Translator in the translation

This is an interesting meditation on Bible translation: First, it is a notice about yet another English Bible translation becoming available, and then a commentary on that. I’m not really aware of this new translation from Thomas Nelson Publishing, but Rev. Ken Klaus of Lutheran Hour Ministries reveals a few things he knows about it and then expresses his concern. Instead of “Christ,” Jesus is called “the Anointed One.” Instead of being called “apostles,” the twelve are called “emissaries.” I wrote a blog post here more than a year ago about the translation of logos in John’s gospel chapter one, and this new translation uses “the Voice.” Some of the wordings (or maybe many of the wordings, as I haven’t seen it yet) are not what one is accustomed to.

The LHM devotional writer’s concern is that he senses the presence of the translator in the translation rather than hearing the voice of God: “Wow! I can’t speak for you, but I see a lot of translator and not a lot of God. Now I would not condemn this new translation. The Holy Spirit has managed to accomplish His purpose by using good translations and bad translations. He can do the same here. That being said, I would urge you to use a translation where the Lord shines clearly and without a translator’s filter.”

There is certainly something to be said for familiar, traditional wordings of the Bible as we read it in translation. I think there is also something to be said for starting afresh and saying things in a new way. The only way I can make sense of these comments about the problem of hearing the voice of the translator in the translation is that the wording is non-traditional. The Bible doesn’t sound here they way we are accustomed to hearing it sound.

16 thoughts on “Translator in the translation

  1. bobmacdonald says:

    The translator is always in the translation. If not the translator then the translation team. How could it be otherwise? And how does God speak through his word except as mediated by the person/persons who wrote the text?

  2. Mike Sangrey says:

    Good questions Bob, I wondered the same thing. I’d like to find some time to comment more fully, but one point I thought of sharing is that all communication is a shared experience. Even the hearer/reader is “IN” the translation.

    The trick is for the community of people to find shared ways of mitigating the “IN-ness” we all bring both individually and corporately. And yet, it’s the shared experience (unavoidably coupled with the “IN-ness”) that brings the changes we so very much need.

    That is, we can’t get the text into us unless we enter into the text.

    And, as I see it, it’s the text being in our language that makes the shared experience powerful and effective. Otherwise, the speaker and hearer speak and hear past each other.

  3. bobmacdonald says:

    Nice point Mike – there is mediation (IN-ness) everywhere in the writing, editing, reading, hearing process. What then is our entry point? For many, it is through a particular tradition, confession, etc. The traditions that are ‘in Christ’ in the sense that ‘Christ’ indicates and points to Jesus as one who has the Anointing Spirit without measure, those traditions will have a shared language that they seem to enter by. For those who come to Teaching within the earlier tradition – these being ‘in God’ (e.g. Ps 3:3 Hebrew numbering), the language is different, but the Spirit is the same. This troubles some. How then does our mutual IN-ness work without trouble? I.e. accomplish the work that the same Jesus came to do – that they might all be one and fulfill the command of the Shema.

    I love the sense that the final mitsvah is to write one’s own Torah. Theophrastus mentioned this to me some long time ago. The reference seems to be to Deuteronomy 31:19: כִּתְבוּ לָכֶם אֶת-הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת – write for yourselves this song – it is for teaching the בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, and as a witness for יְהוָה and against the בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל. (Some lists don’t give this as the final Mitsvah.)

    If as Christians believe, there is one mediator between God and humanity, himself a human, then to read with this one is to read from inside. Such a reading paradoxically requires Christians to go outside the tradition of reading only the NT in depth. The call for me to do such was when I realized that the Psalms contain this mediation – as the writer to the Hebrews so completely implies in that writer’s reading and homily from the Psalms.

  4. Christoff says:

    I have to agree, there seems to be lots more worry about keeping up with traditional rendering from earlier bibles than truly being more accurate or readable. Readability is not about sounding up to date, but about the actual text itself being understood by the reader – as the author intended it to be understood. Otherwise it comes down to interpretation by a religious elite…. Opposition always comes from church leaders, which then filters down to their followers. This is why we have King James Onlyism. If people were able to think rationally they would realise that a new, expositional bible which is translated with the Holy Spirit, which is much easier to read, would actually be a boon to Christians, old and new!

