Showing posts with label #Translations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Translations. Show all posts

Versions, translations, paraphrases, and padded texts.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 March

Most English-language bibles have the word version in their title: The King James Version, the Revised Version, the American Standard Version, the New International Version, the English Standard Version, and so on.

It’s a popular way to indicate your bible is different from other bibles: You got a different version. Just like the fifth edition of a textbook might be a little different from the fourth edition: Still the same book, but a little different. It doesn’t tell a different story from other bibles, nor communicates different ideas. There should be exactly the same stories and ideas. But the way one bible puts it into English, isn’t gonna phrase it the same way as another bible will. The KJV will use 16th century English, and the NKJV won’t.

More recently, bibles are starting to be titled translations—like the Good News Translation, the New Living Translation, the New English Translation, the God’s Word Translation. It’s a more precise word than version, ’cause “version” can suggest a different point of view, and bible versions had better not present a different point of view from one another. All should be accurate translations of the original text. And all bibles are translations.

Well… unless they’re not. Sometimes they’re paraphrases.

The King James Version: Its history and worshipers.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 January

Most of the verses I’ve memorized were in the King James Version.

Hey, it’s my upbringing. The hundred English translations of the bible that exist nowadays? Weren’t around back when I was a kid. (’Cause I’m old.) There were maybe a dozen in the Christian bookstores.

But my church used the KJV, so that’s largely what’s in my brain. I later got a Good News Bible, then a first-edition New International Version, but when it came to memory verses my Sunday school teachers drilled us in KJV.

In adulthood, for a lot of years I memorized verses in NIV. (Which they’ve updated three times since, so sometimes my memory verses won’t match the current NIV. Thanks guys.) After I learned biblical languages I translated the verses myself, and memorized ’em that way—which makes it particularly tricky to look up memory verses in my bible software. Google isn’t so picky.

Still, I quote KJV a lot, which surprises a lot of people. They assume I’m more postmodern than that (whatever they mean by that term; I know what I mean by it) and supposedly a with-it guy like me should think the KJV is old-timey, or out of date, or not reliable. That once I left my Fundamentalism behind, I also abandoned the KJV.

Nope. I still like the King James Version. It’s a good translation.

Not infallible, of course. None are; there’s no such thing as an infallible translation. Yeah, there are people who insist the KJV is the only God-inspired infallible bible; not just the only reliable English bible, but the only reliable bible, period. I’ll deal with them in a bit.

But y’notice whenever I write about the scriptures and use my own translation, I usually compare my translation to the KJV. For four main reasons:

  1. I am not declaring my translation superior to every other translation. We’re supposed to compare multiple translations when we study the bible. So since I gotta use some translation, why not the KJV?
  2. For better or worse, the KJV is still the English-language standard for bibles. Including for pagans—if you don’t use proper KJV “bible English,” they’re gonna think you’re paraphrasing.
  3. Loads of Christians, especially Evangelicals, still consider it the authoritative translation of the bible. Even when they like other translations better; even when they think it’s out of date.
  4. Nearly every translation has, when in doubt or whenever possible, deferred to the way the KJV originally put it. They’re not gonna stray too far from that version.

Which bible translation’s the best?

by K.W. Leslie, 21 January
HE. “So lemme ask: Which version of the bible do you use? Which one’s the best?”
ME. “None of ’em. Learn Hebrew and Greek.”

As soon as someone finds out I know the bible’s original languages, that’s nearly always the question they ask me. Sometimes because they earnestly wanna know, and figure I’m more an expert than they are. Sometimes because they already have a favorite, and want some affirmation. Sometimes because they already think their favorite is best, so they’re testing me.

Well, this question has a long answer. It’s the rest of this article! But I found when you being with the long answer, their eyes roll back in their heads; they don’t wanna deal with the complexities of bible translations. They only wanted a quick ’n dirty answer. Tell ’em the best bible version, so they can go get that version and use it forevermore. Or judge you. Whatever.

So I start with my joke answer: “None. Learn original languages.”

