should be translated concordantly, our lists would not only be different, but more to the point, they would be different sizes. Some would think other’s lists are much too large and vice-versa.

    We’ve all agreed, I think, that context (literary and otherwise) molds and selects the specific sense of a given word. If that’s true, does any word ever have the exact, in an absolute sense, meaning in two different contexts? Since it’s not absolute, we’re immediately faced with the line drawing exercise.

    But line drawing becomes even more difficult when the translator tries to develop the cohesion, or I should say, reproduce the cohesion, within a translated text. It often means the rationale for word choices is quite complex. A simple example is something like picking one word requires one preposition. And then, changing one’s mind by concluding a different word is more accurate results in a grammatical requirement of using a different preposition. Language is simply a coherent, but incredibly complex system. Within a conceptual metaphorical framework, words impact words.

  64. John Hobbins says:

    Re: concordance

    The example I gave once, in a discussion with Rick Mansfield in which I was questioning his love for NLT, were the expressions in which hen/hesed occur, such as “find grace/favor (in the eyes of)” and “deal kindly (with).”

    What I am supposed to do with a translation in which “find grace/favor” occurs but twice, both in the NT? The OT background of the phrase has been erased. If you have decided that the expression does not field-test well – a criterion I except only if it is used carefully and sparingly – then you need to translate concordantly with another expression. In order to do that, you have to make a list of KJVisms – i.e., Septuagintalisms, used in the NT, and work from there.

    Are functional translators doing this? Not that I know of. It doesn’t matter normally for translations that stick closely to diction of their sources – it comes out right naturally in most cases. LXX and the Vulgate are both examples of KJV style translations, with a relatively high rate of concordance.

    Since I am a Christian for whom grace/kindness/favor is central to my understanding of who God is and what God expects from us, I need a translation that uses those words early and often in both the Old and New Testaments. The Hebrew terms I refer to are central to the Old Testament; they are just as central to the New, in Greek dress.

    I fully admit that this is not a problem of NLT only; it is also a problem in NIV, RSV=ESV, and, to a smaller extent, in KJV. An example.

    “Grace” is found 37x in KJV OT and 13x in KJV NT.
    It is found 5x in NLT OT and 45x in NLT NT.

    I have to ask: is this dispensationalist theology gone amok? Whatever it is, this is my conviction: NLT is a theologically driven translation, and I don’t mean that as a compliment.

    Lest I be accused of picking on NLT, I wish to point out, as I have done elsewhere, that there are passages in which NLT literally rocks. It is one of many translations I recommend Bible readers consult on a regular basis.

  65. Peter Kirk says:

    Are functional translators doing this? Not that I know of.

    John, I suspect that there is a lot that functional, and other, translators do that you don’t know of. If you have not been part of any particular translation team, or at least very close to the team, you will not know everything they do. So please don’t try to imply that because you don’t know about something it is not happening.

    But you are probably right that it is harder to be concordant in a functional equivalent translation than in a formal equivalent one.

    And I also agree that “grace/favour” is the kind of theologically loaded key term which should be translated concordantly where possible, in both testaments. But there are some difficulties with this because of the wide semantic range of the terms in question. Hen is difficult, but hesed is even worse, as I showed in this old post.

  66. John Hobbins says:

    Peter,

    I have consulted on translations, too. Furthermore, I worked on a database project of the American Bible Societies which gave me access to the notes of dozens of translators from around the world.

    If there is a list of Septuagintalisms NT translators work with, I would like to know about it. I have yet to see it. It would be a very handy tool for a New Testament translator to have on hand. Surely you agree. If our friend J. K. Gayle wants to become famous (I don’t say rich), he can publish a short monograph of this sort. If it is done well, everyone will want a copy.

    We all have our methods of evaluating translations.

    I am concerned with how translations handle a number of key relational terms and expressions, like the ones just referred to; key forensic phrases, with tzedeq/tzedaqah, yashar, etc., which are central to theology and theological anthropology in both Testaments; terms dealing with hallowing and sacrifice, atonement, expiation, and propitiation – if these are not translated with care and patiently explained (if you tried to do what Mike Sangrey did with “hallow” with concrete expressions like “sprinkle with hyssop” you might need a whole page), great swathes of both Testaments will be shrouded in darkness for the reader.

    If a functional translation were produced that got these things right across the length and breadth of the canon, I would switch to it in a heartbeat. Since a translation of this kind has not been produced, I will continue to use, for preaching and teaching, a wooden translation. The best on the market today in my opinion: ESV and RSV. For all their faults, they at least provide a point of departure, a map of sorts, with essential vocabulary intact in both Testaments.

