Bible Translation: November 2006 Archives

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.

At Better Bibles Blog, Wayne Leman and several others often complain about inverted negatives in the ESV. [See Wayne's comment here, for instance.] Inverted negatives are a kind of construction that you find regularly in the KJV and some of its heirs that do not ever appear in contemporary English unless someone is deliberately trying to sound archaic. Yet the ESV continues it, largely out of respect for the KJV tradition and a desire to avoid changing the language many of the biblically literature find familiar to them and expect in a Bible translation.

Matthew 6:13 is an example. The ESV translates it "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." The normal English way of saying this in our day would be "And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil." The archaic reversal of the negative is simply not contemporary English, and it's contrary to the purpose of translating into contemporary English (to be understandable to ordinary readers not familiar with Biblese) to translate with inverted negatives.

Contemporary translations not in the Tyndale tradition tend not to translate with inverted negatives, however. The HCSB, a translation similar in many ways to the ESV, translates Matthew 6:13 as "And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." The NET gives exactly the same translation. This rendering is much better as contemporary English than the ESV translation. The GNB (TEV) says, "Do not bring us to hard testing, but keep us safe from the Evil One." The ISV has "And never bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." The NRSV translates it as "And do not bring us to the fiery trial, but rescue us from the evil one." I think this is more likely referring to temptation than to trial, and there's no indication of anything fiery in this verse, but the structure of the sentence here is correct (and "rescue" is far better in contemporary English than the old-fashioned sounding "deliver").

This morning I was reading the TNIV of the Luke parallel (Luke 11:4), and I discovered that it uses the inverted negative. In fact, it's exactly the same translation as in the ESV. This is also true of Matthew 6:13, and it's true of the NIV renderings of both verses. That led me to check several translations, and the other one that struck me as interesting was the NLT: "And don't let us yield to temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." That raises an interesting translation issue that I think is worth spending some time thinking about.

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