Poetic translation of Psalm 15, by Brenda Boerger

Psalm 15
by David
a liturgical psalm

1 Who’s fit for the Temple
Where Yahweh meets his people?
Who’s allowed to dwell
On his holy hill?

2 Be a blameless walker,
A righteous one,
A truthful talker,
3 No slandering tongue;
No friend betrayer,
Or evil-sayer.
4 Vile ones, abhor.
But honor those
Who fear the Lord.
Keep your oaths,
No matter the price.
5 Lend without interest.
Never tell lies
Against the innocent,
In spite of bribes.

Listen and learn,
And so stand firm!

Poetic translation of Psalm 1, by Brenda Boerger

Psalm 1
a wisdom psalm
heroic sonnet [1]

1 The wise[2] one’s walk will show the way [3] to go—
Don’t walk your course by wicked people’s chart,
Don’t stand around with sinners on the road,
Don’t stay with those who rip our God apart!

2 For you must love the Teachings[4] of the Lord,
Absorbing lessons deep within your heart.
So murmur them when waking at first light,
Recite their verses far into the night.

3 You’ll be a tree that’s rooted near a stream.
Each branch will bear much fruit in its own time.
Your leaves will grow out lush and full and green.
You’ll prosper, for that follows God’s design.

4 Not so the wicked, for they won’t obey.
They’re just dry chaff blown at the wind’s command.

5 Now with the pure of heart they cannot stay,
For at God’s judgment they all fail to stand.

6 While Yahweh guards the path the godly walk, [5]
The wicked way is doomed, trails off to naught.

[1] 1 subtitles To give the heroic sonnet its 18 lines, verses 2-3 are expanded.

[2] 1:1  See ‘wisdom psalm’ and ‘blessed’ in the Glossary. Psalm 1 starts both Book 1, and the first half of the Psalter. See also the footnote at Psalm 73, the wisdom psalm which starts the second half of the Psalter.

[3] 1:1  POET’s alliteration in, “wise one’s walk will show the way” reflects a similar Hebrew phonological pattern, reported by Goerling, p. 5. “… ‘Fortunate is the man …’ at the front of the Psalter. The importance…is underlined by the assonances of the sibilants ašre’ haiš ašer. These poetical devices are difficult or impossible to reproduce in a receptor language. However, a translator needs to be aware of source language poetical or rhetorical devices and their function in order to at least reproduce an equivalent rhetorical effect.”

[4] 1:2,6  See Torah, YHWH, and chiasmus in the Glossary.

[5] 1:6  In Psalm 1 the change in font highlights the chiastic pattern:  walk, stand, stay (verse 1) and stay, stand, walk (verses 5, 6). Hebrew only has ‘stand’ in verses 5-6, but POET fills out the chiasmus because ‘stay’ and ‘walk’ seemed to be inherently present in the context, and chiasmus is a highly valued feature of Hebrew prose and poetry.

Poetic translation of Psalms, guest post by Brenda Boerger


Wayne asked me to say a little about what I’ve been working on. I have a draft of a book called POET Psalms, in which the letters of POET stands for Poetic Oracle English Translation. My goal has been to convey Hebrew poetry using English verse forms together with devices such as rhyme, meter, sonics, and imagery. The expected result is scriptures which can be easily memorized or set to music. In fact, right now a friend is setting tunes to several of these and we plan to showcase them at BT2011 to be held here in Dallas October 14-18.

A counterweight to the goal of expressing the psalms poetically in English, is the balancing goal of preserving and drawing attention to some important Hebrew language poetic devices, (parallelism, imagery, acrostics, wordplay, and a number of word patterns, such as chiasmus, inclusio, refrain, hinge and aperture) in hopes that English readers might gain an appreciation of them artistically. I try to use as many of the Hebrew devices as possible, without compromising the natural structures and rhythms of English.

Balancing form, content, meaning, and poetic expression means that while I value the shapes and structures of the poetic forms incorporated, I also would rather make slight adjustments in the form, rather than distort the source text semantics. I have made heavy use of Welsh forms which seem particularly adaptable to the content of the Psalms. I also use formatting and fonts to reveal some of the structures of the Psalms.

And while not a slave to one-to-one lexical correspondences, I also try to maintain the uniqueness of words whose forms occur only once or very rarely in either the Psalter or the entire Old Testament.

I’ll let this be all for now except for giving a few examples below.

–Brenda Boerger, Ph.D (click on this link for information about me)


Psalm 23
by David
a psalm of trust
Tune:  (C.M.  Ascription, Ballerma, etc.)

