It’s the thought that counts: Eugene Nida and Bible translation

Nathan at ThinkChristian has a post on Eugene Nida and his influence on modern Bible translations.

“As someone who loves language and linguistics, I appreciate Nida simply for putting linguistics back into the equation for translators and not conceding the turf of translation to scholars concerned first with theology, dooming us to clunky, wooden and archaic translations. Had he simply raised the question of what linguistics has to do with Bible translation, Nida would have made a major impact.”

Read:It’s the thought that counts: Eugene Nida and Bible translation

103 thoughts on “It’s the thought that counts: Eugene Nida and Bible translation

  1. Peter Kirk says:

    David, I’m surprised you didn’t take the opportunity to say that Townsend and Pike “raised the question of what linguistics has to do with Bible translation” before Nida did. Perhaps Nida’s contribution was to bring this idea into the wider arena of the Bible Societies and to apply it to English. That’s not to detract from Nida’s achievements, just to give them their proper perspective.

  2. Nemo says:

    Well, once again, here is…”linguistics” against…”scholars concerned first with theology.”

    [Editor: Comment has been edited by a blog owner to remove personal attacks, sarcasm, and other instances which break our guidelines.

    Nemo, if you wish to comment here, please follow our guidelines.]

  3. J. K. Gayle says:

    The binary that Nemo points out between linguists and theologians is deconstructed here a bit by Susan Bernofsky in her remembrance of Eugene Nida. The values and the value of both linguistics and of theology are not mutually exclusive. The best Bible translators do well to consider not only language forms and language dynamisms or functions but also the culture (viz. the theology also) of the Hebrew Bible and of the Greek scriptures too.

    Here’s a bit from Bernofsky:

    “Now, translation of Nida’s sort stands in direct opposition to the approach advocated by a very different sort of theologian, my hero Friedrich Schleiermacher, and it is Schleiermacher’s ideas (centering around the aim of preserving cultural and linguistic specificity in translation) that have dominated late-twentieth century translation theory, particularly as practiced by leading theorist Lawrence Venutiand his followers (myself included).”

    http://translationista.blogspot.com/2011/08/farewell-dynamic-equivalencer.html

  4. bobmacdonald says:

    I hate to be obvious, but being in Christ is more than ‘thought’. Meaning is often used to keep God at bay. (and that’s not Bay and Young). Understanding is likewise often overstanding. God is not held by words in any language, but God chose Israel to be the neck of the bottle into which he would pour his gifts. At least the God of Israel chose Israel … How does ‘translation’ effect this other than thinking thing – this call to action – to deeds – to dialogue and response with the Living One? It’s a game – and all techniques are required from slavish dedication to each letter (as in acrostics) to colloquialism when necessary and fun. Let’s put the fun back into disfunctional translation. A game – we piped and you wouldn’t dance …

    Have fun my friends. Warning label: Being poured into may be painful – psalms 73:2 anticipating the framing of 79:3,6,10.

  5. Rich Rhodes says:

    OK, I don’t get it. Nemo, what’s the beef with linguistics?

    Here’s what linguistics brings to the table. We know a LOT more about the nature of the human capacity for language than we did even 20 years ago. Some of that knowledge enables us to look deeper into dead languages than was heretofore possible. (That is as true for Latin, and Old English, and Avestan, and even Classical Greek, as it is for Koine. We just happen to get a lot more flak for saying so on the Koine front. By contrast, you can’t be a serious scholar in Latin or Classical Greek nowadays without using tools based on the very same insights we get criticized for in Biblical studies circles. Go figure!)

    Throw in that there is a lot of new evidence from papyri that are contemporaneous with the NT, and, of course, there are new things to say about what the text of the NT says — esp. with respect to words that are rare in Christian literature, but well-attested in the papyri.

    For the most part, these linguistically supported insights and understandings taken one by one are of little consequence theologically.
    An excellent example of this is the pragmatic use of forms of ‘you say’ συ λεγεις, συ ειπας to mean ‘Yes’ implying social distance. This strategy is well attested as a positive politeness gambit in the literature on politeness in many languages. The fact that it is unattested in Greek outside of the NT is almost totally irrelevant. All it means for theology is that you can stop looking for deeper meanings in, e.g. Jesus’ use of this strategy talking to Judas (Mt. 26:25) or the Sanhedron (Mat. 26:64), but it isn’t going to resolve any big theological debate.

    If you once thought that linguistics would solve theological problems and were disappointed, I’m not surprised. It just doesn’t. But then that’s no reason to say we’re arrogant for saying that there it is possible to pull new information out of the text that was heretofore not recognized.

    At the same time, the consequences of new insights from linguistics on how to translate are enormous. In my example, it means you translate ‘yes, sir’ or just ‘yes’, since the “You said it.” strategy in English means ‘yes’ in a solidarity sense.

  6. Nemo says:

    OK, I don’t get it. Nemo, what’s the beef with linguistics?

    If my first comment had not been censored by someone here, it would be more evident what my complaint is.

    Biblical scholars who focus on important theological concepts are often very disatisfied with the kind of versions that linguists applaud and protect from criticism. Sometimes scholars get downright angry at popular versions that ignore their concerns. For instance, here is what N.T. Wright said about the New International Version:

    I must register one strong protest against one particular translation. When the New International Version was published in 1980, I was one of those who hailed it with delight. I believed its own claim about itself, that it was determined to translate exactly what was there, and inject no extra paraphrasing or interpretative glosses … Disillusionment set in over the next two years, as I lectured verse by verse through several of Paul’s letters, not least Galatians and Romans. Again and again, with the Greek text in front of me and the NIV beside it, I discovered that the translators had had another principle, considerably higher than the stated one: to make sure that Paul should say what the broadly Protestant and evangelical tradition said he said … [I]f a church only, or mainly, relies on the NIV it will, quite simply, never understand what Paul was talking about.

    This is a large claim, and I have made it good, line by line, in relation to Romans in my big commentary, which prints the NIV and the NRSV and then comments on the Greek in relation to both of them. Yes, the NRSV sometimes lets you down, too, but nowhere near as frequently or as badly as the NIV. And, yes, the NIV has now been replaced with newer adaptations in which some at least of the worst features have, I think, been at least modified. But there are many who, having made the switch to the NIV, are now stuck with reading Romans 3:21-26 like this:

    “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known…. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe…. [God] did this to demonstrate his justice… he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

    In other words, “the righteousness of God” in Romans 3:21 is only allowed to mean “the righteous status which comes to people from God,” whereas the equivalent term in Romans 3:25 and Romans 3:26 clearly refers to God’s own righteousness — which is presumably why the NIV has translated it as “justice,” to avoid having the reader realize the deception.

    You see how frustrated he is. He is trying to get his message out, his interpretation of Paul, and he finds himself blocked by an overly interpretive NIV. So he slams the version.

    The NIV is really pretty literal compared to the versions that have come out in recent years. You can imagine what some scholars must think about the NLT, or the TEV, CEV, etc. — versions that are often defended here.

    Now you can go round and round preaching up the wonderful linguistic theories that led to this situation, but at the end of the day this is the problem that won’t go away. The scholar wants a version that has, as much as possible, the same exegetical potential as the original. He requires a version that allows him to make his points to a lay audience. If the version contradicts his interpretation, that is not helpul, to say the least.

    What I find here on this blog is a total lack of understanding of this situation.

  7. Peter Kirk says:

    Nemo, I understand the situation you are talking about. But it is a quite different issue and nothing to do with linguistics. NIV, for all its good and bad points, is no more the product of linguists than any other modern translation. Wright’s issue is not with the linguistic theory reflected in it but with the theology he finds in it, which is different from his own. It is indeed a weakness of NIV (from this perspective – in other contexts it might be a strength) that in unclear places it tends to follow traditional evangelical theological understandings of the text. Versions like NRSV, however, tend to make different choices, ones usually but not always more acceptable to Wright.

    This is nothing to do with linguistics. Rather, it is a good example of what we were talking about in the previous post, liberal translation and its antithesis. That is not to say that Wright’s theology is liberal. But I might suggest that an allegedly liberal translation like NRSV tends to be more open to a range of theological interpretation than one like NIV whose translators are more evangelical.

    The problem for Wright is that the arguments he wants to make can only really be demonstrated from the original Greek, not from any translation. He will always be frustrated by any translation – except perhaps his own version, which he could have made to reflect his own theology. I would like to see the rendering of Romans 3 in The New Testament for Everyone – does anyone have this available?

    If you could find a similar quote from Wright about the Good News Translation or CEV (not CEB), the English versions most directly influenced by Nida’s theories, then the issues might be more linguistic ones.

  8. David Ker says:

    Thanks all for comments. I didn’t expect conversation here but rather at Nathan’s post. I’ll have to pay more attention next time!

    When I think of Nida it’s the Louw-Nida NT Greek lexicon that comes to mind. I just discovered there is an online version which is really an amazing tool for looking at words across the NT:

    http://www.laparola.net/greco/louwnida.php

  9. Nemo says:

    The problem for Wright is that the arguments he wants to make can only really be demonstrated from the original Greek, not from any translation.

    Peter, your statement here doesn’t agree with Wright’s own description of the problem. He was disappointed and frustrated because the translators did not limit themselves “to translate exactly what was there, and inject no extra paraphrasing or interpretative glosses.” And this has much to do with the theory of translation supported by linguists here, which encourages interpretive renderings so as to make the meaning unmistakably “clear.” So I think you are failing to see how all this relates to Nida and DE linguistics.

  10. Wayne Leman says:

    Nemo wrote:

    And this has much to do with the theory of translation supported by linguists here, which encourages interpretive renderings so as to make the meaning unmistakably “clear.”

    Nemo, if this is what we have communicated to you on this blog, then we have not done our job adequately. We at BBB do *not* hold to such a translation theory. We only believe that a translation should be as clear as it was to its original users, no clearer and no less clear. If a genitive, for instance, can be analyzed by us today as having a subjective or objective interpretation, but if the biblical author intended only one of those options and if his audience understood only one of those options, then we do believe that that option is the one that should be translated. We believe that it is adding to scripture to translate meanings which were not intended by the biblical authors. Does this beg the question since we can’t interview the authors? It does, *only* if the context of the genitive does not lead us to choose one or the other option for its meaning. In *most* cases in scripture the context makes it clear which meaning is intended.

    We should not translate from the POV of analysts today. Instead, we should translate from the POV of the biblical authors, within their cultural and linguistic contexts, and within the context of any text (book) that they were writing. There are often strong clues within an author’s book which make it clear which analytical option for a genitive was intended by an author.

    Yes, there are the *rare* cases where we lack certainty. But these do not disprove any theory of translation which calls for translating the original meaning of a text. They are simply part of normal human communication. My wife and I frequently do not understand each other and we both speak English fluently. But such miscues do not indicate that communication of intended meanings is impossible. It just means we have to make more explicit what each of us has assumed as we are speaking to each other. Often we do not state explicitly what we know implicitly and assume the other person also knows. But often the other person doesn’t so then we have to use a few more words to make the implicit explicit. Then there is clarity.

  11. Peter Kirk says:

    Nemo, I’m sorry to say this, but if Wright really expects Bible translators “to translate exactly what was there, and inject no extra paraphrasing or interpretative glosses”, that shows his deep ignorance of translation as well as linguistics. Bible translators have always “injected” what might be described as “extra paraphrasing or interpretative glosses” because without them “translations” are incomprehensible. KJV among others attempted to delineate this added material with italics, and even NIV sometimes marks it with brackets. But a version without any such material is not a translation but little more than a transliteration, of use only to people (like Wright, of course) who know the source language.

    But is this really Wright’s understanding of translation? Does he really avoid injecting “extra paraphrasing or interpretative glosses”? Judge for yourself from, for example, the extracts at Michael Bird’s blog from Wright’s own translation. Note for example “you must” in Matthew 28:19 and “close beside” in John 1:1-2, and in John 11:55 the interpretive gloss “of people” and the restructuring “the time came” for the literal “was near”. These are very likely good translation choices, but they contradict the very literal translation philosophy you are attributing to Wright.

    But then going back to your earlier comment to read Wright in context, I see that he was not putting forward his own translation philosophy but criticising a claim allegedly made for NIV. Was Wright really naive enough to believe that claim? Possibly when NIV first came out in 1973, the year that Wright first graduated in theology, and I can just believe that such an unlikely claim was made at that time in an attempt to recommend NIV to conservative churches.

  12. Nemo says:

    Thanks for your replies, Wayne and Peter.

    Peter, you ask: But is this really Wright’s understanding of translation?

    He is not a translation theorist. He is a biblical scholar. But in the passage I quoted, he certainly is complaining about the excessive interpretation in a version, which militates against his interpretation of the phrase “righteousness of God.” And I don’t see how you can say this has nothing to do with DE methods.

    Nida himself used this same phrase, “righteousness of God” in Romans, as an example of why a Bible translator must interpret for the layman:

    When a high percentage of people misunderstand a rendering, it cannot be regarded as a legitimate translation. For example, in Romans 1:17 most traditional translations have “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith,” and most readers naturally assume that this is a reference to God’s own personal righteousness. Most scholars are agreed, however, that this is not God’s own righteousness, but the process by which God puts men right with himself (cf. Today’s English Version). It is the act of “justification” (to use a technical, and generally misunderstood word) and not the character of righteousness. But a translation which insists on rendering the Greek literally as “the righteousness of God” is simply violating the meaning for the sake of preserving a formal grammatical correspondence. (Theory and Practice of Translation, p. 2.)