    This fear of change (Not all change is bad) stifles the church, its killing it. Its not about being worldly or making concessions, but about bringing the word of God to a new generation who is crying out for it, who truly and honestly cannot grasp a translation, and wording, intended for people 400 years ago!

    These pastors who put fear in the minds of Christians via sermons and online blogs will have to answer to God himself…. They [should] believe that God is capable of guiding his people to truth. God is! and in fact does, through these new translations!

    I truly hope that they come to their senses and embrace these new translations and actually read them, if they see a problem, why not send a letter to the publishers? Instead of judging and condemning based on two words, which if they checked their Strong’s concordance would see its a perfectly accurate rendering.

  5. Kirsty says:

    How can someone complain about translating ‘Christ’ as ‘the Anointed One’ – considering that’s what the word means? It’s not some novel new interpretation. The only difference is that if you use ‘Christ’ you’re not actually translating at all. Ditto with apostles/emissaries.

  6. David Frank says:

    Christoff, I have edited your comments slightly. It should be obvious to the reader where I did, with the use of ellipses and square brackets. I admire your passion but we just don’t want this to be a place where enemies are made. I think your point is still intact. I suppose you have read the original post about this modern English Bible translation so you know what the devotional writer was actually saying. It sounds like you are also more familiar with this new translation that is being discussed than I am. I admire your passion for communicating Bible truths in a way that is relevant and understandable to this generation, and I pray you put that energy to good work spreading the Good News.

  7. David Frank says:

    Kristy, I agree with your point that sometimes when people think they are translating, they are only transliterating. “Christ” is a transliterated Greek word. Sometimes translation isn’t easy, but transliterating is not translating. As you point out, the same is true for “apostles.” This new English Bible translation seems to be making a point of not just using Hebrew or Greek words, and instead trying to find a normal English equivalent, thus translating and not transliterating. While this translation might not be perfect, I can appreciate what they were trying to do.

  8. David Frank says:

    I’ll add a little more to the dialogue I was just having with Christoff and with Kristy, in sympathy with what they were saying. I looked up the link that Mike Sangrey gave above, and here is a quote: “The Voice more carefully, and with the greatest respect for the original manuscripts, translates what other versions have failed to complete in their translations… Unlike most modern translations we have not dropped any verses and have not avoided translating the more difficult words.”

  9. David Frank says:

    Bob MacDonald, of course you are right that the translator is always in the translation. To be fair to the LHM devotional we are discussing, the author does acknowledge that fact, and I hope I haven’t misrepresented what he said. Check it out for yourself. I think the point was that when reading an English Bible, he didn’t want to be aware of the translator. It is a matter of awareness, obviousness. My point was that the only way I could understand this “visibility of the translator” problem in this case is that it seems to be caused by the use of non-traditional wordings. That is, if the wording of the Bible is not what I am accustomed to, then that contributes to the feeling that I am hearing the voice of the translator and not of God (or the original human authors). Or maybe he is saying that the foreign sound of the translations he is accustomed to contributes to the feeling that he is hearing the voice of God, and that is lost in modern English translations that translate rather than transliterate Hebrew and Greek words.

  10. David Frank says:

    I am not sure “Voice” is the ideal translation of logos in John’s gospel chapter one, but as I wrote in an earlier post, I don’t think “Word” is either. We seem to have gotten stuck in a rut with that one, in English Bible translations.

  11. J. K. Gayle says:

    I’ve enjoyed your post and, more, the conversation around it. For me, I really appreciate a fresh translation too, when it works. The bits of “The Voice” I’ve seen (as if hearing) make me unsure about buying it or reading it.

    Here’s a review by my co-blogger Theophrastus, who does own the new Bible translation and who focuses particularly on how the Hebrew is rendered (and on the physical quality of the volume as well):

  12. David Frank says:

    Thanks for the link, Kurk. I read it, and while I was at it I read a number of other interesting posts by you and Theophrastus. I appreciate you guys. You are very thoughtful and are better scholars than I am.

