How much liberty with a translation makes it no longer God's Word?

Discussion in 'Translations and Manuscripts' started by Whitefield, Apr 10, 2009.

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  1. Whitefield

    Whitefield Puritan Board Junior

    In translating the inspired text from Hebrew or Greek into English, how much liberty may the translator take in translating the text? I understand that there must be some liberty in order for the sense of the Hebrew or Greek to come through (especially in the case of idiom), but how much may the translator add, of his own invention, to the translation and it still remain inspired text? May the translator add to the translation or pad it with phrases which are not in the Hebrew or Greek in order to fill it out and make it sound better to the English reader? And is there a point where additions and paraphrasings degrade the text to the point where the translation could no longer be considered inspired text?
  2. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    I retitled the thread to help draw folks in.
  3. Galatians220

    Galatians220 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Very interesting question that has nagged at me for years.

    I guess I just can't imagine, at a stage of life at which I see (1) how very much I've learned over the past few decades and (2) how tremendously much I haven't learned while actively trying to learn new things every day, summoning up the hubris - no matter how many advanced degrees in Hebrew, Greek, theology, etc. one has - to sit down with one's peers one morning and say, "Well, ladies and gentlemen, this is the day we start to translate and craft a better Bible!"

    But whole hosts of people have done just that.

    Well -- sufferin' succotash!

    I do hope this thread gleans many useful and edifying contributions!

    Last edited: Apr 10, 2009
  4. E Nomine

    E Nomine Puritan Board Freshman

    I can't quantify it, but it seems the answer is "a whole lot" in terms of the metrical psalters which most reformed folks recognize as inspired.
  5. Southern Presbyterian

    Southern Presbyterian Moderator Staff Member

    Only the original autographs are considered inspired.


    Any attempt therefore to communicate accurately and honestly the original languages would be useful. :2cents:
  6. RTaron

    RTaron The Grandpa (Affectionately Called)

    Our providentially preserved copies of the originals are inspired as well aren't they?
    Not immediately inspired but the apographs are the inspired word of God. I believe this is what the WC is teaching.
    We judge all controversies of religion by this rule.
  7. Southern Presbyterian

    Southern Presbyterian Moderator Staff Member

    Yes, that's why I bolded this statement " his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical...." Providentially preserved copies are all we have. They would therefore be the standard, as the confession says, and any translation would have to be measured by it's faithfulness to the "authentic documents."
  8. DMcFadden

    DMcFadden Puritan Board Doctor

    Ah, but therein lies the rub. On another thread some have popped me in the nose for saying that a dynamic equivalent translation, while not my preference, did not automatically relegate the translators to the realm of the unorthodox.

    Some will suggest that only a formal correspondence translation is an "honest," "accurate," or "faithful" translation. Others will argue linguistically that ONLY a dynamic equivalent translation is accurate and faithful, suggesting that noun for noun, verb for verb, translations inevitably misread and misinterpret the original due to the inexactitude of semantic range of the vocabulary in the source and receptor languages as well as differences of grammar and idiom.

    For example, would you translate "Watergate" into another language by putting together a word for "water" and a word for a "door" or "gate"? Would "I could care less" be most faithfully rendered into a receptor dialect by literally expressing that you could, indeed, care less? Would we insist that a particular type of flying insect must be described by shoving together the word for a yellowish churned dairy product and a word for the adult form of a maggot?

    Most translations on the mission field are dynamic equivalent efforts, many of which take far more liberties with the form of the text than most of our contemporary English translations.

    My preference is to ask the question in the opposite manner. Not, how badly can we mistranslate the Bible and still call it the Word of God, but how can we most faithfully work to keep making our translations more accurate? As an uninformed kid, I used the Good News for Modern Man(TEV). Graduation to adulthood brought me to the NIV. At this stage of my life, I want a solidly formal correspondence translation (NAS, ESV, HCSB, NKJV).

    If we can call the NKJV and the ESV both the "Word of God" despite the differences between the Textus Receptus and the Critical Text, then there must be some measure of latitude in what God will accept. This does not, however, excuse bad translations and should, instead, motivate us to strive always for the best we can get.

    BTW, one my favorite examples of tendentious liberties with translation is the opening of Amos.

    Amos 1:1
    "The words of Amos, who was among the sheepherders from Tekoa" (NASU)

    "Amos was a herdsman living in the village of Tekoa. All day long he sat on the hillsides watching the sheep, keeping them from straying."

    Yeah . . . OK . . . fine.
  9. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    The article below was written to defend against an unfair criticism of exclusive psalmody, but it brings up a lot of the difficulties of translation which equally affect bible translations as psalter translations. N.B. EP will not be discussed here; just echoing some of the issues Dennis brings up.

