MEV: Clear, Reverent, Accurate, or Meh?

The newly announced Modern English Version of the Bible (MEV) is described on its website as “Clear, Reverent, Accurate”. But James McGrath is unimpressed, calling it The Meh Version. Indeed there seems to be little new here, as far as one can tell from the few samples given.

The MEV is also described on the website as “The most modern word-for-word translation produced since the King James tradition within the last 30 years.” If that sentence is typical of the logic and grammar of the MEV, then it is certainly neither clear nor accurate. Well, what exactly are they claiming? If by “most modern” they mean “newest”, well, I guess that is true, but it tells us nothing about the quality.

Looking a little more closely, I found the following:

The MEV is a translation of the Textus Receptus and the Jacob ben Hayyim edition of the Masoretic Text, using the King James Version as the base manuscript.

The MEV is a literal word-for-word translation. It is also often referred to as a formal correspondence translation.

The Committee on Bible Translation began their work on the MEV in 2005 and completed it in 2013.

CLEAR: Literal translation (word-for-word, not thought-for-thought), with capitalized references of God. Historical facts and events are expressed without distortion. At the same time the translation is done in such a way that readers of all backgrounds may understand the message that the original author was communicating to the original audience.

REVERENT: Every effort is made to ensure that no political, ideological, social, cultural, or theological agenda is allowed to distort the translation.

ACCURATE: The Scriptures are accurately translated without loss, change, compromise, embellishments or distortions of the meaning of the original text.


However, one of the testimonials is as follows:

It was with great enthusiasm that I took on the request to update books from the 1611 King James Bible with the modern English vernacular …

Another one:

A new, precise update of the King James Version has been glaringly necessary. …

So which is this, a translation of the named Greek and Hebrew texts, or an update or paraphrase of KJV?

I’m sorry, but I agree with McGrath’s “Meh”. If you want a modern language literal translation of the same base texts, the World English Bible is probably a better bet – and is in the public domain. But no doubt the publishers of MEV will make quite a lot of money with their nicely presented printed editions like their SpiritLed Woman Bibles. Sadly Bible translation, at least in English, now seems to be not so much Christian ministry as business.


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.

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.

Vernaculars and Lingua Francas, Part Two: Translation Implications

I have already explained something about vernaculars and lingua francas. They are not two types of languages, but two uses of language, depending on whether or not the language is the mother tongue of the speakers or is an “other-than-mother-tongue” that speakers use to communicate with each other. I wouldn’t say that there is a contrast between vernaculars and lingua francas, but rather that there is a distinction that can be made between language as vernacular and language as lingua franca. The same language can be a vernacular in one context and a lingua franca in another.

So what does this have to do with literature and translation? Recently on this blog, an essay in the New York Review of Books by Tim Parks was referenced that brought the words “lingua franca” and “translation” together. Here, apparently, the term “lingua franca” was used as a sort of metaphor. Parks was drawing on an earlier article by Sheldon Pollock entitled “Cosmopolitan and Vernacular in History,” where instead of lingua franca, “cosmopolitan(ism)” is used in comparison and contrast with “vernacular.”

I like what Pollock has to say. He starts his article,

Few things seem to us as natural as the multiplicity of vernacular languages that different peoples use for making sense of life through texts, that is, for making literature. And few things seem as unnatural as their abandonment and gradual disappearance in the present. In fact, literary language loss is often viewed as part of a more general reduction of cultural diversity, one considered as dangerous as the reduction of biological diversity to which it is often compared. The homogenization of culture today, of which language loss is one aspect, seems without precedent in human history, at least for the scope, speed, and manner in which changes are taking place.

This common sense view of the world needs two important qualifications. First, the vernacular ways of being that we see vanishing everywhere were themselves created over time…. Second, by the very fact of their creation, the new vernaculars replaced a range of much older cultural practices. These earlier practices, which seemed to belong to everywhere in general and nowhere in particular, affiliated their users to a larger world rather than a smaller place. They were, in a sense to be argued out in this essay, cosmopolitan practices….

This quote agrees with my very democratic beliefs about languages (mother tongues/vernaculars) and my regrets that the major world languages like English might be crowding out the minority languages of the world, along with their associated literatures and views of the world.

Here is Tim Parks’ summary of Pollock: “We needn’t think about the spread of English as necessarily in conflict with the world’s vernaculars; he wants us to avoid thinking in terms of ‘either/or’ and work towards a relationship that is ‘both/and.’” That agrees with my disinclination toward structuralist approaches to language and my rejection of sharp dichotomies (if that is not a self contradiction).

