Good News Translation review

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Rick Mansfield continues his series reviewing Bible translations, this time with the Good News Translation, otherwise known as The Good News Bible, Today's English Version, Good News for Modern Man, and various other names. (Rick explains the name issue in the post, by the way.)

For other entries in the series, see the entries on the HCSB, NASB, NLT (with an addendum), TNIV, Message, REB, and NJB.

I have three observations about the examples Rick chose to highlight this translation and one picky comment about his choice of language in one a side point. First, look at the Proverbs example he gives and his comment below. I actually noticed the parallelism issue before I got to his comments on it, and I have to say that it bothers me much more than it bothers him. The structural features of Hebrew poetry often do give clues to meaning, and this is a case where the loss of the structure is entirely unnecessary. Exactly why do you need to lose the parallelism to keep the meaning and to put it into modern English? That strikes me as just unnecessary. It's one thing to give up the form reluctantly in order to preserve some aspect of the meaning, as dynamic translations often do, but here I'm guessing they give it up because they think it makes the content clearer. I fail to see how.

I also noticed something in the Matthew example. The phrase "meaningless repetition" becomes "a lot of meaningless words" in the GNT. Doesn't that actually change the meaning? Jesus isn't talking about each word as meaningless, with lots of such meaningless words. It's not as if people are saying "glub, worp, drib, lert, flir, trilt" and so on. But that's the most obvious meaning of this rendering, isn't it? This strikes me as a genuine inaccuracy. I don't throw that word around, since I'm pretty sensitive to its misuse by Wayne Grudem, Leland Ryken, Vern Poythress, and others in the crowd opposing inclusive language translations, where what they call inaccuracies are just different translation methods that involve disagreements on how best to preserve meaning. But here we really do have a change in meaning from the original to the translation, and this is a translation where plain surface meaning is supposed to be the main goal. I think that counts as an inaccuracy.

My third observation was in Phil 2:6. Part of that verse reads "but he did not think that by force he should try to become equal with God". I'm sorry, but that is not natural-sounding English. It's grammatically correct, technically speaking, and I think sometimes constructions like that are necessary in formal writing. But people don't put prepositional phrases before the subject like that unless they're trying to (1) get around some other rendering that would mislead in terms of meaning, (2) get around some other rendering that they believe (often wrongly) to be grammatically incorrect, e.g. split infinitives or ending the sentence with a preposition, or (3) translate something from another language that has the prepositional phrase before the subject, thus displaying that they care more about the emphasis in the original based on word order than they do about natural-sounding English form (which I think is a legitimate dispute with something to be said for both sides).

Now I can't see how (1) would be true. It sounds fine and has a plain meaning with the prepositional phrase at the end. Such a rendering would also have no grammatical problem, real or perceived, so (2) is out. But (3) is against the official translation policy of the GNT. So I'm not sure what happened. Maybe it's just a generational thing, and people used to talk like that, but I just can't hear that as natural-sounding English today.

I've also got a little quibble with Rick's choice of words at one point. He seemed to me to be equating inclusive language translations with those "that pay attention to gender concerns". That doesn't seem like the best way to describe the differences translations have with regard to gender inclusiveness. The ESV and HSCB, for instance, include inclusive language in some places where older translations do not (e.g. most instances of 'anthropos' come out as "person" or "human" or the like). But they don't do it in all the places that the NRSV, NLT, TNIV, and other more inclusive translations do. That doesn't mean the ESV and HSCB don't pay attention to gender concerns (at all). Such a description sounds too all-encompassing.

But even translations like the NASB or NKJV pay attention to gender concerns. They don't completely ignore the meaning of all gendered terms. They just don't pay attention to the one particular kind of gender concern that inclusive language translations have begun paying attention to now. Or rather, they do not enact the view on that issue that people behind inclusive language translations have enacted in those translations. Neither do the ESV and HCSB for many cases, but they certainly did pay attention to such issues even if they ended up with a different translation policy on the issue in many contexts. This point isn't a big deal, but I think it's good to say precisely what you mean, particularly when it's somewhat pejorative-sounding, and I don't think that was the best or most fair way to put it, even if I and most of his readers would know exactly what he was talking about (and even if I know that he has no bone to pick with translations that aren't gender-inclusive; he's in fact one of the few people I've ever encountered with a view pretty much like mine on the issue, accepting both kinds of translations for what they are and for the contexts for which they are best).

3 Comments

Jeremy, thanks for the interaction with my post. Obviously, it's not my responsibility to defend the GNT, and I essentially agree with what you say here.

In reverse order, I agree that Phil 2:6 might sound better as "but he did not think that he should try to become equal with God by force." That probably sounds more natural. The only reason to keep the other reading would be to emphasize "by force," but I wouldn't feel that this phrase is the main concern of the verse. Good catch.

The "meaningless repitition"/"a lot of meaningless words" question is interesting. It's hard for the unitiated to know what "meaningless repitition" even means without a bit of exposition. Meaningless words does not have to mean "glub, worp, drib, lert, flir, trilt," but I suppose could imply words that are empty, that carry no significance which is what the repeated chants and prayers are. I don't know if I would call it an inaccuracy or not, but I believe you're right that perhaps it could have been translated differently.

You're right that the parallelism issue doesn't bother me that much because if someone is really studying Hebrew poetic parallels, I'm going to probably recommend something else anyway. The real question that I did not address is why the parallelism is mostly removed in Proverbs, but not in Job and the Psalms. I wonder if it was altered because of the didactic nature of Proverbs as distinct from the other poetic passages. But ultimately, I don't know.

My apologies regarding the phrase "pay attention to" in regard to gender issues. Yes, you are right that the ESV, NASB95, HCSB, etc. do in fact pay attention to gender issues and are more gender inclusive than their predecessors.

I guess some kind of distinction is in order to separate those translations that will use masculine universals (man, he, etc.) vs. those that don't. The translations I listed in my post fall into the latter category.

The ESV for example retains "man" Psalm 1:1, although to its credit, it includes a footnote stating "The singular Hebrew word for man (ish) is used here to portray a representative example of a godly person." I do believe that's helpful.

My intent was not to sound pejorative--you know that I am highly favorable toward the HCSB, although less enthusiastic about the ESV--and in fact, I did not even mention these other translations by name.

To me, a true "gender inclusive" translation will reject masculine universals, but I still agree with you on your basic premise that these other translations do pay attention to these concerns. If I have time later, perhaps I can modify my post somewhat.

Empty words and meaningless words strike me as very different things. It might have worked to render it "meaningless prayers", but it's not the words that are meaningless, the way their rendering has it.

My other point about gender is that even translations with none of the inclusive language do pay some attention to some gender issues. For instance, they do not translate pronouns such that
Jesus appears to be a woman rather than a man. That's paying attention to gender. There may be one gender issue that didn't concern them, and that one has become the gender issue in recent discussions, but it's not really the only gender issue in translation.

Jeremy, I agree with you about the lack of accuracy in the GNT's wording of "a lot of meaningless words." In our own work with the GNT, as well as the CEV, two of our own favorite versions, we do come across bloopers like that. Things slip through the cracks in any Bible translation.

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