Sirach 4:13 (GW) – awkward phrase

Having received The Apocrypha (GW) from Baker Publishing a couple weeks ago, I have been reading through it. This first time reading through it is primarily to “hear” the text as an English composition; later i will read it as translation text. I noticed one awkward phrase in Sirach 4:13.

Sirach 4:13 “Whoever holds on to her tightly receives honor.”

In one sense this works. But then I noticed that the adverb “tightly” modifies a verb. But which verb? The closest verb is “receives,” which then results in this: “Whoever… tightly receives.” Obviously not the intention of the sentence. So, the adverb modifies a verb four words to the left, rather than the nearest verb (as normal sentence structure suggests). I suggest that the following positions of the adverb would result in a better reading:

ALT 01:  “Whoever tightly holds on to her receives honor.”

or

ALT 02 “Whoever holds on tightly to her receives honor.”

Which is better? I think that ALT 02 is a little better because it emphasizes its relationship to the verb, while also pointing to object of such action. But maybe someone else could offer better support for one of the others.

The Apocrypha – GW translation

I just received (purchased) the new God’s Word translation of the Apocrypha, following the same principles used by the original GW translation team. My first impression of the book is: yeah, this is how a book should be published!

It is a hardbound book, with typical Baker excellence. I like the exterior of this book, good size, color combination is a win, not distracting, but highlighting the right things.

The Apocrypha - GW Translation
The Apocrypha - GW Translation

The font is a little smaller than seen in previous editions (non-Baker) of GW of the Bible. But because of the paper and the font style, it is a very readable book. Current users of GW will recognize two special features of the GW Bible translation: everything is single column (which I love!) and even the poetic sections follow the same indentation scheme of GW.

GW Apocrypha Layout

This makes it both easier to read by yourself, but especially for oral reading.

Conclusion:

Just from a user’s perspective of the externals of the book, this is a win. The book size, font selection, paper choice, color on the cover, etc. all contribute to a pleasing experience. I will begin reading the translation itself in the coming weeks to see how it compares to the original language texts as well as how it matches the style of GW translation of the Bible. Good job, Baker!

Large Print GW Bibles

Brian Vos, Baker Publishing Group, graciously provided me with various editions of the Large Print God’s Word translation: 1) Leather-like, 2) Hardbound, 3) Paperback, and 4) Children’s Edition. The size of each is good (5 ⅞” x 8 ½” x 1 ¾” ), but the thickness raises questions about long term wear and tear. I will comment on each edition below; this is not an evaluation of the translation itself.

First a couple of general points common to all editions. One minor error in the text occurred in all editions. In Galatians 1:5, the word “Amen” at the end of the sentence has no space between it and the preceding exclamation point (see image)

Misprint at Galatians 1:5
Misprint at Galatians 1:5

. The font size (12.5 point) is an appropriate size for large print, and I found even without my glasses that it was not a major strain to read. Despite the thin pages, I found the ink bleed-through not excessive, so it didn’t distract when reading. I found it interesting that on the cover (or box cover for leather-like) the words “Giant Print” are at least twice the size of the words “Holy Bible” (see image)

GW Cover
GW Spine

My expectation would have been for the reverse. But I realize this might relate to the overall design, and Gold on Black stands out more, so Holy Bible is still emphasized. The larger print on the spine of the editions seemed appropriate (see image).

1) Leather-like Edition:

The one I received had bad binding; even without opening the Bible at all, just from shipping, the text had come loose from the binding see image).

First GW Leather-like Bible

I notified Brian, who sent another copy. Unfortunately, this also has a problem with the binding. As I opened the Bible just a few inches in the middle, the binding began to separate (see image).

Lower left side of binding

Wayne Leman also had the same problem with his copy. Wayne opined that the size of the bible itself probably would mean that the leather-like binding is not suited for such a project.