    This agrees with the NIV handling of the matter. But it contradicts Wright’s interpretation. And I want you to notice how Nida avers that a version “cannot be regarded as a legitimate translation” if it is possible for readers to interpret the phrase the way Wright interprets it. Try to imagine what Wright thinks of that! Does this say nothing about the drawbacks of the theory?

    You may say that in theory you do not favor biased translations. But when translators are guided by your DE principles, the bias is inevitable. You see it right there in Nida.

  13. Rich Rhodes says:

    Nemo,
    Part of the problem is that you seem to believe that mimicking the original language somehow preserves meanings in some way. But there is an underlying fallacy in that kind of thinking. We’ve addressed that here at BBB in the past. I don’t know how long you’ve been reading this blog, but some posts from 5 years ago of pinpoint relevance can be found here and here, and a more recent one here.

  14. Nemo says:

    Part of the problem is that you seem to believe that mimicking the original language somehow preserves meanings in some way.

    Rich, I’m not so naive about language, as to think that mimicking the form of the original will in itself convey the meaning of the original, to any and all readers. In the example I used, of Wright, you’ll notice that it involves a teacher, who is explaining the text to the readers. His complaint is, it is not possible for him to explain the text correctly with the 1984 NIV, because that version presupposes an interpretation that he disagrees with.

    So with this example we are not in the kind of “isolated and uneducated first-time reader” situation that linguists of Nida’s school are always assuming. We are in a situation that includes a teacher. And that makes a big difference in translation theory.

    The teacher requires a version that allows for various interpretations. If the version being used by the students does not allow for the interpretation that the teacher is teaching, then the teacher must keep correcting the translation.

    After many years of experience as a teacher, you get tired of this, and you might even get angry about the version that always prevents people from seeing the text the way you do. Often, these days, the new version or revision presents an interpretation that is contrary to important traditions of interpretation. So a teacher ends up prefering the more literal translation, that doesn’t have so much unnecessary and tendentious interpretation built into it. Understand? This is the situation that Wright is in. Nida and those who have followed him never seem to take this problem into account.

  15. Rich Rhodes says:

    Nemo,

    You’re not going to like this answer, but …

    One of the effects of learning more about Koine, is that we learn that some of the ambiguities that appear to be in the text are not, in fact, there. Dead languages at first blush appear to be much more ambiguous than modern languages. That’s because there are no native speakers around to laugh at us when we assign an impossible meanings to them.

    I’m not going to say for sure that that’s what’s at issue in your particular example from N.T. Wright, at this point, but it certainly could be. I’ll have to look into it more. (Technical terms are far less interesting linguistically.)

    It isn’t that we don’t know that translation can cause problems for certain theological positions, as you seem to intimate. Rather, we think that serious, linguistically informed exegesis can show that there are very good reasons why certain readings are wrong, for pre-theological reasons. And that’s actually a good thing.

    I’ll go back to my short and sweet version of Nida’s insight. Bible translators should be doing what good bilingual translators do between living languages.

    If doing that for the Bible steps on someone’s theological toes, that’s just too bad. It is the job of the theologian/exegete to grapple with the meaning of the text that is actually there and eliminate the ones that aren’t. It is not the job of the translator/exegete to find readings that suit any given theology. The text is ALWAYS prior to the theology. Anything else is circular reasoning.

    I think I see a post coming on …

  16. Peter Kirk says:

    Nemo, your comment doesn’t really need much more of an answer than Rich’s excellent one. But I would like to underline the point that ANY translation presupposes an interpretation of the text. One cannot translate a text without first understanding it, and then one translates according to one’s understanding. Even the most literal translation involves a huge amount of interpretation in the choice of word for word glosses of the Greek – consider for example the debate over “expiation” vs “propitiation”.

    An expert translator will recognise ambiguities in the original and may attempt to render them ambiguously in the translation. But it is rarely possible to do this, in complex passages like Romans 3, without introducing other distortions. That is why teachers generally prefer to teach from translations which render according to their own presuppositions. For Wright, I guess NRSV does that better than NIV, but now he has his own published version to teach from he no longer has that problem!

  17. Mike Sangrey says:

    Rich,

    N.T. Wright comes at the text more as an historian and then secondly as a Biblical scholar. So, when he deals with Rom. 3:21ff, δικαιοσύνη as done by God means “covenantal faithfulness.” It is: God, just like a Jewish judge, must be faithful to the covenant to which he is bound. This covenant is bound up within Torah–both Torah and the prophetic books bear witness to this. However, God, while still being faithful to that covenant, accomplishes his promise as revealed in that covenant through an entirely different means than Torah. It is the faithfulness of Messiah Jesus that shows this. And not only shows this to the Jews, but to the entire world.

    Have Rom. 3:21ff in front of you as you read the paragraph I just wrote.

    Speaking from a linguistic point of view, Wright comes to this because of the metaphor of a judge in a Jewish law court (thus Wright, the historian). The idea of imputed righteousness within the lawcourt metaphor would be completely new information. Judges don’t impute righteousness, they “simply” determine whether or not it exists within the case being tried. Basically, Wright is very sensitive to the Pragmatics and Information Flow. This is one of the things I like about him.

    This Pragmatic approach is one of the key reasons for the Third Quest controversy. That is, theologians (and I’m not in any way suggesting they’re unique in this regard) have to pick themselves up and plop themselves down into an significantly new context. That’s very hard when one has significant theological investment. The Luthern (ie. Reformation) context is the norm. The 1st century context is not. So theologians don’t readily “see” (contextually) what N.T. Wright is saying. BTW, N.T. Wright has said that we know more about the historical setting of the 1st century today than Augustine did.

    For me, (thinking of a text as a flow of liquid), Rom. 3:21 and following is relieved of a lot of turbulence when δικαιοσύνη is thought of in N.T. Wright terms. It flows. So, I intuitively sense the linguistic under currents which support N.T. Wright’s argument.

  18. Mike Sangrey says:

    Nemo,

    The issue (the teacher problem) you bring up is an important one. But, it is much, much larger than a translation methodology question.

    The main reason I responded to Rich above was to bring up this answer to you: N.T. Wright is up against five centuries (in fact, even more) of traditional understanding of δικαιοσύνη. So, no one, I don’t care who he or she is, has the needed credential, prestige, whatever you want to call it, no one has the needed respect-capital to burn, to plop “covenantal faithfulness” onto a printed, widely marketed Bible translation. Any one person who whole heartedly agrees with N.T. Wright will still bank on translating δικαιοσύνη as righteousness and then explain it. The fourth leg of the three legged translation stool (Acceptance) leaves no choice. Though, such a posture is only valid “today.” I’ll address this more in a moment.

    However, the answer to end all answers is not “just translate literally.” Nor is it, “leave the ambiguity there.” Rich, as I see it, has dealt with these objections quite adequately. For me, those types of “answers” are non-starters simply because they do not point us in the right direction.

    For me, there are two key attitudes which must always be kept in play.
    1. A linguistically informed exegesis of the authoritative text must always determine what the text says. In other words, language works the way language works. The text is what the text is. The text is authoritative and it is in human language. Our philosophical systems (call them theology) do not hold power over or determine the original meaning. Nor do they determine the resulting translation. Not for the translator, not for the teacher. This points us in the right direction.
    2. We are where we are. We have to accept the fact that we don’t have it all figured out. And worse, even where we have gotten a critical mass of data and information established within relatively objective scholarship, we still have to deal with the different theological camps and to each camp’s too strong commitment to isolationism. That means–today–many times, we have to translate in ways which are ambiguous in English. Sometimes, it’s Acceptance (as mentioned above); sometimes it’s too little confidence in what we think is Accurate.

    The first is more theoretical and suggests an attitude of humility before a sacred text. Basically, it’s a commitment. It sets the direction.

    The second is more practical (pragmatic) and suggests an attitude of humility before people which recognizes we’re all in this together. It’s also commitment, but is a commitment in service to those who benefit from clear, accurate, and natural translations. It sets the current, acceptable, state of translation.

    If we adopt a direction where the translated text is far more ambiguous than the original was as read by the original readers, then we will walk down the path of ever increasing the number of battle lines between theological camps. That’s a non-starter for me. IMO, we have to get the linguistic and historical scholarship “out there” so people can grow together as they learn more about the God we strive to serve.

    The problem, and why this issue is so very large, is we have to get past the attitude of fighting.

  19. Nemo says:

    .. no one has the needed respect-capital to burn, to plop “covenantal faithfulness” onto a printed, widely marketed Bible translation.

    Mike, It isn’t necessary to give people a version that has the words “covenant faithfulness” printed there on the page, in order to get them to see how Wright’s interpretation works. You only have to explain how he understands “righteousness,” and then, for teaching purposes, use a version that consistently uses that word for δικαιοσύνη, and the ambiguous “righteousness of God” for δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ. This is why he prefers the NRSV’s translation of these terms. He is able to plug in his definition of “righteousness,” and it works. Bible teachers do this all the time. We are always explaining English words and phrases as having some particular meaning “in the Bible,” or “in Paul’s letters,” etc., defining the English words in accordance with the Greek or Hebrew. And people do get it. They learn what “grace” means, they learn what “justification” and “sanctify” and “righteousness” mean, and so forth. Of course this is all strictly forbidden in DE theory. The theory says that people cannot learn, or should not need to learn anything from a teacher, and it aims to replace all our explanations with interpretive renderings. But the trouble is, we end up rejecting the versions that disagree with our explanations. That is what Wright is doing here, in his complaint about the NIV.

  20. Nemo says:

    You’re not going to like this answer … we think that serious, linguistically informed exegesis can show that there are very good reasons why certain readings are wrong

    I have no problem at all with that, Rich. I think we must be talking about different things here, when we say “linguistics.” In this discussion I am not opposing linguistically informed exegesis. We would probably disagree about what a “linguistically informed exegesis” looks like, but that is not my concern here. I am opposing the translation theories and methods associated with Nida, and which several people here identify with linguistics. If you are willing to make a distinction between DE theory and “linguistics,” that would be great.

  21. Wayne Leman says:

    Nemo ended:

    If you are willing to make a distinction between DE theory and “linguistics,” that would be great.

    No problem there, Nemo. DE theory does not equal linguistics. Linguistics is about language, how language works. DE theory is not about the Bible. It is not an interpretive (hermeneutical) tool. It does not tell us what the biblical authors meant. But, as Rich so correctly emphasizes, linguistics informs us about the language that the biblical authors used. It shows us, for one, that the biblical authors used a real language which was spoken by many real people for real communication. Linguistics has allowed us to see that many documents from biblical times are written in the same languages that the Bible is written in. So with an increased amount of language data to study, Bible scholars today have an advantage over biblical scholars of the past who did not know about so much other language material that was part of the context of the biblical authors. DE theory has nothing to do with the excavation or understanding of these ancient documents. DE theory is simply a theory of translation that calls for translating using only the language forms (syntax, words, etc.) that the people use who are going to read/hear a translation. DE theory is Nida’s theory. It is, to some extent, outdated. It has been surpassed by better theories of translation. But the core of Nida’s theory, that of using in translation the linguistic forms of the people for whom a translation is made, has never and will never be replaced. Most translators hold to that premise in one form or another, but the degree to which they hold to it is what is at stake is many translation debates today.

  22. Mike Sangrey says:

    Nemo,

    You can’t have it both ways. On the one hand you seem to not want to be in the position as a teacher where you have to explain the translation. And yet, on the other hand, you say a teacher need only plug in a different definition than what a given word normally means.

    For what it’s worth, I teach, too. So, I’ve also been impacted by the hurdles. Since I always use a single interpretive unit (like a paragraph or sometimes an entire section), literal translations, because of their increased ambiguity, stutter too much to be helpful. One has to spend far too much time explaining how the text is suppose to hang together, how it flows, how it is coherent. The fault I find with DE translations has to do with when they incorporate specific theological perspectives which were unheard of by the original audiences. But, that is not the fault of the translation method. If anything, the fault lies with inadequate or inconsistent application of the method. This theological perspective issue is N.T. Wright’s complaint regarding Rom. 3. He’s wrong if he has anywhere said it is a translation method issue (I haven’t read nor heard him say such).

    You say, “The theory says that people cannot learn, or should not need to learn anything from a teacher, and it aims to replace all our explanations with interpretive renderings.

    You misrepresent the theory and then attack the misrepresentation. DE does no such things. Such characterizations have been adequately responded to in many other places; though, sadly, such efforts should not be needed.

    I will, however, ask a question. When you teach passages where Paul says things like, “We do not want you to be uninformed…” and “For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand,” are you careful to explain to them that Paul used clear and natural language because he thought the people incapable of learning? Yes, that’s a question with a bite. But, as I said, you misrepresent DE.

    Good translation seeks to do no more, nor any less, than the same thing as what Paul sought to do. Is DE perfect in communicating? No. But, then again, neither was Paul. In fact, a linguistically informed translation method recognizes the contextual difficulty. Field testing seeks to uncover the failures; but just like the Bible authors, individuals within the audience are unique and, sadly, some will twist the text to their own harm. Though there’s nothing new there, either.

  23. Nemo says:

    It shows us, for one, that the biblical authors used a real language …

    Wayne, you did not need to explain any of that to me. I perceived that Rich was equating linguistics with Deissmannism, which is why I said, “we would probably disagree about what a linguistically informed exegesis.” But I’m not going to get into all that, because it’s irrelevant to the subject of this post … It’s the thought that counts: Eugene Nida and Bible translation.