Sometimes, but rarely, they realize I’m kidding. The rest of the time, a look of horror and despair comes upon their faces: “What, learn ancient languages? That’ll take years!

Yes it will. It took me years. But that’s the scary alternative. Now for my much nicer—though admittedly long—response.

As for which version of the bible I use, it depends on why I need it.

  • BIBLE STUDY. I go with the original languages. Always. I have Accordance on all my devices, ’cause it’s inconvenient to carry around a print copy of the original-language bibles. I got the Biblia Hebraica for the Old Testament, the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament (and the United Bible Societies’ GNT, the Tyndale House GNT, the Textus Receptus, and the Codex Sinaiticus for comparison).
  • TEACHING. When I work with new believers and kids, New Living Translation; it’s easy to understand. When adults—as y’might notice from reading this blog—my own translation, frequently with the King James Version for comparison, although if they have a favorite translation, I don’t mind switching over for their convenience. Having a bible app makes this easy.
  • AUDIO BIBLES. I have several. Including original-language audio bibles. (Yes they exist.) On my iPhone is my fave, The Bible Experience in the now-defunct Today’s NIV.
  • CASUAL READING. English is my first language after all, and Accordance comes with English translations, like the ESV and KJV. Either I read one of them, or another translation from Bible Gateway, or I have an ESV pocket-sized bible which I bought about 20 years ago at a now-defunct Christian bookstore. (The cover’s thrashed, so I re-covered it in black duct tape. Hey, it works.)

And of course my bookshelf has lots of other “analog bibles” (y’know, books which don’t require charging). Some are what I call big-ass bibles; others were the result of the years before I went digital, when I collected bible translations. Yeah, they get dusty: I read my phone, Kindle, tablet, and computer.

But lemme go back to the NLT: I encourage people to read that one because it’s easy to understand. That’s the most valuable asset of any bible translation. When any bible is hard to understand, it means the translators did a poor job, and their number one job is to remove the language barrier. Too many translators forget to do that.

  • They’re trying too hard to follow the original text “literally” and word-by-word.
  • Or it’s not even about translation; they were commissioned to update another popular translation, like when the NIV comes out with another edition. They’re expected to fix it, but not change it too much.
  • Or (as with many a bible paraphrase) they’re trying too hard to be clever, and make it sound different from all the other versions… and there’s nothing wrong with the way the other versions translated it.

Basically if your interpretation needs an interpretation, you suck as an interpreter.

Now, which one’s the best translation? Um… whichever one gets you to read your bible.

Targums: Pharisee translations of the bible.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 August

The original New Testament was written in Greek. That’s because in the eastern Mediterranean, where Christianity originated, Greek was what Latin became in medieval Europe, and what English now is worldwide: Everybody’s second language, used because it’s everybody else’s second language. (Unless it’s your first. Greek’s my third.) When Alexander of Macedon took a shot at conquering the world in the 300s BC, he Grecianized everything he could find, left Greek colonies everywhere, and Greek became the language you needed to know for commerce and diplomacy.

But before that, it was Aramaic, the language of the Assyrian Empire and the neo-Babylonian Empire, both of which conquered northern and southern Israel in the 700s and 500s BC. The Hebrew-speaking Israelis were scattered throughout these empires, and when their descendants returned to Palestine, they spoke Aramaic. (And, after Alexander came through Palestine, Greek too.) Only scribes knew Hebrew.

Okay, but their bible (our Old Testament), with the exception of a few chapters here and there, was in Hebrew. If only scribes knew Hebrew, how were the rest of the population to know what was in the bible? Obviously the same way we do: Translation. The scribes’ usual practice was to read the bible in the original, then translate as they went, clause by clause.

And at some point, certain Pharisees decided to transcribe the scribes’ translations. Hey, if you don’t know Hebrew, and don’t always have a scribe around to translate bible for you, stands to reason you’d want your own copy available.

The scribes discouraged this. They didn’t want their off-the-cuff translations to become permanent translations, or to be considered official translations. Especially since they were in the bad habit of paraphrasing—adding details to the scriptures which aren’t in the text. Sometimes to clarify things, like when you’re telling bible stories to children or newbies… and sometimes to bend the text to suit their theology. I’ll explain that practice in more detail in a bit. In any event scribes didn’t want their alterations recorded for posterity.

