Bible Translation

Ooops, Does It Really Say That?

When we received our copy of the Kouya New Testament, it took me ages before I dared open it, fearing that I would find a major typo on the first page I looked at. (I didn’t, by the way).  Translating the BIble is a huge task and there are so many things that you have to take into account; accurately expressing the original language, using clear and accurate target language, getting the spelling right, not dropping a verse here or there and so the list goes on…

Better Bibles Blog has republished a good discussion on the ESV by Mark Strauss (start reading here) which includes a section where there ESV, by sticking close to form of Greek has ended up with English that is more than a little ambiguous.

Rock badgers are people too!
Prov. 30:26 ESV “the ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer; rock badgers are a people not mighty, yet they make their homes in the cliffs;”
Comment: In addition to the tortured word order, the ESV’s use of “people” is very strange. We sometimes joke that animals are people too, but surely ants and rock badgers are “creatures” or “species,” not people.

Showing off the flesh
Gal. 6:12 ESV It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised….
Comment: “A good showing in the flesh” sounds like a bikini contest.

If you just want to read the ‘ooops’ section of the paper, you can find it here.

This may sound a little flippant to you, but the serious point that it highlights is that trying to stick to the way that the original language expresses things will always lead to ambiguities in translation. There is a time and a place for literal translations, but the intendant problems have to be acknowledged and addressed. To simply say (as many do) that a literal translation is more accurate than a dynamic one is simply not true – unless Paul really was talking about a bikini contest (which would lead to a revolution in Pauline scholarship).

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2 replies on “Ooops, Does It Really Say That?”

Perhaps one of the reasons these ambiguous expressions have slipped through is that most English translations have not been widely tested among contemporary English speakers. Those of us who translate into minority languages are required to do extensive comprehension testing within the language communities – and rightly so, this is an essential part of the translation process.

I agree with Wayne Leman from Better Bibles Blog who writes in the comments regarding these ESV blunders: “It is time for English Bible translators to use sounder translation procedures before their translations are published.”

This is one of the reasons I love CEV. It was meant to be read out loud and was field tested extensively. That doesn’t mean there aren’t passages that make me grit my teeth…

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