  24. Nemo says:

    On the one hand you seem to not want to be in the position as a teacher where you have to explain the translation.

    I have no problem explaining the different translations. But why do you want me to use a translation that I have to correct all the time? It makes no sense.

    You misrepresent the theory and then attack the misrepresentation. DE does no such things. Such characterizations have been adequately responded to in many other places; though, sadly, such efforts should not be needed.

    I know Nida’s writings better than anyone here.

  25. Rich Rhodes says:

    Nemo,
    DE does not forbid the use of technical terms. Native speakers read materials in their native language that demand of them learning that a term is being used technically. Furthermore simultaneous interpreters deal with this all the time and what they do is DE, pretty much by definition.

    For some reason DE is almost always talked about by its detractors as if it requires dumbing down the translation. Nothing can be further from the truth. DE, properly applied, requires that the translated text affect its hearers the same way the original affected its hearers.

    What happens in particular currently available Bible translations is another matter. I don’t think there’s a single translation available in English that even comes close to being truly DE, if for no other reason than that the original books have different voices (in the literary sense) and different styles even within single books but the translations are uniformly flat, from KJV to the Message.

    We now actually know enough about Koine to begin to untangle a lot of those subtleties.

    Maybe at some point I’ll try what Phillips did and do a whole book to reflect the kinds of stylistic differences I’m talking about. (But not anytime soon.) Then everyone will hate me.

  26. Nemo says:

    DE does not forbid the use of technical terms …

    Nida said, “The real test of the translation is its intelligibility to the non-Christian.” And this statement is quoted as a word of wisdom on the Wycliffe.org website. Along the same line, he wrote: “Non-Christians have priority over Christians. That is to say, the Scriptures must be intelligible to non-Christians, and if they are, they will also be intelligible to Christians. Not only is this principle important in making the translation of the Bible effective as an instrument of evangelism, but it is also necessary if the language of the church is to be kept from becoming an esoteric dialect.” (Theory and Practice of Translation, pp. 31-2). What room does that leave for learning technical terms? How are the non-Christians going to know Christian terminology? Yet the “real test” of a translation’s worth is measured by its intelligibility to those who do know these “esoteric” terms. Therefore they must be excluded, or at least reduced to some arbitrarily determined minimum.

    For some reason DE is almost always talked about by its detractors as if it requires dumbing down the translation.

    “Dumbing-down” may not be required, if you separate DE from “common language” principles, but where are those DE versions that don’t dumb down the text? I have not seen any published in my lifetime. I think the talk is justified if you look at what has actually been published under the name of DE or FE. It is at least understandable, that people would associate DE with dummies.

    I don’t think there’s a single translation available in English that even comes close to being truly DE.

    So what is the hold-up? This theory has been around since the 50’s, and it boasts of great things.

  27. Nemo says:

    Sorry, I meant to write, “Yet the real test of a translation’s worth is measured by its intelligibility to those who do NOT know these esoteric terms.”

  28. Rich Rhodes says:

    There’s a lot that goes into getting a translation of the Bible made and published. Some of the biggest factors have little to do with the application of one’s translation theory. We’ve posted in the past about market issues, for example. (Sorry, I can’t remember any titles and I don’t have the time to wade around in our two thousand posts. Wayne, could you help me out here?)

    As for technical terms, many technical terms are not all that esoteric in that large numbers of people know them, like say, venti in Starbucks. Being a technical term has more to do with how it relates to context, than with it being obscure. In fact many technical terms are ordinary words and can be used either way. For example, if a police detective tells his boss “We like him.” it means he’s a suspect (a technical use). I’d argue this about any number of terms in the NT, that they are mostly not technical except when context makes it clear that they are being used technically. Such terms might well demand non-concordant translations to make clear the differences, and any theology that demanded concordant translation would probably be wrong.

    The big problem is to find ways to express the technical or potentially technical terms in the NT as the original audience heard them — absent the two millennia of theological baggage that may have accrued to some of them since then.

  29. Peter Kirk says:

    “Yet the real test of a translation’s worth is measured by its intelligibility to those who do NOT know these esoteric terms.”

    Precisely, Nemo. If you reject this, you turn Christianity into a mystery religion, a form of Gnosticism, to be understood only by initiates. The New Testament was not originally like this, but was written in language everyone could understood, with a very few technical terms. Nida was right to fight against this heresy which has become so prevalent in the church.

  30. ERNST WENDLAND says:

    “Where are those DE versions that don’t dumb down the text? I have not seen any published in my lifetime. I think the talk is justified if you look at what has actually been published under the name of DE or FE. It is at least understandable, that people would associate DE with dummies.”

    That final clause could well be taken as an insult, in more ways than one (pertaining to DE theory, its practice, and its practitioners). But let us leave that… Moving on then, I prefer the term FE (functional equivalence) to DE, for reasons specified in earlier blogs on the subject. I think that Nida was moving in this direction (“From One Language To Another: Functional Equivalence in Bible Translating”), though he may not have come quite as far as we may have liked. As some have already pointed out, this is not an easy translation theory to put into practice; it is certainly much more difficult to produce and defend such a version than a FC (formal correspondence) version. Can it be done–in English (I know of an example in Chichewa, a Bantu language)? Perhaps that yet remains to be seen (and, more importantly, agreed upon!). The best example that I know of is Dr. Brenda Boerger’s “Poetic Oracle English Translation–Psalms” (self-published, 2009). Perhaps one or more of you will agree, if you can get access to that poetic version.

  31. Nemo says:

    That final clause could well be taken as an insult

    Needless to say, that was not a statement about linguists, Ernst. It was a statement about our perception of the consituency that the version is designed for.

    What are we to infer about the constituency in mind when a Bible version that is done at a grade-school reading level is then marketed to adults? (TEV) Or what can we say about the prospective reader when the editors of a version say something like this:

    The translators have made a conscious effort to provide a text that can be easily understood by the average reader of modern English. To this end, we have used the vocabulary and language structures commonly used by the average person. The result is a translation of the Scriptures written generally at the reading level of a junior high school student. (NLT preface)

    Notice how they equate “the average reader” with “the reading level of a junior high school student.” But is it true that the average Bible reader is 13 or 14 years old? And was the version really marketed to that demographic? No, it wasn’t. It was presented as a “general-purpose translation,” for adults. One that is “excellent for study.”

    I think this is an insult to the intelligence of the average reader.

  32. Ernst Wendland says:

    I see your point now, Nemo, thanks for the clarification. That is why I normally avoid discussions on Bible translations in English. This is a scene much too treacherous for an African translator to traverse!

    But I would like to return to the challenge of Rich Rhodes: “I don’t think there’s a single translation available in English that even comes close to being truly DE, if for no other reason than that the original books have different voices (in the literary sense) and different styles even within single books but the translations are uniformly flat, from KJV to the Message.”

    I am certainly not the person to judge such matters, but in my last entry I referred to the recent English translation of the Psalms by Brenda Boerger. She comes the closest I think to a “functional equivalent” translation–actually, translations, for she attempts different English styles for different psalms. Her aim “is to convey Hebrew poetry by using verse forms suited to English, together with devices such as rhyme, meter, sonics, and imagery” (from her Introduction). Brenda is busy revising her 2009 book, but is willing to send revised samples of selected psalms to interested parties. She is at brenda_boerger@sil.org.

  33. Peter Kirk says:

    Nemo, I believe it is true that the average adult has “the reading level of a junior high school student”. At least I have seen statistics claiming something like a grade 6 reading level as average. This justifies the approach of NLT whose audience is those average adults.

  34. Nemo says:

    Ernst, I’ve been thinking about your work, and your comments about poetic translation in a previous post. Last week I was searching around on the internet for works on the subject, I discovered this very old but interesting treatise on the Psalms by George Wither:

    http://www.archive.org/details/preparationtopsa00with

    It predates all the valuable work that has been done in this area in the past three centuries, but I have been reading it anyway, because of my interest in the Puritan use of the Psalms. I enjoyed its discussion of poetic translation, especially in chapter two, where Wither deals with “the frivolous opinion of those, who deny that the Psalms, or any part of Holy Scripture, may be safely translated into verse.”

    Wither’s verse translation of the Psalms is quite good, and it is available here:

    http://www.archive.org/details/psalmsofdavidtri00with

  35. Nemo says:

    Peter, You mention the mystery religions and compare them to “gnosticism” and “heresy.” But the mystery religions were not a form of Gnosticism, and they predate the NT. Many scholars agree that the NT often does reflect the Hellenistic background in such a way that a comparison to the mystery religions is illuminating. Jeremias thought that John deliberately omits an account of the Last Supper because he is hiding the eucharistic liturgy from non-Christian readers. This does not seem improbable to me. And I think most scholars agree that Paul does sometimes employ the terminology of mystery cults in his letters. And consider the cabalistic method of the Apocalypse (e.g. “Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast”), and the words of Jesus: υμιν δεδοται γνωναι το μυστηριον της βασιλειας του θεου. I am not going to portray Christianity as a “mystery religion.” But I think your statement is rather one-sided, if you mean to say that the apostles’ manner of teaching was in every respect the very opposite of the mystery religions.

  36. ERNST WENDLAND says:

    Thanks for those references to the Psalms studies of George Wither, Nemo. In the case of older works like that, we sometimes unhappily discover that we have have been trying to re-invent the wheel with respect to some aspect of biblical scholarship. But it’s always good to be informed about what these scholars were on to much before us. Unfortunately, due to my slow download speeds here, I probably will not be able to access these texts–too many megabites to download! But then again, I can always hope for a better day…

  37. Mike Sangrey says:

    Nemo,

    I think this [average reading level] is an insult to the intelligence of the average reader.

    That’s because you misunderstand what reading level means.

    Let’s take its analogue, legibility. Obviously, there are different levels of legibility. So, let’s assume that. Would you say that writing something legible for the average person is “dumbing down the text?” Of course not. Would you say choosing a font that is “easy on the eyes” to be “dumbing it down?” Again, of course you wouldn’t. Some people are more highly capable at reading esoteric fonts and illegible writing. One can even develop the skill. This does not mean the person who can read illegible writing is smarter. Nor does it mean illegible writing somehow or other is superior. Readability is the same.

    Readability measures the ease at which a text can be read and understood. It does not measure the conceptual complexity of the information. It’s unfortunate that the science of ‘readability’ uses ‘grade level’ as a technical term since so many people misunderstand it to reflect education level and level of intelligence.

    Also, the fact is that the average English speaker (since we’re talking about English translations) reads at a readability level approximately the same as NLT. The NLT is not prescriptive of their reader’s reading level. It, like any good translation, simply adopts the language of its audience in service to that audience. This has nothing to do with the conceptual information. It linguistic, not theological.

  38. Peter Kirk says:

    Nemo, I accept that I did rather conflate the ideas of mystery religions and gnosticism. I see gnosticism as a kind of syncretism between Christianity and mystery religions, maybe with some Judaism thrown in. As such, from a formal Christian viewpoint, it is a heresy. And I was suggesting you were falling into that kind of heresy.

    But I shouldn’t get too theological here. From a strictly translational viewpoint, the original text of the New Testament does not contain “esoteric” technical terms which were not understood by ordinary Greek readers, with a few possible exceptions like “baptism”. Therefore it is distortion of the meaning and bad translation practice to include technical terms in a translation, except to render those few exceptional words like “baptism”.

  39. Nemo says:

    the original text of the New Testament does not contain “esoteric” technical terms which were not understood by ordinary Greek readers

    Peter, You make too much of the word “esoteric,” a very tendentious word for traditional Christian terminology, which Nida used in the passage I quoted, and which I used only in reference to his statement. You are doing the same thing as Nida with that word.

    Do you really think the language of the NT would be understood perfectly by non-Christian and non-Jewish readers? I doubt that very much. I don’t think they would even understand the word “Christ.” I think they would be mystified by much of the New Testament, which presumes not only a knowledge of the Old Testament in general, but also a familiarity with the Hebraistic Greek of the Septaugint. And there are Christian coinages as well. See Nigel Turner’s Christian Words for a full treatment of this subject. But as I said before, I do not want to get drawn into that subject here. It is not relevant to Nida’s theories. Do you know what he said about it?

    “Bible translators … have often made quite a point of the fact that the language of the New Testament was Koine Greek, the language of the ‘man in the street,’ and hence a translation should speak to the man in the street. The truth of the matter is that many New Testament messages are not directed primarily to the man in the street, but to the man in the congregation. For this reason, such expressions as ‘Abba Father,’ Maranatha, and ‘baptized into Christ’ could be used with reasonable expectation that they would be understood.” (Toward a Science of Translating, p. 170.)

  40. Nemo says:

    you misunderstand what reading level means.

    I don’t think so. I think you are obfuscating the issue. Clearly the NLT is pitched to a relatively low level of reading ability, when compared to the RSV and other versions in common use. It is lower than the NIV, I would say. Don’t you agree? If you have any evidence that by “the reading level of a junior high school student” the editors of the version meant something other than that, I am willing to look at your evidence.