So what does Parks say about vernacular vs. lingua franca in relation to translation? He makes an interesting observation, though it is not about approaches to translation. Rather, it is about original text authorship with translation in mind. Parks says that authors tend to write in a different style when they think of their language as a lingua franca than when they think of it as simply a vernacular. Or, to put it another way, if an author envisions his or her literary work being translated into other languages, that has a bearing on the writer’s style. Using a literary work written in Italian, for example, if the author’s intended audience is mother tongue speakers of Italian, the writing style will tend to take greater advantage of inwardly-turned, language-specific literary devices. However, if the author wants the work to be translated and brought to an international audience, then even if the work is written in Italian, it will be a different sort of Italian, a more easily-translated form of Italian that does not capitalize as much on language-specific literary devices. Awareness of translation and a desire to have one’s works understood as widely as possible will influence how someone writes.

Parks’ intuition (as he calls it) is that the contemporary writers he studied…

had already performed a translation within their own languages; they had discovered a lingua franca within their own vernacular, a particular straightforwardness, an agreed order for saying things and perceiving and reporting experience, that made translation easier and more effective. One might call it a simplification, or one might call it an alignment in different languages to an agreed way of going about things. Naturally, there was an impoverishment… but there was also a huge gain in communicability….

He observes that “there is a spirit abroad, especially in the world of fiction, that is seeking maximum communicability and that has fastened onto the world’s present lingua franca [viz., English] as something that can be absorbed and built into other vernaculars so that they can continue to exist while becoming more easily translated into each other.”

Parks’ essay was about the composition of original texts rather than the translation of those texts into other languages, except where he says, twice, that “the success of translation very largely depends on the levels of complexity in the original text.” His point was that as authors become aware of translation and a wider international audience, they tend to write in such a way as to make translation easier. A way of putting this is that the authors become aware of their language as being not just a vernacular, where the target audience is comprised of fellow speakers of the same language, but as a lingua franca, i.e., they are conscious of their language as a gateway for communication with speakers of other languages, through translation.

So how do we who are concerned with translation make use of this information? While it is not correct to say that some languages are vernaculars and other languages are lingua francas (except in the case of pidgins, which, by definitions are only lingua francas and not vernaculars), I think there is indeed a connection, in that translators, like authors, have to be aware of their target audience and its needs. In fact, translators have to be aware both of the original audience of the original text and of the target audience for the translation. One of the basic principles for any kind of communication is to know your audience. One of the cardinal principles of translation is to identify the target audience for the translation. It is not reasonable or wise to consider all the speakers of a certain language as being the target audience, especially in the case of a language with so many dialects and registers as English. There are translations directed toward children, translations directed toward speakers of English as a second language, translations for educated people who want to get as close to the source language as possible, translations for educated people who want to see the scriptures communicated in contemporary language, translations for reading aloud, translations for liturgical use, translations for very average North Americans without a lot of theological sophistication. It is not a matter of one-size-fits-all. In the case of English, we have so many translations of the Bible to choose from, and different translations each have at least the potential of being valid for their target audience and stated purpose. Obviously, though, translators, when going through so much effort, and publishers, when investing so much, are going to be concerned about getting as large a market share as possible.

Even in the case of languages that don’t have the luxury of multiple translations, Bible translators have to pinpoint their target audience and dialectal variety.

Bíblia Livre: The first ever Portuguese Bible version available as SWORD module

I have lamented (loudly I hope) the lack of a single Portuguese Bible version on CrossWire Bible society. The SWORD modules provided by CrossWire are free of charge and work with a variety of programs and on all major operating systems. However, while major languages like Spanish, German and French have multiple versions available, Portuguese, the seventh largest language in the world, has not had a single version made available. This is not the fault of CrossWire. In fact they are to be commended for refusing to make available various unauthorized versions that are floating around the Internet.

As of October 29, the Bíblia Livre is the first New Testament and Psalms available in Portuguese. I trust that they will in good time finish the rest of the Bible. The source text is a public domain version of the Almeida from 1819. I highly commend Diego Santos and Mario Sérgio for their work in doing this.

My question for the Portuguese Bible Society, the Brazilian Bible Society and Biblica is this: “Why have so many quality translations been produced yet so few are freely available electronically?”