2) Hardback Edition:

This is by far the best of all the editions. The binding is solid, it feels right when picking it up. It lies open easily, which is surprising with such a large Bible. I have been using it for almost two weeks for every day reading; it works well for that purpose. I would readily give this as a gift for someone who needs large print.

3) Paperback:

My expectation had been that given its thickness, this would be the first to fail. So far with minimal use, it looks to be a good edition with solid binding. Although not as easily laid open (at the front of the Bible and near the back) as the hardback edition, it does work well with a little persuasion. Based on this preliminary look, I would also consider giving this as a gift Bible for someone needing a large print Bible.

4) Children’s Edition:

I was disappointed in this edition. The quality of the book itself is excellent, and the binding matches the hardback edition. The quality of the illustrations especially with colors and light was excellent. It may be me, but cartoon-like figures don’t work as well as life-like drawings for Biblical illustrations. I think it was a good idea that the Scripture text was on the back of the picture; and that becomes really important in light of the placement of the pictures, which can be termed haphazard (as a reader). Aside from the parting of the Red Sea placed in Exodus 14-15, the others have no bearing to the surrounding text.

  • Destruction of Jericho – placed in Joshua 20 (expected in Joshua 6)
  • David and Goliath – placed in 1 Samuel 3 (expected in 1 Samuel 17)
  • Lord comes to temple – placed in 2 Chronicles 2 (expected in 2 Chronicles 5)
  • Nehemiah – placed in Esther (expected in Nehemiah)
  • Esther brings her request to the King – placed in Job 8 (expected in Esther)
  • Jonah – placed in Amos 9 (expected in Jonah)
  • Angels announce birth to shepherds – placed in Luke 8 (expected in Luke 2)
  • Jesus blesses children – placed in John 8/9 (expected in Mark 10)
  • Timothy Teaching – placed between 1 Thes. 5 and 2 Thes. 1 (expected in 1 Timothy 4)

Now, I realize that incorporating color pictures into books has some limitations (balance, binding, etc.). But with only ten pictures total, it seems not worth the effort to include them at all.

My suggestion for the Children’s Bible is to take selected readings from the Bible, then incorporate a picture/drawing for each story (with color pics back-to-back). That way the reader could have the text and the corresponding picture on the facing page, for every story. Having used children’s Bibles for the past 35 years with two generations of my own, this approach works well because the child sees the picture and wants the reader to read the story. And as the child learns to read, she can follow the same pattern. This would also make the size much handier for children. The current size might discourage a child from reading or even pulling it off the shelf.

Conclusion

I think this set of editions of GW is a step in the right direction. My recommendation would be to seriously re-consider the leather-like edition. Unless the binding can be perfected, it seems like a losing proposition. Also, I think the current approach to a children’s Bible does not really fit that niche. The one thing that might improve the Hardback and paperback editions is to include maps at the back. These would not have to be color, but black and white, to cover the major eras of the Biblical story.

I am excited that Baker is taking on the publishing of GW. The hardback and paperback editions of the Large Print Bible are well done and should be successful. As Baker explores these avenues I think the market for GW will increase. If that process causes more people to read the Bible, then we all rejoice.

God’s Word translation – history and challenges

A New Direction for a Potentially Great Translation

I have had the privilege of reviewing and using God’s Word (and its predecessors) since 1986. As originally envisioned, it would be an update of William Beck’s Bible (An American Translation [AAT], OT in 1966 and NT in 1976). The 1988 edition (New Testament only) made significant steps forward in making the Bible understandable in contemporary English. At the same time it remained connected with the historic translations of Christianity. The 1992 edition offered more changes, and the OT pericopes were added for each quarter of the liturgical church year. GW was finally published in final form in 1995.

There are many positive features of GW translation. This is the best oral translation next to the KJV in its era. The visual layout (single column, with indents for selected poetic passages, size of the font, etc.) enhanced its usability. I really liked it and from 1993-mid 1995 we used it for every Sunday reading in the congregation, and it was well received by congregational members and visitors. I also preached from GW every Sunday.