1 Yahweh, good shepherd, I’m your sheep.
You give me what I need—

2 In verdant fields I eat and sleep,
Drink at streams where you lead.

3 You bring me back when I’ve gone wrong; [1]
Guide once more in your way.
For that’s one way your love is shown,
As you protect your name.

4 When I walk through dark times or storms, [2]
I’m calm, you’re at my side.
Your shepherd’s crook saves me from thorns,
Your club knocks threats aside.[3]

5 Then when I’m found, you throw a feast.[4]
You pour oil on your guest.
My foes seethe. I deserve it least.
But you serve me your best.
And though I should be serving you,
My goblet’s filled with wine.

6 With love and blessings you pursue.[5]
You host me for all time.

[1] 23:3  In his book, Finding the Lost: Cultural Keys to Luke 15, Kenneth E. Bailey (1992) spends 200 pages convincingly arguing for parallels between Psalm 23 and Luke 15 (the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son). His insightful analysis leads to slight adjustments and reinterpretations of standard renderings of this psalm. The Hebrew of verse three is literally, ‘he brings me back’ or ‘he causes me to repent’. And since only a sheep that has wandered off would have to be brought back, that is included, too.

[2] 23:4  The phrase “valley of the shadow of death” in many translations may not be the best representation of the Hebrew. The word translated ‘valley’ can also mean ‘in the midst’ and the word translated ‘shadow of death’ is elsewhere translated ‘darkness’. It may be a compound meaning ‘darkness of death’. Most scholars think it is a metaphor for great danger, which is the sense captured by POET’s ‘dark times or storms.’

[3] 23:4  The classic “Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me,” has problems, since one doesn’t normally think of tools or weapons as comforting. Instead the comfort comes from the feeling of safety when walking with a strong protector.  When sheep were caught in briars, the crook could be used to pull them out.

[4] 23:5  Bailey (1992) connects verse 5 to Luke 15’s feast celebrating the return of the prodigal son. Doing this in the presence of someone’s enemies meant that the one being feasted had the protection of the host. Preparing the table of the Lord in the Temple was fairly simple. But when the Lord prepares a table for us instead, the feast is extravagant. POET tries to capture some of these more obscure allusions which Bailey brings to light.

[5] 23:6  In line a, the traditional ‘goodness’ and ‘mercy’ are translated ‘blessings’ and ‘love’. This is the only place in the OT that the verb ‘pursue’ is used of good things. Usually one’s enemies pursue with intent to harm. So it is reassuring that the Lord pursues his own with blessings and love. Line b, reflects the custom of the Middle East, which allows a guest to stay in the home of his host for an extended time. Here Yahweh is seen as the one who hosts his people permanently.


Stay tuned! There’s more to come in subsequent posts.

liberal translation

I make a lot of typos the older I get. Normally, you could suspect me of intending to type “literal translation” for the title of this post. But I actually intend to write about liberal translation, specifically liberal Bible translation.

Not too long ago I read a post by a fellow blogger in which he referred to the “liberal CEB”. CEB is the Common English Bible which was recently translated and is currently being published.

So, I wonder: What is there about the CEB that would cause a serious Bible scholar blogger to refer to it as the “liberal CEB”?

Various possiblities have come to my mind:

1. Perhaps the CEB translation team is theologically liberal and allows their theology to bias the CEB translation.

Let’s look at two test passages that are often used to check for a liberal bias in a Bible:

a. Isaiah 7:14: The CEB translates this verse as:

Therefore, the Lord will give you a sign. The young woman is pregnant and is about to give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel.

Some conservatives consider translation of Hebrew almah in this verse as “young woman” instead of “virgin” to be liberal. But is it, or does it actually reflect accurate biblical scholarship? Some people still debate this question, but many theological conservatives no longer do, recognizing that the Hebrew word almah truly does refer to a young woman of marriageable age, whether or not she is a virgin. Some English versions translated by theological conservatives actually use “young lady” (NET) or “young woman” (ISV) for their translation of Is. 7:14.

But does the question of the Bible and the virgin birth of Christ rest solely on translation of Is. 7:14. No. Consider the following: During my childhood the RSV was railed against as being “liberal” because it translated Hebrew almah in Is. 7:14 as “young woman” instead of “virgin.” Theological conservatives thought this meant that the RSV translators did not believe in the virgin birth of Christ and so they downgraded “virgin” to “young woman.” Yet, in Matthew 1:22,23 the RSV translators retained the word “virgin”:

[22] All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
[23] “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and his name shall be called Emmanuel”
(which means, God with us).

