Common language Bible versions

I often post about natural language in Bible translation on this blog. Recently I blogged that there is a difference between natural language, which is language normally spoken or written by native speakers of a language, and common language. Natural language for someone who is highly educated and/or is able to use a high register of the language will often be different from natural language of other speakers.

Common language, on the other hand, is vocabulary (lexicon) and syntax which is shared by all native speakers of a language. The TEV (GNT) and CEV were produced as common language versions of the English language. The translation Dios Llega al Hombre is the common language equivalent for Spanish. There are common language translations, as well, in a number of other languages. Common language translations are typically made under the umbrella of one of the United Bible Societies. (The TEV and CEV were produced by the American Bible Society, one of the member societies of the UBS.)

This last weekend I charted usage of three English words for English Bible versions. These three words are “justify”, “grace”, and “flesh.” The meanings of these words, as they are understood by current common language speakers of English, is different from the meanings these words are intended to convey when they appear in English Bible translations.

Most English speakers have a meaning for “justify” that has to do with someone making excuses for their actions. We sometimes hear sentences like, “He is trying to justify his behavior.” This is not the meaning of the Greek word δικαιόω (DIKAIOW) translated as “justify” in traditional English Bibles. This common contemporary meaning in meaning to the word “rationalize.” (Some English speakers also have the meaning intended in the Bible, but because they are only a portion of all English speakers, that meaning would, by definition, not qualify as being part of common English.)

Most English speakers today understand “grace” to refer to elegance of movement or behavior. An ice skater who skates with grace is one who skates fluidly, with beautiful movement, and smooth transitions from one skating form to another.

The word “flesh” is not used very commonly by English speakers today (hits on Google are not very informative here, since Google does not compare how often a word is used by English speakers in contrast to how often its synonyms are used by them; Google does not give us the detailed statistics that we need to accurately understand word usage). I have heard it used, infrequently, in sentences such as “Oh, it’s just a flesh wound.” Instead of the word “flesh,” today most speakers use words such as “skin,” “body,” and “muscles.” Use of the word “flesh” in English Bibles is nearly meaningless for a very large percentage of English speakers.

OK, here is how the English versions translated Greek words δικαιόω (DIKAIOW), χάρις (XARIS), and σάρξ (SARKS), which have been traditionally translated as “justify,” “grace”, and “flesh,” respectively:

Rom. 3:30 Rom. 5:20 Rom. 7:5
δικαιόω χάρις σάρξ
BBE give righteousness grace flesh
CEV accepts God’s kindness thought only of ourselves
ESV justify grace flesh
GNT/TEV put right with himself grace flesh
GW approves God’s kindness corrupt nature
HCSB justify grace flesh
ISV justify grace human nature
KJV justify grace flesh
NAB justify grace flesh
NASB justify grace flesh
NCV make right with him grace flesh
NET justify grace flesh
NIrV justify grace sinful nature
NIV justify grace sinful nature
NJB justify grace natural inclinations
NKJV justify grace flesh
NLT makes right with himself grace flesh
NRSV justify grace flesh
NWT declare righteous undeserved kindness flesh
REB justify grace mere human nature
RSV justify grace flesh
SENT find innocent grace flesh
TM sets right grace old way of life
TNIV justify grace sinful nature

I was surprised to discover that NWT used common language translations for two of the three terms. My impression of the NWT had been that it was a fairly literal translation using traditional English Bible words.

I was also surprised to find that the NLT, which, overall, uses relatively natural English, retained both “grace” and “flesh”. The same surprise comes from the NCV which was designed to be an easier to read translation.

The TNIV makes no changes from the NIV in translation of the three words charted.

I am limited in what else I can say by lack of time. The rest of today I need to run errands and pack my luggage. Early tomorrow morning I leave to fly to Alaska. I will spend a week visiting my parents in their care home. Saturday will be their 62nd wedding anniversary. We will have a small family meal with them with some of their favorite Alaskan foods, clam chowder, salmon, and likely some smoked salmon.

I will have Wi-fi Internet access at the care home, so I can read comments on this blog post. As you comment, please try to stay on topic for this blog post. This post is about how three Greek words in the book of Romans are translated in English versions. This post is about how these words have been translated into common English. Common English is not slang, nor is it a dumbed down form of English. It is simply good quality grammatical English that is shared in common by all English speakers. The word “common” here is equivalent to an old meaning sense of the word “vulgar” (not the primary current meaning of “nasty, ribald”). Note the name of the Bible translation, the Latin Vulgate, where “vulgate” meant that the language used was common to all of the people, not a specialty dialect of Latin spoken or written by a sub-segment of Latin speakers.

