Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A View on Translations

A Discussion of Bible Translations and Biblical Scholarship by Mark D. Given of Missouri State University

Now, you discuss!  :)


Anonymous said...


It appears this article was written before the NABRE. I wonder where the author would rank it now?

Michael P.

CarlHernz said...

While well-written, this report (which is dated) has some inaccuracies that I believe escaped the notice of the good-intentioned author.

For instance, Given states that the definition of a "literal" word-for-word translation philosophy is: “As literal as possible, as free as necessary.”

This is an error. Given is quoting a blurb. The NRSV uses a combination of formal and dynamic equivalency. Because it departs often dramatically from the formal-equivalence approach of its predecessor, the RSV, the editors of the NRSV explained invented a motto used to explain how and why they did this.

This motto or philosophy of translation (“as literal as possible, as free as necessary”) was used as a marketing slogan when the NRSV was originally released. For instance it appears on the dust cover of my NRSV-CE published by Thomas Nelson Publishers from 1993. It isn't a definition of what it means to offer a literal word-for-word translation of the Bible.

The formal equivalence approach is defined as “a word-for-word approach, as literal as possible as far as the English idiom allows.” The Lockman Foundation’s NASB (often confused by some with the NAB) is considered the most formal of these on the English book market. The NASB was produced partially due to the fact that the RSV was considered (among other things) to be too free with its renditions and not literal enough for serious study by many Protestant conservatives.

And oddly, the NET (while an excellent translation) is a mid-range functional or “dynamic equivalence” translation. It is widely known for its vast offerings of formal-equivalent alternate renderings presented in its footnotes. Most of these alternatives would not exist if the NET was word-for-word to begin with. So I am not sure why the author claims the NET is a “literal” version. Based on his rejection of all dynamic equivalence texts, the NET would be also be rejected.

And to answer Michael P., I believe the NABRE would feature differently had the most recent 2011 edition been considered. In fact one of the biggest “complaints” about the NABRE is that it reads ‘too-clunky’ and ‘lacks the beauty’ of older versions like the RSV. This is due to how literal the NABRE now reads. Because of its formal-equivalence approach, the NABRE doesn’t gloss over much but offers as close an experience to the original language as possible (sometimes too literal for the average English ear: i.e., Isaiah 9:6--accurate yes, but easy on the ear, no.)

Lastly (and while this may surprise some who know that I take a centric/moderate position on inclusive language—I do have my limits however), the author makes the statement that the NASB fails to render “gender-inclusive” terms from the Greek, replacing these with masculine alternatives in its text. This is incorrect as Greek has no “gender-inclusive” terms. It prominently uses masculine forms for pronouns that can include both genders, and the Greek neither requires nor allows for the introduction of any “gender-inclusive” invention for these masculine pronouns to be understood in generic terms. If this were not so, gender-inclusive terms would not have to be introduced into English versions by those who believe this is required because the Greek would already have them supplied.

Though not a scholar by any means, I do find the statements in this report curious. However the end conclusion is the reliability of the NRSV that most prominent scholars would tend to agree with. I may be wrong about the details I take issue with, and I don’t think the NRSV erases the value of the RSV even today (the RSV is still more literal), but Given’s views are in line with the current thoughts of many.

rolf said...

Michael, I agree. The NABRE improved the OT (especially the Psalms) of the NAB! But it is Catholic, and unless the Professor is Catholic it might never be chosen as high as others (nothing against the NRSV).

David Garcia said...

First..this article is dated. When is it from? The NLT has gone through several revisions and is now a solid translation.

Secondly... since the point of this article is the best translation for STUDY, while I like the NRSV overall, this constant banner-carrying for the NRSV in academic circles is becoming tiresome. If someone is looking for the most *accurate* modern translation FOR STUDY, the NASB is it. How can something be 'too literal' if one is looking for a translation for serious study?

Thirdly... this venom towards the KJV as being 'olde English' has also grown tiresome. The manuscript debate is FAR from settled and there are many solid arguments from both sides. But if one wants *accurate* as well as the most beautiful English in the world, the KJV is it. Whining about the English in the KJV is like whining about Shakespeare. Should we 'modernize' Shakespeare or should we learn how to read him properly??? The KJV, a good dictionary, and a Strong's Exhaustive Concordance will take someone VERY far in study.