But they were, ’cause we got ’em. The first written copies of these Aramaic translations appeared in the mid-first century. We call them targums, or targumím if you prefer the proper Aramaic plural ending. The Aramaic and Hebrew word תִּרְגּוּם/targúm simply means interpretation.

Aramaic-speaking Jews in Yemen still refer to targums because, duh, that’s their language. Aramaic-speaking Christians prefer the Peshitta, an Syriac translation of the Old and New Testaments first produced in the second century. But Christian scholars refer to the targums for two reasons: We wanna know how first-century Pharisees interpreted bible; and, like the Septuagint and Vulgate, we wanna compare ancient translations to the ancient texts to see how they interpreted it.

But because targums are Pharisee paraphrases, we study them with a certain amount of caution. You recall Jesus didn’t always agree with the Pharisees’ spin on the scriptures. Neither should we.

The first English-language bible: The Wycliffe Bible.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 July

English is the most widely spoken language in the world. Partly ’cause of the British Empire; partly because of American multimedia, including the internet. There are a lot of useful resources in English, and it’s otherwise generally useful, so most of the people in the world learn English as their second language.

English is my native language, so that’s mighty handy for me; though if it weren’t I’d obviously have learned it instead of Spanish and French. Although a lot of my fellow Americans take this circumstance for granted, cretinously don’t bother to learn any other language, and get annoyed when multilingual people can’t speak English as well as they’d personally prefer. But let’s not talk about them.

Obviously there was a time when English wasn’t everybody’s second language; it was French. And before that, Latin. And the reason it was Latin was ’cause the Vulgate. The Latin-language bible was “the bible,” as far as western Christians were concerned, so if you wanted to read the bible, or understand any of the bible quotes or prayers your preachers used, you oughta learn Latin. And people did. It wasn’t as widespread as English is today—for that matter, neither was education and literacy—but everybody knew some Latin, ’cause church.

Which is why few people bothered to translate the bible into local languages: What’s the point? Everybody who could read in those countries, already knew some Latin; they could read the Vulgate. Or they could go to church, where the priests knew Latin and could interpret the Vulgate for the locals. You don’t need local translations.

But every once in a while somebody didn’t wanna go to church. Or they felt Roman Catholicism was the wrong church, and people shouldn’t have to go to its priests to get the bible interpreted. So they’d take a stab at translating the bible themselves. Problem is, before the United States, no nation had freedom of religion: You were automatically a member of the nation’s official church, and you weren’t allowed to quit the church. If you did, you were an illegal. They’d prosecute. (Which meant you wound up with a nation full of hypocrites—which explains why they’d get downright savage in their prosecutions.)

And that’s exactly what happened with the first guys to translate the bible into English. That’d be John Wycliffe (1324–84) and Nicholas of Hereford (?–1420). Nicholas did the Old Testament; Wycliffe did the New; and both their translations are bundled together as the Wycliffe Bible, WB for short.

The bible “in the original Latin”: The Vulgate.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 January

Every so often, when I tell people I study the bible in the original languages (not that I go round bragging I can read the original languages; it’s just they ask me how I do bible study, so I tell them) they comment, “Ah, in the original Latin.”

Nope, not Latin. I can stumble through Latin, but the bible’s written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. The very few Latin words in there, were transliterated into the Greek alphabet.

Most accept the correction. A few foolhardy few—you know the sort who’ve always gotta be right?—actually try to stand their ground. “But didn’t Jesus speak Latin? He did in The Passion of the Christ.” Yeah, that movie’s not as historically accurate as you think. The fact a white gentile plays Jesus—no matter how good a job he did—should usually tip you off.

Latin was the language of the western Roman Empire—and Greek the language of the eastern. Which includes Israel. Which includes Jesus and his apostles. When Christianity was legalized in the 300s, the western Romans of course wanted a bible in their language—just like the eastern Romans did, for the Septuagint and New Testament are both in Greek. Most of the bible had been translated into Latin already, but some parts were well done… and some parts sucked. Some OT books were translations of the Septuagint (the Greek OT), not the Tanakh (the Hebrew/Aramaic OT) —so, translations of a translation. There was no consistency throughout.

