Target audience of the BLB

In a Gallup Poll dated October, 2000, the percentage of people who read the Bible has declined from 73% in the 1980’s to 59%, broken down into the following categories:

16% read it every day
21% read it weekly

12% read it monthly
10% read it less than monthly
41% rarely or never read it

Since The Better Life Bible is geared to people who read the Bible less than an hour per week, it has the potential to be useful to at least 63% of the population of American English speakers, including:

~ people who rarely or never attend church
~ busy professionals who work a lot of hours
~ people who rarely read books, magazines or newspapers
~ people who don’t take the time to read footnotes or endnotes
~ multilingual speakers who’ve learned English as their second language
~ people who are embarrassed to ask others about terms they don’t understand
~ readers who don’t have Bible study resources, such as a Bible dictionary or commentaries

If your family, friends and coworkers are similar to mine, you can probably name many who fall into at least one of these categories and could benefit from The Better Life Bible.

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Kingdom of God and EXOUSIA

Two terms that are somewhat related occur frequently throughout the New Testament. The first term is kingdom, which is usually perceived as a government in which the king imposes his will on a nation, allowing the people little or no choice in determining the course of their lives. This perception doesn’t fit the kingdom of God because God doesn’t impose his will on us but allows us the freedom to determine the course of our lives.

When people describe the kingdom of God as the kingdom in which God rules, I think it implies that God imposes his will on people. To avoid this misconception, I suggest describing the kingdom of God as a community of people who freely choose to follow God’s advice for a better life.

The other term that occurs frequently in the NT is the Greek word EXOUSIA, which the King James Version most often translates as power or authority. Although the Greek lexicon (dictionary) by Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich lists the first definition of EXOUSIA as freedom of choice, the KJV reflects this in only three instances:

liberty – 1 Corinthians 8:9
right — Hebrews 13:10 and Revelation 22:14

There are several other contexts in which EXOUSIA conveys the idea of freedom of choice. For example, in 1 Corinthians 9:4 the freedom to eat and drink is more in focus than the ability to do so. To clarify this, many translations use the word right instead of power:

Have we not power to eat and to drink? KJV
Do we have no right to eat and drink? NKJV RSV NIV CEV

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Generic use of "son"

As I was revising my translation of Luke’s gospel, I noticed the Greek term son (huios) in Luke 20:34, where the Revised Standard Version translates it literally:

… the sons of this age marry and are given in marriage. RSV

The context indicates that Jesus is referring to marriage in general, so other versions clarify this by translating sons generically as children, people, or men and women:

… the children of this world marry and are given in marriage. KJV
… the people of this age marry and are given in marriage. NIV
… the men and women of this age marry. TEV
… the people in this world get married. CEV

This verse presents a problem for Bible scholars who insist that masculine Greek terms refer only to males. If we applied their view to this text, we would conclude that Jesus meant it was customary for men to marry other men at that time. People who tend to pull verses out of context might consider using this verse to support homosexual marriage, at least between men. But I don’t think the scholars I referred to would be very pleased about that, so I hope they realize that masculine Greek terms don’t only refer to men, and I hope they reconsider how they interpret other texts in the Bible where masculine Greek terms are used.

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Translating the genitive construction

One of the most frequent Greek grammatical constructions in the New Testament (occurring thousands of times) is what grammarians call the “genitive construction.” English translations often reflect this with the preposition of as in the love of God. In Intermediate New Testament Greek, Richard Young lists 20 different meanings that the genitive construction can convey, including description, possession, relationship, comparison, manner, means, reason, and purpose.

The genitive construction occurs three times in the phrase the kingdom of the son of the love of him (Colossians 1:13). Since each genitive construction can convey 20 possible meanings, there could be as many as 8,000 (20x20x20) possible interpretations of such a phrase. However, the meaning of the nouns and their context reduce that number significantly.