Again, I love the NRSV and use it along with the CEB, JB1966 and KJV. But if one is looking for the most accurate *modern* translation for study, the NASB is the one.

rolf said...

But for a Catholics, any Bible translation missing seven books is not as useful for study.

James Ignatius McAuley said...

Well, someone has to stick up for the Eastern Orthodox (EO) and Byzantine Catholics (BC). You will note the articles states: "The NRSV is an extremely accurate translation, faithful to the earliest and best manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament (HB/OT) and the Greek New Testament (NT)." HOWEVER, EO and BC traditionally use texts based on the Septuagint. This has started to become more of an issue because the HB/OT is often divergent from the scriptural tests used by the Church fathers and those traditionally used liturgically.

The second issue is this quote: "Also, there is a difference between academic Study Bibles that have a lot of explanatory footnotes and other helps pertaining to historical and literary issues, and most other Study Bibles on the market. Most are devotional Study Bibles, a type that concentrates on doctrinal and/or personal and spiritual matters." WE ARE NOT PROTESTANTS - we use the bible liturgically. For us, therefore, we have to take into account the fact that a translation will be pleasant to the ear and that can be chanted.

Matthew Celestis said...

So are Catholics permitted to take different views on manuscript traditions? Can a Catholic favour the Byzantine majority text?

David Garcia said...

I think reason has to come into play sometimes. Which manuscripts are the 'best' or have the most evidence to support them? There are just SO many arguments revolving around this and have been for decades and decades.

I mean, Jerome had access to manuscripts we no longer have so the Vulgate SHOULD be a VERY reputable source. Erasmus, who produced the Textus Receptus, used the Vulgate as well as other manuscripts. So is the TR the best? The dead sea scrolls shed much light on manuscripts so should we take these into consideration? And on and on.

So at this point, I truly believe this comes all the way back to the original points:

1. Is the English translation we use faithful to its manuscript source?

2. Can we use this translation to study and learn more about God's will for our lives in order to produce personal transformation?

If we can say 'yes' to both of these, then that should suffice IMHO because private study is different that liturgical settings and has different requirements/mandates than liturgical settings. So if we are talking about private study, then there are better options than the NRSV. And if we need to supplement the NASB or the NKJV (both better translations) with the RSV/NRSV in order to have the Deuterocanonicals, then so be it.

Besides, one should never use just one translation for study anyway so this whole article is probably a moot point anyway! LOL!

James Ignatius McAuley said...

Byzantine Catholics have two manuscript traditions they follow - the Slavonic Bible and the Greek Bible. There has never been one uniform manuscript tradition in the Catholic Church, though Latin (Roman) Catholicism was traditionally dominated by the Latin Vulgate. Remember the Catholic Church is made up of particular churches, such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Maronite Catholic Church, etc.

Russ NY said...

James, I'm glad you wrote. Lately I've been trying to educate myself about the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches and their traditions. Can you tell me if there is a preferred English translation? Is it the NKJV? RSV? If I went to a Byzantine or Eastern Orthodox church in the United States today, what translation would I hear? Right now I'm reading about the history of the Coptic Church.


Anonymous said...

Russ, if I would make an educated guess, I think the RSV would be of maximum usage for the EOs due to the extant of Biblical canon.

However, for study Orthodox tend to rely on NKJV as it is mainly based from the Textus Receptus.

As for my opinion, I might sound unecumenical here. For sure, Tim and other readers here are aware of my somehow traditional stance when it comes to the Scriptures.

The Church had its dogmas based on the Catholic exegesis that had rooted from the exegesis of the Doctors of the Church since then (though some have very differing opinions).

While recent advancement to Biblical scholarship had been fueled by Divino Afflante Spiritu by Pope Pius XII and the Vatican II, and this proved very useful in shedding some light in some gray areas in our understanding of Biblical Hebrew (though I still ask, how 1 Samuel 13:1 be understood...), however, this should not give us the freedom to raise questions on the dogmas that us all Christians held for the long time. (e.g. "almah" in Isaiah 7:14) If the dogmas will be prone to questions due to recent Biblical exegesis, this would cause unstability in the faith of the Catholic laity. However, Catholic scholars should not be hindered from doing so because they know the safeguards to make. Thus, in any liturgical setting of the Scriptures, on my point of view, traditional exegesis should be kept in place.

