It should be noted what a difficult endeavor this is. As we saw in the last post, he joins a handful of people who have done acrostics for all the Psalms. Some others were only able to complete one, and we don’t know the number of people who gave up on acrostics halfway through a Psalm translation, but note Psalm 25 in the Passion Translation, where the first letters of verses 15-22 spell RSTUVWYZ.
So we come to the end of Van Dorn’s Psalm 119 translation. Note especially verse 164, which Van Dorn translates as “Unwavering, seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules.” In his sermon on Psalm 119, he notes the many references to time of day in the Psalm. He notes that some commentators divide the Psalm into eight parts to correspond to eight times during the day to read the Psalm. If you do this, verse 164 is close to the the end of the seventh part. Pretty cool, huh?
Here’s a chart:
And here is the final part of Van Dorn’s Psalm 119 translation. Read it, recite it, meditate on it, and enjoy it.
The cover story for the most recent issue of Christianity Today is called When A Word Is Worth A Thousand Complaints (and When It Isn’t), and it’s about Bible translation. It covers several issues, including “the Satan” in Job, “virgin/young woman” in Isaiah 7:14, the TNIV and gender inclusivity, the ESV Study Bible editors overruling the authors of the study notes, and how Bible translations are reluctant to depart from tradition.
It’s a fascinating and informative article, well-worth reading.
This is part 3 of Douglas Van Dorn‘s translation of Psalm 119. Read it, recite it, meditate on it.
And we are going to answer the question: What other acrostic translations are there into English?
We know there have been literally hundreds of Bible translations into English, ranging from the entire canon to just the Old or New Testament, or just individual books or portions of them. So how many of those did acrostic translations?
Surprisingly few. And not even the translators who are especially sensitive to poetry. Take Robert Alter, professor of Hebrew and comparative literature at UC Berkeley, who literally wrote the book on The Art of Biblical Poetry, and translated the entire Hebrew Bible with the stated goal of bringing the features of the Hebrew text to the English reader. Did he preserve the acrostics? No, no he did not.
So who did? The first acrostic translations in English were Psalms of Sir Philip Sidney and the Countess of Pembroke. Poor Sir Philip died after translating the first 44 psalms, and his sister, Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, completed it, using English acrostics for Psalms 111 and 119 (but only for the first line of each eight-line set). They were completed in 1599, but remained unpublished until 1823.
The first collection of Psalms in English preserving all of the acrostics is The Psalms Chronologically Arranged, written by anonymously as “Four Friends,” but known to be C. T. Arnold, F. E. Kitchener, S. Philpotts, and A. W. Potts. The first edition appeared in 1867, and the 1870 edition added other biblical poetry, including Lamentations 1-4 in acrostic.
The only complete Bible that consistently incorporated acrostics was the one by Ronald Knox, an English Catholic who translated the entire Bible from the Latin Vulgate in the 1940s. He used acrostic form for all of the biblical acrostic poems except for Psalm 9-10.
This is part 2 of Douglas Van Dorn‘s translation of Psalm 119. Read it, recite it, meditate on it.
And we are going to answer the question: why acrostics?
So, why did the biblical writers arrange some of their poetry based on the Hebrew alphabet? Well, they didn’t tell us, and they’re all dead now, so we’ll never know for sure until we get to heaven and ask them. But that, of course, doesn’t stop us from speculating on that, and other things, like the meaning of “Selah” in the Psalms.
The two prevailing answers are 1) to aid memorization, and 2) to emphasize completeness, i.e. Psalm 119 is telling us about delighting in God’s law from A-Z, or Proverbs 31 is telling us about the noble woman from A-Z. These, of course, are not mutually exclusive.
Personally, I favor 3) because it’s really cool, and 4) because it make it more challenging to write, and who doesn’t like a challenge? I mean, can’t you imagine the Psalm 119 author saying to the other psalmists, yeah, that’s good, but take a look at this 176 line acrostic masterpiece!
Why do you think they wrote in acrostics? Comment below.
And without further adieu, here is part 2 of Doug Van Dorn‘s Psalm 119 translation.
In Bible translation, most translators prioritize translating the meaning over the form. That is to say, they produce a translation that conveys the meaning of the biblical text, but aspects like the grammar, or word order, or sentence divisions are generally not preserved as they are in the original texts.
In the Old Testament, many Psalms, as well as part of Proverbs 31 and most of Lamentations, are acrostic poetry. That is, each line or group of lines starts with a particular letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and it proceeds in the order of the alphabet. But this element of poetry is generally not conveyed in English translation.
After a several years hiatus, the Better Bibles blog is back and ready to discuss issues regarding Bible translation.
So what’s been going on in the world of Bible translation in the last several years? Quite a lot, actually.
The Holman Christian Standard Bible was revised in 2017 to become the Christian Standard Bible, and has just undergone another revision for 2020.
Conservative Lutherans in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and Evangelical Lutheran Synod completed the Evangelical Heritage Version in 2019.
John MacArthur and his staff at the Master’s University and Seminary are working on a revision of the New American Standard Bible entitled the Legacy Standard Bible. The New Testament is due out 2021.
Speaking of the New American Standard Bible, they just released a new revision called the NASB 2020. The decision to call it “2020” is not looking good, given all that has happened this year, but they’re sticking to their guns.
Also, several one-author Bibles have been completed. Professor Robert Alter finished his translation of the Hebrew Bible in 2019. In 2018, so did John Goldingay, calling it the First Testament. David Bentley Hart published a translation of the New Testament in 2017.