Bible Review: Modern English Version – Pt 2

Read the first part of the review here. Obviously this review is very selective. I have read certain portions of MEV, and my wife and I have used it for devotional reading the past week. This is a preliminary review and deals with critical texts.

Translation base

It is good to remember the basis of the translation. From its web site:

The MEV is a translation of the Textus Receptus and the Jacob ben Hayyim edition of the Masoretic Text, using the King James Version as the base manuscript.

The MEV is a literal translation. It is also often referred to as a formal correspondence translation.

The Committee on Bible Translation began their work on the MEV in 2005 and completed it in 2013.

Thus, the text critical issues for MEV are already decided. I think it is good to have translations based on TR; I have used NKJV often over the past 33 years (my Greek professor was one of the translators of the NKJV). So I will not address text critical choices in this review. Rather the focus is on the translation of the original language text used; in most cases I include the NKJV rendering because of the similarity of source and goal of translating. Note, too, that most of my comments regard the New Testament.

Old Testament

Exodus 20:24b

In every place where I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. (MEV)

Here is the Hebrew word: (אַזְכִּ֣יר) which is the hiphil form of the verb “to remember.” Hiphil normally has a causative sense. Here are other translations of the same text:

In every place where I record My name I will come to you, and I will bless you. (NKJV, without the sense of “causing.”)

in every place where I cause My name to be remembered, I will come to you and bless you. (NAS, includes both remember and causative)

Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. (NIV, which is the same as MEV)

Wherever I choose to have my name remembered, I will come to you and bless you. (GW)

Build my altar wherever I cause my name to be remembered, and I will come to you and bless you. (NLT)

I find it interesting that the MEV translators desire to have “formal correspondence,” but do not follow that in this text, in fact following the NIV translation, which is inconsistent about translation approach. Even GW and NLT are more in line with “formal correspondence” than MEV in this text.

Psalm 32:1-2

One of the challenges of claiming to be “modern” is how to handle nouns and pronouns in a generic sense (“person”) or in a gender specific sense (“man” “he”). There is not space to address this issue in depth. My point here is that if the translation claims to be “modern” (i.e. 2013), then the question has to be asked whether the translation is in fact modern. It is noted that other translations struggle with this (NAS, NKJV)

Blessed is he
whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man
against whom the Lord does not count iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit. (MEV)

In v. 1 NKJV puts “is he whose” in italic, meaning that the underlying text does not have the pronoun, but is added for clarity. NAS does the same. NIV uses singular/plural mix with pronouns which can be confusing. NRSV changes everything to plural, which changes the sense of the text. I think the best translation is GW of this text.

Blessed is the person whose disobedience is forgiven
and whose sin is pardoned.
Blessed is the person whom the Lord no longer accuses of sin
and who has no deceitful thoughts. (GW)

Note, then, this is not a critique of the MEV per se, but every translation that desires to maintain a traditional approach to generic nouns and pronouns. Unfortunately most of the NAS/NKJV/MEV/ESV choices do not consistently handle this topic.

New Testament

Matthew 18:18

This is a text that is often loosely translated that can change the focus (including ESV, NIV).

[Jesus said:] “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (MEV)

[Jesus said:] “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (NKJV)

The focus here is on the future perfect passive verb form. This indicates that if something is done in the future (forgiving sins on earth), then those sins will have been forgiven in heaven prior to the declaration itself. Thus, it is the action in heaven that precedes the action on earth. Note how the NAS translates this:

“Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” (NAS)

Thus, the MEV translation catches the future nature of the forgiveness, but the relationship of the “on earth” and “on heaven” timing is muddy.

Mark 13:34 (word choice)

For the Son of Man is like a man leaving on a far journey who left his house and gave authority to his servants and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. (MEV)

The question is how to translate the Greek , θυρωρῷ. Is “porter” an appropriate modern translation? Other translations use “doorkeeper” (NKJV/NAS/HCSB, etc.). For me, “porter” no longer has the sense that is indicated by the Greek. As my wife and I were reading this a couple nights ago, the only thing that word brings to mind is Johnny Cash’s song”Hey, Porter” referring to one working on the train. And that song is 60 years old. Not very modern.

Ephesians 2:8 (so also vs. 5)

The question here is how to translate the present/perfect tense of the combination, ἐστε σεσῳσμένοι  (“you have been saved” or “you are saved”). The perfect can indicate that something which has happened in the past is still in effect. Note how there is considerable variety in translation this verse; in other words, which is emphasized: past action or the present reality?

For by grace you have been saved through faith (MEV/NKJV/NAS)

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith (NIV)

For by grace you are saved through faith (NET)

For you are saved by grace through faith (HCSB)

We need to be aware of this, and perhaps the best translation might be:

“you have been saved—and you are still saved.”

