Ephesians 6:8 in ESV

This is not a huge translation problem but illustrates an awkward expression.

Eph. 6:8 “… knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.”

So what is the problem? The last phrase, “whether he is a slave or free.” Notice that the first major word after the verb is a noun “slave,” reinforced with the indefinite article (“a”), but combined with the next word it comes across as an adjective. The parallel word, after “or,” is “free,” normally used as an adjective. But it doesn’t seem to fit that role here. In other words, in English the two words should be parallel, which can be done in two ways:

whether he is a slave or free person (NJB)

whether (he is) slave or free (NAS95, HCSB, NAB, REB, NET)

Some translations follow the second option, but change from 3rd person singular  to 2nd person plural:

whether (you are) slave or free (NIV, TNIV)

Further, some translations keep the noun/adjective combination but switches to 1st person plural:

whether (we are) slaves or free (NRSV, NLT-se)

GW brings out the parallel structure (of nouns) but also changes the referent to 1st person plural

whether we’re slaves or free people.

I found this awkward translation while reading in family devotions. So, in the final analysis, not a major issue, but it does illustrate the critical function of orally reading the translation.


I miss Grandpa

I miss Grandpa. Well, technically he was my step-grandfather, being my grandmother’s second husband. But they had already been married for many years long before I was born. He was the only Grandpa I really knew. Last month would have been his 105th birthday; he died in 1985. Every year I reflect on this simple, yet strong, good-hearted man. And I miss him.

He always had time to take my brothers and me fishing, summer or winter. He worked swing shift at the iron mines, yet he seemed ready to fish at the drop of a hat. I have several photos of our fishing adventures. He made sure we had a chance to pull them in, even if a struggle for us.

One time on opening weekend of fishing season, he took us fishing. He left my brother and me on the small inlet while he parked the car. Being an eager young fisherman, I cast out into the shallow water. Before the car was parked, I had a five pound bass. In my great pride I ran down the gravel road to Grandpa wanting to show my trophy. One look and Grandpa whispered as loud as he could “Throw it in the trunk!!” “Why, Grandpa?” He only said louder, “Throw it in the trunk!” It wasn’t until we got back home that I realized that bass season didn’t start until two weeks later; Grandpa didn’t want to let go of the trophy!

Ice fishing was another adventure. He didn’t believe in fish houses. No, he carried a hand auger to get a small hole in the ice, then we had to strain ice out of it every 5-10 minutes. One time we caught a fish that was bigger than the hole. That really bothered Grandpa. “Hell’s bells!” was the extent of his foul language and reserved for the most dire circumstances. This was one of those times. I miss Grandpa.

For a short while in the mid 1950’s they lived in a small trailer house about a half block from the railroad tracks. I still have vivid memories of that time: his distinctive cough in the middle of the night, the sound of the railroad activity, and the smell of tobacco. Not long after that he gave up cigarettes. They had bought property and were getting ready to build a house. As he had done for so many others through the years, he was right there building the house from the basement up. At least this time he didn’t need the team of horses to dig out the basement.

In 1955 he took my older brother and me to a professional wrestling event in a little town west of us. What an eye opener for a young kid! What a most exciting place to be! And we even saw women wrestlers. Grandpa loved pro wrestling, even in his old age. As he watched on TV, he would sit in a straight-back chair with his hands clamped on the seat by his sides. Soon he would be twisting and grunting and groaning with the wrestlers, but his hands never left the seat! I miss Grandpa.

When I was younger, Grandpa seemed a little grumpy or gruff, not in a negative way though. As the years rolled by, I understood that he really wasn’t grumpy and certainly not with us. He didn’t always know how to show love, but he was a very loving man. After he retired and arthritis began to take its toll on what he could and could not do, I occasionally saw the tears of pain. And when our own children came along, he wasn’t afraid to show emotion with them and us. I have learned to be more open with my own grandkids.

During this last decade as my mother wrote her autobiography I learned a lot more about my Grandpa. My respect for him has grown considerably. He had endured a lot, yet remained steady, faithful, and dependable. And he never complained.

Now, as we have five grandchildren, I realize how much he taught me about life, and especially about being a grandpa. With one major difference: growing up, we lived six miles from my Grandpa and saw him many times during the week. But now, our grandchildren live more than a 1,000 miles away. What a blessing it was to have Grandpa that close to us; at the time we took it for granted. I’m sorry we did. I miss Grandpa.

My middle name carries on his legacy. I miss Grandpa!

ESV 2 Cor. 9:5

One of my concerns over the years has been accurate Bible translations, which are also functional within a liturgical environment with all that such requirements entail. Thus, contrary to many who post about Bible translations, I am not necessarily opposed to “biblish” in an English translation. These are English words or phrases that are derived from other languages, Hebrew, Greek and Latin, and which retain a similar structure or syntax of the original language. But even more important, with biblish words there is a continuity with the faith expression within the church, and learning the faith includes learning some of these key terms in the context of liturgy and faith development.

On the other hand, if a translation uses a word that is not natural English nor does it reflect the church’s liturgical language (not biblish), then the translation has missed the goal on both counts. The ESV translators struggled to maintain the language continuity with the KJV tradition, an admirable goal. But it also includes terms and phrases that fail miserably in both areas. This passage from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians illustrates the use of a word that fails in several ways.

2 Corinthians 9:5

So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.

How often is the word “exaction” used in natural English? Seldom, if ever. Is this a biblish example? It is not, because it carries no church or liturgical weight.

The problem is compounded because if a person does not know the word but tries to get the meaning from the root, “exact” the person will likely consider it related to how accurate something is (For instance, “Is it exactly 12 inches long?”).

Finally, from an oral perspective, the ESV rendering fails; the word does not sound right when spoken. In fact, it was when I read this text during our nightly devotions last night that I noticed how awkward this word is.

So, what’s the solution? Each of these has acceptable wording:

TNIV/NLT: not as one grudgingly given.

NRSV/HCSB/REB:/NAB and not as an extortion.

GW: and it won’t be something you’re forced to do.

NET: and not as something you feel forced to do

NJB: and not an imposition.

NAS95: and not affected by covetousness.

The NAS95 is probably the least likely of these alternatives, but still better than ESV. This is one example of where the ESV should have updated the RSV translation.