Bible Translation: October 2009 Archives

Bill Mounce on Translations

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I really like Bill Mounce's attitude toward Bible translation. He recognizes different translation philosophies for different purposes, something I've consistently defended on this blog for over half a decade. He's been discussing the TNIV, ESV, and some of the debates among supporters of those translations, and I thought it would be good to direct those interested in such issues to his posts.

Luke 17:35--The ESV and Dirty Dancing makes two observations that I think are worth recognizing. First is a short discussion of colloquial translation. I frequently see complaints about certain translations not being English, and some people who know English pretty well will sometimes make such claims about things that seem very much English to me. (For an example from Wayne Leman, whose work on such matters is often very good, see this post and the comments on the issue of "in the days of".) Mounce's discussion of "grinding together" seems to me to get to the same kind of issue.

Then Are Ants People? looks at a very interesting ESV translation in Proverbs 30. The ESV uses the term "a people" to describe ants (and then again for badgers). A critic of the ESV considers this an error. Mounce defends it as getting the point of the passage much more strongly than the more dynamic translations can do and sees it as a weakness of dynamic translations.

Then I Tim 3:8 -- Double-Tongued Deacons looks at the tendency of the more formally-equivalent translations to leave ambiguities of the original language in the translation. His example is a Greek term that seems to appear nowhere else in Greek literature before this point. We're not sure exactly what it means. You can make a decision on what it might mean and get a specific meaning in your translation, but that relies on speculation. Alternatively, you can retain the sense of the original (which may have been a new word to its original hearers) by translating the components of it literally and getting "double-tongued". This may actually convey better what someone would have heard it as if it really was a newly-coined word. This isn't Mounce's preferred translation, but what he's drawing attention to is that a translation of this word the way the ESV does it should be perfectly fine, and critics who make fun of it are missing something important. He points out that you'd have to think you're reading a Harry Potter novel or something to think it means someone really has a forked tongue.

Today Mounce has announced that he will be serving on the translation committee for the revision of the NIV. I think that's an excellent move on the part of those selecting the members of the committee. Mounce understands the reasoning behind ESV decisions, since he was a member of that committee, but he's also committed to there being good reasons for different translations that use different translation philosophies, and he accepts the TNIV policy as not generally problematic. He does see specific problems in some of the ways they implemented it, but I do too. I haven't seen anything from him before on gender translation issues, so it was nice to see some of what he has to say about that in this post.

It sounded to me as if he intends to continue his series looking at these issues, so I wanted to recommend it to those who, like me, really enjoy reflecting carefully on them. The Koinonia blog in general often has good stuff (but I also find stuff there that's a lot less interesting or helpful to me, as often happens with multi-author blogs), but I think Mounce's contributions have often had some of the highest-quality content.

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