  67. Mike Sangrey says:

    For the NT times and text, “grace/favour” places very large demands on the translator. (I’m not setting the OT aside, I’m just focused on the NT uses.)

    So, this list comes to mind:
    1. It was a relatively common term in the original context. Not religious in quite the same sense as we would think of it today.
    2. It is an extremely theologically useful term to several NT writers.
    3. In certain present day theological traditions, it is a theologically loaded term, one which is richer than it’s NT counterpart. I think Paul has helped load the term.
    4. And, I agree, the OT backdrop, (or foundation, I think, would be better), for the NT use needs to be clear.
    5. I think there’s also something else to consider; there appears to be a family of words that all “play” together in the story of how God relates to people. This word is one of that family.

    So, concordance versus dis-cordance should, IMO, be carefully considered across the entire translation.

  68. John Hobbins says:

    I agree, Mike. It’s just that I start with the OT, not the NT.

    Vocabulary deployment and conceptual mapping in the Torah, the Prophets, Psalms, Job, etc. is the foundation – not just a shadow or warning, no disrespect to our friend David Ker intended – and not just a backdrop.

    So let’s work on getting things right in the First Testament first, before moving on to the Second Testament.

    If we want better Bibles, there is still much work to do.

  69. Wayne Leman says:

    John ended:

    If we want better Bibles, there is still much work to do.

    Most definitely. In recent decades there has been much progress made in disciplines other than the biblical languages and exegesis, progress which directly bears on quality of translation. Yet there is little interdisciplinary work in translation. Fortunately, the SBL has started having some interdisciplinary sessions which have direct relevance to the quality of Bible translations.

  70. Mike Sangrey says:

    If we want better Bibles, there is still much work to do.

    Wow. If sarcasm were allowed on this blog I would say something like, “Whoa. I had never thought of that!”

    But, it’s not allowed. So, I’ll have to echo some indirect, linguistic indirection to indirect the indirection.

    🙂

  71. Dannii says:

    Firstly, I don’t believe in translating words, so I don’t believe in concordance of words. Phrases people!

    Secondly, to insist on concordance across languages is tough. If one verse in the NT is alluding/quoting something from the OT then concordance would make sense. But I wouldn’t insist that another verse in the NT which uses some of the same language but isn’t alluding to the OT should be translated concordantly.

  72. White Man says:

    Would you please cite anything written by F.E. proponents which leads you to your conclusion, quoted at the beginning of this comment of mine?

    How about this, from 1611 . . .

    REASONS INDUCING US NOT TO STAND CURIOUSLY UPON AN IDENTITY OF PHRASING

    Another things we think good to admonish thee of (gentle Reader) that we have not tied ourselves to an uniformity of phrasing, or to an identity of words, as some peradventure would wish that we had done, because they observe, that some learned men somewhere, have been as exact as they could that way. Truly, that we might not vary from the sense of that which we had translated before, if the word signified that same in both places (for there be some words that be not the same sense everywhere) we were especially careful, and made a conscience, according to our duty. But, that we should express the same notion in the same particular word; as for example, if we translate the Hebrew or Greek word once by PURPOSE, never to call it INTENT; if one where JOURNEYING, never TRAVELING; if one where THINK, never SUPPOSE; if one where PAIN, never ACHE; if one where JOY, never GLADNESS, etc. Thus to mince the matter, we thought to savour more of curiosity than wisdom, and that rather it would breed scorn in the Atheist, than bring profit to the godly Reader. For is the kingdom of God to become words or syllables? why should we be in bondage to them if we may be free, use one precisely when we may use another no less fit, as commodiously?

  73. John Hobbins says:

    White Man,

    When citing the 1611 preface, sentiments of Luther about translation, and similar, it pays to compare theory with practice.

    Once that is done, it will be seen that KJV and Luther produced translations that are considerably more concordant than a number of translations touted on these threads: CEV, NLT, and so on.

    I’m not sure what your bottom line is. Are you trying to suggest that KJV dropped from heaven, that it is perfect in theory and in practice? This is possible to believe if and only if one refuses to examine the evidence.

    Dannii,

    Suit yourself. Many translators of high-prestige texts set the bar higher than you do.

    In addition, it is typical of Jews and Christians to think of the Bible in terms of verbal interpretation, as if the Bible was composed by one author, a divine author who chose his words with great care.