Changes: Good and Not so Good

In 1991/1992 many changes were made at the publishing company and the translation team. This resulted in some positive changes for the translation, but in other cases less so. The translation team now included an English stylist (very positive move), and the translation team provided congregation tests of the use of certain words that were being considered for use in the translation (also very positive).

However, this approach also led to a few unfortunate choices for English words as translations for Hebrew/Greek words. For this note, I will limit my comments to the Greek NT. Perhaps the most notable problem was how to translate δικαιοσουνη (and verbal cognates). For traditional translations, it was generally/consistently rendered with “righteousness.” While the GW polls showed that many people did not “understand” righteousness, the translation team moved to use “God’s approval” as the translation. The reasoning is that people could understand that more readily that righteousness. However, after use in the congregation, I found the exact opposite. For most people “God’s approval” focused on a person’s performance, which in many cases was the exact opposite of the meaning intended in the Greek text.

Even more disheartening was to realize that in the OT GW retained “righteousness” as a common translation of צדק (tsedek), again commonly rendered “righteousness” (not always, see Gen. 30:33). But in critical passages where there is a link between the OT concept and the NT reference, it becomes important to retain the same term. Consider Romans when Paul quotes Habakkuk:

Habakkuk 2:4b (GW): But the righteous person will live because of his faithfulness.

Romans 1:17b (GW): God’s approval is revealed in this Good News. This approval begins and ends with faith as Scripture says, “The person who has God’s approval will live by faith.”

By using two different terms in a critical passage, GW has not helped the reader understand the text. It may very well be that the current understanding of “God’s approval” becomes the interpretive grid for understanding “righteousness.” But is that any further help to the student who does not read Hebrew/Greek? To me it would be better for the translation to use “righteousness” and then the pastor/teacher can help the reader. Yes, even a detailed footnote could be used (or since it is a frequent term, have it explained in a glossary, and the footnote refer to that).

Even familiar texts for liturgical seasons, i.e. Isaiah 9:7, shows the value of retaining “righteousness” as the translation of צדק (tsedek).

Isaiah 9:7 (GW): He will establish David’s throne and kingdom.
He will uphold it with justice and righteousness now and forever.

But I don’t want to dwell only on that word, because it can detract from the benefits of the entire translation.

Conclusion

Overall, GW is an admirable translation. Perfect? No. Best? I think that might need qualification. I think that GW is the best complement translation to the traditional ones: NAS/NKJV/NRSV to give the English reader a better sense of the meaning of the original language texts. I think it is also best translation for English as a second language group. Hence I would rank it above NLT, CEB (from my review of Matthew), and other similar translations in terms of faithfulness and accuracy.

I look forward to what Baker Publishing Group brings to the translation experience and distribution of GW. I pray that God would use the translation and Baker to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to many people.

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.

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.

NLT Study Bible – Update

A few weeks ago I was asked to fill in at a Bible study on Philippians. At the time I didn’t have access to my normal library at home. But the NLT Study Bible was still handy. So I thought this might be an appropriate “test” of the Study Bible, to see whether I could get enough information on the one section to feed my thinking process about how to teach it.

Sadly, the NLT Study Bible just didn’t make the cut for this purpose. I was looking at 2:19-30. At least the general footnote for 2:19-24 included the references to Paul’s first missionary journey. But the three of the next four footnotes were not all that helpful:

2:23 What is going to happen to me here possibly refers to the outcome of Paul’s trial.

2:24 Paul had confidence that he would soon be freed from prison and be able to visit the Philippians (see 1:19, 25-26).

2:27 Epaphroditus’s recovery from a nearly fatal illness is attributed to God’s mercy, both on Epaphroditus and on Paul, who was already suffering in prison.

None of these footnotes add anything to what a cursory reading of the text itself would provide.

So, this is disappointing to find almost no additional insights through the study helps in the NLT Study Bible.