If the RSV translators had truly wanted to show non-belief in the virgin birth of Christ, they should have not used the word “virgin” in the Matthean quote of Isaiah 7:14. Something else, perhaps accurate scholarship, might have been at play in the translation of Is. 7:14. And, over the years, many conservatives have come to accept the RSV as a good translation, acceptable for use by conservatives. In fact, conservative theologian Wayne Grudem convinced conservative young Vern Poythress to use the RSV as his main study Bible. Years later the two of them were on the translation team to create the ESV, which is regarded as a theologically conservative revision of the RSV. It turns out that the amount of text changed from the RSV to the ESV is extremely small.

What’s the point here? It is that it’s questionable to make broadstroke generalizations about theological bias of a Bible translation team based on translation of Is. 7:14 and a few other verses. One needs to look at a translation as a whole as well as individual verses to try to determine if there is any theological bias. What you think might be a liberal translation of some verse may be shown to be an accurate translation, especially when you find other verses in the translation which continue to support whatever is your own theological viewpoint.

b. 2 Tim. 3:16, 17: These verses are about God’s part in the “inspiration” of Scripture. The CEB translates it as:

Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.

Conservatives who critique Bible versions often study the translation of 2 Tim. 3:16 to see if it exhibits a liberal bias. A translation that says “All scripture is inspired by God …” would be considered theologically appropriate. A translation that says “All scripture inspired by God …” would be considered to have a liberal (neo-orthodox) bias. (That is, not all scripture is inspired by God. But scripture is inspired if and when it inspires the reader.)

2. Theological orientation of the translators. Perhaps the blogger was not suggesting that the CEB translation itself was “liberal” but that its translators are. It is a common belief that if a translators theology does not align with mine, that translator cannot translate with theological integrity. But Bible scholars who translate often rise above their own theological biases and translate the text itself, not disturbed by their own theology. Let’s look at the CEB translation team to see if they might be theologically biased, perhaps even as they translate.

I have interacted some with the CEB team, especially its dedicated director, Paul Franklyn. I either know or know about some of the other translators on the CEB team. The ones I know or know about are theologically conservative: Cynthia Long Westfall,  Joel Green, and David deSilva. There are probably many more. If Paul Franklyn and his project sponsors really wanted to produce a “liberal CEB,” I don’t think they would have invited conservatives to be on the translation team.

There is much more that could be said on this topic, but this is enough for today’s post and the time available to me.

Is the CEB a “liberal” translation? I find no evidence of it from my own study of this new translation and extensive editorial comments I submitted to the CEB team? I would caution all of us to be prudent in how we evaluate any Bible translation? We should especially avoid broadbrush characterizations of a Bible version. We may think we find a bias in translation of one or more verses. But if we study a translation longer, we usually find that translation of other verses throw doubt on our initial evaluations.

I would, once again, caution all of us to be prudent, also, about what we write on our blogs. Blog posts are picked up by Google and other search engines. Blog posts take on a permanence that we may not want when we look back upon what we have written with the advantage of further growth and study on our part.

Promotion and criticisms of new Bible versions are interesting for more than just their content. I often wonder how much of a new Bible version has actually been read and carefully studied by those who are quoted in advertising promoting it and those who criticize it. On this blog we want to be better evaluators of Bible versions. Better evaluations can lead, ultimately, to better translations of the Bible.

homebody translation

Are you at home? I am, as I compose this post.

Are you a homebody? I think I am. I enjoy being at home. Sometimes I call myself a nester. I like my comfy nest.

Are you at home in your body? Hmm. I don’t know if I am. I’m not even sure what this sentence would mean, if it means anything in English, even though it is syntactically well formed.

And that brings us to the question of how should we translate the Greek  expression of being at home in the body. The Greek of 2 Cor. 5:9 is:

διὸ καὶ φιλοτιμούμεθα, εἴτε ἐνδημοῦντες εἴτε ἐκδημοῦντες, εὐάρεστοι
αὐτῷ εἶναι.

A word-for-word translation of this Greek gives us English like this:

therefore also we are aspiring, whether being at home or being away from home, well-pleasing to him to be

That English isn’t too bad. We probably can get some sense out of it. We can tweak it a bit so that it is closer to normal English diction and word order:

Therefore also we aspire, whether we are at home or away from home, to be well-pleasing to him.