I realize that some of you will want to express the fact that you prefer the traditional words “justify,” “grace,” and “flesh” in the Bible versions you use. It is fine if you say that, but please allow others to focus on the post’s topic of common language translation. Please follow the posting guidelines for staying on topic for this post. If you wish to discuss something that is off-topic, feel free to email me privately to suggest that as a topic for another post.

The Greek of Romans was not Attic Greek or some other earlier dialect of Greek. It was not classical Greek. The Greek of the entire New Testament was Koine Greek, which was the common language of Greek spoken and written during the time of Christ and for some time afterwards. It was not a dumbed down Greek. It was a dialect of Greek that all Greek speakers knew and understood. Good literature could be written in Koine Greek. In fact, some of my favorite Greek books were written in that common language dialect, books such as Luke (a more polished variety of Koine Greek), John, Romans, Philippians, 1 John, and several others!

Which of the English translations for the three charted words do you think communicate the most clearly and accurately to speakers of common English? (Remember, common English is different from Church English, which may have a proper place in the life and liturgy of some people.)

What are advantages and disadvantages to translating in common language?

Romans 16:25-26: evaluating accuracy

Read the following translations of Romans 16:25, 26. Pay special attention to the last few words of the verses. Then comment on which wordings of the end of the verses you consider to communicate the biblical meaning most accurately and which you consider to do so less accurately. Feel free to explain your choices.

1. Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith

2. Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith

3. Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith

4. Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith

5. Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that had been kept secret for long ages, but now is disclosed, and through the prophetic scriptures has been made known to all the nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith

6. Now to Him who has power to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the sacred secret kept silent for long ages, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic Scriptures, according to the command of the eternal God, to advance the obedience of faith among all nations

7. To him who has power to make you stand firm, according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of that divine secret kept in silence for long ages but now disclosed, and by the eternal God’s command made known to all nations through prophetic scriptures, to bring them to faith and obedience

8. Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him

9. Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to faith and obedience

10. And now to him who can make you strong in accordance with the gospel that I preach and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, in accordance with that mystery  which for endless ages was kept secret but now (as the prophets wrote) is revealed, as the eternal God commanded, to be made known to all the nations, so that they obey in faith

11. Now to the one who is able to strengthen you with my gospel and the message that I preach about Jesus, the Messiah, by revealing the secret that was kept hidden from long ago but now has been made known through the prophets to all the gentiles, in keeping with the decree of the eternal God to bring them to the obedience that springs from faith

12. Let us give glory to God! He is able to make you stand firm in your faith, according to the Good News I preach about Jesus Christ and according to the revelation of the secret truth which was hidden for long ages in the past. Now, however, that truth has been brought out into the open through the writings of the prophets; and by the command of the eternal God it is made known to all nations, so that all may believe and obey.

13. Praise God! He can make you strong by means of my good news, which is the message about Jesus Christ. For ages and ages this message was kept secret, but now at last it has been told. The eternal God commanded his prophets to write about the good news, so that all nations would obey and have faith.

14. God can strengthen you by the Good News and the message I tell about Jesus Christ. He can strengthen you by revealing the mystery that was kept in silence for a very long time but now is publicly known. The everlasting God ordered that what the prophets wrote must be shown to the people of every nation to bring them to the obedience that is associated with faith.

15. Now all glory to God, who is able to make you strong, just as my Good News says. This message about Jesus Christ has revealed his plan for you Gentiles, a plan kept secret from the beginning of time. But now as the prophets foretold and as the eternal God has commanded, this message is made known to all Gentiles everywhere, so that they too might believe and obey him.

16. Now to him who is able to make you strong in agreement with the good news which I gave you and the preaching of Jesus Christ, in the light of the revelation of that secret which has been kept through times eternal, But is now made clear; and by the writings of the prophets, by the order of the eternal God, the knowledge of it has been given to all the nations, so that they may come under the rule of the faith

17. All of our praise rises to the One who is strong enough to make you strong, exactly as preached in Jesus Christ, precisely as revealed in the mystery kept secret for so long but now an open book through the prophetic Scriptures. All the nations of the world can now know the truth and be brought into obedient belief, carrying out the orders of God, who got all this started, down to the very last letter.

2 Cor. 1:12 – comparing versions

2 Cor. 1:12 is an interesting verse to use as a test of English literary quality and clarity in translations:

1. For our proud confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you.

2. Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace.

3. Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace.

4. For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our  conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.

5. For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.

6. For our boast is this: the testimony of our conscience that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you, with God-given sincerity and purity, not by fleshly wisdom but by God’s grace.

7. We can say with confidence and a clear conscience that we have lived with a God-given holiness and sincerity in all our dealings. We have depended on God’s grace, not on our own human wisdom. That is how we have conducted ourselves before the world, and especially toward you.

8. For our reason for confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience, that with pure motives and sincerity which are from God – not by human wisdom but by the grace of God – we conducted ourselves in the world, and all the more toward you.

