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.

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English translations and word choices

Some translation oddities

Reading the daily lectionary, I have found some odd translation choices in terms of English usage in some different translations. The following readings come from today’s (Sep. 21) readings. With earlier readings from other days I noticed other odd or awkward phrasings. My goal is not to extensively deal with each text, but look at the English word choice and style used to translate the Hebrew.

Nehemiah 5:6-7 

Hebrew: וַיִּמָּלֵ֨ךְ לִבִּ֜י עָלַ֗י, roughly “my heart was counseled upon me.”

NAS  I consulted with myself

ESV I took counsel with myself

NRSV After thinking it over

NAB After some deliberation

HCSB After seriously considering the matter

NIV  pondered them in my mind

NET I considered these things carefully

NLT After thinking it over

GW After thinking it over

Lutheran Study Bible using the ESV has this alternative in a footnote: “mulled over in his mind what to do” (p. 745).

NAS and ESV maintain the Hebrew sense, but in the process provide an awkward/unusual rendering in English to do so. Most of the other translations adapt the thought into common English usage.

Nehemiah 6:16

Hebrew: וַיִּפְּל֥וּ מְאֹ֖ד בְּעֵינֵיהֶ֑ם, roughly “their eyes fell greatly”

NAS  they lost their confidence;

ESV  fell greatly in their own esteem

NRSV (so also RSV-RCC) fell greatly in their own esteem

NAB our enemies lost much face in the eyes of the nations

HCSB lost their confidence

NIV lost their self-confidence

NET they were greatly disheartened

NLT they were frightened and humiliated

GW lost their self-confidence

Note that ESV/NRSV/RSV-RCC use an odd way to express the Hebrew text. Most of the others show the reflexive (Niphal) sense, with “lost confidence.” NAB is unique in that the focus is not their own eyes that matter, but the eyes of the nations.

Psalm 55:19 

Hebrew:  יִשְׁמַ֤ע ׀ אֵ֨ל ׀ וְֽיַעֲנֵם֮, roughly “God hears and will afflict them”

NAS  God will hear and answer them (footnote: “afflict them”)

ESV (so also RSV-RCC) God will give ear and humble them

NRSV God…will hear, and will humble them

NAB God…will hear me and humble them

HCSB God…will hear and will humiliate them

NIV God…he will hear them and humble them

NET God,…will hear and humiliate them

NLT God…will hear me and humble them

GW God will listen. The one…will deal with them

Most translations offer a readable and understandable English rendering of the Hebrew. But notice ESV and RSV-RCC “God will give ear.” Aside from the original RSV and now lately ESV, I have never heard the use of “God will give ear.” My first humorous thought is “how many ears does God have.” With some practice, a reader might catch what is written. But what of an oral reading (i.e. in worship), will that communicate clearly and easily?

Concluding Thoughts

This is not an academic exploration but a simple look at translation choices and how that fits the register of understandable (and primarily oral) English. Over the past several years as I have reviewed translations, I have found that ESV is problematic in this specific area. And it follows the RSV, NRSV, and RSV (RCC) pattern. This also makes me more aware of how I preach and teach and at what level (vocabulary, etc.) I do so.

Hope to explore more on this topic.

Psalm 7:6 translation

In daily readings through the Bible, I also include the Psalm related to the day in multiples of 30 (7, 37, 67, etc.); so reading one Psalm a day I can cover the entire Psalmody in five months (days with 31 days I read Psalm 119). Yesterday (03/07) I read Psalm 7, and came across an unusual expression. Try reading aloud and see how it sounds, then ask others to listen (only).