  13. Rich Rhodes says:

    I’ve said this before in several posts, but it has been a while, so I might as well say it afresh.

    The word Christ has effectively become Jesus’ last name. In modern English it is devoid of semantic content. That’s the opposite of the Greek. There is a perfectly good word in English for exactly what Χρίστος meant to the original audience — Messiah.

    The knee jerk reaction that a new translation “doesn’t sound like God” comes from the fact that, to all intents and purposes, all serious Christians have engaged the Scripture in translation long before they learned any of the original languages. That sound of a particular translation is the unacknowledged elephant in the room. It lets us think that we can lightly critique something that requires one to know quite a bit about the original languages.

  14. Bobber says:

    “I am not sure ‘Voice’ is the ideal translation of logos in John’s gospel chapter one, but as I wrote in an earlier post, I don’t think ‘Word’ is either. We seem to have gotten stuck in a rut with that one, in English Bible translations.”

    Agreed, but the essential meaning of logos is ‘expression.’ That ‘expression’ can be either verbal or written (which is why ‘Word’ makes at least some sense), or creative (the logos became flesh). But ‘voice’? The ‘voice’ became flesh? The word is logos, not legoo. Strikes me as being different for the sake of being different.

  15. Mike Tisdell says:

    While I do agree with many of the comments made by those supporting “The Voice,” I still think this is a very bad translation.

    Some thoughts:

    Translating “Christ” as “The Anointed one” is reasonable and it does cause people to think a little about what “Christ” means rather than simply thinking that it is Jesus’ last name. The only concern I have is that in some denominations they refer to a pastor as “the anointed” (not something I would do) and this version may cause some confusion within these circles. Additionally, I don’t think that “the anointed” carries with it the same messianic overtones as it did to those in the first century.

    Translating “Apostles” as “emissaries” may miss an aspect of a title that seems to be present in this word (especially when used in regards to the twelve and Paul).

    I am far more concerned issues like the unilateral translation of kurios as “The eternal one” because it stresses eternal existence where as kurios (Lord) stresses authority. Similarly, I am concerned with the Translation of Torah (Law) as simply “word” because also seems to minimize authority. I am also concerned with the added embellishments to the biblical text that add new meaning that was never part of the original text and with the commentary that is an integral part of this translation.

    Here is an example from Psalm 1:2

    The Hebrew text:

    כִּ֤י אִ֥ם בְּתוֹרַ֥ת יְהוָ֗ה חֶ֫פְצ֥וֹ וּֽבְתוֹרָת֥וֹ יֶהְגֶּ֗ה יוֹמָ֥ם וָלָֽיְלָה

    The Voice Translation:

    “For you, the Eternal One’s Word is your happiness.
    It is your focus – from dusk to dawn
    And in the nights that separate the two – you are consumed with its message.”

    I would allow a little more room for the translation of “Eternal one” as a valid meaning of YHWH, although I am still uncomfortable with it, but when this is done in the NT as a translation of kurios (Lord) I think this is very problematic. I am far more uncomfortable with translation of “Torah” as “word,” “Chaphats” as “happiness,” and “yomam vaLaylah” (day and night) as “from dusk to dawn and in the nights that separate the two.” While the original text indicates a continual longing/desire (chaphats) (day and night) for God’s law which is a central theme in this text, this translation has made the theme to be about “our happiness” (rather narcissistic in my mind) and for some reason they decided that our focus on “the Eternal One’s word” is something that happens only in the dead of night i.e. between dusk and dawn. The commentary that accompanies this Psalm makes the intent of this translation even more clear, it reads:

    “The emphasis in this psalm is on “the Eternal One’s Word,” which is followed immediately by the phrase “is your happiness.” God wants us to stay centered on His unyielding love for us that brings us “happiness.” With that in mind, what will we do? Will we be tossed by the winds of the world’s demands, left and deserted and alone, or will we follow the way of the Eternal One for our own happiness?

    Focus: never take your eyes off the goal. The goal is happiness in the presence of the Eternal One, and the path is His Word to us. The distraction is the world and it’s attractions. Focus.”

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