  41. David Frank says:

    I’m sorry I’ve been absent from this discussion. I’ve tried to catch up but haven’t read everything in detail. I think we owe a lot to Eugene Nida for getting us to think about translation and audiences. I’m not sure there is such a thing as a pure dynamic equivalence translation, or a translation that is pure in terms of following any theory. It probably isn’t possible. But Nida got us being more aware of how linguistic differences interact with translation, and if I am not mistaken, steered us toward understanding translation audiences and translating according to the needs of the intended audience.

    The question was raised as to what a dynamic equivalence translation would look like if it weren’t aimed at a low reading level. Wouldn’t the Phillips translation of the New Testament qualify as such a translation? I don’t mean to say that J.B. Phillips was following Nida’s approach, but just that Phillips tried to translate into natural English of a higher than average register.

  42. Mike Sangrey says:

    Nemo,

    I’m a bit confused by your question. I could cite your comment which was a citation from the NLT itself.

    The 8th grade “reading level” as the norm for U.S. people is rather well known and commonly accepted.

    Is the NRSV at a higher reading level than that? Certainly. But, again, reading level and the complexity of concepts are two different things. Lowering a reading level doesn’t “dumb it down.” Nor does raising the reading level “smart it up.” It’s using appropriate language for a specific audience.

    Have you ever heard someone say to you something like, “Thanks! I’ve had a hard time understanding that, but you explained it so well.” The concept was a difficult concept; but, you conveyed it using language the person could cognitively process with relative ease. The difference had everything to do with how the information was communicated to them, not the concept itself.

    Another example, recent U.S. legislation has dictated to credit card companies they must rewrite their contracts in language more readily understood by the common populace (it was over the 12th grade level). That is not legislation dictating contractual content. In fact, the content needs to stay the same. The thing that must change is how that content is presented via the language of the audience.

    Am I still being unclear?

    BTW, there are issues of efficiency and therefore productivity when it comes to talking about ‘reading level’ (or, more properly, literacy). A person who can read at a higher ‘reading level’ is more productive. Which is why NALS is important. Hmmmm….applying this idea to Bible Translation might be an interesting discussion. Though efficiency of conveying conceptual material hasn’t been a criteria by which we measure the quality of a translation.

  43. Wayne Leman says:

    Perhaps a more helpful way to refer to reading “level” would be in terms of some magazine that people might be familiar with. I think we would all agree that the Atlantic Monthly uses more complex sentences and a vocabulary not known by all American English speakers, let alone all English speakers around the world. Let’s contrast the complexity of English in the Atlantic Monthly with that of the Reader’s Digest. I’d guess that the “average” audience of the RD is approximately the same as that of the Atlantic Monthly. Both magazines might even run an article on the same topic, let’s say, how to increase efficiencies in the public health sector. Both articles may have the same content and be aimed at the same age audiences. But the authors of the A.M. article will use more complex English to express the concepts while the authors of the RD article will use English that is used by a larger percentage of English speakers.

    BTW, did you notice that I wrote “how to increase efficiencies in the public health sector” when I could have written “how to make the health system more efficient”? Which wording, if either, is more accurate? Which, if either, is dumbed down? Which, if either, is more natural English? Which, if either, can be mentally processed with fewer cognitive hiccups? Which, if either, communicates more efficiently to the greatest number of speakers?

    DE theory is simply a translation tool that seeks to find the closest natural forms in one language to express the same meaning expressed by forms in another language. Nothing prevents DE theory (or better, one of its successors which was an improvement) from translating with more complex, richer language for a more highly educated audience. In fact, DE is ideally suited for translation for different age and educational groups because DE is driven by what forms each group actually uses to express meanings. I would even suggest that DE can do a better job at literary translation since DE practitioners must, in principle, ask “What are the forms that the speakers of the translation language actually use when writing or speaking in a way that is considered an elevated literary style of the language. It requires really good speakers and writers of a language to do really good translation, and even if they are really good, their translations will only be really good if they continually self-assess their work to be sure they are writing as they would actually speak and write for a particular genre, register, oratorical, and social function.

  44. Nemo says:

    The 8th grade “reading level” as the norm for U.S. people is rather well known and commonly accepted.

    Mike, this doesn’t make sense to me. I’m assuming these “reading levels” are descriptive, not prescriptive. Is there a 12th grade level? If so, and if 90% of American adults are high-school graduates, why don’t we have a norm of 12th grade? I don’t see how the norm can be 8th grade, if 90% have gone through 12th grade. Unless the “reading level” is a prescriptive standard. If you could explain that, I would appreciate it.

    reading level and the complexity of concepts are two different things

    Yes, but it isn’t true that “reading level” is unrelated to the ability to learn complex concepts. Because complex concepts often require special vocabulary to be expressed. For example: “Neutrinos lack mass.” That is complex concept, expressed very concisely. But it would not be practical to try to express it with some sentence or series of sentences that avoided the words “neutrino” and “mass.” The only practical way to proceed would be to introduce these terms with definitions, and then combine them in the sentence. In the process, the listener’s vocabulary is enlarged, and thus his reading level is elevated. This is a normal part of education, learning the vocabulary of the subject.

  45. Wayne Leman says:

    Rich asked:

    There’s a lot that goes into getting a translation of the Bible made and published. Some of the biggest factors have little to do with the application of one’s translation theory. We’ve posted in the past about market issues, for example. (Sorry, I can’t remember any titles and I don’t have the time to wade around in our two thousand posts. Wayne, could you help me out here?)

    Hmm, I typed in the word “sales” in the search window at the upper right of this page and got the following:

    sales search on BBB

    At least among conservative Christians, gatekeepers have a huge influence. So there are two hits on BBB for “gatekeepers”:

    gatekeepers search on BBB

  46. Wayne Leman says:

    Nemo asked:

    I don’t see how the norm can be 8th grade, if 90% have gone through 12th grade. Unless the “reading level” is a prescriptive standard. If you could explain that, I would appreciate it.

    Actually, studies have shown that the average reading level among American adults is pretty close to the 6th grade level. That, of course, doesn’t have anything to do with intelligence or what concepts people can grasp. It only reflects how well people can read at various levels of grammatical and lexical complexity. Sadly, many people in the U.S. are nearly functionally illiterate. The U.S. has levels of true illiteracy higher than many developed nations. Just because someone completes high school or gets a G.E.D., that is no guarantee that they can read at grade level. Within the American school system many students have been “socially” promoted. In other words, they are not held back a grade even though they haven’t qualified at grade level.

    The 6th grade reading level is about the complexity of most newspapers, Reader’s Digest, etc. It does not mean that concepts are dumbed down. It just means that sentences are not as long as they are in writing that is more grammatically complex. Fewer rare words are used, in favor of a common-core vocabulary that is well-known to almost every American.

    Many people in the U.S. do little reading. They prefer more passive media, such as T.V. If English Bibles are written at the highest test grade level (which I think is 12th), many people would have difficulty reading and processing the material.

    Actually, the reading grade level idea should perhaps be adjusted to something other than “grade level”, as Mike pointed out. If we speak of grade level, we initially think of children in the 6th grade. But the literacy levels are not testing concepts that grade school children can comprehend. The literacy levels test linguistic complexity. The reading material might be aimed at adults but still have a 6th grade level. I think the NIV is about at an 8th grade level which is higher than many Americans are comfortable at for grammatical and lexical complexity in written material.

    The 6th grade reading level actually reflects the ability to read fairly complex English sentences. Not the most complex, but the reader should easily process relative clauses, adverbial clauses, and typical word collocations.

    There is much more available for reading about “reading level” on the Internet. Just be aware that if a site discusses finding books appropriate for your children’s reading grade level, that that is a different focus from testing grade level for publications such as newspapers, new magazines, and Bibles.

    We have blogged a fair amount on reading level here at BBBB:

    BBB reading level posts

  47. Nemo says:

    Wayne, thanks for your answer. I gather from it that these “reading levels” are not descriptive, but are based upon criteria set by educators, who want to see certain levels of performance on tests. So a “6th grade level” would not imply anything about the average reading level of 6th graders, it would reflect only the level of performance that the educators would currently like to see among 6th graders. Is that correct?

    I can’t evaluate or even understand your statements about the relationship of these reading levels to “concepts,” without having seen the tests.

  48. Mike Sangrey says:

    I have no time right now; however, Readability, from Wikipedia appears to me to be pretty good explanation.

    One key piece is:
    By 1940, investigators had:

    Successfully used statistical methods to analyze the reading ease of texts.
    Found that unusual words and sentence length were among the first causes of reading difficulty.
    Used vocabulary and sentence length in formulas to predict the reading ease of a text.

    The article will show that researchers wrestled with the ‘concept’ to ‘language’ link. Apropos to this post, DE relies heavily on the presumption of a meaning:form composite. That is, the two parts are two parts, but quite difficult to talk about separately in a practical sense. Though all of us, I would think, have had that sensation where we know what we want to say but can’t quite find the words for it. We have the meaning; we don’t have the form.

    Gotta run.

  49. Nemo says:

    I’m getting the impression that linguists don’t really have a clear and commonly agreed upon definition of “reading level” as a technical term. The wikipedia “readability” article refers to many different ways of trying to quantify the difficulty of texts, but it does not define “reading level” as a technical term. The phrase can and apparently has been used as a technical term in the context of the various formulas devised to measure difficulty/ease of reading (Flesch–Kincaid, Dale–Chall, etc.), some of which use “grade level” terminology. But apart from these formulas, “reading level” is undefined. Are there any objections to that summary?

  50. David Frank says:

    I don’t think we linguists can take the credit or blame for how reading levels are determined. That is more in the area of education, which is definitely not my specialty. But however reading levels are determined, the concept is still useful for anyone who is writing or translating with an audience in mind. And having a particular audience in mind is most important not only for writers but also for translators. You have to know your audience.

    I’ve been thinking some more about the contribution of Eugene Nida and other translation theorists. I will repeat that probably their greatest contribution has been to get people thinking about two things: 1) who your audience is, so you can communicate effectively (since translation is a type of communication), and 2) the nature of language as it has an impact on translation. To translate, it is good to be educated and reflective on the nature of language, and it is good to then take advantage of what we know about language in general and about particular languages in the translation process. Translation is not one-size-fits-all. English, for example, is not monolithic. Even though you may aim for a broad audience, you have to realize that you do have to have a particular audience in mind when translating, and you should be aware of their natural language forms and their ability to comprehend.

  51. Wayne Leman says:

    Most interesting question, Gary. I don’t know the answer, but I suspect that most, if not all, of the biblical authors expected their audiences to understand the words and syntax that they used. They probably also expected their audiences to understand the concepts they were writing about also, in most cases. I don’t know if Paul got the word from Peter that some of his writings were difficult to understand! I hope we can ask them questions like that someday!

    Why don’t you explain a little more what you mean by your last sentence. I’m interested in what you think about functional literacy, what it is, and how today’s functional literacy might compare with it in Bible times. No trick questions for you here. I don’t know how to answer the questions myself, but if you have any thoughts, I enjoy hearing them.

  52. Peter Kirk says:

    Actually the New Testament does tell us quite a lot of the answer in 1 Corinthians 1:26, at least concerning the target audience in Corinth:

    Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. (NIV 2011)

    In other words, the majority would have had little if any formal education, and would have had at most minimal literacy. Their Greek would not have been that of the great poets and philosophers, but that of the marketplace. As relatively new Christians they would not have had years of deep Bible teaching under their belts. So that is the level at which Paul wrote to them: in ordinary Greek, throwing in just a few of the technical terms which he could assume had been explained in basic Christian initiation teaching.

  53. CD-Host says:

    Nemo —

    The only practical way to proceed would be to introduce these terms with definitions, and then combine them in the sentence. In the process, the listener’s vocabulary is enlarged, and thus his reading level is elevated. This is a normal part of education, learning the vocabulary of the subject.

    This didn’t get discussed but you are absolutely right. If Americans were confronted with complex written concepts, and did struggle with them their reading comprehension would go up. In the same way that if Americans tried to job and kept working at it, their running endurance would go up.

  54. CD-Host says:

    Gary —

    What “reading level” did the original hearers of the New Testament hear at? Why can we not keep up with a mostly agrammatos society in functional literacy?

    Because we isn’t a linear scale. Plato would have a very tough time reading a day to day piece of junk mail like “Looking to refinance your mortgage at a lower interest rate?” take it a step further to something like “what’s the residual on your lease” and you might find a Plato not being able to understand the dialogue at all. There would be just too many new concepts and he’d need time to digest.

    The bible is a collections of books from very alien cultures, that is only understandable to most Americans because:

    a) Many of the ideas are part of our culture, because of Christianity. Though that is starting to wane.
    b) Translators work to diminish cultural distance.
    c) People assume a great deal more cultural agreement and thus ignore areas where discordant thoughts are presented.

  55. CD-Host says:

    Rich —

    For some reason DE is almost always talked about by its detractors as if it requires dumbing down the translation. Nothing can be further from the truth. DE, properly applied, requires that the translated text affect its hearers the same way the original affected its hearers.

    I think this is mainly because the big DE translations were the GNB and TLB while the big formal translations were the RSV and KJV. Even today the big formals are: ESV, NRSV, KJV, NASB while the big dynamic is NLTse. There is no question in both study materials and reading comprehension NLTse aims lower. I think it actually does an excellent job of educating people on how to use these materials together

    What happens in particular currently available Bible translations is another matter. I don’t think there’s a single translation available in English that even comes close to being truly DE, if for no other reason than that the original books have different voices (in the literary sense) and different styles even within single books but the translations are uniformly flat, from KJV to the Message.

