English style in translation

In my morning reading the text was Isaiah 6:1-7:9. I have read it many times. But today I read the text in the ESV. One verse stood out as awkward English.

Isaiah 6:11

Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
And he said:
Until cities lie waste
without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
and the land is a desolate waste,

The bold words are the ones in question. It seems like something is missing, i.e. “cities lie in waste” or “cities lie wasted.” The exact same phrasing occurs in ESV at the following places:

Isa 33:8 

The highways lie waste;
the traveler ceases.
Covenants are broken;
cities are despised;
there is no regard for man.

Isa 34:10 

Night and day it shall not be quenched;
its smoke shall go up forever.
From generation to generation it shall lie waste;
none shall pass through it forever and ever.

Other English Translations

So I checked Isaiah 6:11 in other translations (none of ~30 translations I checked had what ESV has).

NAS (Is. 6:11)

Then I said, “Lord, how long?” And He answered,
Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant,
Houses are without people
And the land is utterly desolate,

NKJV (Is. 6:11)

Then I said, “Lord, how long?”
And He answered:
Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant,
The houses are without a man,
The land is utterly desolate,

HCSB (Is. 6:11)

Then I said, “Until when, Lord?” And He replied:
Until cities lie in ruins without inhabitants,
houses are without people,
the land is ruined and desolate,

NIV (Is. 6:11)

Then I said, “For how long, Lord?”
And he answered:
Until the cities lie ruined
and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted
and the fields ruined and ravaged,

NET (Is. 6:11)

I replied, “How long, sovereign master?” He said,
Until cities are in ruins and unpopulated,
and houses are uninhabited,
and the land is ruined and devastated,

NLT (Is. 6:11)

Then I said, “Lord, how long will this go on?” And he replied,
Until their towns are empty,
their houses are deserted,
and the whole country is a wasteland;

I have studied the issue of English in translation in many contexts. I think that translations such as God’s Word offers a good example; the translation team had a full time (qualified) English advisor. The task of this advisor was to examine both written and oral choices and offering editing changes. Any of the above translations provide adequate good English style for this text.

Recommendation

I would recommend that the ESV translation team revisit these three Isaiah texts to produce a more meaningful English rendition.

About exegete77

disciple of Jesus Christ, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, teacher, and theologian
This entry was posted in ESV, Hebrew, Languages, Personal Reflection, Translations and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to English style in translation

  1. I agree that this is slightly awkward. It is slightly formal prose, but I believe that is what the ESV was striving for. The phrase itself (“lie waste”) is odd. Most people are familiar with the common phrase in literature “lay waste,” but I think I’ve only seen it as some kind of verb (e.g. “I will lay waste to this land!” or “Hitler’s armies laid waste to the opposition in the blitzkrieg!”). It seems as if the ESV rendering begs for some kind of “being” verb (e.g. “are wasted”) or for another word altogether (“are in ruins”).

    I know Leland Ryken was an English consultant to the ESV. It looks as if this one may have just slipped through the cracks. “Lie waste” almost sounds right, but you can tell it is a little off.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. exegete77 says:

    I should note that RSV, NRSV, and RSV (2nd Catholic) have the same rendering as ESV.

    Like

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