Some English Bible translators might leave the translation like that. It seems to have correct English syntax. The word order now seems normal. The verse makes sense. If we read only this verse and none of its context, we would conclude that in this verse the writer is making the point that he (and perhaps other people, if the “we” is not an editorial or royal “we”) wants God to be pleased with what they are doing, whether they are at home or somewhere else, away from home.

To determine if we have understood being at home or away from home correctly, however, one of the first things we should do is read this verse in its context. Let’s do that. Here’s verse 6:

while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord (NASB)

Hmm. There’s the English we wondered about earlier, “at home in the body”. Maybe you understand what that means in English, but I don’t, at least not yet. But I can see that being at home in the body equates with being “absent from the Lord.” Hmm, I know what it means to be absent from school or from my office, but I’m not sure I know what “absent from the Lord” refers to.

Maybe verse 8 will help me understand a little better. Paul says:

we … prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord (NASB)

Hmm. What does it mean to be “absent from the body”? It sounds like someone wants to have an out-of-body experience. This would be confirmed to me as the meaning if I read another English translation, which uses the words “away from the body” instead of “absent from the body”:

we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord (NRSV)

I still don’t know if I understand what “away from the body” refers to. And I’m not sure I know what being “at home with the Lord” refers to. I know that I feel at home with my wife. I’m comfortable with her. I enjoy being with her. I can take out the word “feel” and say, “I’m at home with my wife.” I know what I’m intending to mean with this sentence: I’m physically in my own home at the same time my wife is. (She is actually quite close to me, sitting on the right end of her little couch and I’m about three feet away from her, in my recliner chair. These are our places where we sit during the evening.)

We then return to verse 9, which we are trying to translate so that its original meaning is communicated accurately to English speakers. After reading the preceding context, it still sounds to me that verse 9 is referring to having some kind of out-of-body experience versus being near to the Lord in my own home, or, possibly in his home.

Is this really what verse 9 is referring to? If not, what do you think it is actually referring to? If you think it’s not referring to what the verse literally says, what evidence causes you to think that some non-literal meaning is intended?

Does ὑποτασσω mean ‘respect’ in Ephesians 5?

It’s not often that a political event provides fodder for a BBB post. But I’m going to take fodder from Iowa (a lot of fodder is harvested there) where the Republican candidates for President of the U.S. debated each other last night and turn it into grist for this BBB post.

Michelle Bachman, an evangelical Christian and the only Republican woman candidate, was reminded by co-moderator Byron York:

about her 2006 remark that her “husband said you should study for a degree in tax law. You said you hated the idea. And then you explained, ‘But the Lord said, ‘Be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands.'”

Then York asked Bachmann:

As president, would you be submissive to your husband?”

Bachmann answered:

“Marcus and I will be married for 33 years this September 10. I’m in love with him. I’m so proud of him. What submission means to us, it means respect. I respect my husband. He’s a wonderful godly man and great father.

“He respects me as his wife; that’s how we operate our marriage,” she continued. “We respect each other; we love each other. I’ve been so grateful we’ve been able to build a home together. We have wonderful children and 20 foster children. We’ve built a business and life together, and I’m very proud of him.”

News commentators, and news and religious bloggers have been having a hayday (hay is also grown in Iowa) commenting on this exchange.

And now we at BBB get our chance to weigh in on the translation question which is related to that exchange:

Does the Greek word ὑποτασσω in Ephesians 5:21–and assumed by almost all Bible translators to be implied in the next verse–mean ‘respect’ or something else?

Last night Bachmann did not quote from Ephesians 5 as she did in 2006. Instead she said that submission means ‘respect’ within her marriage to Marcus Bachmann.

Will Bachmann’s definition of submission be satisfactory to those who emphasize wives submitting to their husbands today? Does it bring home the bacon (a lot of hogs are raised in Iowa) for you, as you understand the meaning of ὑποτασσω?

All comments on this post will be moderated. Only those which address the meaning of the Greek word ὑποτασσω will be approved for posting. No comments will be permitted which address any other gender questions in Bible translation, unless they directly relate to the translation of ὑποτασσω. This is not an attempt to censor BBB comments, but, rather, to keep the comments from flaming or attacking any Bible translators or anyone else. Some got the mistaken notion from a recent BBB prohibition on discussion of gender on the WELS post on the NIV2011 that gender issues in Bible translation could not be discussed on BBB. We BBB bloggers did not intend any such prohibition. Gender is a topic critical to current English Bible translation and must be discussed. But there must be boundaries on how we discuss it and what is discussed at any one time, so that comments can stay on-topic for each post.