    Perhaps you regard such thinking as theological fiction without remainder. That’s fine, but now you are calling for a revision of the way Jews and Christians typically think of scripture. You need to make theological arguments for your position. Appeal to a school of thought in modern linguistics in this context is a category mistake.

    But I don’t deny that it is all the more reprehensible when multi-item idioms are not translated concordantly. In fact, the examples I offered above “find favor (in the eyes of),” “deal kindly (with),” are examples of such.

    I don’t remember what your favorite translation is. My question: does it pass your own standards in the examples I offer?

  74. Peter Kirk says:

    John, I’m glad to hear a bit more about your translation experience. I didn’t know this.

    There is a list of Septuagintalisms in some editions of the Good News Bible. Perhaps something like this ought to be used more widely by NT translators. The problem is that generally the NT is seen as primary and the OT as secondary. Yes, this is backwards. That’s partly what led to the problem NIV had with Hosea, which I mentioned in my previous comment.

    I entirely agree that certain words and phrases are “central to theology and theological anthropology in both Testaments” and should be translated concordantly. Is ESV actually that much better than NIV at this? It certainly messed up with the central term of “theological anthropology”, anthropos, which it can’t even get consistent within a chapter (1 Timothy 2). And it does a worse job than NIV with Daniel Doleys’ “eyes”.

    I agree that there is a lack of a decent meaning based translation with the kind of concordance that you and I would both like. Perhaps we should put together a team to work on this. I would not agree that, for general use, this kind of concordance is more important than communicative accuracy – so I would prefer a communicative but less concordant translation as a backup. But for me NIV is a reasonable but not perfect compromise.

    Then, John, who exactly is touting NLT on this thread? I mentioned it in the post simply as an example of a meaning based translation, as my post was originally intended partly for beginners in this area. Kurk quoted it once among other translations. And you have mentioned it repeatedly in your comments. Are you using it as a straw man to criticise?

    Dannii, I agree that concordance should be of phrases, or perhaps even more to the point, of concepts. But word lists are often the key to finding the phrases. Where the words are found in different phrases expressing different concepts, concordance is probably not necessary.

    White Man, those are good sentiments from the KJV translators. They were certainly not perfectly concordant.

  75. John Hobbins says:

    Peter,

    I’ve used various editions of the Good News Bible over the years. I don’t remember seeing what you refer to. The indebtedness to Septuagintal diction is deep and wide in the NT; in order to sense it, you have to have the Septuagint in your bones. Most people who read NT in Greek today have read a few pages of the Septuagint if they are lucky, and even fewer of the Hebrew Bible. No wonder modern Bible translations, unless they have a strong commitment to word-for-word translation, sever the connections between the two Testaments.

    The literal-free continuum goes something like this: KJV-ESV-RSV-NRSV-NIV-NLT-CEV-The Message. I’m using the terms “literal” and “free” in the same sense they are used in the NRSV preface: “As literal as possible, as free as necessary.”

    I was not using NLT as a straw man. I said “on these threads.” CEV and The Message have been touted of late on BBB threads, NLT perhaps not as recently. You have touted NIV and CEV on this thread, and have chosen ESV as your favorite target. Almost everything I have said about NLT applies even more strongly to CEV.

    Of course, since you also tout NIV, a translation that is remarkably similar to KJV-RSV-ESV in passage after passage, the question naturally arises: why not switch to ESV? The reasons I have read on these threads: (1) the stilted syntax of RSV-ESV; (2) RSV-ESV’s use of phrases like “Men of Judea” for a mixed gender referent. I concur with (1) but I find RSV-ESV to more reliable and useful for close reading purposes in a large number of passages, which more than compensates. I’m not a fan of how either RSV_ESV or NIV genders in translation. In any case, I have no issues with ESV 1 Timothy 2. I think a phrase like “God and men” in context is understandable. RSV has the same; actually, RSV, which I use in my parish, has “men” in places where both ESV and NIV have “people.” That discussion is about the ability of contemporary readers to interpret phrases like “brothers” and “men” as gender-neutral. Maybe readers here in Wisconsin are more competent than elsewhere, but I can’t remember a single time in which people have misunderstood such expressions in parishes I have served which use ESV or RSV. An ideological tempest in a teacup if you ask me.

  76. J. K. Gayle says:

    John Hobbins said:
    The indebtedness to Septuagintal diction is deep and wide in the NT; in order to sense it, you have to have the Septuagint in your bones. Most people who read NT in Greek today have read a few pages of the Septuagint if they are lucky, and even fewer of the Hebrew Bible. No wonder modern Bible translations, unless they have a strong commitment to word-for-word translation, sever the connections between the two Testaments.