In the Colossians text, none of the following translations rephrases the first genitive construction, the kingdom of the son. The translators apparently felt that the meaning is clear in that form. But most of the translations (even the King James Version) rephrase the second and third genitive constructions (the son of the love of him) to convey the meaning his dear Son, or the Son he loves.

the kingdom of his dear/beloved Son – KJV, NASV, RSV, TEV, CEV, NEB, GNC, NLT, Phillips, Source

the kingdom of the Son he loves – NIV, Jerusalem Bible, God’s Word, Message

The New King James Version rephrases only the third genitive construction (the love of him) to convey the meaning His love:

the kingdom of the Son of His love

As one can see, the more literal a translation is, the less clear and natural it tends to be. This is particularly evident in the literal translation of the Greek: the kingdom of the son of the love of him.

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Translating quotes

While my wife and I were working with the Gola people of Liberia in the ‘70’s, we attended a Bible translation course led by Dr. Lee Ballard, a consultant with the United Bible Societies. About that time, he wrote an article entitled Telling It Like It Was Said (published in Notes on Translation by Wycliffe Bible Translators). In the article, he discusses why translators often translate direct quotes in Greek as indirect quotes, and sometimes the opposite. He also discusses the problems associated with quotes within a quote, such as in John 19:21:

Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews’, but ‘He said, “I am the King of the Jews.” ’ ” (New King James Version)

Such a three-level quote is difficult to follow. Note the three quotation marks at the end of the verse. Other translations such as God’s Word reduce the three-level quote to two levels by making the last quote indirect (He said that he is the king of the Jews). Note that only two quotation marks are needed at the end of the verse.

The chief priests of the Jewish people told Pilate, “Don’t write, ‘The king of the Jews!’ Instead, write, ‘He said that he is the king of the Jews.’ ”

Other translations such as the New International Version modify the three-level quote a different way so that only one quotation mark is needed at the end of the verse.

The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”

In the The Better Life Bible, I also translate direct quotes in Greek frequently as indirect quotes so the meaning is conveyed clearly and naturally for my target audience.

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Translating metonymy in Acts 11:22

In Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (1,100 pp.), E.W. Bullinger catalogued over 200 distinct figures of speech, several of them with 30-40 varieties. Bullinger defines a figure as a word or sentence thrown into a peculiar form, different from its original or simplest meaning or use.

Acts 11:22 contains the figure of speech called metonymy, in which one noun is substituted for another noun closely related in meaning. The New King James Version (and several other English translations) conveys this figure as it appears in the Greek manuscripts:

Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem …

Here the noun ears is substituted for their function, namely, hearing. Since ears of the church is not a common expression in English, the New Living Translation conveys the same idea in a more natural manner:

When the church at Jerusalem heard what had happened …

Since ears is associated with church, readers may visualize the church as a building rather than a group of people. If so, church would also be a metonymy, in which the building is substituted for the people who meet there, namely, Jesus’ followers. In my initial translation of The Better Life Bible, I’ve combined these two instances of metonymy, ears and church, in a way that is more clear and natural for my target audience:

When Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem heard that…

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Potential Bible Translators

When Philip asked the Ethiopian (Acts 8:31) if he understood what he was reading from the prophet Isaiah, he replied, How can I, unless someone guides me?

This reminds me of an article entitled Translators Are Born, Not Made by Dr. Eugene Nida (published in The Bible Translator by the United Bible Society). After discussing with experienced translators and teachers of translation what the key element of successful translation is likely to be, Dr. Nida concluded that the most important factor for potential Bible translators is creative imagination, which involves the following:

A capacity to spot problems in the source-language text (e.g., Greek), to detect things which are difficult to understand and things which can have more than one meaning (e.g., foundation of the apostles – Ephesians 2:20)

An ability to spot statements which do not really make sense (e.g., less than the least – Ephesians 3:8)

An ability to recognize figurative expressions which at first sight appear to be completely non-figurative (e.g., filled with the Spirit – Ephesians 5:18)

An ability to recognize mixed figures of speech, which produce serious problems in transferring thoughts from one language to another (e.g., rooted in love – Ephesians 3:17)

An ability to recognize the potential problems of transferring meaning into another language (e.g., God and Father – Ephesians 1:3)

A capacity to recognize expressions that could appear to be contradictions in a given language (e.g., sweet-smelling sacrifice – Ephesians 5:2)

A capacity to sense ways of communicating meaningfully in a particular language

Dr. Nida concludes his article by stating that one key to the potential ability of a person to be a translator is their deep-seated dissatisfaction with existing translations and their creative use of words in wanting to explain to people what these wooden and often misleading translations are really trying to say.