In 382 Rome’s bishop Damasus (they weren’t yet called popes), tasked his personal secretary, Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus—whom we nowadays call St. Jerome—to fix the Latin-language bibles by doing a fresh retranslation of the gospels. Jerome did way more than that: He went to Israel, learned Hebrew and Aramaic, translated the entire Old Testament, and updated other parts of the New Testament. He’s largely responsible for the Latin translation we call the Vulgate 'vəl.ɡeɪt, from the term versio vulgata/“common version.” It was the bible of the western Romans—and after the Roman Empire receded to the east and historians relabeled it the Byzantine Empire, the official bible of the Roman Catholics. Until 1979, when Catholics came out with the New Vulgate.

Calling the Vulgate “the original Latin” is just as inaccurate as assuming the King James Version is the original. (Or as good as the original.) But for pagans, and newbie Christians who know nothing of church history, they don’t know any better, so of course they’re gonna make that mistake. Correct them kindly.

The gender-inclusive bible.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 October

Because the scriptures weren’t only written to men.

Psalm 8.4 KJV
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
Psalm 8.4 NLT
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?

If you grew up with a King James Version, as I did, you’ll notice lots of verses refer to “man,” “men,” “sons,” “fathers,” “husbands.” They address men. Talk about what men do and what men oughta do. Refer to the promises God made to men—curses upon evildoing men, blessings upon God-fearing men. Men men men.

With some exceptions (and I’ll get to them in a bit) most of us Christians are agreed these verses don’t only refer to men. They refer to anyone who follows or seeks God; anyone whom he interacts with. Or not.

Unless a verse refers to specific men, like Abraham or Moses or David or Simon Peter, or unless a verse refers to the specific male-only duties of husbands and fathers, it should rightly be interpreted as gender-inclusive: These commands, proverbs, promises, and instructions apply to both men and women.

So when the LORD commanded, as is phrased in the KJV

Leviticus 19.3 KJV
Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father, and keep my sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.

—this doesn’t mean, even though it clearly says ish/“man,” we gotta assume it only applies to men… and women are exempt from this command. And if a woman so chooses, she can dismiss her parents and skip Sabbath.

Properly, ish refers to any human being, whether ish/“man” or ishá/“woman.” God expects the same of women as he does men.

Well if that’s what it properly means, why not just translate it “person,” and clear up any doubt? And in fact this is what most bible translations do.

Amplified: “Each of you shall respect his mother and his father, and you shall keep My Sabbaths; I am the LORD your God.”
CSB: “Each of you is to respect his mother and father. You are to keep my Sabbaths; I am the Lord your God.”
ESB: “Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and you shall keep my Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.”
ISV: “Each of you is to fear his mother and father. “Observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God.”
MEV: “Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and you will keep My Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.”
NASB: “Every one of you shall reverence his mother and his father, and you shall keep My sabbaths; I am the LORD your God.”
NET: “Each of you must respect his mother and his father, and you must keep my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God.”
NIV: “Each of you must respect your mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God.”
NLT: “Each of you must show great respect for your mother and father, and you must always observe my Sabbath days of rest. I am the LORD your God.”
NRSV: “You shall each revere your mother and father, and you shall keep my sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.”

Believe it or don’t, a lot of these translations do not consider themselves gender-inclusive. You can tell: They still insist on using the masculine pronoun “his” to describe “every one of you,” figuring it’s more accurate than “their”—and generic enough. Yet even so, y’notice all of ’em translated ish as “everyone,” instead of the literal “man”—because the verse does apply to everyone. Not just men.

The gender-inclusive translations want to make this crystal clear, so they drop the pronoun “his” in favor of gender-neutral ones. They swapped singular for plural: “They” instead of “he.”

Psalm 1.1 KJV
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
Psalm 1.1 NLT
Oh, the joys of those who do not
follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners,
or join in with mockers.

