modern Bible translations ... a bad choice?

Exchange relating to various translations of the Bible

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modern Bible translations ... a bad choice?

Postby BC Editor on 23 Nov 2007, 20:30

Dear all,

over the years I have used the "good old" KJV Bible translation as my main English translation, in more recent years I have also used the NASB translation, and I have not had too many problems in either readability or understandability of either.

Someone recently complained to me in an e-mail that the modern Bible translations very "terrible, awful" because even though the language may be closer to today's use of words, many modern translations were "rather inaccurate and more of a paraphrase than an actual translation" and therefore "not useful if one wants to read God's Word" ...

What experience do participants here have with the more modern Bible translations? can the above comment be considered to be mostly accurate or is this observation about modern Bible translations inaccurate?
God bless you,
Wolfgang Schneider

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Re: modern Bible translations ... a bad choice?

Postby Dan Haas on 21 Dec 2008, 21:55

I for one am grateful for the modern translations. I especially like Phillip's translation, the NRSV and the NASB. As far as "accuracy" goes, I'm of the opinion that if one is that concerned about it, then one ought to learn to read the NT in Greek. This has been, for me, both harder and easier than I imagined.

The "good old KJV" is a monument of English literature, accurate without being wooden, and I doubt we'll ever have a finer attempt at making the Hebrew and Greek of the Bible into sensible English. One of its drawbacks, though, is the text from which it was translated. In the twentieth century alone, we have discovered manuscripts that predate the oldest of which the KJV was translated by fully 1000 years. The newer translations have the benefit of this purer text. Now, what they do with it is all-important. The ESV (English Standard Version) attempted to achieve the literary greatness of the KJV, but in modern English. The Old ASV (1901) was the American revision of the RV from the 1880's; the ASV has been called "the rock of biblical honesty" for its faithfulness to the Greek text. The NASV follows in its tradition. But when we translate "literally" (that is, not transferring idiom into the receptor language) do we really communicate what was written?

What if 1500 years from now, the American idiom "couch potato" was lost (and I pray God it will be!); how then should someone translate "couch potato"? Directly? Well, yes, and that's what the ASV does with the Greek. Perhaps we'd add a note that back in the twentieth century, "couch potato" come from the word "couch" which was like a long upholstered chair, seating three or more people, found in most Wester living rooms, and "potato," which of course means the vegetable, but the phrase was idiomatic for a person who spent much time on the couch, generally watching television. Now, Phillips might have translated the phrase "lazy television watcher."

I've read with interest the efforts of those who are endeavoring to translate the Bible into every living language. Their stories are heartwarming. But especially interesting are the difficulties of language and communication. Some of these peoples have no written language at all, so the translators first have to make a written form of their language, and then translate. What if the target group is in subsaharan Africa, and has never seen or heard of snow? How will they translate that our sins will become "white as snow."? Is "white as cotton" inaccurate? Of course, we could translated it "snow" with a note describing snow as precipitation, like rain, that due to low temperatures forms ice crystals, but that might muddy the translation, don't you think?

Eugene Petersen's The Message gets a lot of grief from critics. He uses poetic license freely, to understate the matter. But he explains that as a translator, he felt it was his job to do what he'd been doing for over twenty years as a pastor, explaining the New Testament "in other words," modern words. Now, I feel personally that there are passages that he truly botches to pieces, but I read his version from time to time and find value in it. I sometimes find myself thinking, "THAT'S not what it says," and I go to the KJV or the Greek text and read it again, and often enough I come away wondering.... "maybe that's what it DOES say"!

So yes. I'm grateful. I have nearly all the translations into English in my library, and don't hesitate to give my extra copies (for I haunt used book stores) to folks that don't have them.
Dan Haas
 
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