Sunday, August 21, 2011

Analyzing Six Bible Translations: Part 1

Introduction: Explanation of the Study and My Bible Translation Philosophy

Ephesians 1:1 in Sinaiticus (ca. 4th century)

This study will analyze six Bible translations in two parts. Part 1 will look in detail at one specific pericope. This has the advantage of not “spot checking” a translation, but seeing how it works with an extended text. Ephesians 2:1-10 will be the text analyzed. The particular interpretations that impact the criticisms of the translations will be made explicit in each example. Each word, clause, and sentence will be examined. Only where the translations differ will they be analyzed. Part 2 will look at various texts that have been used to analyze the way different translations have rendered the text.

A point system will be used. When a translation renders the text in the most preferable way, it will receive one point. When a translation renders the text in a way that lines up with the traditional way the text has been translated, and/or in a way that may be less than helpful but is not technically incorrect, then zero points will be received. When a translation renders a text in a misleading or drastically unhelpful way, it will receive minus one point.

The reader should keep in mind the translation principles used for this analysis. If one disagrees with these principles, it could significantly alter the outcome of the study. 1) Idioms/Semitisms should be translated functionally, not formally, if they will be misunderstood or confusing to modern readers. For example, I have asked over 100 college students what the idiom “gall of bitterness” (Acts 8:23; cf. ESV, NASB) means. Not one knew that it referred to being “bitterly envious” (cf. NET). The expression “the son of perdition” means next to nothing to most modern readers (John 17:12; cf. NASB). The translation “the one destined for destruction” is much more helpful (cf. NET). 2) The structure of the translated sentence should conform to contemporary English grammar, not Koine Greek grammar or Hebrew grammar. Greek and Hebrew sentence structure sometimes begins with the object or indirect object; English sentence structure begins with the subject. Also, negative particles sometimes are phrased in very awkward ways in some translations: “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt 7:1 in ESV). Unless the structure of the sentence is extremely important for determining meaning (for example, in a chiasm), English structure should dictate the translation. 3) What should translators do when faced with the option of translating a sentence into awkward English or smooth out the English and lose something in the translation? These have to be taken on a case by case basis. If what is lost is an emphasis, that could be acceptable. However, if a main theological point gets clouded, then it is unacceptable. 4) There are times when a translation has to make a decision, but the ambiguity is high. Therefore, use of footnotes is preferable at these times. I’m not suggesting that every translation move toward the NET Bible’s 60,000 plus footnotes, but there are times when it does appear to be the best solution. 5) Finally, the contentious issue of gender-neutral (or, gender-accurate, or gender-specific, etc.) translations must be discussed. I do believe that the original languages were much less specific in terms of gender than translations have indicated. For example, anthrōpos in the plural could refer to “men” or “people.” Context will dictate which is best. Certain participles in Greek might be masculine in gender (for example, ho pisteuōn-“he who believes”), but they are not necessarily excluding women (so the previous example might more accurately be translated as “the one who believes”). The gender issues will be discussed as they come up.

So the philosophy I bring to Bible translations might differ from yours. If so, this study would still be useful since you could track along with the discussion and just change the point totals as you see fit. Regardless, the decisions about translation philosophy shouldn’t be decided based upon the translation you use, but the translation you use should be based upon the one that fits your translation philosophy best.


David McKay said...

This looks like it will be a most interesting analysis. Discovered it this morning, via Denny Burk posting the symposium with Clendenen, Moo and Grudem

Wayne Leman said...

I appreciate your quantitative approach to the analysis of the different versions. I have done the same thing with my analyses:

Studies evaluating English Bible versions