completed ISV now available

ISV now Available for Free Download in e-Sword Format
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We are pleased to announce immediate availability of the entire text of the completed Holy Bible: International Standard Version in the popular* free e-Sword electronic Bible study program. Here’s how to download it for free:*
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If you DO NOT own the latest free e-Sword program:
*****Click here http://e-sword.net/downloads.html to visit    e-Sword.net’s web site, where you may download and install the    latest edition of their free e-Sword electronic Bible study program.    Then follow the seven-step instructions listed below:    ******

If you DO own the latest free e-Sword program:
*****Once you’ve downloaded and installed e-Sword:
1. Open the e-Sword program  and click on the “Download > Bibles” tab.
2. Scroll down (in the separate window that will open) to the    “English” language Bibles section.
3. Look in the alphabetical listing of “Free” Bibles for the ISV.
4. Tag the ISV file line in the table and then activate the    “Download” function.
5. The latest edition of the completed ISV will download and install    into your e-Sword program.
6. After the download completes, quit the e-Sword program and restart it
7. The ISV will display among your collection of Bibles.*
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*PLEASE NOTE: Due to limitations regarding e-Sword’s ability to process our Microsoft Word DOC files, the e-Sword’s ISV module /*DOES NOT*/contain footnotes.*

*Kindly direct any questions you may have concerning this announcement to us at williampwelty@sbcglobal.net*

*William P. Welty, Ph.D.

ISV Foundation*

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And for those who prefer Microsoft Word  rather than e-Sword format, the entire ISV is available, for now, as free downloads from:

http://isv.org

Layers of language and translation

Linguistics is a great thing to study! Anyone who has done a bit of formal study of linguistics will know that it has many sub-fields such as phonology, syntax, morphology, semantics and pragmatics. In this post we’re going to dig down through the layers and see how focusing on each layer results in significantly different translations. For this we’re going to use the following verse as an example:

Matthew 26:33: ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Πέτρος εἶπεν αὐτῷ· εἰ πάντες σκανδαλισθήσονται ἐν σοί, ἐγὼ οὐδέποτε σκανδαλισθήσομαι.
NLT: Peter declared, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you.”

Each layer is a little further from the source, a little more abstract and a little (or a lot) harder to study. But I hope you’ll see that the deeper you go the more potential there is for exciting and powerful translations!

Phonology
Phonology is the study of sound in language. There is of course no translation which attempts to fully convey the phonology of its source – such a translation would really be a transliteration instead! Most translations do however transliterate occasionally. Although names, both of people and places, frequently are given a meaning in in the Bible, they are usually transliterated or transferred into the target language. For example Πέτρος /petros/ becomes Peter in most Bibles.

Many translations however also transliterate other words. These transliterated words have become English religious jargon, but in many cases they were regular words in the Hebrew or Greek. Words like apostle, baptise, messiah and sabbath are all basically transliterations. While it might be easiest to stick with tradition and use these words, it is worthwhile considering if they can be translated, and what effect that would have on the translation as a whole.

Morphosyntax
Morphosyntax, or morphology and syntax, is the study of structure in language, of words and sentences respectively. Translations that focus on morphosyntax will try to mimic the structure of the source text as much as is possible. Our example has two verbs in the main clause, ἀποκριθεὶς and ἀποκριθεὶς, and the strictest mimicking translations will actually include both, such as the NKJV: “Peter answered and said to Him…” Most translations recognise that this phrase is a common idiom and instead just use a single verb in English: for example the ESV has “Peter answered him…”

A better example is found in the next phrase, for which the ESV has “Though they all fall away because of you…” Some verbs must always have a preposition, as David Ker recently discussed. These are sometimes given the technical name of bipartite verbs, i.e. two-part verbs. The phrase looked over has a unique meaning which look by itself does not have – essentially it is a distinct verb. I suspect that σκανδαλισθήσονται ἐν is similar. Translations which are attempting to mimic the source’s morphosyntax will translate this phrase with a verb and a preposition, as the ESV did, with “fall away / because”. Okay, that’s really a three part verb! Other translations however might treat the Greek verb as a unit, and replace it with whatever conveys the meaning of the whole unit best. That may also be a multi-part verb, or it might be a single word. This is what the NLT does, which translates it as desert.

