More Exceptions to Translations' Overall Tendencies

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Mark Heath has a nice breathtaking post about two examples from the ESV translation of II Chronicles 9. I agree with him on both points that the ESV made the wrong translation decision, but I don't want to duplicate his post, so I'll just tell you to read it yourself. One further thing that interested me about his first example is that this is yet another case of translations not lining up in the standard ways. The ESV gives the most so-called literal rendering in this case. The NIV is the least close to the so-called literal rendering. In between are the NASB, CEV, and NLT, which all translate the passage the same way. Then you find two that give the ideal translation, which is in my view a little closer to the so-called literal translation than the NASB, CEV, and NLT and much more than the NIV. Those two translations are the HCSB and the Message. Compare the standard hierarchy of tendencies from more formally equivalent to more functionally equivalent:

NASB
ESV, HCSB
NIV
NLT
CEV
Message

In this case instead we get:

ESV
HCSB, Message
NASB, CEV, NLT
NIV

I think Mark would have put them this way, though:

ESV
NASB, CEV, NLT
HCSB, Message
NIV

Either one is quite different from the standard view of these translations according to overall tendencies. That means that a translation that is more functionally equivalent or formally equivalent will often not be that way in particular cases.

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4 Comments

Well stated, Jeremy. This all just shows to go--I mean, goes to show--that generalizations about Bible versions are not always as helpful as dealing with more of the specifics, as your post does. I have just linked to your post from my BBB blog.

My pastor recently mentioned that he finds a lot of places he's unhappy with the ESV especially in Old Testament passages, where it may make things somewhat more difficult to understand, or more awkward (like the examples cited in the post you reference). He prefers the NIV. Whether or not one prefers the NIV, it does seem that the ESV is substantially more awkward at times than some other translations.

ESV seems to pay more attention to the style and that's why it loses in the meaning.

Actually, I'd say the opposite. It seems to me that it's less focused on style, and that's why it often reads so awkwardly when it's trying for accuracy in meaning of the parts (while it ignores the whole).

The real truth here, though, is that style is part of meaning, and we should try to capture as much of it as we can in order to convey the original meaning. Almost always we'll have to sacrifice something, however. You can't act as if sacrificing any element means you've destroyed God's word, or you'll be destroying the very possibility of translating at all. Muslims take this view with the Qur'an, which is the logical result of those who insist on what they call (mistakenly) a literal translation.

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