    The scholars version from the Jesus Seminar didn’t have uniform voice. But you are absolutely correct in this criticism. It is one of the biggest flaws of the people who believe in preservation.

  56. Nemo says:

    Well, the “reading level” thing needs much more discussion. It seems out of character for linguists to just accept a statement like “the average reading level of American adults is at a 8th grade level” without even asking how the “8th grade level” was defined, or who did the defining. We don’t even know where this statement originated. Citations are in order. And it seems to me that these “reading levels,” as defined by formulas used by educators, pertain not to people but to texts. So we need to ask, what does it mean to say that a student is “at” that level? Does it mean the student can read material classified as “8th grade level” effortlessly? And do the educators themselves think that it is appropriate for students to be reading material that requires no effort? The subject needs a much closer look, before a statement like “the average reading level of American adults is at a 8th grade level” can serve any good purpose in translation theory.

  57. J. K. Gayle says:

    Rich wrote, “Dead languages at first blush appear to be much more ambiguous than modern languages. That’s because there are no native speakers around to laugh at us when we assign an impossible meanings to them.”

    Wayne wrote, “It shows us, for one, that the biblical authors used a real language which was spoken by many real people for real communication.”

    Mike wrote, “Paul used clear and natural language”

    Peter wrote, “Their Greek would not have been that of the great poets and philosophers, but that of the marketplace. As relatively new Christians they would not have had years of deep Bible teaching under their belts. So that is the level at which Paul wrote to them: in ordinary Greek, throwing in just a few of the technical terms which he could assume had been explained in basic Christian initiation teaching.”

    You all are making the first assumption Nida’s early DE makes: that there’s a clear message in the Bible and that its language clearly encodes that message. I’m not saying the assumption is incorrect, but it is just that, an assumption.

    To Rich and Wayne, Robert Alter might challenge – The language of the Torah was not any more or less ambiguous than the Hebrew of its first users; but the written language was different from how the woman in the desert and the man in the street used it.

    To Mike and Peter, George Steiner might challenge – The language of communication written to the Corinthians, to the Philippians, to Philemon, to Timothy, to Greek readers in Latin-pushing Rome, was not unsophisticated. Paul may have described the ones in Korinth as

    οὐ πολλοὶ σοφοὶ κατὰ σάρκα,
    οὐ πολλοὶ δυνατοί,
    οὐ πολλοὶ εὐγενεῖς·

    and they may or may not have understood the poetry there, nor would they have necessarily been aware of his allusions to lines from the plays of Euripides (such as τὸ τολμᾶν δ’ ἀδύνατ’ ἀνδρὸς οὐ σοφοῦ / τῶν μὲν ἀδυνάτων ὕπο μισησόμεσθα· λυπρὰ γὰρ τὰ κρείσσονα· ὅσοι δέ, χρηστοὶ δυνάμενοί τ’ εἶναι σοφοί / δεινὸν σοφιστὴν εἶπας, ὅστις εὖ φρονεῖν τοὺς μὴ φρονοῦντας δυνατός ἐστ’ ἀναγκάσαι / τὸ γὰρ εὐγενὲς ἐκφέρεται πρὸς αἰδῶ. ἐν τοῖς ἀγαθοῖσι δὲ πάντ’ ἔνεστιν σοφίας). But his appeals to such worldly references can hardly be described as either clear or natural man-of-the-street or 6th grade reading level.

    And Jesus, translated into sophistic Greek, was not so unpoetic or allusionary or common or clear either. There’s a reason John’s prologue to the gospel identifies him as “logos.” The problem with “logos,” in Aristotle’s view, was that it was absolutely not clear enough, and it was ambiguous, and slippery, and rhetorical, and so forth. (See Protagoras and Logos: A Study in Greek Philosophy and Rhetoric by Edward Schiappa).

    Here’s how George Steiner, translation theorist, sees Jesus and Paul:

    Jesus’ discourse in parables, his statements of withdrawal from statement–of which the episode in which he writes in the dust and effaces his writing is the emblematic instance–give to linguistic verticality, to the containment of silence in language, a particular impetus. As do the constantly polysemic, stratified techniques of semantic motions in the Pauline Epistles. It is these parables and indirect communications, at once more internalized and open-ended than are the codes of classical rhetoric, which beget the seeming contradiction of enigmatic clarity, the “comprehendit imcomprehensible esse” celebrated in Anselm’s “Proslogion”. In turn, from these dramatizations of manifold sense, evolve the instruments of allegory, of analogy, of simile, of tropes and concealments in Western literature (though here also there are obvious and indispensible classical sources).

  58. Peter Kirk says:

    Nemo, a blog comment thread is not the place for giving detailed references to a well known concept and result. But you can probably find what you want at the Wikipedia article on the Flesch–Kincaid readability test.

    Kurk (and Nemo), there is abundant evidence from papyri and inscriptions that the language of Paul’s letters is generally similar to that of contemporary informal correspondence. The old myth of a special “Bible Greek” has been exploded. Of course a skilful writer like C.S. Lewis can weave all kinds of literary and religious allusions into a text while keeping it at a simple reading level, although not all readers will understand them. If you were translating the Narnia stories into a foreign language, would you insist on using high level language which children could not understand just because Lewis was clearly familiar with such language?

  59. Nemo says:

    But you can probably find what you want at the Wikipedia article on the Flesch–Kincaid readability test.

    There’s nothing on that page about the average reading abilities of adults.

    I can’t find a reference to any survey that supports the idea that the U.S. average is “8th grade level.” Perhaps it has no scientific basis. Here’s a interesting statement I found in one textbook:

    “Just 40 years ago, an 8th-grade reading level was typical of people 25 years old or over … Today, the average is an 11th to 12th-grade level.”

    But the textbook doesn’t give details.

  60. J. K. Gayle says:

    If you were translating the Narnia stories into a foreign language, would you insist on using high level language which children could not understand just because Lewis was clearly familiar with such language?

    Peter,
    Funny you should bring up C. S. Lewis. About Jesus’ and Paul’s language, Lewis observes precisely what Steiner does:

    He [Jesus] uses paradox, proverb, exaggeration, parable, irony; even (I mean no irreverence) the “wisecrack”. He utters maxims which, like popular proverbs, if rigorously taken, may seem to contradict one another. His teaching therefore cannot be grasped by the intellect alone, cannot be ‘got up’ as if it were a ‘subject’. If we try to do that with it, we shall find Him the most elusive of teachers. He hardly ever gave a straight answer to a straight question. He will not be, in the way we want, ‘pinned down’. The attempt is (again I mean no irreverence) like trying to bottle a sunbeam.

    Descending lower, we find a somewhat similar difficulty with St. Paul. I cannot be the only reader who has wondered why God, having given him so many gifts, withheld from him (what would to us seem so necessary for the first Christian theologian [albeit a formidable Jew]) that of lucidity and orderly exposition. (Reflections on the Psalms, page 113)

    As for Narnia, Lewis objected to making his books for children into some clearly pointed allegory for anyone. Are you really wanting me to compare translation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with, say, translation of the Book of Revelation?

    As for Lewis’s own “message,” although he could be clear, he seems not to have made that a priority always. For example, his autobiographies are very difficult for English readers. Surprised by Joy, just the title, seems to be a multiple pun, a play on his wife’s name but also on the very unprecise experience of beauty, which led him like a signpost out of his atheism and toward a believe in the Deity. A Pilgrim’s Regress is an obvious play on Bunyan’s allegorical book, but this life-story gave Lewis’s editors fits. Readers did not get it, and so they insisted that, for the second edition, he annotate the various allusions. He seems quite angry, by the third edition, that, even then, readers are demanding too much. In the appendix of that final edition, Lewis writes:

    The map on the end leaves [i.e., the end pages of the book] has puzzled some readers because, as they say, ‘it marks all sorts of places not mentioned in the text’. [Here’s his retort:] But so do all maps in travel books. John’s route [i.e., the protagonist’s route] is marked with a dotted line: those who are not interested in the places off that route need not bother about them. . . If you like to put little black arrows [i.e., in various places] . . ., you would get a clear picture . . . as I see it. You might amuse yourself by deciding where to put them—a question that admits different answers. . . But I don’t claim to know; and doubtless the position shifts every day.

    I imagine Lewis, atheist turned theist, theist turned Christian, enjoyed the difficult Greek gospels and Paul’s challenging Greek letters in ways that no DE translator will ever well reflect.

    (BTW, “enjoy” is a technical term in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, a word that actually bolted him into his theism, a pun apparently, probably somewhere above the 6th grade level. Probably a word similar in difficulty and in semantic dimension to Paul’s and John’s and Peter’s very rhetorical, very Greeky phrases λόγος, πίστις, χάρις.)

  61. J. K. Gayle says:

    Getting away from the point of this post, I’d like to continue a bit with C. S. Lewis. We all know that he knew J. B. Phillips and promoted his translation of the New Testament, although he didn’t celebrate it the way Eugene Nida seems to have.

    Anyway, Lewis did write an Introduction to the Phillips version, for the 1947 publication. And there the literary scholar did write this:

    The New Testament in the original Greek is not a work of literary art: it is not written in a solemn, ecclesiastical language, it is written in the sort of Greek which was spoken over the eastern Mediterranean after Greek had become an international language and therefore lost its real beauty and subtlety. In it we see Greek used by people who haven no real feeling for Greek words because Greek words are not the words they spoken when they were children. It is a sort of ‘basis’ Greek; a language without roots in the soil, a utilitarian, commercial and administrative language. Does this shock us? It ought not to, except as the Incarnation itself ought to shock us. The same divine humility which decreed that God should become a baby at a peasant-woman’s breast, and later an arrested field-preacher in the hands of the Roman police, decreed also that He should be preaching in a vulgar, prosaic and unliterary language. If you can stomach the one, you can stomach the other. The Incarnation is in that sense an irreverent doctrine: Christianity, in that sense, an incurably irreverent religion. When we expect that it should have come before the World in all the beauty that we now feel in the Authorised Version we are as wide of the mark as the Jews were in expecting that the Messiah would come as a great earthly King. The real sanctity, the real beauty and sublimity of the New Testament (as of Christ’s life) are of a different sort: miles deeper or further in.

    I doubt his Jewish wife much appreciated his marking as a mistake the expectation of “the Jews.” But other readers who like what Lewis wrote here may expect it to be some sort of statement about New Testament Greek being easy, or clear, or without beauty or poetry or subtlety. It is not that sort of statement at all. What Lewis later wrote in 1958 (as quoted above) is how he read the Greek gospels, the language of Jesus, and Paul’s Greek.

    In 1947, when he wrote his book, Miracles, Lewis was recommending readers read the Greek New Testament itself and not a translation. When he republished the book in 1960, he did not change that advice nor did he advise anyone reading the Phillips. Rather, here’s what he recommended for translations:

    [B]egin with the New Testament and not with the books about it. If you do not know Greek get it in a modern translation. Moffat’s is probably the best: Monsignor Knox is also good. I do not advise the Basic English version.

  62. Peter Kirk says:

    Kurk, thanks for that 1947 quote from Lewis, in which as so often he hit the nail on the head. I don’t see any contradiction between this, about the linguistic form of the text, and the passage you quoted from Reflections on the Psalms, which is about the conceptual content. As for the 1960 quote, I cannot evaluate it without knowing what audience Lewis had in mind and for what purpose he was encouraging them to read the New Testament.

  63. Mike Sangrey says:

    I think we’ve probably exhausted the ‘reading level’ discussion as it relates to DE. I’d like to respond to one statement.

    “Neutrinos lack mass.” That is complex concept, expressed very concisely. But it would not be practical to try to express it with some sentence or series of sentences that avoided the words “neutrino” and “mass.”

    “Neutrinos lack mass” is probably, and I’m somewhat guessing, at the 6th grade level in terms of reading level. Would a 6th grader understand it. Nope. Not without a fair amount of other semantic material around it (as you point out). How about a 12th grader reading at the 8th grade level? Very likely they would understand it just fine. Concepts taught in high school physics should be readily available to the person. But, that’s conceptual; not grade level language.

    Now…what about a 12th grader reading at the 4th grade level? Probably would not understand it; it depends how accurately I guessed at the reading level of the proposed sentence.[1]

    Now…is it somehow wrong to write a physics book for the 12th grade using language measured at the 8th grade level? No. Not at all. In fact, it’s probably quite a prudent thing to do.

    Now…relative to DE, is it wrong to translate the single, complex sentence at the beginning of Ephesians into several smaller sentences so the translation communicates with the average, modern, English audience? No. Not at all, even though English is capable of 50 or 70 word sentences. Fifty word sentences are very difficult for the average English reader of today to process.

    One of the major contributions of Nida (he was not alone) was that the audience gets to pick the language. The Bible gets to pick the concepts; but, the audience gets to pick the language.

    Lastly, (at the risk of mis-reading between the lines) you bring up the issue of how conceptually complex “Bible concepts” should be translated for a given audience[1]. You raise an interesting question. I think on the one hand theologians have made things much, much more complex than the revelation can bear[2]. On the other hand, I think providing necessary supporting materials to local, out-reach churches would be a win in some cases. That is, if one translates to the “average”, there are still people below that level. It doesn’t matter how Wobegonian the audience is[3]. How do we support them?


    [1] I once taught a student at a technical school. He had to learn moderately difficult computer concepts. He had a very difficult time reading. However, if he was read to, then he soaked up the material like a sponge. Point being, I don’t think he could read at the 4th grade level. But, he was quite smart.