9. We are proud that our conscience assures us that our lives in this world, and especially our relations with you, have been ruled by God-given frankness and sincerity, by the power of God’s grace and not by human wisdom.

10. We are proud that our conscience is clear. We are proud of the way that we have lived in this world. We have lived with a God-given holiness and sincerity, especially toward you. It was not by human wisdom that we have lived but by God’s kindness.

11. We can be proud of our clear conscience. We have always lived honestly and sincerely, especially when we were with you. And we were guided by God’s wonderful kindness instead of by the wisdom of this world.

What do you think about the word phrasings in these translations? Can you understand each phrase? Can you read the verse once and understand its main point (a good test for textual coherence and cohesion)?

TNIV – Where have all the bibles gone?

Robert Jimenez has blogged on the latest report on English Bible sales at Christian bookstores:

He wonders where TNIV Bibles can be purchased:

I have gone to 4 major Christian bookstores and have been unsuccessful in finding a TNIV. Only one out of 4 of the Christian bookstores that I went to carried the TNIV. Borders and Barns n’ Noble carried the TNIV, but I was only able to find just one or two copies. NIV is easy to find, as a matter a fact at one Christian bookstore they had 8 shelves of NIV bibles to choose from, in all sorts of shapes, sizes and styles. TNIV is a great translation, and most experts will say that it is even better than the NIV. Why is not available at Christian Bookstores?

He adds:

This is disturbing news. Will the TNIV fall away because no one carries it? Or will it survive due to a grassroots movement? Zondervan does not seem to be pushing or properly marketing the TNIV as it’s main bible and continues to offer new and great products for NIV, but not TNIV.

Robert noted two surprises among the sales figures:

The bible that I thought would fade away was the HCSB, but looking at both Dollar/Unit sales it appears to be doing excellent. It is holding both 2, and 3 positions.

The other interesting point was the drop for the ESV bible, down to 6th in both places. Other points of interest were Study or Specialty Bibles.  Wesley Study Bible (NRS) number two spot and it was just released in Feb. 2009?  I thought the ESV Study Bible was the number one best seller it comes in 9th place?  See for yourself who holds the number one spot, yet again another surprise.  For the full reports go to CBA Best Sellers List.

Finally, he asks:

Based on what they say on their website they are only tracking sales at Christ[ia]n Book stores.  So these charts do not give us a proper indication of true Dollars/Units sales.  It does not take into account sales from Amazon, or bookstores such as Borders.  I just wonder how much it would change if it did?

What answer might you give to Robert?

Bible publishing

The task of Bible translation is not complete until the translation is published so it can be used by others. I suspect that all of us would agree. And I suspect that most, if not all, of us share the same essential meaning for what “published” means in that first sentence.

This last Sunday, however, I heard a usage of “published” which struck me as odd English, something that we would not actually say. It was read from Isaiah 52:7 during the church service:

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news (tidings: RSV),
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (ESV)

As some recent posts on this blog have emphasized, a translation should not be difficult to understand because it uses odd English. A translation may be difficult to understand because it is translation of a difficult idea. But there is no instrinsic reason why we need to express difficult ideas using difficult words. And there is no instrinsic idea why we need to express non-complex ideas using English wordings which none of us would ever normally say or write.

If we use odd English in a translation, we run the risk of distorting the biblical meaning and/or obscuring it from translation readers. I have no idea what it means to “publish peace” or “publish salvation.” I would need a Bible teacher familiar with the original Hebrew to explain what these English words are supposed to mean. But it would take less time if the translation used standard English words to express that same idea. Let’s keep our Bible teachers for the jobs we really need them for, to explain difficult concepts and help us apply them to our lives. Their job should not be to explain odd words in English Bibles.

The Hebrew ideas behind the words “publishes peace” and “publishes salvation” are not difficult. There are a variety of ways they can be translated to English, some using words that we would all agree are in common usage, while others are not.

How would you re-translate the odd English phrases “publishes peace” and “publishes salvation” to more standard English?

SENT published

Dear SENT Users,

I’m excited to announce that my four-year translation project and labor of love, the Spoken English New Testament, has how arrived from the printer. I’m reaching out to ask those of you who have not already done so to purchase copies, for two reasons:

1. This is probably the most engaging, readable, accurate, and clear translation you will ever read. I am confident that it is going to revitalize your enjoyment and understanding of the scriptures of the New Testament.

2. I have produced and printed this book at my own expense, and I need to recover my print costs! I decided to self-publish the Spoken English New Testament (SENT) because I set out to break the mold for what Bible translations are expected to be–i.e. either archaic, over-literal and wooden, or loose, inaccurate and riddled with sectarian bias–or all of the above. I wanted to make an accurate, scholarly, annotated version that was at the same time ideal for reading aloud and so simple that sixth- to seventh-grade readers would find it easy to read. By self-publishing, I held on to the right to have as many footnotes as I thought my readers deserved, and I also held onto the right to price it at a price that no publisher would consider: $12.99. That’s half of what other recent New Testament translations and similarly-sized non-fiction books sell for in bookstores.