    Robert Alter said:
    The Masoretic Text is not really intelligible at this point, and this English version [of mine] follows the Septuagint for the first part of the verse [Genesis 49:26]

    The Septuagint reading has a slight advantage of syntactic completeness [in Genesis 27:6]

    …the Septuagint corrects this [i.e., Psalm 91:2]

    In my own translation [of 1 and 2 Samuel], I have resorted to the Septuagint … because careful consideration in many instances compelled me to conclude that the wording in the Masoretic Text was unintelligible or self-contradictory.

    The translation [of mine] adopts the Septuagint here … instead of the Masoretic [Text for Proverbs 19:27]

    Ann Nyland said:
    The texts of the Hebrew Bible [from which I translate the Psalms], referred to by Christians as the Old Testament (although “Old Covenant” is the proper translation) are the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint…. The Septuagint is quoted in the New Testament. It was widely used by the Hellenistic Jews of the era. The majority of middle and upper class citizens were bilingual, and in fact, some preferred their second language. John, the writer of the gospel of John, was bilingual, with his first language being [Hebrew] Aramaic and his second language being [Hebraic] Greek. John could speak and write Greek very well. Peter, wrier of the epistles (letters) of Peter … was [similarly] bilingual.

    Complete Books of Enoch: 1 Enoch (First Book of Enoch), 2 Enoch (Secrets of Enoch), 3 Enoch (Hebrew Book of Enoch), Nyland’s translation, uses the Septuagint as a resource. Her Source New Testament, likewise, points readers to NT uses the LXX as a resource.

    Willis Barnstone said:
    The New Testament authors cited Hebrew poetry throught the Septuagint…

    If there is any poetry in the New Testament, one assumes that it consists of segments from the Hebrew Bible, cited in Greek from the Septuagint translation of the older covenant.

  77. Peter Kirk says:

    John, I didn’t “tout” CEV either, I just agreed with your suggestion that I might like it.

    I’m not a fan of how either RSV_ESV or NIV genders in translation.

    Which version of NIV are you talking about? NIV 2011 is one of the best, and ESV is about the worst, in my opinion.

    As for ESV 1 Timothy 2, its inconsistent rendering of anthropos and aner is such that it teaches the heresy that Jesus does not have a full human nature but only a male human nature. That alone is enough to stop me using ESV. But do we really need to restart this battle?

  78. John Hobbins says:

    No, it’s better that we agree to disagree on the gender stuff. Nor we do see eye to eye on questions of orthodoxy and heresy. But thanks for starting a great conversation on the topic of better Bible.

  79. Theophrastus says:

    John, I have a question for you. You state above: “In my parish, we use RSV, almost identical to ESV.”

    Now, I am personally delighted to read that; I prefer the RSV to the ESV — but I had thought you felt differently. May I ask why you selected the RSV over the ESV?

  80. Wayne Leman says:

    I think I have been confused in preceding comments over the translation initials CEV and CEB. Sorry for adding to the confusion. The CEV is the Contemporary English Version. It has been around for a while. It has the most natural English of any English Bible translation that I know of. However, it has other faults, just as any Bible translation has faults. The CEB is the Common English Bible. Its translation team hopes that the entire CEB Bible will be published in August 2011. Its English is not as natural as the CEV, but more natural than the NRSV. Its translation team has targeted the CEB for mainline (Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, etc.) denominations with the hope that some of their churches will adopt the CEB as their pew Bible.

    My wife and I like the English of the CEV a lot. However, for accuracy, I need to have another English translation alongside the CEV for comparison.

    I don’t have a settled opinion yet about the CEB. In none of my comments above was I referring to the CEB, only to the CEV. The CEV is the version which has received a British award for English language quality. It remains to be seen how the Bible reading public will react to the CEB. I know that its translation team has worked hard, just as each translation team does.

  81. John Hobbins says:

    Hi Theophrastus,

    Yes, I prefer the ESV to the RSV, for one reason: ESV returns to the Masoretic text where RSV departs from it. Otherwise ESV is virtually identical to RSV, as far as the Hebrew Bible is concerned.

    ESV is very close to RSV in the NT as well. I just reread Romans 1:1-7 in both. I prefer ESV’s “Christ Jesus” vs, RSV’s “Jesus Christ,” and RSV’s “designated” vs. ESV’s “declared” – the latter I find lame, or perhaps I should say “unsatisfactory.”

