Modern English Version: Layout and Readability

I have considered Bible translations for the past 30 years. Obviously solid translations handle issues in all these areas: words, phrases, syntax, linguistics, etc. Another area that is important to help the reader (silently or orally), which is not a translation issue per se, is the layout of the translation. I think God’s Word translation has the best layout design of any translation (including using only one column). See here for a discussion of layout, aural connections, and readability be sure to read comments).

We see the changes in layout over the centuries with the manuscripts, the move from all capital letters with no spaces between words, to small letters to spaces between words. The story of the birth announcement to the shepherds looks a little different in the two ways ( had to add breaks in the first example in order to display properly in the blog):

 INTHESAMEREGIONTHEREWERESOMESHEPHERDSSTAYINGOUTINTHE
FIELDSANDKEEPINGWATCHOVERTHEIRFLOCKBYNIGHTANDANANGEL
OFTHELORDSUDDENLYSTOODBEFORETHEMANDTHEGLORYOFTHELORD
SHONEAROUNDTHEMANDTHEYWERETERRIBLYFRIGHTENEDBUTTHE
ANGELSAIDTOTHEMDONOTBEAFRAIDFORBEHOLDIBRINGYOUGOODNEWS
OFGREATJOYWHICHWILLBEFORALLTHEPEOPLEFORTODAYINTHECITYOF
DAVIDTHEREHASBEENBORNFORYOUASAVIORWHOISCHRISTTHELORD

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ cthe Lord.

Layout and design do make a difference, and that has been an issue especially noticed in the print era.

Contemporary layout issues

For more formal equivalence translations, I like NAS and NKJV (much better than ESV) and have used both translations in readings this past year and for sermons. However, both use a layout scheme that can be confusing for reading. In poetry sections, both translations use capital letters to begin each line, regardless of the preceding punctuation (if any punction). And neither translation uses indentation to help the reader. Note this example from NKJV for Psalm 49. NAS has the same problem.

Psalm49NKJV
NKJV Psalm 49

 

 

 

 

As I have been reading and using MEV, I noticed almost immediately the different layout that MEV uses with regard to each of these problematic areas. Here is the same Psalm 49 in MEV. The lack of capitalization and the indentation makes it easier to read and follow with the eyes.

Psalm49MEV

Another layout issue

Despite the better layout of the MEV, there is a problem with the layout, in terms of paper weight and bleed-through (NKJV has same problem). Notice in the both photos that the print from the other side shows through. Keep in mind, that it appears worse in the photo below than in real life. But with MEV’s smaller font size, the bleed-through becomes more noticeable. Here is an enlarged view of the same MEV passage.

Psalm49MEV

Some thoughts on MEV

I will have more comment son MEV translation this coming week. Overall, I can say that I am very pleased with it. My wife and I have used it for our nightly devotional reading the past two weeks. Further, we will use MEV for our readings for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. There is a familiarity with rhythm and cadence. At the same time MEV has improved some of the words choices (better than NKJV).

 

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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.