Ephesians 1:3-14 (sentence structure and length)

In the Greek, Paul wrote one sentence, 202 words (using NA-28). In the NA-27/28 editions it divides the section in four sentences. Note how English translations handle the sentences.

Number of sentences in the translation of Ephesians 1:3-14

4 NKJV/MEV

5 ESV

6 NAS

8 HCSB

9 NIV

14 NLT

18 GW

The issue isn’t really about translating specific words. But how does sentence length and structure aid reader in understanding the underlying Greek? And even more, how does this work in an oral context (reading, preaching, teaching)? I have read about average sentence length for oral reading is about 30 words (or less). At the time that Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address the average sentence length was 57 words. Even four sentences for 202 words is 50+ words for each sentence.

Is sentence length crucial to proper understanding? Absolutely. How do translators then handle sentence structure to ensure understandability of the text itself. The question for translators is: how can the translation maintain the sense of the original language text in a comprehensible manner in contemporary English? This is a problem for all formal equivalence translations.

Ephesians 5:21

The issue here is the placement of this verse relative to the preceding or succeeding paragraphs. MEV/NKJV/NAS/ESV place this verse as the conclusion to the preceding section. One challenge is that the NA text does not include the verb in 5:22. Thus, the obvious choice is to go back to the verb of 5:21 and continue that. For MEV and NKJV this is resolved by using TR, which includes the verb.

But for other translations, there are three textual variants. Some (including TR) have υποτασσεσθε in 5:22 (or another variant: υποτασσεσθωσαν). While those two textual variants have about equal weight, there are a two major manuscripts, 𝔓46 B, that omit the verb totally.

So, part of the problem is if there is no verb, where does the sentence belong in the context. Many translations have 5:21 as the concluding thought of the preceding paragraph (NAS/ESV/HCSB). On the other hand, NIV/GW/NLT keep it as a separate thought, but connected structurally to next section.

Other texts

1 John 1:9

I like how MEV translates the ἵνα clause:

 πιστός ἐστιν καὶ δίκαιος, ἵνα ἀφῇ ἡμῖν τὰς ἁμαρτίας καὶ καθαρίσῃ ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ πάσης ἀδικίας

“He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (NAS and NLT)

Notice that God’s faithfulness and righteousness/justness consists in forgiving and cleansing. Compare how NIV gives a false sense of this: “he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” as if there is a third element, separating God’s faithfulness and righteousness from forgiving and cleansing.

Matthew 26:26-28

and parallel texts regarding the Lord’s Supper are consistent with the Greek text and traditional renderings.

Acts 2:38-39

is well done, again consistent with NKJV/NAS/ESV renderings.

Romans 3:21-26

again consistency with NKJV/NAS/ESV. The issue of sentence length and understandability comes into play in 3:23-26 which is all one sentence:

For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith, in His blood, for a demonstration of His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins previously committed, 26 to prove His righteousness at this present time so that He might be just and be the justifier of him who has faith in Jesus. (MEV)

One last comment and that has to do with maps. There are only 8 maps, but the common mistake is repeated here from many other Bibles. The maps themselves are too small and text size is even smaller than normal. Note on this image that the margin around the map is useless, wasting space and not contributing to the legibility. And three of the eight maps do not have that border, and there is no logical reason for why it is included, not included. The second image is enlarged and so is much more readable than the original Bible.

Map too small with large border
Map too small with large border
Map enlarged and still difficult to read
Map enlarged and still difficult to read

Concluding thoughts:

I would encourage the MEV translation team to extend its assistance to the reader. That is, MEV should include footnotes where NA and TR differ. NKJV does this, and it helps students of the Bible who do not have access to NA text.

While I have some concerns about specific word choices and sentence length in a few cases, overall MEV is a solid translation. If I were to serve as pastor of a congregation using MEV, I would have no problem with it. In fact, I like MEV better than ESV. It has a familiar cadence of the KJV (i.e. Psalm 23) and would be well received in a liturgical environment. For the most part a very useable and reliable translation.

I will continue to read this translation regularly, and we will continue in our devotional readings. That will give us a better sense of the translation and translation choices.

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HCSB and WELS Translation Liaison Committee

The WELS Translation Liaison Committee just posted their latest comments regarding the HCSB translation. (http://www.wels.net/about-wels/synod-reports/translation-liaison-committee/translation-liaison-committee) Overall, the work is solid and the committee is to be commended for its diligent work. For the most part I agree with everything they have noted. In a couple cases I will offer additional thoughts. I will not comment on the Plan of Salvation page because previously I have advocated that it not be included. If I don’t address a specific passage it means that I support the WELS Committee suggestions.

Six Translation Suggestions for Some Key “Sacramental Verses”

I am very much supportive of the points made in these texts. I came across this when I was preparing the Maundy Thursday worship service. I had intended to use the HCSB but stopped short because of the use of “established” in the words of institution. τοῦτο τὸ ποτήριον ἡ καινὴ διαθήκη ἐστὶν ἐν τῷ ⸂ἐμῷ αἵματι (1 Cor. 11:25 “This cup is the new covenant in My blood” NAS).