Or “you” instead of “he.”

Leviticus 5.5 KJV
And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing:
Psalm 1.1 NLT
When you become aware of your guilt in any of these ways, you must confess your sin.

Whatever makes it most obvious that the scriptures are addressed to all.

Translating it myself. (And why that’s okay.)

by K.W. Leslie, 07 November

During my church’s services, in between worship songs and sermon notes, sometimes I’ve put bible verses on our video screens. Not as part of the service; just as something to have on the screen in between the other stuff. Something other than a blank screen.

A few weeks ago I got asked,

SHE. “Which translation is ‘KWL’? What’s that stand for?”
ME. “Me. K.W. Leslie. I translated it.”
SHE. “Why’d you use your own translation instead of an official translation?”
ME. “What do you mean, official translations?”
SHE. “Well, like the Authorized Version. The NIV, the New King James…”
ME. “Those aren’t official translations. They were produced by publishers. The bible’s the most popular book in the world; there’s good money to be made by owning your own translation. So publishers hired scholars, and now they have their own translations. But none of them are official.”

(I should clarify: Some churches have made the KJV their official translation, and Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses have produced their own officially-approved translations. But neither our church nor denomination has an official translation.)

SHE. “Well, they were done by churches.”
ME. “They were not. They were done by publishers. Who did hire actual scholars to do the translating, so they’re not bad translations. But they weren’t done by any one church; they wanna sell bibles to every church, y’know.”
SHE. “But why do you do your own translation?”
ME. “As part of my bible study. When I’m studying a verse, I wanna really understand it, so I read it in the original, and translate it. I’m not trying to produce ‘the KWL version of the bible’; I’m just trying to understand it better. Sometimes I’ll use different words than other translations. But I’m not too far different than any of the other translations. In fact if I were too far different, it’d mean I’m doing it wrong.”
SHE. “But why use your translation instead of one of the official translations?”
ME. [letting go the fact she still insists there are official translations] “Certain words I used, which I like better than the words other translations used.”
SHE. “Well I would be nervous about that. Aren’t you changing the words of the bible to suit yourself?”
ME. “I’m trying not to do that. I’m trying to stay true to the original language, the original authors’ intent.”
SHE. “But why do you think you’ve done a better job than the official translations?”
ME. “Because sometimes I did do a better job. Certain translations bend the meaning to fit how popular Christian culture interprets the bible. The new edition of the Amplified Bible does it all the time. The New Living Translation does it a few times. The New International Version tries to hide all the bible difficulties. I tend to compare my translation with the King James Version because I’ve found that translation bends it least. But translators aren’t infallible. Everybody makes mistakes. Myself included.”
SHE. “So how can you put your translation up there like it’s authoritative?”
ME. “’Cause it’s just as ‘authoritative’ as those other translations. Which is to say, don’t take any one translation’s word for it. Compare it with other ones, just in case one of us made a mistake.”

Pretty sure I didn’t convince her, though. When you grow up thinking of certain bible translations as absolute authorities… it kinda bothers you to discover they’re not the work of extra-special anointed creatures, but ordinary women and men. Especially once you personally know any of those ordinary women and men.

What KJV-worshipers believe about the bible.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 August

I know; I already wrote an article about the history of the King James Version—and the people who worship it. But two years ago I wrote a different article, and was asked to repost it. I was a little reluctant to, ’cause it’s largely based on a Chick tract.

Some of you already know who he was: Jack T. Chick (1924–2016) was a conspiracy theorist who believed the devil was behind everything he doesn’t like. Seriously everything—and Chick didn’t like much. In order to prove it, he played really fast and loose with the truth. He’d misquote bible, mangle history, and apparently just make stuff up from scratch. ’Cause for some of his claims, I can’t find confirmation anywhere—well, other than books Chick himself published.

Primarily his company publishes evangelism tracts. Nearly all of them lack fruit of the Spirit: They’re loveless, impatient, unkind, joyless (his humor is the ironic, mocking sort), graceless (any little slip-up on our part sends us to hell), and fearful. I needn’t remind you they likewise make up any facts he needed to prove his points… and hopefully scare you into the waiting, loving judgey arms of Jesus.