UPDATE (Aug. 15): Comments which are non-translational but otherwise pass BBB gudelines now appear on a spillover blog:


Additional details about this new blog appear as a comment from me today on this post.

a translation opening

For my real job I am currently checking a translation of Psalms in a tribal language of South America. Last December I asked the translation team a question about Psalm 18.9:

wl-12/13/10: How natural is it for [the X speakers] to refer to the sky “opening up”

Yesterday I read the team’s response:

One [translator] says that it is natural to say: ‘The sky is open this morning’, meaning that there are no clouds, just a big expanse. The other [Mother Tongue Translator] says that they use this expression when after it rains, the sun comes out or when after there are a lot of clouds the sky clears.

After this response, in terms of the CANA parameters described in my preceding post, I now believe that the translation for this verse is natural. The translators appear to have an important spiritual leadership role in their tribe, so the translation seems to be acceptable. The translation seems to be understood readily, so it seems to be clear.

But is it accurate? If you question its accuracy, what do you suggest might be inaccurate about it?

CANA translation

Remember the first recorded miracle of Jesus? That’s right. He turned water into wine when the wine ran out at a wedding feast.

Good Bible translation is like that miracle wine. Such translation can take words that are like water, good for you, adequate for understanding, but without much flavor, and make a miracle out of them, impacting you, leaving you with a taste in your mouth that you cannot forget.

CAN has been a traditional acronym among missionary Bible translators. It stands for Clear, Accurate, Natural. Those are the qualities that our Bible translation courses have taught that a good Bible translation should have. Such a translation should be as Clear as the original (but no clearer and certainly not more obscure). Above all, it must be Accurate. And it should follow the Natural patterns of the target language, at least as much as the original biblical texts followed the natural patterns of their languages. (And, yes, there were times when for poetic effect or authorial lapses, natural patterns were not followed but they are in the minority not the majority of biblical text passages.)

For years missionary Bible translators were taught the CAN approach. It was good. It produced translations which were of high quality. But sometimes the translations were not used much. Sometimes they languished in warehouses. Reasons for the lack of use have been numerous, including people’s feeling of inferiority about their own language in contrast to a higher prestige LWC (language of wider communication), such as Spanish, English, or French.

But in more recent decades, those who care about unused translations have noted another important reason why translations are not used, Acceptability. No matter how Clear, Accurate, and Natural a Bible translation might be, if church gatekeepers and parishioners do not like a translation it will not be used.

There are many reasons why a translation may not be liked. The reasons are often discussed on this blog. One that is very important to many Bible users is that a Bible translation may not sound the way people think a Bible should sound. If there has been one or more Bible translations already in the language which have gained a prestige status, they will not be displaced by a newer Bible translation unless the newer translation also has the traditional sound. For such Bible users, for any new translation to replace an older one, the new one has to be “traditioned” (a verb used by John Hobbins).

Bible version acceptance is a point that John Hobbins keeps repeating in his posts and comments and it is a point which can make or break a new translation. Hobbins, like other ministers, may personally prefer some other Bible translation(s), but he knows that if the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t sound like the Lord’s Prayer to his congregation, he might just as well leave the prayer out of the liturgy than to try to have it prayed in clearer, more accurate, or more natural English. [John, I hope I’m not putting words in your mouth here. If I am, we can change your name to Pastor John Doe since the principle remains: people don’t want anyone to “mess” (another of John’s terms about Bible versions!!) with their Bible.]

I don’t have a favorite English Bible version. Instead, I have several favorites which serve me well, often for different purposes.

I can’t say which is the most accurate English Bible versions. A few days ago I was again asked by someone which is the most accurate English Bible version. I answered honestly, “It is not possible to say. There are many accurate English Bible versions. Almost every English Bible translation team has attempted to make translation accuracy their highest goal.”

I can tell you which Bible versions impact me the most spiritually. I hope that is one of the criteria that pastors and congregations use to evaluate which version to use as pulpit and pew Bibles. But I don’t know that it is.

I do know that people want their Bible to sound like a Bible. If we honestly believe that people would get a more accurate, clearer understanding of the Bible through some non-traditional sounding Bible, we have to be willing to set an example to others of the benefits that can come from CAN Bible translations. If we do, and if some people gain spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually from a Bible version outside a traditional mold, it requires a miracle that helps people Accept the newer version.

Such acceptance is a CANA miracle. The miracle at Cana was only one of Jesus’ miracles. And Bible miracles still take place through traditional sounding Bible versions. But there is something special about “the taste of new wine” (that would make a good book title, eh?!!) that satisfies the celebrants at CANA.