A morphosyntax-mimicking translation might be written by using the same types of clauses and phrases as the source, representing them as is natural for the target language. The most extreme mimicking translations however also attempt to mimic the source’s word order of regardless of whether that is the target language’s normal way of representing those structures. To me this seems especially ironic considering that both Hebrew and Greek have a significantly free word order, and so any significant word orders will be for reasons other than syntax!

Semantics
Semantics is the study of meaning! To some extent I covered this in the previous section, as most translations which don’t focus on conveying morphosyntax instead focus on conveying semantics. So semantic translations are free to pick whichever words and sentences they need to most closely translate the meaning of the source, regardless of whether the structures are similar or not.

Each of these layers we’ve been digging through is more abstract, and so translations that focus on lower layers are harder to produce. Sometimes there is significant ambiguity, or even if the source is understood clearly, the target language’s culture may think about some issues in a very different way. One further example from our verse is the noun πάντες, which has the basic meaning of all. There are though a great many ways in which it has been translated, some of which are all, all men, or everyone. A semantics-sensitive translation will ask what was implied in the source language, and what will be inferred from the translation, and if they do not match up the translation will need to be edited further.

Pragmatics
Pragmatics is the study of language in context. This is necessarily more abstract than the other layers we’ve covered as we have a far from complete knowledge of the context in which the Bible was written. As the focus of pragmatics is context, a big part of it is studying language as whole texts or conversations, rather than as individual sentences or words. Mike looked at some interesting contextual issues in Matthew recently.

One thing that comes under pragmatics is the intent of a text’s author. Everything ever said or written has been said or written with some purpose. Parts of the Bible have been written to encourage and to rebuke, to excite the readers and to express deep grief. I suspect that The Message as a translation aims to convey these author intentions as its highest priority, even if that means that the individual semantics of a sentence must be changed. Sometimes I think it does this very effectively, but at others times I think the intentions it conveys have been too strongly tainted by speculation. While The Message is an interesting experiment and other translation teams would be wise to study it, I personally don’t think that intentions should be ranked over semantics for most general purpose translations. These translations will remain a niche item.

Another aspect of pragmatics is to do with information. The study of information structure looks at how language is used to mediate between the different collections of knowledge we all have. One significant concept is that of focus, which is used to bring to the forefront something which the speaker thinks their listeners do not know. In Biblical Greek pronouns, like ἐγὼ “I”, are frequently optional, and using them adds emphasis. Both οὐδέποτε σκανδαλισθήσομαι and ἐγὼ οὐδέποτε σκανδαλισθήσομαι have the semantic meaning of “I will never desert you,” however the second has a pragmatic focus on the “I”. A translation could even consider printing I in italics in this verse. I’ve only found one translation which seems to convey this emphasis, the ISV: “Even if everyone else turns against you, I certainly won’t!”

Other layers
There are many other layers to language which are rarely considered to much depth for Bible translations. Some of these are the genre of texts, the register of texts (is it high brow or low brow?), the differences between individual authors etc. The list just keeps on going! I believe that the majority of current Bible translations focus on either morphosyntax or semantics. Clearly there is still much room for improvement!

English Bible translations in progress

I know of three English committee Bible translations which are currently in progress:

  1. ISV (International Standard Version) – nearing completion. Isaiah, the last book, to be translated, is being translated directly from a Dead Sea scroll. The ISV team welcomes revision suggestions.
  2. NIV2011 – revision of the NIV. It will likely read much like the NIV, but the committee will revisit each controversial passage to try to avoid the rejection the TNIV received in some quarters. On this blog we are encouraging readers to submit revision suggestions.
  3. CEB (Common English Bible) – its first goal is clarity with “plain speaking”. It is especially intended to replace the NRSV among mainline denominations which desire to use a Bible version which uses more natural English. On BBB we are also encouraging readers to submit revision suggestions for the CEB.

I wish each of these translation teams well as they work to meet their goals. I also hope to compare some of their translation wordings in future posts. If you would like to do some of that comparison now, feel free to include it in the Comments to this post.