His tracts are controversial, because many Christians love love LOVE them. Believe it or not, some of them actually aren’t bad. But most of them are. Christians justify using them ’cause “Chick tracts work!”—but that was just Chick’s marketing slogan. If they win anyone to Christ, chances are you wind up with just another Chick-style conspiracy theorist.


Yep, someone’s supposedly burning the One True Bible. Attack 1
(Reference numbers refer to images on the website; the cover is 1, the next page is 2, etc.)

So I’m loath to use him as an example, ’cause the man doesn’t need any more publicity. Then again, he was mighty typical of what a KJV-worshiper believes. Not only that: You’ll find more than one KJV-worshiper actually turn to Chick’s publications as their “historical” justifications for believing as they do. So if you wanna go straight to the source of the madness, Chick’s got a river of bile flowing out of him.

Chick’s tract, “The Attack,” is his alternative history of how we got the King James Version, and the devil’s conspiracy to deny it to us. You can read it, in its entirety, on his website. As with all his “historical” tracts, a fraction is true. The rest is out of context, hyper-compressed, reinterpreted, whitewashed, or pure fiction.

It uses two sources. One’s David W. Daniels, whose book Did the Catholic Church Give Us the Bible? is published by Chick Publications, and where “The Attack” got its secret history. The other’s Alberto Rivera (1937–97), a con artist who claimed he used to be a Roman Catholic bishop, whom the Jesuits sent to infiltrate and undermine Protestant churches. In the 1970s, Rivera “outed” himself, told all sorts of wacky tales about how the Catholics are secretly behind Islam, Communism, the Masons, the Ku Klux Klan, the Mafia, the Mormons… and pretty much every boogeyman Chick feared. Rivera was debunked years ago by Cornerstone, Christianity Today, and Walter Martin’s Christian Research Institute. But Chick Publications still produces Rivera’s books, and plenty of anti-Catholics still believe his every word.

The bible in “the original Greek”: The Septuagint.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 January
SEPTUAGINT sɛp'tu.ə.dʒɪnt noun. An ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament.
[Septuagintal sɛp.tu.ə'dʒɪnt.əl adjective.]

When you read the New Testament, and one of the apostles quotes the Old Testament, most of the time they’re not translating it from the original Hebrew. They’re quoting a Greek translation.

There wasn’t just one translation. Same as English versions of the bible nowadays, different translators had taken different shots at putting the Hebrew scriptures into Greek. Some Greek-speaking Jew in Jerusalem might put together something like a “King Jonathan’s Version,” or KJV; some Greek-speaking Jew in Egypt might’ve cobbled together an “Egyptian Standard Version,” or ESV; some curious gentile in Laodicea might’ve put together a “New Laodicean Translation,” or NLT… I could come up with more hypothetical reasons for these familiar initials, but you get the gist. But over time, copyists smooshed all these different Greek bibles together into one sorta-kinda-the-standard copy, and we call it the Septuagint.

Why’s it called the Septuagint? Funny story. According to a Pharisee legend, told in the Letter of Aristeas, King Ptolemy Philadelphius of Egypt wanted a copy of the bible for his famous Library of Alexandria. So he asked Jerusalem for translators; they sent him either 70 or 72 scribes, who cleverly answered Ptolemy’s test questions and got the job. Each were given their own room, got to translating, and when done all their translations miraculously matched, word-for-word. Therefore this is an inspired, inerrant translation of the bible. (Oh, and septuaginta is Latin for 70. It’s why people tend to use the abbreviation LXX, the Roman 70, for the Septuagint.)

Yeah, it’s as bogus as the myth KJV-only adherents have for their favorite translation. Because if it really were an infallible version of the bible, the New Testament authors would’ve quoted it, and only it, for their scriptures. Instead some apostles quoted it. And others translated the Hebrew for themselves. Paul went back and forth. Seems sometimes he just didn’t care for the way the Septuagint put it, and decided to phrase the original Hebrew in his own way.