Arise, O LORD, in your anger;
lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies;
awake for me; you have appointed a judgment. (Ps. 7:6 ESV)

Surprisingly HCSB and NAB have the same:

awake for me; You have ordained a judgment. (HCSB)

Wake to judge as you have decreed. (NAB)

It is the last line that caught my attention, because it is awkward at best. It doesn’t even make sense in context, and seems incomplete at best (filling too many gaps required). English style does not lend itself to such a translation. So I checked some other translations of that last line:

And arouse Yourself for me; You have appointed judgment. (NAS)

Rise up for me to the judgment You have commanded! (NKJV)

awake, O my God; you have appointed a judgment. (NRSV)

Wake up for my sake and execute the judgment you have decreed for them! (NET)

Awake, my God; decree justice. (NIV 2011)

Wake up, my God, and bring justice!  (NLT)

Wake up, my God. You have already pronounced judgment. (GW)

Awake, my God, you demand judgement. (NJB)

My God who ordered justice to be done, awake. (REB)

Notice that several still use “awake” or “wake up” but add the intended recipient, i.e. God, which makes it a little easier to understand. I checked other uses of the Hebrew word (עור) and found most of them provide better translations in both ESV and HCSB.

This is not a major issue, but for readability and oral comprehension, I think a rewrite for ESV and HCSB is needed.

Translating confuses connections

Translating any text from one language to another faces many challenges. Simplisticly some want one word in language A to match perfectly with language B. Some might be tempted to say this is the most “literal” translation. Interlinear translations follow this technique. However, it doesn’t take more than a couple examples to demonstrate why this approach fails.

Another approach claims a “general gist” of the original work, commonly known as “paraphrases.” These translations remove any semblance of translation (word context). Perhaps the two most common are The Living Bible from the 1970s and The Message of more recent vintage. Neither would be good for serious study.

In between those extremes we have two general groups of Bible translation approaches:

1. Formal Equivalence (sometimes called Word-for-word, but that is a misnomer)

The following translations represent this approach: NAS, NKJV, ESV, RSV, NRSV, HCSB, NET

2. Functional Equivalence (or meaning based)

The following translations represent this approach: GW, NLT

Some translations are difficult to categorize. Probably NIV is the best example. Sometimes the translation follows the Formal Equivalence and sometimes Functional Equivalence. Unfortunately the translators provide no basis to understand which approach is being used in a specific context and why the change. In that sense, NIV fits somewhere between the two groups.

Translation choices and connections made by the reader

This post is specifically about how a translation choice may be acceptable, but cause confusion about the connections between the thoughts of the text. I have chosen 1 Peter 3:21 as an example of where the connection can fail based on translation choices.

Greek: ὃ καὶ ⸁ὑμᾶς ἀντίτυπον νῦν σῴζει βάπτισμα, οὐ σαρκὸς ἀπόθεσις ῥύπου ἀλλὰ συνειδήσεως ἀγαθῆς ἐπερώτημα εἰς θεόν, δι᾿ ἀναστάσεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ

I have given several translation choices and grouped the translations based on that word choice.

“antitpye”

NKJV: There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

“corresponding to”

NAS: Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you — not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience — through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

HCSB: Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

ESV: Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ

NJB: It is the baptism corresponding to this water which saves you now—not the washing off of physical dirt but the pledge of a good conscience given to God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

GW: Baptism, which is like that water, now saves you. Baptism doesn’t save by removing dirt from the body. Rather, baptism is a request to God for a clear conscience. It saves you through Jesus Christ, who came back from death to life.

“prefigured”

NRSV And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ

NET: And this prefigured baptism, which now saves you–not the washing off of physical dirt but the pledge of a good conscience to God—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

NAB: This prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ

NLT: And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“symbolizes”

NIV: and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God

REB: This water symbolized baptism, through which you are now brought to safety. Baptism is not the washing away of bodily impurities but the appeal made to God from a good conscience; and it brings salvation through the resurrection of Jesus Christ

WEB: This is a symbol of baptism, which now saves you – not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

As we look at each of the translations, it is apparent that word choice is not skewed based on the translation philosophy. Formal Equivalence and Functional Equivalence translations fall into the same choice (i.e. NAS and GW, or NIV and NET).

So what is the text in Greek saying? The Greek has ἀντίτυπον, transliterated as “antitype” in NKJV. Thus, something in the Old Testament serves as a “type” and points ahead to a greater fulfillment in the New Testament, the “antitype.” There are several examples:

David the Lord/King (type) —> Jesus as Lord/King (antitype) (Matthew 22:42)

temple in Jerusalem (type) —> Jesus is temple of God (antitype) (John 2:19-21)

Atonement sacrifices (type) —> Jesus is perfect sacrifice (antitype) (Romans 3:24-25; 1 John 2:2; Hebrews 9:23-26)

So, in the context of 1 Peter 3:21, we find that Peter is giving us the type as the saving of people through the water at the time of Noah.

