Lost in Translation

bible02So, Big Man over at Raving Black Lunatic asked my take on the various translations of the Bible in a comment on one of my recent posts, and so I’ll take that as a chance to have a spiritual topic that I don’t have to dig out of my own head right now (cluttered as it is with anything but an abundance of ideas right now).

There are plenty of different Bible translations in English alone, and all of them get things a little “wrong.” I mean, there are originals in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and who knows what else, and languages other than English can have subtle shades of meaning with certain words that get lost in English translations.

So, I don’t expect any translation to give me a complete and 100% perfect experience at giving me the word of God as originally intended. That isn’t all bad, though. Not all of the specifics of the Bible apply directly to the way life has changed over the millennia in terms of society, technology and so much else. It’s the essentials and the basics that are important.

That said, here is how I roll when it comes to Bible translations:

My main go-to source for the word of God is the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. For sheer poetry of the language, for feeling like I’ve gotten something that tried to capture the heart and meaning of the original texts, I feel like the KJV is where it’s at. However, as nice as it is to read, it can be hard to get what the KJV translators were trying to say centuries ago, much less to figure out how closely it jibes with older and more original translations. For that reason, I prefer my KJV to be a study Bible, with copious footnotes and such to help give me context and clear up confusing areas.

Still, as much as a I like the KJV, there are times when I feel like I need to do a compare/contrast of a passage between different versions of the Bible or when I feel like I need something closer to modern language, and for that reason, I try to make sure I have an International Standard Version (ISV), American Standard Version (ASV) and/or New American Standard Bible (NASB) version on the shelf right next to the KJV.

The little pocket Bible I have in my back pocket at all times I prefer to be an ASV, NASB or ISV New Testament/Psalms/Proverbs combo (no room for expansive footnotes in something that small), though currently it’s a Gideons Bible lounging around in my back pocket.

Just for kicks, let’s look at the line from Romans chapter 9, verse 1 for some of the differences:

King James Version
I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost,

International Standard Version
I am telling the truth because I belong to the Messiah–I am not lying, and my conscience confirms it by means of the Holy Spirit.

American Standard Version
I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing witness with me in the Holy Spirit,

New American Standard Bible
I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit,

GOD’S WORD® Translation
As a Christian, I’m telling you the truth. I’m not lying. The Holy Spirit, along with my own thoughts, supports me in this.

American King James Version
I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost,

Bible in Basic English
I say what is true in Christ, and not what is false, my mind giving witness with me in the Holy Spirit,

Douay-Rheims Bible
I SPEAK the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost:

Darby Bible Translation
I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing witness with me in the Holy Spirit,

English Revised Version
I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing witness with me in the Holy Ghost,

Webster’s Bible Translation
I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me testimony in the Holy Spirit,

Weymouth New Testament
I am telling you the truth as a Christian man–it is no falsehood, for my conscience enlightened, as it is, by the Holy Spirit adds its testimony to mine–

World English Bible
I tell the truth in Christ. I am not lying, my conscience testifying with me in the Holy Spirit,

Young’s Literal Translation
Truth I say in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing testimony with me in the Holy Spirit,

Looking at those, you’ll notice that a lot of translations are pretty close to the KJV overall, and the NASB, ASV and ISV versions don’t differ much between themselves in terms of essence, though they flow differently in terms of word choices.

I don’t know much about the GOD’S WORD version of the Bible, but the fact they felt they needed to trademark the name makes me instantly suspect of it. And the language seems many times to me to be both too stilted and often too simplistic.

The Bible in Basic English often doesn’t seem to be as basic as it probably needs to be, if it is indeed trying to distinguish itself from the ASV, ISV and NASB versions.

Young’s Literal Translation can be a bit hard to read at times, which I expect for something that seeks to be a literal translation, but I also find myself wondering how literal it really is, and regardless of whether or not it succeeds at that, I also wonder if it’s helping the understanding or hindering it among readers.

I know little about the Weymouth New Testament, but it often strikes me that it is trying to be both more literal of the original Greek versions and other versions than the KJV was, while also trying to keep the language modern enough for decent comprehension.

Anyway, just my random babblings here.

I just plain like the KJV and the more modern versions that don’t try to use language that is too modern. I tend to be annoyed by translations that try to adopt very modern language or very basic language, as I think too much gets lost in doing that, and you end up diluting the word instead of edifying people.


9 Responses to “Lost in Translation”

  1. June 9, 2009 at 11:48 pm

    my synagogue recently received a set a new prayer books, with the prayers translated into modern english. the new books also included the matriarchs, footnotes and other reference materials.
    the consensus: we’re sticking with the poetry of the old prayer books.
    it just FEELS better. vernacular has its downside.

    but then, what do you expect from me? i have a fondness for latin mass.

  2. 2 Deacon Blue
    June 10, 2009 at 10:15 am

    LOL…I think I’d love to catch a Latin mass if I were visiting some gorgeous cathedral as a tourist…but I always thought the Catholic church even when it’s in plain English is just waaaaaay too much into ritual for the sake of ritual. Just cannot take mass anymore…not that I was all that fond of it as a young’un growing up either.

    Which is probably why I jumped ship to the Protestant camp once I rediscovered my faith walk as an established adult.

  3. June 10, 2009 at 11:49 am

    I’ve tried several of the other versions, but always go back to the King James. It probably isn’t the most accurate translation, but it’s definitely the most beautiful and poetic – which inclines me to believe that, if god had an opinion on it, she would like it best, too. After all, the 8th synonym for God is Beauty.

  4. June 10, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    I need to get a couple extra bibles.

  5. 5 Deacon Blue
    June 10, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    Me too, Big Man. I used to have several, including one my mom gave me before she died. I have no idea what happened to that one, but I lost most of my Bibles…and my huge hinking concordance, when we moved across country several years back. Had to leave a lot of that stuff in storage back where we used to live, and then various circumstances forced us to have to let the payments on the storage space slack off…and bye bye to everything in there when we did…

  6. June 10, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    BTW, in case anyone is wondering, I don’t actually OWN all the Bible translations that I noted above. But there is a wonderful parallel Bible Web site that gives multiple versions of every book, chapter, and individual passage in the Bible, along with commentaries from various sources.

    It’s at: http://bible.cc/

    and I use it often for my stuff around here.

  7. June 14, 2009 at 11:44 pm

    I would recommend people take a look at Truth in Translation by Jason David BeDuhn. It investigates the role of theological influence in Biblical translation, and it is insanely informative.

  8. 8 Deacon Blue
    June 15, 2009 at 10:38 am

    Thanks, David. I’ll have to see about adding that to my bookshelf. Or, perhaps more likely in the short run given my finances, see if my library carries it or can get in on interlibrary loan…

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Deacon Blue is the blogging persona of editor and writer Jeffrey Bouley. The opinions of Jeff himself on this blog, and those expressed as Deacon Blue, in NO WAY should be construed as the opinions of anyone with whom he has worked, currently works, or will work with in the future. They are personal opinions and views, and are sometimes, frankly, expressed in more outrageous terms than I truly feel most days.

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