You’re invited to preview the final version of SENT and learn all about it by visiting http://www.sentpress.com.

Will you order one or more copies of SENT right now? It will ship out to you within 48 hours.

Cover Price: $12.99

CA sales tax: $1.14 (8.75%)

Shipping: $2.76 (media mail)

Handling: $1.00 (order fulfilled by a low-income high school student saving for college)

Total including tax, shipping and handling: $17.89 in CA; $16.75 elsewhere in the USA; $22.55 to Canada; $26.30 to the UK.

For two copies the totals are $32.71, $30.44 elsewhere in the USA; please enquire about international shipping options. Please give me your current shipping address in the following form:

Jane Jones

1234 Smith St Apt 3

Oakland CA 94610

You can make out a check and send it payable to:

SENT Press

2501 Harrison Street

Oakland, CA 94612-3811

Or, if you have a PayPal account, you can send me the payment at webb@selftest.net.

All the Best,

Webb Mealy

————————–

(from Wayne: It is a beautiful book with extensive footnotes)

(from Mike: If you have questions, Webb Mealy can be reached at webb@sentpress.com)

comparing the five leading versions

ESV Blog has just posted a chart comparing the five leading versions. Here it is:

Note that none of the versions listed as being “word-for-word” are, in fact, word-for-word translations. A truly word-for-word translation would be an interlinear translation. Each of the versions listed in the chart changes word order from the original biblical texts, as well as making other changes to try to make the translation more usable by English readers. I think what the ESV folks actually mean when they say “word-for-word” is:

  1. There is greater concordance of words within the KJV, NKJV, and ESV than within the NIV or NLT.
  2. There is a higher degree of formal equivalence within the KJV, NKJV, and ESV than within the NIV or NLT.
  3. There is an attempt to translate each word of the original biblical text with some word or words in English.

There is no word-for-word English Bible version published today. Such a translation would essentially not be readable by English speakers, even though it would have English words. For instance, here is a true word-for-word translation of John 3:16:

Thus for he loved the God the world that the son the only/unique he gave so that every the one believing in him not may perish but have life eternal.

As you can see, that actual word-for-word translation does not match, word-for-word, any of the five versions featured in the ESV Blog chart:

For God so loved the world,  that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (ESV)

For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (NLT)

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (NKJV)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (KJV)

What differences, if any, do you sense among the five versions in the chart for the translation of John 3:16?

Luke 2:1-20

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. ( This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  Everyone went to register in the cities where their ancestors had lived. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. Joseph went there to register with Mary. She had been promised to him in marriage and was pregnant. While they were in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger because there wasn’t any room for them in the inn. That night in the fields near Bethlehem there were some shepherds guarding their sheep. All at once an angel came down to them from the Lord, and the Lord’s glory flashed brightly around them. The shepherds were frightened. The angel said to them:

“Don’t be afraid! I have good news for you, a message that will fill everyone with joy. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, King David’s hometown! You will know who he is, because you will find him wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great army of heaven’s angels appeared with the first angel, singing praises to God:

“Praise God in heaven! Peace on earth to everyone who pleases God.”

Then the angels left the shepherds and went back to heaven. The shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see what the Lord has told us about.” They hurried off and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger! After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this baby. Everyone who heard the shepherds’ story was amazed, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. As the shepherds returned to their sheep, they were praising God and thanking him for everything they had seen and heard. It had been just as the angel had told them.

—————————————–

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

my top Bible versions for different categories

Different Bible versions serve different audiences and purposes. It is helpful to use a variety of Bible versions. Some are better for detailed word studies, while others are better for grasping overall themes. Here are my current picks for top Bible versions for different categories that I can think of. (You can find Bible version abbreviations on our blog Versions page. When I list more than one version for a category my preferences go from left to right, starting with my highest current choice.):

1. most accurate exegetically: several qualify here, including NET, TNIV NIV2011, NRSV

2. most natural English: CEV, TEV, BLB

3. most stimulating: Phillips, The Message

4. best liturgical: NRSV, TNIV NIV2011

5. best children’s Bible: CEV, NCV

6. best pulpit/pew Bible: NLT, TNIV NIV2011

7. best study version: NET, TNIV NIV2011, NRSV, (added: HCSB)

8. best multipurpose version: NLT, TNIV NIV2011

UPDATE:

9. most elegant/eloquent: REB (HT: Carl Conrad, Dan Wallace)

10. most genre sensitive: none

What are your top favorites for one or more of these categories?

What other categories useful for Bible versions can you think of?