The Spaceships of Ezekiel
Are there Flying Saucers in the Bible?


Textual Analysis - Translation Issues


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Textual Analysis
General Translation Issues

Protestant and Catholic translations

Most widely-used translations, whether Protestant or Catholic, are of excellent quality. Most Protestants and Catholics believe that the others' translations are full of mistranslations and the translators chose words that support the particular religion's interpretations. However, that is not the case. In general, close comparison of a widely-accepted Protestant translation and a widely-accepted Roman Catholic translation will show few substantive differences.*

    * One of the Bibles Blumrich checked was the widely-used Roman Catholic New American Bible (NAB) translation. As noted, this translation signficantly rearranges numerous verses, but it is a widely accepted translation.

Update or New

When preparing a translation, translators have two options—either rework an existing translation or do a totally new translation from the original languages. In English, the Bible that often is updated is the King James Version (KJV), also often referred to as the Authorized Version (AV). In Spanish, the "authoritative" translation is the Reina-Valera translation. In German it is Martin Luther's translation.

Primarily for reasons of religious politics, Protestant and Catholic translators generally will not use the others' "authoritative" translation as a starting point. For English, the Roman Catholic standard is the Douay-Rheims translation. Also, the Catholic Bible has an additional set of books, the "intertestamental" books, which Protestants do not consider divinely inspired.

Reasons to update

A reason to update an existing translation instead of starting anew is that the updaters get the full benefit of the expertise of generations of previous scholars. Updating often involves non-substantive minor changes such as replacing "thou" with "you" or "ass" with "donkey". Like any human endeavor, errors are inevitable. Widely-used translations have been refined by the scrutiny of millions of users. The update inherits the credibility of the earlier version both among scholars and purchasers. Because the update automatically has credibility and will require much less effort, it is much easier to obtain funding and find experts willing to undertake the task.

Reasons to start from scratch

Reasons to start from scratch are that (a) all modern translations are copyrighted and cannot be reworked without permission; (b) the translators will own the copyright to a fresh translation; (c) "product differentiation"—the seller can say that his translation has some desirable feature that other versions don't have, such as using the name Jehovah instead of LORD; (d) stylistic differences; and (e) the translation can be aimed at a particular target audience such as children, people who will be hearing the text spoken rather than reading it, or people with limited language skills because English is not their native language.

Stylistic differences

English has a lot more words than biblical Hebrew. Therefore, it is possible to come up with a large number of English sentences, each of which accurately translates the source text, but they sound quite different. Among Protestant translations, the New International Version (NIV) translators limited the vocabulary and sentence structure to a seventh-grade reading level. The King James translators deliberately made their translation a literary masterpiece with a majestic style. Often, what the King James translators made sound majestic in English actually sounds pretty mundane in the original language; the New American Standard Bible (NASB) translators deliberately tried to convey the feel of the original language. And yet each accurately conveys the meaning of the original.

Strict or dynamic translation

No two languages, and even no two dialects are exactly equivalent. It is never possible simply to replace each word in the source language with an exactly corresponding word in the target language. As a result, there is no such thing as a true "literal translation".

Experts' opinions vary on what constitutes "the best translation" technique. Most agree that "the best translation" depends on the users' needs.

Some people prefer translation that tracks the original wording as closely as possible, even if the result contains ambiguity or wording a native speaker would never use or is commonly misinterpreted.

Others prefer "dynamically equivalent" translation that better conveys the meaning even if words are deleted, added or rearranged. In some cases, whole phrases must be added to avoid misinterpretation.

Scholars use the term "literal translation" to mean an extremely artificial translation with an absolute minimum of "dynamic equivalence" even though the result does not follow the grammatical and syntactic rules of the target language. Examples: 1 2. They are used solely for research purposes.

Often, a literal translation will not accurately convey the meaning to a reader in a different language. The Spanish phrase, "Esto no tiene nada que ver con eso," literally means, "This has nothing to see with that." The correct English equivalent is, "This has nothing to do with that." The Hebrew Bible says Moses parted the "sea of reeds," not the Red Sea. When the Book of Exodus was translated into Greek, the translators changed it to Red Sea because that was the closest body of water Greek-speaking readers would be familiar with. Translators always have to decide which is best for a given text—whether to do a literal translation of the words or to try to convey the meaning better although the translation does not track the original words as closely.

Quality of scholarship

"Quality of translation" includes quality of scholarship. You can't accurately translate something if you don't understand the textual context, the concepts being discussed, the circumstances the author is addressing and the meaning the author wishes to convey. This is a particular problem with translations conducted by a solo translator or a small group of translators.

Credibility of the translators

"Quality of translation" also includes the credibility of the translators. Many total amateurs with no academic qualifications can read biblical Hebrew or Greek. But without professionally recognized credentials there is no way to evaluate the credibility of their work except to have a recognized expert evaluate it. Of course, as in other fields, recognized experts have more important things to do than evaluate the work of total amateurs—virtually all of whom are totally incapable of producing professional-quality work.

Viewpoint of the translators

Every qualifed translator comes from a particular background of education, experience and theological perspective. That not only affects how s/he will translate specific text but also how reliable others will consider the translation to be.