    [2] “Neutrinos lack mass” is a relatively simple concept as long as one constrains it to the concept it’s presenting. Unfortunately, it’s easy to perform a clause level totality transfer and bring into the sentence a large body of information not intended to be conveyed by the sentence itself. The term grace is frequently used as an example of a hugely complex concept. However, it was a rather common word without some of the baggage with which we’ve encumbered it.

    [3] In the grand scheme of things, I’m confident infralapsarianism, supralapsarianism, and sublapsarianism are all irrelevant to everyone. That’s why God didn’t tell us. [chuckle]

    [4] Where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” [Yes, I’m trying to inject some humor 🙂 ]

  64. Nemo says:

    I think we’ve probably exhausted the ‘reading level’ discussion as it relates to DE.

    No one here has given any support for the claim that the average adult American “reading level” is “8th grade.” You have not even explained what that level means, or who defined it. As I pointed out before, the claim doesn’t even make sense.

    Wayne went even farther, and claimed that “Actually, studies have shown that the average reading level among American adults is pretty close to the 6th grade level.” But what is his source? Where are these studies?

    I looked around on the internet and found no support in scholarly works for your claims. The claim is made in popular-level books, but never with supporting citations.

    However, I did find a grad-school level textbook on Google books (Content Area Reading and Learning, by Diane Lapp, James Flood, and Nancy Farnan, 1989) that stated that the average is 11th or 12th grade. How do you account for that?

    This subject is far from exhausted.

  65. Nemo says:

    It just now occured to me that there may be some confusion in this “reading level” discussion, if by “reading level” some mean the average level of the material that is read, and others mean the average ability level of the readers. I am interested only in the measures of ability.

  66. Wayne Leman says:

    Nemo, I don’t know if the following site is scholarly enough for you, but it is in line with average reading levels in the U.S. that I have often heard. I sure wish I could remember my sources. Here’s the link:

    What is the average reading grade-level in the United States?

    I just remembered that I had an entry for “reading level” in my Bible translation terms list. You can view that list by clicking on the Terminology tab at the top of the home page of this blog. The specific link for “reading level” is:

    reading level

    I see that I wrote in that entry that the 9th grade level was average for literate adults in the U.S. I thought I had also heard that the 6th grade level for. But maybe I’m remembering wrongly; that is happening more and more to me lately. 🙂

    The study cited in Pediatrics magazine in 1994 says 7th or 8th grade reading level for parents of young children:

    Comprehension and reading level

    Several studies cited in this Wikipedia article:

    Readability

  67. Nemo says:

    Thanks for your reply, Wayne.

    I suspect that this “8th grade” estimate of average reading ability originated as someone’s estimate back in the 1940’s, which went on to be seen as a “fact,” and so we see it here and there. I can’t track it down to any published study, because no one who mentions it gives a source for it. The internet sources that you point to look like more dead ends. I can’t be sure of the Nursing journal article. Its text isn’t available to me online.

    Here is the original source of the statement I quoted earlier, “today, the average is an 11th- to 12th-grade level”:

    Jeanne Chall, Stages of Reading Development (Harcourt Brace, 1996). p. 3

    The wikipedia article on Chall will explain why I see her book as a credible source of information on this subject. She was on the faculty of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and her special area of expertise was literacy research.

    I also found a respectable source here:

    Lawrence C. Stedman and Karl F. Kaestle, “Literacy and Reading Performance in the United States from 1880 to the Present,” in Kaestle, ed., Literacy in the United States (Yale University Press, 1993).

    Kaestle is a profesor of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin, and Stedman is a professor of Education at SUNY. In their article they focus directly on “Reading Grade Levels as a Measure of Functional Literacy.”

    “Researchers have also measured the extent of functional literacy by comparing the population’s reading grade level to that of common reading materials. We describe four major efforts to assess the grade-level reading ability of the population.” (p. 111)

    Stedman and Kaestle briefly describe 4 studies, but none offers conclusions about the adult population in general. They focus on particular groups. Presumably these researchers were not aware of any scientific study that offers broad conclusions about the adult population.

    They cast doubt upon the formulas used to measure readibility:

    “There are also a variety of technical reasons for caution in using reading-grade-level findings. Researchers used readability formulas to determine a material’s difficulty, but different formulas yield different results. Few researchers demonstrated that the passages they tested were representative of the document in question, yet different parts of a document usually differ in complexity. The readability formulas themselves are flawed, and we detail the problems in chapter 7; it may suffice here to note that we do not have great confidence in such measures. However, they pervade the literature on the uses of literacy, so we cannot altogether escape them.” (p. 114)

    Browing through available pages of chapter 7, I find a highly sophisticated critique of existing formulas for measuring reading abilitiy, with some proposals for new methods. It is all much too complicated to summarize here. But the bottom line is, they take a dim view of the formulas that have been used for this purpose.

    FYI, they give the following information about popular reading materials:

    “Given the limitations the readability formulas, it makes little sense to explore in great detail the historical patterns. The available evidence is, in any case, scant. Readability formulas were not popularized until the 1940s, and few studies followed the same materials over time. Nonetheless, examples of materials that have been assigned grade levels may be of interest. Sticht, for example, reported that lead articles in such well-known magazines as Reader’s Digest, the Saturday Evening Post, Popular Mechanics, the Ladies’ Home Journal, and Harper’s range between the twelfth and thirteenth grades, and have for the last forty years [Thomas G. Sticht, ed., Reading for Working: A Functional Literacy Anthology (Alexandria, Va.: Human Resources Research Organization, 1975), p. 184]. Mary Monteith reported that the typical magazine article averages eleventh-grade level. Newspaper articles vary between ninth and twelfth grade, and newspaper election coverage tends to be written at the college level. Of popular materials, only best sellers are consistently accessible to readers in the lowest 30 percent of reading ability; ranging from the sixth-grade to the ninth-grade level, these titles have averaged around the seventh-grade level for the past fifty years. [Mary K. Monteith, “How Well Does the Average American Read? Some Facts, Figures, and Opinions.” Journal of Reading (February 1980), pp. 460-64.] Still, as we have noted, 18 percent of those aged eighteen to twenty-three read below the seventh-grade level.” (p. 114)

    This is a very informative and careful academic work. But I note that its treatment of the matter does not tend to support a conclusion that the reading ability of the “average adult American” is at the 8th grade level. It does not even mention such an estimate.

  68. Mike Sangrey says:

    Perhaps this document might be helpful.

    Adult Literacy in America.

    It does NOT define ‘reading level’. It approaches the entire subject of literacy from a task perspective. I’m guessing, but I suspect that the reason for the task oriented nature was because using a grade oriented perspective has a number of problems with it, not the least of which is communicating its meaning.

  69. Mike Sangrey says:

    In support of my guess:

    The definition of literacy from the young adult survey was adopted by the panel that guided the development of the 1989-90 survey of job seekers, and it also provided the starting point for the discussions of the NALS Literacy Definition Committee. This committee agreed that expressing the literacy proficiencies of adults in school-based terms or grade-level scores is inappropriate. (Page 3) [Emphasis mine]

  70. Mike Sangrey says:

    I’m of the opinion that American[1] Bible translators should take a long, hard look at page 73 and following of Adult Literacy in America. It seems to me that all popular, typical English Bible translations are at Level 5. Only 3% of the American population can function proficiently at this level. This would explain why people with advanced degrees are typically hired to explain the Bible.


    [1] As they say, the mileage will vary for non-America, but English language groups. I still think it’s apropos, or at least, insightful.

  71. CD-Host says:

    It seems to me that all popular, typical English Bible translations are at Level 5. Only 3% of the American population can function proficiently at this level.

    The problem is the bible even if the reader spoke ancient Greek / Hebrew quite well assumes a level well above their level 5 in many places. So the alternatives are (and these can be done in combination):

    1) Create a new bible with simpler ideas
    2) Include tons of study material to make the more complex ideas accessible
    3) Give up on the idea of widespread perspicuity of scripture
    4) Raise the literacy level of the population.

    (1) is commonly done by transculturations and using common words for concepts that don’t exist in 21st century American culture

    (2) is being handled with the popularity of study bibles.

    (3) if anything the opposite is happening.

    (4) Was happening until recently, with a strong push towards better public schooling. the educational defunding that is going on is hopefully short lived and short term.

  72. Peter Kirk says:

    CD-Host, I’m confused. Mike offered statistics on adult literacy. Why do think this has anything to do with the ideas in the Bible, needing to be simplified or made more accessible? Many illiterate people are very intelligent and quite capable of understanding the ideas in the Bible.

  73. CD-Host says:

    Why do think this has anything to do with the ideas in the Bible, needing to be simplified or made more accessible?

    Very few people don’t know how to read structurally. The problem is low levels of reading comprehension when faced with complexity. If you read the link their definition of the levels of literacy deal with reading comprehension. Essentially 2 things influence literacy /

    1) Word familiarity
    2) Sentence length

    Many illiterate people are very intelligent and quite capable of understanding the ideas in the Bible.

    I would mostly agree but I’d rephrase to:
    Many illiterate people are very intelligent and quite capable of understanding the ideas in the Bible providing they are explicated in a non literary fashion.

    Illiteracy (or really low literacy) is not a question of mechanics. Quite frequently people at those lower levels can convert texts to the correct spoken verbal sequences, they just can’t extract ideas from those texts.

    The very first paragraphs in the bible make use of literary illusions and dual symbolism. Most Americans don’t understand that because they don’t read enough literature outside their own culture that has multi-layered symbolism so they aren’t used to having to do literary analysis that is not instinctual to understand something.

  74. Peter Kirk says:

    Fair enough, CD-Host. But I still don’t think conceptual difficulty in itself affects reading comprehension. I accept your rephrasing. But I would say that in general (with some exceptions especially in Hebrew poetry) in the original language texts “the ideas in the Bible … are explicated in a non literary fashion”. And so they should be in a translation, unless its target audience is that minority of speakers of any modern language whose comprehension is not damaged by the added literary features.

  75. ERNST WENDLAND says:

    “But I would say that in general (with some exceptions especially in Hebrew poetry) in the original language texts ‘the ideas in the Bible … are explicated in a non literary fashion’.”

    Peter, we have briefly discussed this issue of the relative “literariness” (a literary critical term) of the Scriptures in a recent blog line (“Dynamic Equivalence Re-visited”) so there’s no need to repeat what was said there. I just want to point out that there is a significantly different (perhaps minority) perspective on this. Thus, I would claim just the opposite, namely, that the “exceptions” in the biblical writings, Hebrew and Greek, are those that are “non-literary” in nature. The implications for translation are, of course, considerable as well.

    However, we can carry on this discussion and subsequent critical evaluation only on the basis of detailed discourse analyses of these same texts, whether whole books or selected pericopes. My various efforts in this regard have been published for others to examine and criticize. But there are an increasing number of literary and rhetorical studies of the Old and New Testament Scriptures that come to a similar conclusion, for example, Robert Alter and Leland Ryken respectively, to name two of the earlier proponents.

    I might just close with a quote by the latter: “Because the Bible is a book with religious authority, we tend to assume that it is a theology book. But if we look at how the Bible presents its material, it resembles a literary work more than anything else. It is filled with stories, poems, visions, and letters. The thing that is emphatically not what we so often picture it as being–a theological outline with proof texts attached” (“Words of Delight: A Literary Introduction to the Bible,” Baker Books, 1992, p. 11).

  76. Peter Kirk says:

    Thank you, Ernst. I wouldn’t really disagree. Alter’s focus is of course on the Hebrew Bible. I already mentioned Hebrew poetry as an exception, and I accept that some Hebrew prose also has formal literary features. But the main focus of this comment thread is on the New Testament. And, with a few exceptions like the introduction to Luke, I don’t see in the NT the kinds of formal literary features which make it hard for less literate people to read it. As I mentioned above concerning the Narnia books, this by no means implies that the authors had to leave out literary and religious allusions, although not every reader would appreciate them. Again the key is to distinguish the content, which may be literary, from the form, which, in the original, is mostly that of ordinary informal Koine Greek.

  77. ERNST WENDLAND says:

    I can appreciate your perspective, Peter, but I’m afraid that in the absence of actual text studies we may just have to agree to disagree on this point. I would still claim that beneath the surface of the apparent “ordinary informal Koine Greek” of the New Testament lurks some extensive and rather sophisticated literary forms, involving among other devices, a diverse array of recursive (iterative, synonymous, contrastive) patterns–near and far parallels, chiastic structures, terraced or overlapping constructions, and so forth. These are the literary (artistic and rhetorical) forms that deliver or convey the focal theological and ethical content being expressed by these religious texts.

  78. Peter Kirk says:

    Ernst, I accept that beneath the surface there may be sophisticated literary forms. Some may be the author’s deliberate intention, some may have been included subconsciously by the skilful authors, and some may come from the imagination of modern scholars. I’m sure the same kinds of forms can be found beneath the surface of, for example, the Narnia books. I would want to see good evidence for the claim that the alleged “theological and ethical content” conveyed by these forms is in any sense “focal” or as important as the message conveyed by what is on the surface, “the apparent “ordinary informal Koine Greek” of the New Testament”. It is this surface form which unsophisticated readers need to comprehend. And there are actual text studies to show that this Greek is grammatically and lexically ordinary and easy to understand.