    The pew Bibles, and thus the translation of reference, in the last three parishes I have served, all United Methodist, were:

    (1) RSV then ESV
    (2) RSV then NIV
    (3) RSV

    In the first case, when money was given to get new Pew Bibles, I gave the Worship Committee three options: NRSV, ESV, and NIV. They chose ESV. In the case, the congregation had opted for NIV before I arrived. NIV 1984 that is. It will be interesting to see if and when they update to NIV 2011. In the third case, where I presently serve, RSV is the pew Bible, and so I preach from that.

    Here is an anecdote. I currently have fourteen Cub Scouts doing the religious knot with me – a 6 week course. They are extremely attentive; in many cases, it’s clear, it’s the first time they have had a Bible between their hands for any length of time; the first time they have heard the Aaronic benediction (we always close with that); the first time anyone ever asked them to memorize anything (they get a kick out of that); and so on.

    I started them off using the pew Bibles, because we have class in the sanctuary, and they are right there. But they were leaving a mess behind, especially with the stubby little pencils in the pews, so I had our Christian ed director prepare a cart with Bibles and pencils and stuff. It’s a contemporary language Bible, I can’t remember which. Many parents attend, too, this is, unfortunately, their substitute for church. One of the kids takes the colorful contemporary Bible with notes and takes it to his seat, and asks, “Is this a real Bible?” His mother answered, “No, it’s not,” and picked up the pew Bible again.

    This reminded me of something the Gideons know: you can tell a book by its cover.

  82. Theophrastus says:

    Wayne — your information about the CEB is out of date.

    The CEB was completed on March 22, 2011.

    Indeed, the CEB Psalter was published already. FYI, here are Psalms 1 and 23.

    PSALM 1

    1 The truly happy person
    doesn’t follow wicked advice,
    doesn’t stand on the road of sinners,
    and doesn’t sit with the disrespectful.
    2 Instead of doing those things,
    those persons
    love the LORD’s Instruction
    day and night!
    3 They are like a tree
    replanted by streams of water,
    which bears fruit at just the right time
    and whose leaves don’t fade.
    Whatever they do succeeds.

    4 That’s not true for the wicked!
    They are like dust
    that the wind blows away.
    5 And that’s why the wicked
    will have no standing
    in the court of justice —
    neither will sinners
    in the assembly of the righteous.
    6 The LORD is intimately acquainted
    with the way of the righteous;
    but the way of the wicked is destroyed.

    PSALM 23

    A Psalm of David

    1 The LORD is my shepherd.
    I lack nothing.
    2 He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
    he leads me to restful waters;
    3 he keeps me* alive.
    He guides me in proper paths
    for the sake of his good name.

    4 Even when I walk
    through the darkest valley,
    I fear no danger
    because you are with me.
    Your rod and your staff —
    they protect me.

    5 You set a table for me
    right in front of my enemies.
    You bathe my head in oil;
    my cup is so full it spills over!
    6 Yes, goodness and faithful love
    will pursue me all the days of my life,
    and I will live** in the LORD’s house
    as long as I remain alive.

    * Or my soul.
    ** LXX; MT I will return.

  83. Wayne Leman says:

    Theo, we’re both right. And we both got our information from the CEB website. You are right about when translation of the CEB was completed. I referred, above, to the publication date. Their estimate of August is a nice turnaround time, from completion to August.

    I gave their team quite a lot of feedback on the Psalms. It’s fun to interact with translation teams. Y’otta try it sometime. You’ve got a good ear for language.

  84. Michael Marlowe says:

    The problem with the terms “formal equivalence” and “meaning based” is that they invoke a whole body of theory in which “form” and “meaning” are thought to be separable. Linguistically this is very naive.

  85. Peter Kirk says:

    Michael, you are right. But in this post I intended simply a clear way of identifying certain types of translation. I am not sure how to make this distinction without invoking the theoretical approaches behind them.

  86. Mike Sangrey says:

    Peter,

    Michael is right in that the theories are invoked. However, separating form and meaning is hardly linguistically naive.

    [I’m going to add one other statement, so I’ve edited my original comment.]

    Certainly, there’s a form:meaning composite. So, in that sense, they can’t be separated. However, we talk about the meaning of a text all the time and we talk about how that meaning is conveyed by the forms.

  87. Rachael says:

    So God’s Word itself isn’t what counts or what changes people…sermons that apply it to the hearer’s situation do? So the sermon is more important than God’s own word? The preacher can do a better job than God?

    The Bible is confusing; I’d rather have a teacher just teach me what it really says, then add fluff.

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