Translations like the NET and ESV have shown that giving away electronic versions for free actually increases sales and acceptance for a translation. It’s not just good for sales and publicity, it is morally the right thing to do. Bible Societies exist “to make the Bible available to people in a language they can understand, at a price they can afford and in the format they can use.” SWORD modules are one such format and they are ideal for those who don’t have financial means to afford a commercial piece of software.

I know of two other non-Bible Society Portuguese versions that are moving through the pipes en route to being released as SWORD modules. Praise the Lord for the initiative of those who are doing this.

Visit CrossWire Bible Society to download the Bíblia Livre.

Aos meus queridos irmãos em Cristo, Diego e Mario, que Deus vos abençoe ricamente pelo vosso sacrifício vivo através desta iniciativa!

In which I rant about paraphrases

paraphrase n.

  1. a restatement of a text in different words, often to clarify meaning [Wiktionary]
  2. a restatement of a text, passage, or work giving the meaning in another form [Merriam-Webster]
  3. A rewording of something written or spoken by someone else, esp. with the aim of making the sense clearer; a free rendering of a passage. [OED]

Something that quite annoys me is when people refer to translations such as The Message or the NLT as paraphrases, when they aren’t! They are both translations from the original Biblical languages (although the Living Bible was a paraphrase, from the ASV).

A paraphrase is a text reworded in the same language. The NKJV, ESV and NIV 2011 are all far more paraphrasistic than The Message is! (As is the 2nd edition of the NLT too.)

I don’t know why people love to call these translations paraphrases when they are not. I think it’s probably because they don’t agree with their translation philosophies in some way: maybe they’re not “literal” enough (see my last post for what I think about that); maybe they’re too idiomatic; maybe they’ve been too corrupted by the author’s interpretations.

In any case it does no one any good to keep calling them something they are not! Instead, name the specific flaws of each translation! If there’s too much interpretation just say it! Not “literal” enough? Okay, we’ll agree to disagree on that. Just don’t insult a translation you dislike by calling it a “paraphrase” while promoting another English Bible revision as a “translation”!

A first look at the NIV2011

Update: Comments are now closed.

I’ve prepared a one-page document showing the changes between the 1984 and 2011 versions of the NIV. I chose 1 Timothy 2 since it is one of the most difficult passages for handling gender in the New Testament.

Differences between the NIV 1984 and the NIV 2011 – 1 Tim 2 – prepared by David Ker (PDF, 67K)

In my first look at the changes I have to say that I’m very pleased with the updates. I think ANER and ANTHROPOS are handled correctly in all but one instance. Let me discuss that one in detail.

NIV 1984 1 Timothy 2:5 NIV 2011 1 Timothy 2:5
For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,

“Men” and “man” in this passage are translations of the Greek word ANTHROPOS. The theological point of this verse is that Jesus is mediator between God and humanity because he himself was human. As you can see the NIV2011 has updated this with mankind for the first occurrence and retained man for the second.

I personally think this is an improvement over the 1984 edition and certainly within the bounds of acceptability in terms of accuracy. Someone might try to argue that this translation is misleading since it suggests that Jesus was our mediator because he was male. Only testing could show this for sure, but it seems clear to me that Jesus’ humanity is in focus here.

Here are how some other translations handled this verse:

NLT: For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.

CEV: There is only one God, and Christ Jesus is the only one who can bring us to God. Jesus was truly human, and he gave himself to rescue all of us.

NRSV: For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human,

It’s worth mentioning that this translation problem is unique to English and related Indo-European languages. In every African language that I have knowledge of the term for “male” can never stand in for either a man or woman. Instead there is a general word, munthu for example in Nyungwe, that means simply person.

Please let us know about other changes you have noticed in the NIV 2011. Since this is quite a controversial translation I ask you to keep the guidelines of this blog in mind as you are commenting. Any comments not following the guidelines will be deleted immediately.

Another change I noticed on the Bible Gateway site is that the text link for the TNIV has disappeared. It seems you can still access an audio version of the TNIV.

If you want to see the NIV 1984 and the TNIV, they are still available at YouVersion:

View the NIV 2011 at Bible Gateway

Stacks of bread

Recently I got an e-mail about the size of the holy loaves of bread in Lev 24:5-6 and the size of the table where the loaves were to be put (Exo 25:23). The person knew that the bread were BIG and the table was small. So, why do almost all translations say that the loaves of bread were placed in two rows with 6 in each row?

