Bible Translation: April 2005 Archives

The Bible translations that call themselves the literal translations have a funny way of defining 'literal'. What they really mean is that the number of words in a sentence in the original is as close as possible to the number of words in the translation. At least that's what's going on in I Corinthians 3:16-17. There is a difference in translation philosophy between preserving the form of the original and preserving the sense of the original. Those are different elements, and erring on either side means preserving a different element of the meaning of the original.

That's not what's going on in the differences between the translations that say they're more literal amd the ones that say they're more dynamic in I Corinthians 3:16-17. The main difference with this passage is not about preserving the form vs. preserving the sense. It's about preserving one aspect of the form (and therefore one element of the meaning) vs. preserving a different aspect of the form (and therefore a different element of the meaning). First consider the following translations of the two verses in question:

David Heddle has a nice post up giving a synopsis of five key Christian figures from the mid-fourth to mid-fifth centuries: John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Jerome, Leo the Great, and Augustine. This is part of a larger series on church history that's been very good overall, much worth checking out. Two things in this post caught my attention as worth saying something about. (There's much more in the post that caught my attention, but not to the point of wanting to flag it.)

1. David ends the post with a very nice discussion of Augustine's theology as a systematic development of what was later called Calvinism, leading into an especially good treatment of limited atonement as a theological issue independent of Augustine himself.

2. In the section on Jerome, we see a precursor of contemporay translation debates, though David doesn't mention it as such:

In 382 he returned to Rome and was charged by Damasus, bishop of Rome, with the job of revising the Latin New Testament. Jerome was reluctant, knowing that he would be "blamed" by those who found their favorite translations altered, and this time with the Church�s authority. (Indeed, "I think the original must be wrong," said one such malcontent when told that his favorite translation had been undone by an appeal to the earliest manuscripts.)

Hmm. Haven't I heard that exact claim about the earliest manuscripts before?

Doug at announces his preference for the ESV over other Bible translations. I'm not going to comment on most of what he says, but I found one thing very interesting. He gives a number of different translations of Psalm 119:11. You can check the post for the different versions, but here's what fascinated me. Aside from The Message, the most dynamic translation out there (done by a real scholar or scholars, anyway), the two most dynamic translations of that verse were the NASB and the ESV, which are normally much more formal translations. All the others retain some word for hiding when they record the psalmist's statement that he's hidden God's word in his heart. The NASB and the ESV use other words. The NASB psalmist has treasured God's word in his heart, and the ESV psalmist has stored it up in his heart. I just found that interesting, but it underlies an important point.



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