One more point I want to highlight is this, to what credit that the Masoretic Text should have primary focus other than the other textual witnesses such as the Septuagint, the Vulgate, the Syriac Peshitta and more others. I would agree with Tim that Biblical study should be at least eclectic. Let us note that the Septuagint was also translated by Jews, only that they had spoken Greek circa 300 BC. Also, the Vulgate was mainly translated by St. Jerome, with the Hebrew sources more available to him than to us. It is particular to note that St. Jerome learned Biblical Hebrew and consulted Hebrew rabbis of his time. Masoretic Text, on the other hand was developed later in antiquity based on the reconstruction of the Jewish rabbis of 6th century AD.

As I have understood, specifically from Divino Afflante Spiritu, that it calls for restoration to the "original words" of the Scriptures. It only opened the door for the Catholic scholarship to be eclectic of making exegetical choices, but it never mandated to give greater focus to the Masoretic Text. In my opinion, it should only enhance the Biblical exegesis to shed greater light on those dubious Hebrew areas.

And finally, we Catholics primarily use the Scriptures in a liturgical and devotional setting, thus, exegesis should help us lead to greater understanding and appreciation of the Catholic belief, not to create confusion.

Russ NY said...

Thanks for your input and insights, Gerald.

Jason Engel said...

One point the article author circled around but never quite declared is that the NRSV translation committee was composed of a wide range of denominational representatives and even included at least one Jewish scholar. It had controls in place to limit denominational doctrinal influence. It was not drafted by Catholics for Catholics (NABre). It was not drafted by Evangelicals for Evangelicals (ESV, NLT). It was not drafted by Baptists for Baptists (HCSB). It was not drafted by Anglicans for Anglicans (KJV). The NRSV was drafted by an ecumenical team of academic scholars to be an honest rendering of the original text (comparing many various sources). Basically, as a result, almost no denomination really favors it (aside from some of the more liberal mainline Protestants like Methodists & Episcopalians), because it does not fully support any denominational doctrine.

That's why I like it and trust it (though I would tone down some of the gender language; "mortal" in Ezekiel makes me cringe).

But better still is to have multiple translations on hand, because no translation is perfect.

James Ignatius McAuley said...

Russ, to answer you question, it depends on the jurisdiction what Bible is used. Byzantine Catholics in America use the 1970 NAB. Antiochan Orthodox use the NKJV and the Orthodox Study Bible. Some Orthodox use the Holy Apostles Convent New Testament. A few use the Eastern Orthodox New Testament. Some use the RSV. The Greek Orthodox under Constantinople are supposed to use the Patriarchal Greek Text as their baseline translation for liturgical matters. Interestingly, when this was crafted around 1904, they looked in old lectionaries, not old bibles, under the belief that this reflected the transmitted word of God.

Psalters are another affair. Right now, many are in favor of a hierartic English, and are in King Jameses.

Anonymous said...

@ CarlHernz I've always wondered about how accurate is Isaiah 9:5 in the NABRE. It seems that verse and Luke 1:28 are detested the most by critics.



Biblical Catholic said...

It is not true that the NAB was drafted 'by Catholics for Catholics', as nearly half of the scholars who produced the NAB were Protestant.

And it is not even true that the NAB was intended to be used exclusively by Catholics, if you read the preface, you will note that they explicitly say that their goal was to create an ecumenical Bible, it was actually hoped that it would be adopted for official use by some of the mainline Protestant denominations. This is why the name of the Bible is not something explicitly Catholic, but rather emphasizes its status as the first new translation of the Bible to be produced entirely by American scholars. (The RSV was also produced entirely by American scholars, but it isn't a 'new' translation, it is a revision of an existing translation).

The very name 'New American Bible' reflects the desire that the text be ecumenical.......they really did want it to be THE New American Bible....i.e. the Bible used by American Christians, of whatever denomination.

This fact, that it was intended to be an ecumenical rather than an explicitly Catholic translation is the main reason for the atrocious marginal notes which minimize Catholic doctrine.

So, it is not accurate to say that the NAB was written 'by Catholics for Cathoics'

CarlHernz said...

@Steve--Accuracy and understanding don’t always go hand-in-hand, as these two Scripture texts you mention reveal.

Isaiah is a book with many oracles surrounding people with prophetic names. Beginning with chapter 6 we deal with a lot of “oracle names” such as Emmanuel (7:14), Shear-jashub (7:3), Maher-shalal-hashbaz (8:1) and of course Pele-joez-el-gibbor-Abi-ad-sar-shalom…which is how that particular phrase in Isaiah 9:6 reads in Hebrew.