    Psalmody Objections Answered: Paraphrases
  10. TimV

    TimV Puritanboard Botanist

    Especially when that particular word for sheepherder was used for the king of Moab, and probably means a wealthy businessman rather than someone doing the actual watching of the herds.
  11. Whitefield

    Whitefield Puritan Board Junior

    A part of my question concerns inserting phrases and words which are not in the Greek or Hebrew in order to complete a thought or emphasize a thought. Early in my journey I was reading the Living Bible and almost immediately realized that some things had been added. Although not all the additions were technically wrong, they were additions and if I memorized Scripture with those additions I didn't think I was memorizing Scripture but something other than Scripture. Once I realized that I went back to a more solid translation.
  12. TimV

    TimV Puritanboard Botanist

    That's always a hard one.

    The parts I've bolded from the ESV and Geneva are one word in Greek, but I think both translation capture the meaning better than "expired" or "died".
  13. Southern Presbyterian

    Southern Presbyterian Moderator Staff Member

    But they both communicate accurately the meaning of the original language. Is that not what translation is about? Or would that be considered paraphrase?
  14. TimV

    TimV Puritanboard Botanist

    I'd say that even though the Greek is one word and means close to our English "expired" the Geneva (and KJV which copied it) and the ESV are better translations than "expired" would be. So I wouldn't call "gave up the ghost" or "breathed His last" paraphrases.

    I know when I'm speaking Spanish or Afrikaans doing a word for word translation often just wouldn't make sense, and even though I don't know Greek, I can see why the same principles would apply.

    Some months ago when talking about qualifications for Bible translators (allowing women to do it was the specific question) I strongly argued that only qualified Elders should be doing it, because the very nature of the work requires spiritual discernment that I can't believe is available outside what comes with the formal laying on of hands and all that it entails.
  15. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    In the interests of accuracy, the section of the Confession you cited uses "immediately" to qualify "inspired." The Larger Catechism, after endorsing translation into vernacular languages, states that such are to be read as "the very Word of God." It is impossible to consider a book to be the very Word of God which is void of the quality of inspiration.
  16. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Deut 8:3, "that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.

    "Word" is added to make up the sense.

    Matt. 4:4, "But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God."

    "Word" is original.

    Conclusion: such additions as complete the sense of Scripture are Scripture.
  17. Wannabee

    Wannabee Obi Wan Kenobi

    Interesting thread. I think this is very significant. Dynamic equivalent translations necessitate some departure from what is said and have some lack of clarity as a result. Because of this, I think they should largely be avoided. Having said that, I do check them from time to time to see if they bring some understanding to the text.
    The more wooden translations vary in readability, with some seeming to be a bit "clunky." However, a few have managed to bring a very literal translation to us while being careful not to impose their preunderstanding to a great degree. All translations involve decisions that are shaded by our theological perspectives, so there will be a certain degree of error. But a few of them use italics to show where words have been added and margin notes to show where translation decisions were made that might vary a little (or significantly) where the translators thought a less literal or specific word fit the context better. These markers are appreciated because they help the student/reader understand where these decisions have been made so that they can pursue further research and come to their own conclusions.

    Here is an example that I worked through not too long ago:

    Ephesians 4:1-6 (NKJV)
    1 I, therefore, the prisoner 1of the Lord, 2beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in 3you all.

    Margin notes
    1 Lit. in
    2 exhort, encourage
    3 NU omits you; M us​

    First, the margin notes tell us what some of the options are. The change in verse one from "of" the Lord to "in" the Lord could be significant, and bears consideration. "Beseech" could also be "exhort" or "encourage," but this is not too significant, as far as I can tell. The third note here gives us great insight into the textual variants. If one prefers the Alexandrian then they'll follow the NU, which omits you. Since the NKJV generally follows the TR, it uses "you." But the Byzantine text, shown here as the M (majority text), uses the pronoun "us."

    Next, note that verse 4 has "There is" in italics. This means that the translators inserted these words because they thought they added clarity. However, as I studied through this passage I took the position that the italics distracted from Paul's intent. And, since I prefer the M, I used "us" rather than "you" or nothing. I also thought that "in" rather than "of" had some significance, so went with that as well. The result was a slightly different translation.

    Ephesians 4:1-6
    1 I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, 4 one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all.

    I didn't necessarily need these clues, but they did help clue me in to certain aspects of the passage that I might not have considered otherwise. As a result, I think the proclamation of God's Word was more accurate and helped others to know Christ better.
  18. Southern Presbyterian

    Southern Presbyterian Moderator Staff Member

    And this is exactly what I think an "honest" translation should/would do. Employ some type of device that allows the reader to discern what is literally there and what was added for linguistic or clarity's sake.
  19. Rich Koster

    Rich Koster Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    As one who can only handle English, and that of the limited US vernacular, I would hope that the intent of the translator is to preserve the drift of what God is telling us in the original tongue.
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