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.