Many Jews read it as a single name. Yes, it’s a very long one, but it’s the name of a single individual, so it is often treated as one.

Using my humble knowledge of Hebrew it reads something like “Wonderous (or wonder-worker) Counselor [meaning an advisor or sage that performs miracles]-Manly God (where the word “manly” means “hero” of war or something of that sort)-Father Forever-Governor of Peace.” (While the word for “governor” is traditionally rendered “prince” here, even by the Jews, it doesn’t mean a member of a royal family but it the Hebrew word for a government official.)

So, yeah, the NABRE is pretty accurate with its “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” But I think the rendering shocks the English ear too much. My understanding as a translator for living languages is that if there is an accepted way in English idiom to render a phrase, never introduce something invented as this will shock the target audience away from the meaning of the context. In other words, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

But Isaiah 7:14 is a hard nut to crack. Literally, from the Hebrew, the expression is “maid,” and not really “young woman.” The problem is that English readers no longer see “maid” as meaning anything but a cleaning lady. The virginity of maidens is implied because of the cultural context, which is why the LXX uses “virgins” here, but the fact is that we are dealing with American English being the problem, not the term “young lady.”

The word “virgin” may be not better either in a few years as in modern English it can be a woman or a man. Remember the movie “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”? That virgin was a man! The problem isn’t the words the translators are choosing for Isaiah or Matthew as much as our sex-obsessed culture has changed the meanings of things, including the fact that “young women” are not necessarily chaste and that a “virgin” can be a man.

I bet some kid out there reads Matthew one day and sees “the virgin shall become pregnant” as equally applicable to a male as well as a female. That won’t be the translator’s fault then either. Blame that on the world and its decaying morals.

CarlHernz said...

Sorry but I got called away before I could add the info about Luke 1:28.

The expression there is unique and not written in Koine but Septuagint Greek. The narrative here is meant to read like Hebrew or Aramaic read as if it had just been rendered as part of the LXX.

The CCC at 1996 states that the word "favor" is a definition or synonym for the word "grace." So the use of one or the other is by CCC standards totally acceptable.

The important word in this expression isn't grace or favor, it is "highly." In Semitic expression and belief people were either good or bad, righteous or sinners. it was a quality you were filled with. The term Luke develops seems to be based on this concept of being filled with favor or grace at the highest point.

Imagine a gas tank. You can fill it up with petrol till you reach the high or full mark. After that you can't fill it with anything else. That is what Luke is saying here, that Mary is so filled with God's favor that there is no room for anything else but the grace that is already there.

There is also an OT style of comparisons. John's conception is being compared with that of Jesus'. Zechariah is addressed by name (which means the angel is greater, for if you use a name of the other it means you are in control), but Mary's name is not uttered. She addressed with a description of her holiness. Zechariah is struck dumb for his disbelief but Mary is offered a sign when she asks a similar question. Gabriel reminds Zechariah of his name and status, but no such thing occurs in the presence of the Mother of God.

Even the Latin term "gratia plena" doesn't mean "full of grace." It means "grace-filled." The idea is the same as the Greek, except "plena" is a word that means an empty space has been filled to the extent that there is no more room for anything else, even at the top.

Scott O'Connor said...

Please keep this conversation rolling! I am learning so much and loving it! Thank you to all the contributors!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the answers! It sure helped this newbie to the Bible; sure makes me feel more confident in using the NABRE for study!


Russ NY said...

James, thanks for your reply. That's very interesting what you wrote about the Patriarchal Greek Text. I had never head that before. What translation do you prefer for private study?

James Ignatius McAuley said...


From the world of western New York, I use a variety for private study - the Douay-Rheims/Orthodox Study Bible/NRSV for the Old Testament. For the New Testament I use the Ignatius Study Bible/Eastern Orthodox Bible. Liturgically at the Divine Liturgy we use the NAB as Byzantine Catholics. If I use the 1960 Roman Breviary I use the Baronius Breviary Psalter. If I do the Kathismata, I use the Psalter for Prayer of David Michael James.

Timothy said...


Your explanation of Is. 9 would have made a great annotation in the NAB.

Anonymous said...

*This is out of topic question.*

Tim, do we have any updates on the status of NAB-LA version? The guys here seemed to misunderstood me "igniting a debate" in your One Year, One Bible post.