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Excluding unnecessary clutter

There are many instances in which every word of the Greek New Testament does not need to occur in English to convey the meaning accurately, clearly, and naturally. In an article entitled Being Less than Explicit in Notes on Translation (published by the Summer Institute of Linguistics), Ballard and Palleson state that the meaning is often clearer if unnecessary clutter is excluded.

In the following examples, I’ve highlighted in red information that occurs in the original Greek text but is excluded in some English translations. On the first line of each example, I’ve listed some translations that include the information. On the second line, I’ve listed some that exclude it.

Matthew 3:15
Jesus answered and said to him, (NKJV, NASV)
Jesus answered him, (RSV, NIV, TEV, CEV, NLT, Message, God’s Word)

Matthew 13:32
… the birds of the air come and nest in its branches. (NKJV, NASV, RSV, NIV)
… the birds come and make their nests in its branches. (TEV, CEV, NLT, Message)

John 16:21
a human being has been born into the world. (NKJV, NASV, RSV, NIV, TEV, CEV, NLT)
when the baby is born, (Message)

James 2:15
If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, (NKJV, NASV, RSV, NIV)
If you know someone who doesn’t have any clothes or food, (TEV, CEV, NLT, Message)

For the target audience of The Better Life Bible, I’ve also excluded unnecessary clutter so the meaning is conveyed clearly and naturally.

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Chiasmus and Bible translation

A very common literary pattern throughout the Bible is called chiasmus, in which two halves of a given text are mirror images of each other. According to Ralph Terry in the Journal of Translation and Textlinguistics (1996:7(4).1-32) based on his dissertation, Paul employs this pattern some 25 times in I Corinthians on three different levels: words, grammatical constructions, and concepts.

An example of chiasmus on the word level occurs in I Corinthians 6:13:

Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods…

Another example occurs in I Corinthians 12:12:

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body … (NKJV)

As you can see, the pattern reflects the form of the Greek letter X chi, from which the name chiasmus is derived. The ancient Hebrews and Greeks readily recognized this pattern, but people who speak other languages are often confused by it. To avoid confusion and misunderstanding in The Better Life Bible, I’ve frequently eliminated the chiastic pattern of repetition and expressed the meaning in a manner that is more natural and clear in English.

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Translating rhetorical questions

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he used about 100 rhetorical questions. Unlike real questions whose purpose is to obtain information, the purpose of rhetorical questions is to convey information. According to Dr. Paul Ellingworth in The Bible Translator (published by the United Bible Societies), a positive rhetorical question is usually equivalent to a strong negative statement:

What soldier ever has to pay his own expenses in the army? I Corinthians 9:7 (TEV)


No soldier ever has to pay his own expense.

On the other hand, a negative rhetorical question usually equals a strong positive statement:

Am I not a free man? I Corinthians 9:1 (TEV)


I certainly am a free man.

A rhetorical question can sometimes be misunderstood or misinterpreted as a real question. For example, the reader may think that Paul’s rhetorical question Who then is Paul? (I Corinthians 3:5) is a real question to seek information about another person named Paul.

Paul used 15 rhetorical questions in I Corinthians 9:1-12, four in a row in verse one, and eight in a row in verses 4-8. This frequency is much greater than many English readers are accustomed to and can be a distraction from the focus of the text.

To avoid misunderstanding, misinterpretation of rhetorical questions as real ones, and distraction from the focus of a text, I’ve translated most rhetorical questions as statements in The Better Life Bible.

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