What is the most accurate English Bible version?

I think everyone wants to use a Bible version which is accurate; I have never heard of anyone who prefers to use a Bible which is inaccurate. Many English versions specifically are advertised as being “accurate” or “highly accurate” or “literally accurate” (NASB), etc. The ISV promotes itself as the “the most readable and accurate Bible translation ever produced,” and perhaps it is. It is a good translation. Dr. David Alan Black, a good Greek professor who also has an excellent understanding of English, was a main translator for the ISV New Testament. And his competence with both languages shines through in the ISV wordings.

There are perhaps twenty English Bible versions which can be easily purchased today. Obviously, many, including myself, want to use the most accurate one. Which is it?

That question is nearly impossible to answer. For one thing there are different ways to define accuracy. Exegetical accuracy does not always result in accuracy for the reader, particularly if the translation wording obscures or distorts that exegetical accuracy. An example, Jesus calls Herod a “fox.” All my life, whenever I would read that part of the Bible, I assumed, from the translation, that it meant that Herod was foxy, that is crafty. But increasing numbers of Bible scholars state that that is not what Jesus meant at all by saying Herod was a fox. Animal names used as metaphors have different meanings in different languages. In English we refer to a crafty person as being foxy. In other languages different animals are used to represent craftiness. So if an English translation of what Jesus said uses the word “fox,” is that translation inaccurate. It is accurate in that it uses the English word “fox” for the same animal that Jesus referred to. But it is inaccurate in that Jesus did not mean that Herod was crafty when he referred to Herod as a fox. Instead, Jesus meant something like “Herod is insignificant.” Jesus was asserting that he was not afraid of Herod. Somehow an accurate translation must make clear what Jesus meant by calling Herod a fox. There are various ways this can be done, including using a footnote which would say something like “In the Semitic language and culture of Jesus’ time, a fox was considered insignificant, a weakling.

Accuracy in translation is a complex issue. It involves several different parameters. It can refer to copying the form of the original to the target language as closely as possible. But if doing so communicates the wrong meaning, as does the English word “fox,” can we still say that a translation is accurate. On one level we can, the level which some people consider so important, namely, that the translation “says” what the original text says. But then we have the problem that “saying” what the original text says gives the wrong meaning. And giving the wrong meaning doesn’t sound like any kind of accuracy to me. It is at least necessary to have a teacher help us “re-translate” in our minds every place in our Bibles where what the translation “says” is not what it actually “means.” Many of us have heard such statements from pulpits in the past, such as when a pastor who uses the KJV has to say, “Well, now, the word “let” here does not mean “let” today; but when this Bible was translated this word “let” meant “prevent.” Of course, if a Bible teacher has to re-translate very many words, it creates a significant communication burden for the teacher, the student, as well as the translation itself. Bible readers cannot read their Bibles with confidence that what they “say” is what they “mean.”

There is a lack of scholarly consensus on the meaning of some wordings in the biblical source texts. This results, sometimes, in different translation wordings because different translation teams choose different valid exegetical options.

Another issue is that there are disagreements about the text source texts to translate from. For the New Testament, some argue whether it is better to use an eclectic text or the Majority text (or even the Textus Receptus). For the Old Testament some prefer to tilt toward the LXX (Septuagint), while others prefer to tilt toward the Massoretic Text.

There are many accurate Bibles today. In fact, I would suggest that most Bibles today have a high level of accuracy. Some inaccuracies that have slipped through have been discussed more than others. But every Bible version has some inaccuracies. But nearly every Bible version is quite accurate, as long as we understand what kind of Bible version we are using and if we need to do any re-translating of what it says so that we get the right meaning.

So, what is the most accurate English Bible version you can use today? It may be impossible to say. Largely, the answer depends on how we define accuracy. But even then, with the various definitions of accuracy, we can still trust the Bibles that we use. On the whole, almost every Bible we can purchase is accurate, in one way or another. And God in his grace ensures that even Bibles with some (unintended) inaccuracies (and that includes each one) are used to glorify him and bring his good news to others.

Categories: translation accuracy, Bible versions