Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Translation Notes 1

There are probably six (or eight, depending on how you count them) Bible translations in common use in evangelical churches in the United States. They are: the New King James Version (NKJV); the New American Standard Bible (NASB); the New International Version (NIV); the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB); the New Living Translation (NLT); and the English Standard Version (ESV). Both the NASB and the NIV are available in updated versions. The original NASB dates to 1977, while the updated version appeared in 1995. The NIV original dates to 1984, while the update appeared in 2011.

If a pastor uses the NIV, and congregants have one or more of the other versions mentioned here, there will sometimes be a difference between what the congregant hears from the pastor as he reads what the congregant sees on the page in front of him. Most of the time, the differences will be minimal, and the listener can easily see the source of the differences between the two versions. Sometimes, however, the differences are jarring, and cannot be easily reconciled by the listener. So, for example, if the pastor reads Psalm 100 from the NIV, when he gets to verse 3, he will read, “Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” That will be fine with the readers of the NLT or the ESV, but not for those reading the NKJV or the NASB. The reader of one of these two latter versions will have something like this in front of him: “Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.” (NASB) The primary difference between the two renderings is in that phrase “and we are his,” or “and not we ourselves.” The reader is left wondering which one is right, or if it is possible to get one from the other. Unless the pastor addresses the difference, the solution (even with the marginal note that the versions will have) is not easy to see.

It is my intent to address these kinds of differences in a number of succeeding posts. However, some general remarks will help at the beginning of this exercise. Some of the differences are caused by the differing philosophies of translation that were adopted by the committees that produced the translations. In broad terms, the two philosophies used today are the formal equivalence and the functional equivalence approaches. The former approach produces such translations as the NKJV, the NASB, and the ESV. The latter approach produces the NIV and the NLT, and, to a lesser extent, the HCSB. I have dealt to some extent with these approaches in earlier posts, but for good introductions to the two approaches, I recommend The Word of God in English by Leland Ryken and How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Mark Strauss. The former book espouses the formal equivalent approach, while the latter book argues for the functional equivalence approach.

Some of the differences are caused by the text the translators are relying on. All of the translation committees begin with the  Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT) of the Bible (in the Old Testament) and the Greek New Testament. However, in some places the Hebrew of the MT is difficult, and translators will look to ancient versions for suggestions as to how a particular passage should be translated. The most significant of these versions are the Septuagint (LXX, the old Greek translation of the Old Testament), the Syriac (Syr, a translation done in a late dialect of Aramaic), and the Vulgate (Vg, the Latin translation first done by Jerome in the later fourth-early fifth century).

More general principles will follow in the next post.

1 comment:

Tom McManus said...

Good to see you back. I missed your postings.