Friday, February 13, 2009

Serious mistranslations?

It bugs me when people accuse Bible translators of bad motives. I wonder how often a translator would deliberately mistranslate a passage?

I think it is more likely that a translator sincerely believed his translation was accurate, and rendered the text in a particular way because he thought it would make it easier to understand, because it maked this verse harmonise with the rest of Scripture, or because he had to opt for one of a number of ways of translating it, and he felt that this was the likely meaning.

Every now and then I read comments that a particular translation is inaccurate. Sometimes it is made by a new student of Greek, or rarely of Hebrew. Other times it is because the translation doesn't say what a person wants it to say, or because it is different from their favourite translation.

Worst of all is the person who says that a translation is inaccurate because it is different from the King James Version, which is a great Bible translation which I love, but which is not perfect.

Over the past 3 and a half years I have read seven versions of the Bible through completely and am now reading through the ESV Study Bible. Each of the Bible versions I read is accurate and reliable I believe, though I was not happy with the study notes in one of the seven versions. All of them are helpful, but imperfect. There are no infallible tranlations. But we are so fortunate that we have so many terrific English translations.

I have enjoyed reading the TNIV [= Today's New International Version, which is an updated NIV] in a text only version, and in The Books of the Bible: a presentation of Today's New International Version, a specially created version which removes the verses, chapters and headings and even rearranges the books. This version has the books arranged partly chronologically and partly thematically. It is interesting that the arrangement of the reading plan in the ESV Study Bible has a similar schedule for the New Testament.

This version is an improvement on the NIV, because it reflects current evangelical scholarship in a few places and removes gender-specific language which was not intended by the authors. In a very few places this may be overdone, but mostly it helps us to see that the New Testament authors intended to include men and women when they wrote to their fellow Christians, despite using words such as "brothers" as a synonym for our family of male and female believers.

I enjoyed reading the NIV Archaeological Study Bible and learnt quite a bit about ancient Bible manuscripts and artifacts which help to confirm the reliability of the Bible, as well as filling us in on the background of the world of the Bible.

The ESV Reformation Study Bible gives us insights into the theology of the Bible and is well worth your time.

I also enjoyed reading through the New Living Translation, 2nd edition and the Good News Bible, Australian edition. Some Christians are wary of these versions because they think the language is loose. But I've learnt things in these versions which I had never seen in the so-called literal versions. It is good to have a version which tells you what the Bible says, and leaves interpretation ambiguous where it is ambiguous in the original [which the New American Standard Bible and ESV supposedly do], but it is also very helpful to have a version which tells you what the translators think the Bible means, such as those I have just alluded to.

The New Jerusalem Bible is helpful because it gives fresh renderings of the familiar renderings of the Wyclif-Tyndale-King James Version tradition. Although upon reflection, you may wish to stay with the traditional renderings, it is worthwhile taking the opportunity to think about the possibilities. It is also interesting for a dyed-in-the-wool Protestant to consider the extra chapters and books in the Roman Catholic Bible. They are good for reading, as the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles reminds us and do give an insight into the thinking of people from the time of the writing of the biblical canon, though they are not part of it.

However the study notes are not very helpful, as they so often tell us that the Scriptures are not reliable, and merely echo discredited theories, such as the Documentary Hypothesis of the composition of the first five books of the Old Testament.

It was interesting to read through the ESV and TNIV. Some people read one, but wouldn't dream of reading the other, but both are well worth reading regularly and they are much more similar to one another than their promoters would ever admit. They are both firmly in the King James Version tradition and are much more like one another than any other recent version, I think.

I believe we can trust the versions I have discussed here. I don't think any of the translators had sinister plans to distort the Word of God when they did their work. I am very grateful to God for all of them.

No comments: