Bible Translation Difficulties

The other day I posted that some were protesting the C.S. Lewis Study Bible because the editors chose the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) as the Biblical text. The protesters believed that choosing a ‘gender neutral’ text hijacked Lewis’s legacy, believing he did not agree with ‘gender neutral’ translations. My post generated some discussion on whether or not gender neutral translators push an agenda and whether or not they ‘added’ words to the text. My friend PamBG commented that this reminded her of her Greek class where the professor taught that there can be no direct translation from any language to another.

Just to further Pam’s point, part of the difficulty comes from the fluidity of language – i.e, they never stay the same. Nor do people who speak the same language always mean the same thing. Pam and I can vouch for that as Americans living in Britain (and for Pam, who moved back to American and is having to retranslate herself!). One of the funniest stories so far is my wife teaching at a primary school in our first year. She did not understand the look of horror on a child’s face when April told her to put a ‘period’ at the end of a sentence (the child had just gone through health education). I would imagine the same situation if a British teacher asked an American child for a rubber.

With the fluidity of language in mind, Dr. Chris Armstrong of Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, has been celebrating the 400th anniversary of the KJV with some posts: Words in the King James Version that now mean something else. He has three so far (here, here, and here).

There are some interesting word changes – dragons used to mean jackals; addicted and accursed used to mean devoted; and bowels mean the heart.

I wonder how the KJV only crowd handle those? Regardless, it would seem Bible translation is more art form than science.

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6 thoughts on “Bible Translation Difficulties

  1. There is also a big change that happened in both British and American English in my lifetime. That’s the change from talking about “man” to mean “humanity” and I think has sparked an awful lot of the “KJV only” controversy.

    In my childhood, people did not say – for example – “Humanity is created in the image of God”; they said “Man is created in the image of God”. No one at the time thought that this meant “Man is created in the image of God but woman is not”. We would also talk about “the brotherhood of man” which meant – in modern language – “the human family” and did NOT mean “men are going to get into a fraternity to gang up on woman”.

    I think this change in the English language has actually caused a lot of confusion and misunderstanding.

  2. John: Yes, it puts a new light on Wesley!

    Pam: I think that’s a nuance that gets lost on those like the commentator on my previous post. I also think about the choice in the NRSV for Paul to say he ‘received a stoning’ rather than he ‘was stoned’. The latter means something totally different for many today!

  3. I also think about the choice in the NRSV for Paul to say he ‘received a stoning’ rather than he ‘was stoned’. The latter means something totally different for many today!

    Ha! Yes. I never thought of that!

  4. //it would seem Bible translation is more art form than science. //

    I think many people forget that God is the greatest artist of them all. And language itself is a created thing, not to be worshiped but to be used in worship of its Creator.

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