  79. ERNST WENDLAND says:

    I think that we are actually quite close to agreement, Peter. Thanks for your clarification. I must also do some clarifying myself–that is, in my use of the term “focal”. I did not intend to imply that this refers to some esoteric “literary” meaning that lies beneath the text’s surface forms. Rather, I meant to say that the content of the text is primary; the less apparent literary forms normally serve to reinforce that more transparent content. At times certain literary structures, like the center of a chiastic construction, may function to highlight or emphasize some aspect of that surface content, but they will not deny, contradict, or confuse that content (at least I have not found that to be true). Thanks for pointing out the potential ambiguity of what I wrote in my earlier comment. I also agree with your observation that some of “the sophisticated literary forms” which are posited by scholars may well come from “their own imagination” and cannot be substantiated by the overall linguistic and literary composition of the biblical text itself.

  80. CD-Host says:

    I would argue that for a modern reader to read and understand the NT assumes a fairly high level of literacy. Again just to be clear that doesn’t mean it demanded it at the time.

    For example if I were to have a sentence in English like, “My account is tapped, and I can’t get an advance on my credit card; I don’t know how I’m going to pay my mortgage” translating this accurately for a 1st century reader would be amazingly difficult. It’s not that the concepts of usury didn’t exist but these sort of casual complexity regarding the ties between money and interest didn’t exist.

    The same sort of thing happens in reverse in the non literary NT where ideas of Hellenism, middle Platonism are casually introduced. I’ve pointed out here regularly how frequently Paul’s arguments and analogies depend on pre-Ptolemaic astrology. It is not that the illiterate are not able to understand the theory of the cosmos that Paul has, nor the allusions that depend on it, nor are they unable to understand the ideas he is trying to explicate with these allusions. But what they are unable to do is handle this material packed all together.

    Learning how to decompose a complex text is basically what literacy training in middle school, high school and college involves. It is precisely that skill that is mostly missing when we say Americans read at a 6th-8th grade level. The mechanics of reading are not the problem.

  81. J. K. Gayle says:

    I would want to see good evidence for the claim that the alleged “theological and ethical content” conveyed by these forms is in any sense “focal” or as important as the message conveyed by what is on the surface

    like the center of a chiastic construction, may function to highlight or emphasize some aspect of that surface content, but they will not deny, contradict, or confuse that content (at least I have not found that to be true).

    Peter and Ernst,
    Thank you for sharing your dialogue publicly, for approaching agreement between yourselves. I’m convinced, at least at this point, that your filter with respect to the rhetorical functions of NT Greek is still too fine. Your “terministic screen” – that is, your unquestioned assumption that “the message” must be universally explicit and a-culturally perspicuous – may keep you from seeing the evidence or from opening yourselves to the possibility that there’s another logical starting point.

    For starters, NT Greek is in many ways already a translation. It’s political, a Jewish translation, with certain insiders and particular outsiders. It employs (variants of) the LXX.

    Not a few observers have noticed this. Israeli scholar Sylvie Honigman investigates the legend of the Septuagint and finds that the translators engage in a “Homeric paradigm” (not an “Alexandrian paradigm”) in Alexandria, Egypt, rendering the Hebrew scriptures by a method that will – like the legend writer himself does – “resort to a literary pattern rather than to explicit exposition in order to convey meaning [by a set of rhetorical devices] somewhat reminiscent of the characteristics of traditional myth-telling” (Septuagint and Homeric Scholarship in Alexandria, page 38). Similarly, Jewish American translation theorist and scholar Naomi Seidman turns to the Talmudic accounts of the LXX and suggests that it is a trickster translation, a rendering that intentionally hides from the outsiders its Jewish (not Greek, not hoi polloi) messages.

    In Seidman’s Faithful Renderings: Jewish-Christian Difference and the Politics of Translation (Afterlives of the Bible), she notes:

    “Not only does the Talmud present the composition of the Septuagint as an elaborate Jewish trick, it also describes the passages in the Hebrew Bible itself as a ‘hidden transcript,’ the private discourse of a minority culture.”

    and

    “The [Church] Fathers imagine the Jewish translators as passive channels of God’s message to the world; in the [contrastive] talmudic account God works to keep certain things between the Jews and himself [i.e., away from the world, especially the Greek and the Egyptian worlds], not only sanctioning Jewish conspiracy but taking the role of conspirator-in-chief.”

    and

    “[The subsequent proto-MT text / LXX alterations], the ‘union’ of Greek philosophy and Hebraic religion is revealed not as a noble attempt to strip the Bible of [things such as] anthropomorphism and the remnants of its attachment to ‘pagan’ myth, but rather as a series of obsequies, strategic gestures for the survival of a people in the face of the overwhelming [Greek imperial and Egyptian royal] culture[s] that surrounded it. Reversing the [Christian] patristic plot, the translators are released from their cells, while the Hebrew Bible remains enclosed behind the high walls of the Hebrew language; what the Gentiles get is something else altogether. Submission and subversion here turn out to be simultaneous strategies…”

  82. J. K. Gayle says:

    So, NT Greek evidence:

    It’s amazing to me that much of what Aristotle spells out in his expositional definition of Poetics and his reductive Rhetoric is actually defied by the Greek translators for and writers of the NT.

    For example, Mark has Jesus (in Mark 4) teaching much with obscurity. These are not just “stories” but are layered, insider-outsider divisive “fables.” They are not different in method from Aesop’s “parables” or the African Libyan’s, whom Aristotle disparages. And then there’s something even trickier when Jesus’ disciples finally get him to “explain” the meaning, “the clear message” to the one – (which Jesus has rhetorically asked about: “If you don’t understand this one, then how will you understand all of the fables I teach by?”). This “first” parable (first in Mark’s gospel, and priority in Jesus’ hinting at it’s meanings for all fables) is the four-part one about the sower. The explanation skews (or we’d say today, “mixes”) the metaphors. So Mark’s Jewish readers, if not Jesus’ disciples, get an indirection, a redirection. This is sophistry. It’s not so different from the plays Gorgias makes with his four-part “praise” of Helen.

    A bit (or whole lot) of evidence from Matthew is his plays with Greek translation of what Jesus says. Why have the first word be “metanoia” from John the dipper (i.e., the one performing Mikvah, but Christians don’t get that) and then from Jesus, likewise? Why does what we call the Sermon on the Mount start with very striking, literary “metaphor” that defies the Barbara syllogism of Aristotle? Why do what we call the Beatitudes use literary “antistrophe”? Why does the rhetorical criticism of Torah in the Sermon use internal Greeky “tropes” and Aristotle-outlawed “exaggeration” (hyperbole), “riddles” (enigma), and “ambiguities” or “vagueries” (amphibolies)? What allusions there are to the tricky LXX Greek not only for the beatitudes but also to Torah! Jewish readers proficient in Hebrew and in the Greek translation of their Scriptures would get this well. And then we find rhetorically-charged Greek words, in playful syntax, phonology, and lexicon: κριματι κρινετε κριθησεσθε, and ‘υποκριτα εκβαλε πρωτον την δοκον εκ… This is all mixed with the theological terms of Greek mythologies: και εις πυρ βαλλεται, and later Α(ι)δου. How does what we call The Lord’s Prayer use the terms of Greek mythologies (of the LXX) for the respective positions of the intecessor(s) and their Theos.

    The very name Iesou(s) is an allusion to the post-Pentateuch sixth book of the LXX, to its Hebrew wordplay on the name of that book’s hero. The very use of parthenon (and not some other term for virgin) for the mother of Jesus is a reference to the stories of Greek demigoddesses.

    Is the message always so clear, always clearly on the surface?

  83. J. K. Gayle says:

    Evidence beyond the gospels:

    You’ve already brought up, as exceptional, the “introduction to Luke.” How about the introduction to John’s gospel? Doesn’t it hearken back to LXX Genesis, a play against Hesiod’s Theogony itself, and which alludes to the Greek problems with the construct of “logos.”? How about the introduction book of Hebrews, which sounds an awful lot like the introduction to the Odyssey? How about the opener to the epistle of Yakaav (aka “James”)? It, like the opener to the Book of Hebrews, also plays on alliterations of the letter, Pi, as if there’s something significant signaled by this repetitive, initial voiceless bilabial stop. πᾶσαν … πειρασμοῖς περιπέσητε ποικίλοις, πίστεως κατεργάζεται ὑπομονήν• (As you may know, Julie Galambush, a biblical scholar who’s converted to Judaism from Christianity, says we may understand the letter of James not as “’Judaising,’ but as simply Jewish,” a claim warranted in large part by how the writer uses Greek. See The Reluctant Parting: How the New Testament’s Jewish Writers Created a Christian Book. Galambush, like Jewish NT translator Willis Barnstone, is interested in restoring the lost Jewishness of the NT, of James, of Peter, of Paul. Barnstone, moreover, is interested in a “literary literal” translation. Peter’s letters are written to the 12 tribes.

    Paul, of course, writes to those in Rome, not in the official Latin, which Luke’s Acts suggests this Roman citizen knows, but in Greek. He calls the Romans “barbarians” and writes to the “Jew first and then the Greek.” In what we call chapter 12, he explicitly advises worship of God by these two groups to be “logical.” If we don’t recognize this as “rhetorical,” then our English translations of τὴν λογικὴν λατρείαν ὑμῶν, make it “spiritual” or “truly the way” or “appropriate” (better) “intelligent” (Young’s) or (even better) “reasonable” (KJV). “Logike” is a marked term, a highly determined Greek phrase, used only this once in the entire NT. Paul’s letter to Philemon contains rhetorical plays on the recipient’s name, a play on Onesimus’ name, chiasma (more than one) that Ernst mentions, reversals, understatement, and so forth and so on. To the Korinthians, there are the allusions to the plays of Euripides already noted. And I think we could go on and on like this. (One could write a dissertation on John’s epistles and on the ApoKalypse and how meanings are hidden in the literary Greek structures, poetry and rhetoric.)

    Is the message always so clear, always clearly on the surface?

  84. CD-Host says:

    JK —

    I agree with everything you wrote, excellent examples. I would make one comment regarding the LXX. Remember at the time that the Talmud is being written Hellenistic Judaism is being written out of Judaism as a legitimate branch. Just as the early Christian rewrote history so that we had an evolution of:

    ancient Judaism -> 1st century palestinian judaism -> Petrine Christianity -> Pauline Christianity -> Catholic Christianity

    the Rabbinic Judaism movement was rewriting history so that

    ancient judaism -> Hasmodian Judaism -> Pharisaic Judaism -> Rabbinic Judaism with everything else being dead branches.

    Certainly the LXX is a translation, but like a translation today it served to advance and unify particular sect’s interests. The attacks in the Talmud are meant as attacks against those sects.

  85. J. K. Gayle says:

    Certainly the LXX is a translation, but like a translation today it served to advance and unify particular sect’s interests.

    A great reminder, CD-Host. From the earliest reception(s) of the Septuagint to the politically charged ones today, how to read it depends less on linguistics, qua linguistics, and more on one’s theology. We have to admire Albert Pietersma and his NETS team, then, for recognizing how their difficult task in translating the LXX (again) into English involved rendering a rendering. They were careful, therefore, not to ignore the Greek forms for some sort of ironic DE “linguistic” theory that would, as Plato’s Socrates did, get at the message or meaning “behind” the language while discounting the very meaningfulnesses of that language.

    When translating a translation (which is what LXX and NT translators always have to do), the translators have to decide on their theology (i.e., whether “evangelical”) and their epistemology (i.e., whether “platonic”) even if they claim, rather, that they are only being “linguistic” (or somehow culturally transcendent of theology and politics and epistemology).

    The argument about reading levels, in this thread, it seems to me, can really only legitimately start after one concedes his or her presuppositions, that they are political, theological, and epistemological. (This is a bit of a curve ball, but I’d say that James Murphy’s English translation of Hitler’s Mein Kampf was Dynamically Equivalent to the German. But we notice how, for his American audience, this Nazi propagandist would use target-audience heart language, such as “a self-evident and natural fact.” It was the message, the meaning, and not the German language that the translator was after, for a grander metanarrative above or behind the original.)

  86. ERNST WENDLAND says:

    “I’m convinced, at least at this point, that your filter with respect to the rhetorical functions of NT Greek is still too fine. Your ‘terministic screen’ – that is, your unquestioned assumption that ‘the message’ must be universally explicit and a-culturally perspicuous – may keep you from seeing the evidence or from opening yourselves to the possibility that there’s another logical starting point.”
    I did not mean to imply this, Kurk. One of the early problems with the DE approach was its focus on “content” (however deep or layered) or “the message” (without always clearly defining what that meant). This was coupled with the assumption that it is (or was) possible to communicate all of the intended (or inscribed) “meaning” of the biblical text (Hebrew or Greek) in a translation. Over the years early DE advocates (like myself) have come to see the inadequacy of these perspectives. There’s much more meaning in terms of the text and its presumed extratextual context than meets the eye. One solution that we have been promoting then is the use of “study Bibles” with expository notes that can provide at least some of the necessary hermeneutical frames that the translation cannot give and yet are needed for its fuller understanding. I appreciated all the examples that you took the time to give us, in particular, those that reflect the Bible’s Jewish background throughout. Finally, I hope that you don’t feel that my “terministic screen” will one day prove fatal!

  87. J. K. Gayle says:

    Ernst,
    Thanks for the kind, and clear, reply. If anyone knows the jargon of rhetorical criticism here in this conversation, you do! I think I already said so publicly how much I appreciate your work in Prophetic Rhetoric: Case Studies in Text Analysis and Translation. Now, I love your pun on “terministic screen” (a coinage and critical concept of the late, and amazing, Kenneth Burke: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_Burke ). Please know that I didn’t at all mean to pigeonhole your take DE much less your present views and practices with regard to Bible translation. I’m sorry to have done that, if I did, and see now how you were moving toward agreement with where Peter Kirk was as much as you can.

    The solution you propose to the inadequacies of straight (i.e., orthodox) DE theory and practice seems very strong and promising. In another online conversation elsewhere, didn’t you suggest that how expository notes could be useful depends on which audiences would get them and what the material conditions might be by which such notes could be produced?

    Pietersma and his team, it seems to me, has actually flipped around your proposed solution. Their translation of the LXX into English is very far from DE; it follows the Greek quite closely in syntax, semantics, metaphor, and even in some cases phonology; and yet they put notes of meanings as a pre-text essay “To the Reader” and use a few footnotes as well. There’s great effort to acknowledge LXX Rahlfs and LXX Weaver and MT and NRSV for guides to aspects of language, such as syntax. Of course, there’s the reference to Thompson’s English and Brenton’s English (and in the case of the NETS Genesis to Marguerite Harl’s French), and to various exegetical commentaries. The reader of the translation is informed, and the text of the translation is quite readable English I must add. (I can’t say how Israeli and other Jewish scholars who read English would judge it; but there is enough discussion “to the reader” about the original LXX translator’s choices that one can get a fair sense of the struggle in rendering Hebrew to Hellene for political and poetical and rhetorical and theological purposes.) I think Robert Alter flips around your proposed solution too. Doesn’t he call it “the heresy of explanation” when a translator translates the meaning but not so much for forms, exegeting so the reader loses access to the Hebrew? He renders the Hebrew (with an eye on the LXX when needed) into English that mirrors the original. Then he puts into footnotes the meanings that might be there.

    What do you think of translations that are more literary and formal equivalence but that — in the footnotes or in introductory notes — do what DE translations try to do?

  88. Nemo says:

    One solution that we have been promoting then is the use of “study Bibles” with expository notes that can provide at least some of the necessary hermeneutical frames that the translation cannot give and yet are needed for its fuller understanding.

    I strongly favor this solution, not only for the improvement of DE versions, but also for the more literal versions, which need as much explication as the others. We must get away from the old notion that the meaning can be conveyed to the common people by translation alone, without comment.

  89. Mike Sangrey says:

    I think Rich does a nice job in Blind, but now I see. Relative to the discussion here about literacy and readability, I suspect those less literate than the BBB audience would have more difficulty with the ESV rendering as compared to Rich’s.

    Compare the ESV with Rich’s proposal:

    8The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” (ESV)

    8His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some said “It is”. Others said, “No, he just looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “It is me.” (NIV/TNIV, modified)

    As Rich shows in his posting, a DE approach can increase accuracy as well as naturalness and clarity.

  90. Mike Sangrey says:

    I guess I’m going to risk sounding argumentative (I don’t mean to), but I’m sitting here picturing one of those balance scales.

    Weighing in on the one side is the amount of time and money spent on producing explanations about what the Bible means in various places. Seminary libraries and church lobby discussions and so forth raise the heap to a size I can’t even imagine. On the other side of the scales is the amount of time and money spent teaching exegetes how language works.

    Call me simple minded; but, I think there is an issue here.

  91. Nemo says:

    on the one side … on the other side

    Then the preacher will say what he has to say. And that will have more weight and more effect than all our versions and commentaries. Alas!

  92. ERNST WENDLAND says:

    Kurk: “What do you think of translations that are more literary and formal equivalence but that — in the footnotes or in introductory notes — do what DE translations try to do?”

    Mike: “Weighing in on the one side is the amount of time and money spent on producing explanations about what the Bible means in various places….On the other side of the scales is the amount of time and money spent teaching exegetes how language works.”

    Good questions about the practice of study-Bible production! As to what type of version to use as the text, a FC or a DE version, again, it depends on your primary target readership. Here in my part of Africa, we favor a DE (“common language”) version as the text, but then refer to the already existing and familiar FC (“missionary version”) regularly in the footnotes, especially when there are major differences in wording between them. In the case of English versions, you may well wish to reverse this procedure, as Kurk has suggested—that is, use a more literal version like ESV as the text, and then give a selection of DE (or functional renderings) in the notes (e.g., GNT, NLT, CEV, even “The Message”). These translational citations would be in addition to other types of source-context-oriented background notes (historical, political, Jewish cultural, etc.). I think that this would be a very helpful procedure. In my area I have proposed the production of a diglot version, that is, the FC and DE versions side by side as co-translations with the footnotes referring to both—the aim being to produce a more complete reference version for local pastors and Bible teachers who have very little access to such study resources. However, such a version may well prove to be too complicated and expensive to produce—perhaps also too sophisticated a tool for efficient use.

    That brings up Mike’s point and all the effort (and expense) necessary to produce a good study Bible. Having worked on two such versions in the NT (Chewa in Malawi and Tonga in Zambia), I can verify that concern. Both versions have taken us a decade, just for the NT! In many ways your note composers and editors have to be even more qualified and competent than your original translators because they must be able to generate meaningful, readable, contextualized, non-controversial, and concise (!) commentary with reference to the biblical text via its vernacular translation. I better not go into more detail about this elaborate process here, but if anyone is interested in some of the major challenges involved, I might refer you to chapter 7 in “LiFE-Style Translating” (the 2nd, 2011 edition).

    But to draw this to a close, I might return to the original subject of this blog line, “What must we think about Eugene Nida?” It was Gene, probably himself recognizing the limitations of the DE approach to Bible translation, who introduced the basic theory and practice of study Bibles production to Africa in a 1987 (as I recall) workshop in Nairobi, Kenya. This led to the development of the first sub-Saharan study Bible in an African language, Swahili, and then the second, Chewa. Many more are currently in production all over the continent. Again, I am grateful to Gene for his foresight and initiative in this regard.

  93. J. K. Gayle says:

    Ernst,
    What you propose, it seems to me, busts up the typical either-or choice forced upon readers of Bible translations. One of the weaknesses of Nida’s DE theory is that it actually presupposes and works from this very limited binary.

    Ken Pike’s, Eunice Pike’s, Evelyn Pike’s, Bob Longacre’s, Willis Barnstone’s, Robert Alter’s, Everett Fox’s, Lynnell Zogbo’s, Jin Di’s and your own theory and practice of language and of translating go well beyond the duality of DE versions VS FC versions or FC versions VS DE versions. Unfortunately, readers are too often presented with the choice, as if either DE or FC is all that there can be.

    For example, here’s a recently published study of readers’ views of Bible translation versions, and the reader preferences. One report starts in this way:

    “Most American Bible readers prefer word-for-word translations of the original Greek and Hebrew over thought-for-thought translations, saying they value accuracy over readability, according to a new LifeWay Research study.”

    http://www.sbcbaptistpress.org/BPnews.asp?ID=36212

  94. Ernst Wendland says:

    Right, Kurk, many of us think that the age of the “one size fits all” type of Bible translation, whether FC or DE, is over–except for those who don’t like to consider other options. What are these options, and how do we decide among them? Some of us have been using the “frames of reference” model (i.e., evaluating sociocultural, organizational, communicative, and [inter]textual frames), but there are undoubtedly other methods of investigating a potential target audience/readership and making its members aware of what may be done to develop a translation that will best suit their user needs.

    Of course, the larger the receptor group, the broader these options must become. Ideally, a lot of pre-project research needs to be done too, along with ongoing “product testing” as the translation is being carried out, to keep people involved in the project and to receive their reactions. This might include providing alternative translations for significant or controversial passages–along with explanations as to how and why each rendering differs.

    One certainly cannot satisfy everyone’s preferences all of the time, but if prominent trends and priorities can be determined by such testing, the final version will hopefully turn out to be more acceptable to the majority. To be sure, a plan like this would require rather large, competent, committed, and well-coordinated “editorial” and “review” committees (in addition to the translators themselves), but if we want to confront the challenge and carry out the task in the way it should be done–also in view of the nature of the text concerned!–then it will be worth all the resources necessary to produce it.

  95. Rich Shields says:

    Very interesting discussion. I appreciate the tone of discussion, but also the need for clarity when even discussing the topic, let alone producing a translation. I hope that my participation does not detract or sidetrack the discussion.

    As one who comes from a Lutheran liturgical background and serving as pastor of a Lutheran congregation, one of the areas I try to bring back into translation discussions is the liturgical use of translations. By that I mean liturgical responses, litanies, creedal songs, etc. as well as hymnody; so it is far more influential in the church than just the sermon text or personal/group Bible study. It involves shut-in visits, hospital visits, and the communion practice outside the context of the regular worship service, etc.

    I suspect, Ernst, you, too, have faced such concerns. This seems to relate to “readability” but also usability of a translation within the worship life of the Church, the original context of the NT development and use. For example, not considering any other issues, the NIV reads well, but is less adapted to liturgical use. On the other hand, ESV can be a struggle at times as far as reading, but is more consistent in liturgical use. Twenty + years ago, the congregations I served were test congregations for NET, later called GW. That was always a challenge to address these numerous, and at times, competing interests.

    I seldom hear this discussed on translation lists/blogs, perhaps because so many translators do not come from an historic liturgical background (that is not meant as a derogatory, but an observation). But interestingly at least 85% (I’ve seen numbers as high as 90 and as low as 80) of the world Christian population comes from a liturgical background.

    So, my question would be, how can linguistics and the entire discussion above provide a liturgically viable translation?

    (This also relates to another issue I like to call “continuity of faith expression,” which comes in the public confession of the faith in worship and in personal devotional use, which is done together by the 5 year old and the 85 year old Christians.)

    Rich

  96. CD-Host says:

    Rich —

    I think liturgical use is rather unique in that things like clarity and accuracy, which normally are extremely important, take more of a back seat to verbal issues.
    I think with liturgical translation the focus needs to be on either (and these are exclusive):

    a) Verbal comprehension
    b) Elegance

    For verbal comprehension I think the Voice does a nice job. Very dynamic, restructures the text and and includes commentary in the text. Its the sort of bible that someone unfamiliar with the text could actually follow by just listening.

    For elegance its hard to beat the KJV. The formality of the ESV can often lead to tongue twisting sentences and verbal comprehension is rather low on that one. I think the REB provides at least as much elegance as the ESV, with better accuracy and better comprehension.

    Frankly if I had a church that would be the pew bible.

  97. Ernst Wendland says:

    Rich and CD:
    You both bring up the important issue of a “liturgical” version, one that is suitable for use in public worship. Eugene Nida (to mention the original subject of this blog line), though his primary focus of attention was elsewhere, did not ignore this type of a translation, which he often referred to under the category of a “literary” translation, one that uses a style of language that is “intended to be esthetically pleasing, characterized by careful, often elaborate use of words and grammatical and stylistic devices” (TAPOT, p. 205). Of course, one’s particular religious background and history of Bible translation use also plays a major role here. Generally speaking, a liturgical version will tend to be more formally correspondent in nature–yet hopefully not woodenly so (like ESV). I have also heard others recommend the REB in this connection.

    Just another point to make in this connection: Often a denomination’s recommended liturgical translation will turn out to be the version that is normally used in that church’s general publications program, including materials prepared for Christian education (youth and adult) as well as evangelism. So these factors too need to be taken into consideration when selecting a denomination’s “primary” translation (if the church happens to function in such a centralized manner).

    I too come from a church body with a strong liturgical tradition (WELS Lutheran) so I realize how complicated and at times controversial these issues can become, for example, when a new general “church version” is being considered for selection (in our case now that the old NIV will no longer be published or supported). The principle to encourage is that all these discussions and debates should be held on the basis of understanding (regarding the principles of Bible translation, the various options involved, etc.) and in an irenic spirit of give-and-take, with a willingness to compromise for the good of the whole body (and Body).

  98. CD-Host says:

    Ernst —

    I agree with what you wrote.

    Just another point to make in this connection: Often a denomination’s recommended liturgical translation will turn out to be the version that is normally used in that church’s general publications program, including materials prepared for Christian education (youth and adult) as well as evangelism. So these factors too need to be taken into consideration when selecting a denomination’s “primary” translation (if the church happens to function in such a centralized manner).

    In that case it isn’t a liturgical translation but an all purpose translation. In which case they are going to have to pick a translation which damages some of those activities to prioritize others. I agree that it is the norm for churches to settle on one all purpose translation, I just don’t think it is a good idea.

  99. Ernst Wendland says:

    CD-Host:

    I agree, denominations should be able to select different types and styles of translation for different audiences and purposes–public liturgy and worship, doctrinal statements, private devotion, youth education/ catechetics, adult Bible study (where several different versions may be profitably compared), evangelistic outreach, and so forth. The problem, I guess, arises from the time and expense required to gather and prepare printed resource materials for all these functions, including dealing with copyright-related issues. So for many churches, and their official publication agencies, a single all-purpose version often has to be chosen, one that needs to be acceptable, first of all, in the worship setting. But perhaps those interested in educating people about Bible translation in general as well as in specifics could begin with the use of various versions in smaller study groups (where the number of copies and the size of text reproduced would not be an issue) and work out from there into the congregation or larger fellowship. Just a thought…

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