Update on NLT 24/7 Bible

I have been using the NLT 24/7 Bible for daily devotional reading several months. As noted in my initial review, I would be challenged because I travel so much. It is not an easy Bible to take it with me. There are many good features (as I and others have noted) about this Bible. However, my conclusion is that the NLT 24/7 Bible just isn’t practical for me.

A misplaced referent with a conceptual signified

I preached an installation service last Sunday; the text was 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. Everything went well, but there was my blooper of a reference. I had noted that one small town (quite few miles away from where the service was taking place) in this state was well known outside the state because of its frequent occurrence at Call Day at Seminary.

Without thinking about the circumstances, I made the transition to my text by saying, “But the call to the worst church would have to be the one to Corinth.” As soon as I made the comment I noticed most of the people snickering. I thought, “Why would they consider that funny?” Of course, my use of Corinth (conceptual signified) was to the referent in first century Greece, yeah that Corinth. But there is a very small town (now almost non-existent) ~30 miles north of the city where I was preaching — yep, you guessed it, the name of Corinth, the referent which meant something to most in the service that day! Afterward, at least eight people came up to me and commented (with huge smiles), “You were almost half way through the sermon before I figured you meant the other Corinth.”

Overall, it was great day, and we all enjoyed the referent problem.

Brackets and the Amplified Bible

Nick Norelli had a comment on his blog about adding theological bias to a translation by including words in brackets. I would say that it is even worse with the Amplified Bible. The Amplified Bible can give good insight into the original language text, but it also causes problems by presenting something out of context, especially by including words/phrases in brackets. By giving several alternatives for a Greek/Hebrew word in a specific instance, it almost appears that the specific Greek/Hebrew could mean any of those things. However, the meaning of the word is determined by, and derived from, context, that is, the surrounding words/sentences. Thus, to imply that a specific Greek/Hebrew word could mean one of several different different things, because there are lexical (dictionary) definitions (or better, glosses) available is not helping us understand the meaning of that word in this specific context.

This also leads to interpreting and commenting rather than translating in the Amplified Bible.

Issues of translating vs. interpreting the text — two examples from the Amplified Bible

1 Thessalonians 1:10

AMP: And [how you] look forward to and await the coming of His Son from heaven, Whom He raised from the dead — Jesus, Who personally rescues and delivers us out of and from the wrath [bringing punishment] which is coming [upon the impenitent] and draws us to Himself [investing us with all the privileges and rewards of the new life in Christ, the Messiah].

Words inside [ ] indicates “Amplified” phrasing, words which are added to the text. First, note that the “coming wrath” is restricted by the added words [“upon the impenitent”]. The Greek text has 

EK THS ORGHS THS ERXOMENHS (from the wrath, the coming).

There is nothing about the restriction of the wrath.

Even more questionable is the last added phrase [“investing us with all the privileges and rewards of the new life in Christ, the Messiah”]. There is nothing in the Greek text that corresponds to this phrase. This is purely commentary, not translation, made to appear as if it is specifically intended by the Greek text. It is misleading to say the least.

1 Thessalonians 2:3

AMP: For our appeal [in preaching] does not [originate] from delusion or error or impure purpose or motive, nor in fraud or deceit.

There are main concerns here: the first is with the inserted text [“in preaching”]. The Greek word is παράκλησις (PARAKLHSHS), often translated as exhorted or comforted. But nowhere is the connection made with this word and preaching, unless the word κηρύσσω (KHROUSW) is present in the context. In other words, the Amplified Bible has limited this appeal to a preaching context when the text does not allow such a restriction/limitation.

Also in this text, how many items in last portion of the text are actually mentioned in the Greek text? From the AMP it would appear at first glance as if there are six items that Paul enumerates. Yet the Greek text has only three. Now the question arises, why the expansion? And then, why those particular words for expansion because the six listed do not exhaust the semantic domains of the three Greek words? The reader is left with a false impression, twice in this verse alone, because the Amplified Bible is not translating but interpreting and providing commentary by adding words in brackets.