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”!

Matt. 22:16 – Does God care for no one?

In Matt. 22:16 the Pharisees sent emissaries to Jesus to ask about paying taxes to Caesar. They began by saying:

Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any [man]: for thou regardest not the person of men. (KJV)

Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men. (RSV)

I have boldfaced the wordings I am concerned about in this post. The KJV and RSV use some meaning sense of the word “care” which I am unfamiliar with. I am not even able to find it in my dictionary.

Someone reading either of these wordings could get the idea that God doesn’t care for people. And yet most of us know, at least cognitively, that he actually does. Some of us have memorized that great verse, 1 Peter 5:7:

Casting all your care upon him [God]; for he careth for you. (KJV)

Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you. (RSV)

1 Peter 5:7 makes it clear that God does care for us. So, I assume, that the word “care” is used with a different intended meaning in Matt. 22:16 from its use in 1 Peter 5:7 in the KJV and RSV.

The ESV only mildly revises wordings of the RSV which do not have to do with removing perceived liberal biases in the RSV. But Matt. 22:16 is one place where the ESV makes ordinary good literary revision of the RSV:

Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.

The ESV retains the word “care” but it now has a meaning which all English speakers today know. Notice also that the ESV increases the accuracy of the RSV: the ESV has “anyone” instead of RSV “man.” “No man” is no longer an accurate translation of the Greek indefinite pronoun oudenos for most English speakers.