For Christ also died for sins bonce for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. (1 Peter 3:18-20 NAS)

Thus our diagram would look like this:

Saving of eight people through water (type) —> Baptism now saves (antitype)

So, “Baptism now saves…” and is the antitype, which is a greater thing than the saving of the eight people in the flood. Note this from BDAG: “A Platonic perspective is not implied in the passage.”

So where is the confusion?

The confusion is exemplified by the NIV translation choice (“and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also.”). But because of the popularity of the NIV it  reflects a misunderstanding even for those who use other translations.

The text is often read this way:

Saving in the flood (type) —> baptism, which is a symbol of saving (antitype)

The conclusion is that baptism does not save because it is only a symbol of saving, not the real act of saving. Having taught this passage for the past 30+ years, I found everyone coming from a “baptism is a symbol of my action” background understands the text this way. Of course, there is another problem with this reading of the text, and that is the presupposition of the reader, prior to reading this text. The presupposition is that baptism is “my act showing my faith.” Unfortunately, this presupposition leads to different understanding this specific text, but also Acts 2:38-39; Romans 6:1-11; Ephesians 4:4-6;.

So, in this case a translation choice can easily be misunderstood to support a wrong view of baptism, hence, translating confuses connections.

Baptism really does save.

 

 

Ex. 14 and ESV

In my daily reading (today Exodus 13-14, using ESV), I came upon an unusual rendering in two places in Exodus 14.

And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD.” And they did so. (Exodus 14:4 ESV)

And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”  (Exodus 14:18 ESV)

I don’t remember that kind of translation (bolded text) in others (NAS, HCSB, etc.). So when I looked at the Hebrew I saw this: וְאִכָּבְדָ֤ה, which is a Niphal form of the verb כבד, often translated as “to be heavy” or “glory.” But the Niphal form typically has a more passive sense of the verb, which the ESV does not suggest by its translation.

HALOT includes several options under the Niphal form of the word with some references.

1. to be considered weighty, to be honoured Gen 34:19; Num 22:15; Dt 28:58; 1 Sam 9:6; 22:14; 2 Sam 23:19, 23; Is 3:5; 23:8f; 43:4; 49:5; Nah 3:10; Ps 149:8 1Chr. 11:21,25,

2. to enjoy honour 2 Kg 14:10; 2 Chr 2519; to be held in honour 2 Sam 6:22

3. to behave with dignity 2 Sam 6:20

4. to appear in one’s glory (God) Ex 14:4.17; Lev 10:3 Is 26:15 Ezk 28:22 39:13; Hg 1:8

5. glorious things Ps 87:3; —Pr 8:24

In the Lev. 10:3 and Isaiah 26:15, ESV provides a more appropriate translation of the Niphalfor of כבד:

Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace. (Lev. 10:3 ESV)

But you have increased the nation, O LORD, you have increased the nation; you are glorified; you have enlarged all the borders of the land. (Isaiah 26:15 ESV)

I checked the LXX translation of the Hebrew and saw that it, too, carries the passive sense of the Hebrew. ἐνδοξασθήσομαι “I will be glorified” (future passive)

ἐγὼ δὲ σκληρυνῶ τὴν καρδίαν Φαραω, καὶ καταδιώξεται ὀπίσω αὐτῶν· καὶ ἐνδοξασθήσομαι ἐν Φαραω καὶ ἐν πάσῃ τῇ στρατιᾷ αὐτοῦ, καὶ γνώσονται πάντες οἱ Αἰγύπτιοι ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι κύριος. καὶ ἐποίησαν οὕτως. (Exodus 14:4, LXX)

So, it seems that ESV leaves a little to be desired in its translation of וְאִכָּבְדָ֤ה in Exodus 14.

Just some early morning thoughts on the text. I probably have missed everything; that happens because I am old, slow, and confused, but at least I’m inconsistent.