Better Bibles

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Wayne Leman, of The English Bibles Blog, has posted an extensive comment to my post, below, on Bible translations.

First, I must confess to a bit of ignorance. In Steven's orginal post he referenced something called "The Better Bible" movement. What the heck is that?

Other than professing ignorance, I'd like to make a couple of clairifcations. First, I wasn't being critical of the English Standard Version translation. The ESV is one of two translations I use on a daily basis and I think it is one of the best English Bibles available today. If I were to be critical of any English translation, it would be the banal stew cooked up for everyday use by Catholics, the NAB. No wonder Catholics don't read the Bible.

I also understand, as Mr. Leman says, that a translator must make choices. And it's not that I question the choice made in the ESV in rendering the story of the Annunciation into English. Its just that, in this case, we are reading the story of what is arguably the most important event in Salvation History, Mary's agreement to become the Mother of God. The language in the KJV is a bit out of place; I think that slightly unfamiliar language conveys a sense of the mystery of the event. We are not reading about your typical, everyday occurance.

As to beauty; I think its fair to say that, since Scripture is God's revelation of Himself to us, that is, since it is inspired by Him, that there is a certain beauty inherent in the original text itself. I wouldn't say the translator should try to add beauty to his translation, but he should do nothing to detract from what is already there, as was often done in the NAB. I think this would be what Dr. Esolen described as having a certain "reticence" in doing a translation. I was not saying beauty should be the first goal of Bible translation but that it would be the natural, perhaps unavoidable, consequence of an accurate one.

I am not a translator and I am not trying to start an argument over the proper method of doing an English translation. I am simply trying to say what I, as a reader, would sometimes like to see in an English Bible. I greatly enjoy the ESV, am very happy to have it available, and strongly recommend it.

Now, if they would just come out with the Deuter-Canonical books in the ESV, life would be good.


Dear Ron,

I am strongly in favor of making the Bible more readily accessible to more people, but I don't think that much of the "new translation" movement necessarily does that. Also, I don't think that they do a service to the whole community with the various tricks in translation, as they alienate those of us drawn to the mystery and beauty of the language.

I would argue Contra Mr. Leman's contention that the "translations" he prefers are actually interpretations. He points out that the language says, "For I know not man" (or something of the kind--I'll be honest don't have the page open right now.) To state that one may translate that as "I'm a virgin" deprives the phrase of a certain weight that ties sexuality to intimate knowledge. That is one cannot "know" a man or a woman to whom one is not bonded by the element of complete sharing (and even then we don't know them). There is a (pardon the pun) pregnancy to the phrasing that some think obsolete, obscure, or difficult, that is not present with the direct statement. I personally think accessibility would be improved in this case by translating precisely as the language indicates and adding a footnote to the effect that "this phrase may be taken to indicate Mary's virginity."

In short, I am all for retaining the beauty of the Bible even as we attempt to make it more accessible. In a choice between beauty and accessibiliyt, I will choose beauty, because what is beautiful will draw people to try to understand. What is accessible also tends to be pedestrian and not really worth any additional effort.

In short, I could spend an entire period of lectio on "For I know not man." I wouldn't even pause in reading "for I am a virgin" a statement that is bald, mundane, and unsinspiring/uninspired.



(In case you couldn't tell, this is in agreement with what you say here.)

Yes, Steven, I agree with you.

I would say that translations such as the NAB are attempts at "accessibility", and fail because of that.

You are quite right that the phrase "for I am a virgin" is mundane, and one could hardly spend 5 minutes, much less hours, in meditation over the phrase.

I don't know much about the background of the ESV translation, as I said, I am not at all expert in the field, but I wonder if this phrase didn't arise from an attempt more at accuracy than accessibility? It seems to me, the concept of accessibility in translation is what ends up in artificiality.

Anyway, I agree completely with your comment, you said it far better than I could.

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This page contains a single entry by Ron Moffat published on March 15, 2006 5:57 AM.

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