NIV: Set them in two rows, six in each row

ESV: And you shall set them in two piles, six in a pile

TNIV: Arrange them in two stacks, six in each stack

GW: Put them in two stacks of six each

The table was about 1½ feet wide and 3 feet long. The bread were round and flat and about 4 quarts of flour were used for each bread. That does indicate a large bread, and there would certainly not be room for six loaves of bread side by side. The Hebrew word used here means an “arrangement”, and this particularly form is only used to refer to these holy loaves of bread. So, why do so many translations talk about rows? I don’t know, but it is clear that it should be stacks, six in each, in order to fit on the table. There is a nice picture here.

I am happy to see that both ESV and TNIV in this case have gone away from tradition in order to produce a more accurate translation.

Are your days numbered?

In English there is an idiom, “Your days are numbered.” Most who read this post probably understand the meaning of the idiom, namely, that whoever says it is telling someone that they are about to die or in some other way experience something precipitous, like getting fired from a job.

Traditional English translations of Psalm 90:12 ask God to “teach us to number our days …” Note that this wording does not have the idiomatic meaning that “Your days are numbered” does. I do not know what it means in any standard dialect of English to “number” my days.  (Biblish is not a standard dialect of English since it is spoken by only a portion of those who know standard dialects of English. It is a limited jargon, not a dialect.)

The traditional wording of Ps. 90:12 sounds like it has something to do with counting days on a calendar. We need to field test the traditional wording to find out if any native speakers of standard dialects of English get the Hebraic meaning from “teach us to number our days.”

The meaning of the original Hebrew is a request that God help us realize how short our lives are. The implication is that when we realize how little time we have left to live, we should live it wisely.

I suggest that the traditional English translations do not communicate to most readers this meaning of the original Hebrew. And to the degree that original meaning is not communicated, to that degree a translation is not accurate. This is true regardless of how much the translators intended to communicate the Hebrew meaning accurately to English.

English Bible versions which do communicate the meaning of the Hebrew idiom accurately include the following:

  • So make us know how few are our days, that our minds may learn wisdom. (REB)
  • Teach us how short our life is, so that we may become wise. (TEV/GNT)
  • Teach us to use wisely all the time we have. (CEV)
  • Teach us how short our lives really are so that we may be wise. (NCV)
  • So teach us to consider our mortality, so that we might live wisely. (NET)
  • Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. (NLT)

If you know of any other English versions which accurately communicate the meaning of the Hebrew of Psalm 90:12, please note them in comments to this post. If you field test the traditional translation wording with native speakers of standard dialects of English, please let us know the results.


Last Sunday I preached in my home church in Alaska. My text was Gal. 6:1-5. When I was growing up, this passage puzzled me since it said in our Bibles in verse 2

Bear ye one another’s burdens, …

I understood how a group can help an individual who is struggling with some difficulty. But then verse 2 seemed to be contradicted by verse 5 which focused on the individual:

For every man [Greek, each one] shall bear his own burden.

As I studied for the sermon I discovered that there are two different Greek words underlying “burden” and “burdens” in this passage. In verse 2 the Greek word βάρος refers to a burden that is heavy, difficult to carry. In verse 5 the word φορτίον refers to something which is more of a typical load to be carried. A soldier typically wears a certain φορτίον ‘kit’.  A ship or donkey is expected to carry a φορτίον ‘cargo, load’. A person’s φορτίον can even refer, metaphorically, to how that person conducts their life.

Better Bible translations reflect the differences in meaning of these two Greek words. I encouraged the church to help bear the weight that feels like too much for one person to handle. We can come alongside people who are experiencing a heavy load and let them lean on us, give them a shoulder to cry on, comfort them, pick up some of their load.

But I also encouraged them to remember that we each have responsibilities in life that are ours and ours alone. If we are unloving, no one else can be loving for us. If we want to eat, we need to do the work necessary to eat, as Paul commanded the Thessalonians (2 Thess. 3:10). We must pull our own weight, act responsibly, and not be slackers. No one else can act responsibly for us. That is our own individual job.

Most recent English versions differentiate the two kinds of weights that can be carried by translating the first as “burden” and the second as “load” (RSV, NASB, NRSV, ESV, NKJV, NWT, NIV, TNIV, TEV, NAB, NJB, NET, TM, HCSB). That is good translation.

Some translations make the metaphorical nature of the weight in verse 5 explicit:

  • For we are each responsible for our own conduct. (NLT)
  • Assume your own responsibility. (GW)