In Matthew 3:11 HCSB has [John said:] “I baptize you with water for repentance” which is a fine translation. However, the footnote skews the text considerably with “Baptism was the means by which repentance was expressed publicly.” The problem is that there is nothing in the text to support anything that the footnote suggests. It is a case of imported theology from one specific group. I noticed this same kind of imposition of this kind of theology in the translation the Voice Bible, but even stronger: “I ritually cleanse you through baptism*…” with the footnote: “Literally, immerse in a rite of initiation and purification.”

Although not technically a Sacramental verse (although it is in the context), Acts 8:37 needs clarification. I agree with the suggestion to put the entire verse in a footnote. Even the footnote that is used is not clear; HCSB makes it appears as if the textual evidence is equally split on the inclusion of the text. The reality is that the manuscript evidence leans far toward the side of not including the verse (see NET footnote below).

NET footnote: A few later MSS (E 36 323 453 945 1739 1891 pc) add, with minor variations, 8:37 “He said to him, ‘If you believe with your whole heart, you may.’ He replied, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’” Verse 37 is lacking in {P45, 74 ℵ A B C 33 614 vg syp, h co}. It is clearly not a part of the original text of Acts. The variant is significant in showing how some in the early church viewed a confession of faith. The present translation follows NA27 in omitting the verse number, a procedure also followed by a number of other modern translations.

Tetragrammaton

This extended discussion relates to my own frustration with HCSB. Either go fully with Yahweh or LORD, but don’t switch back and forth. The WELS Committee makes a strong case for using LORD, based on the LXX, NT, and early church usage of those texts containing the tetragrammaton. In light of that I would opt for their solution.

Slave or Servant

I think the Committee makes some good observations and this translation of δουλος needs attention. At the same time, I don’t think a wholesale change should be made. One of my book reviews last fall was by Joseph Hellerman. Embracing Shared Ministry: Power and Status in the Early Church and Why it Matters Today. Kregel Ministry, 2013 provides additional information on this topic. One of the key insights is that the class-conscious people of Philippi would understand the nuance of titles. There were two levels of society: Elite and non-Elite. The lowest level in the non-Elite status was not household servants, but slaves.  The expectation in that culture is that Paul would be Elite, in fact, the highest level of Elite, and so the expected title would be “apostle” in the greeting. But Paul uses δουλος, the only time he uses it unadorned. That seems intentional to separate even from household servants.

My suggestion then is to follow the WELS recommendation except that the nuance of each use must be carefully considered. It’s not an absolute: either servant or slave, but context would determine the specific translation choice.

Christ/Messiah in the New Testament

I wholeheartedly support this position of the WELS Committee. See my posts here and here.

The Use of “Should” and “Must” in the Translation of the New Testament

Although I have not addressed this issue on my blog, I am right in synch with the Committee regarding the changes. At times the use of “should” and “must” almost has the sense of a ruler-entrenched teacher waiting to snap my knuckles. Not exactly what the Biblical text has in mind.

Capitalization of Pronouns for God

I have used primarily NAS and NKJV for the past 37 years. Capitalization of divine pronouns seemed like a natural. Of course as I began translating I realized that it was English editor/publisher decision and nothing more. In the last 20 years I have used many other translations that do not capitalize divine pronouns.

The WELS Committee makes an excellent case for not using capitalization for divine pronouns. Another problematic text is Genesis 32:24-32, in which the Hebrew doesn’t indicate even by specific names, but pronouns are used throughout. Compare how HCSB and NAS deal with this.

NAS 24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

HCSB 24  Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When the man saw that He could not defeat him, He struck Jacob’s hip socket as they wrestled and dislocated his hip.  26 Then He said to Jacob, “Let Me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me.” 27 “What is your name?” the man asked. “Jacob,” he replied. 28  “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” He said. “It will be Israel because you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked Him, “Please tell me Your name.”

Even capitalization doesn’t help identify the players. “Jacob” isn’t in the Hebrew in v. 25 for instance.

“Man” and “Men” in Contexts where Women are Included

I was glad to see this issue addressed. Generally HCSB does better than ESV, and HCSB does okay in some places, but as the WELS Committee noted, they are inconsistent. In addition to the WELS suggestions on changes I would add Psalm 1 and Psalm 32:2 (especially 32:1 has it correct).

Psalm 4:1 How long, exalted men, will my honor be insulted?[change to: How long, people, will my honor be insulted?]

It seems odd that בְּנֵ֥י אִ֡ישׁ  (“sons of man”) would be translated as “exalted men.”

Many other examples can be cited. It appears that the WELS Translation Committee has done a fine job of highlighting changes that could make HCSB an even better translation. Well done!