Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Your Thoughts?


Russ said...

People love the dynamic translations.

Russ said...

Your The Message is running neck and neck.

Javier said...

I think the titles in the table are misleading. There is no such thing as a "literal translation". If a text were translated "word for word" you wouldn't get a text in the target language. You'd get a hybrid. Something in biblish. For instance, take the sentence: "He swam across the river". If you would translate it into spanish word for word, the result would be: "El nadó a través del río". As a native spanish speaker, I can understand the meaning. But that is not natural spanish. The natural spanish rendering of the english sentence would be: "Cruzó el río a nado". Only the words “the river” (el río) have survived. And yet, this last sentence in spanish conveys the exact meaning of the original english sentence, being at the same time something which a native spanish speaker can recognize as his tongue.

Jay said...

It's not correct to say now the KJV is a literal translation because of its old-fashioned English. It doesn't matter whether or not it was a literal translation in the English used then.

rolf said...

They have the NAB as slightly more formal than the RSV? That is the first time I have seen a chart that lists it like that.

Michael Roesch said...

I think it's also pretty insane to place the Jerusalem Bible as a "paraphrase," and more dynamic than the NIV, Good News Bible, NCV, and NLT.

TS said...

Mostly inline with my expectations except for the shock of seeing Jerusalem as "paraphrase". Also surprising to see the wide gulf between the New Jerusalem and the Jerusalem on the scale.

Biblical Catholic said...


It is true that there is no such thing as a strictly, or absolutely literal translation, nevertheless, some are more literal than others.

An excellent example of this is the translation of idioms related to marital relations. More literal translations like the KJV or RSV translate the idiom quite literally as 'know' it says 'Adam knew his wife Eve' other points, the idiom used is 'lie with'.....

Less literal translations like the NAB, the GNT or the Living Bible use phrases like 'had relations with', 'slept with' or something similar.

What is the benefit of the more literal translation of 'knew'?

Well, I'm sure that Hebrew was just like modern English in that there were idioms that were more direct, and idioms that are more euphemistic, modern translations often substitute the Hebrew idiom 'know' which is not very direct at all, with an English idiom which is far more direct. That isn't accurate, a mild euphemism should be translated as a mild euphemism, not as something more direct and explicit.

Also, there is probably some symbolism or meaning of the Hebrew idiom 'know' which is lost when it is translated as something like 'slept with'...

Another good example is Peter's speech in the book of Acts when he says that David is 'sleeping with his ancestors'.....only someone who is very dense doesn't understand that this means that David died, but saying that he is 'sleeping with his ancestors' is a powerful symbol, which is completely lost when it is translated in the Living Bible as 'David died'.

So some translations are more literal than others, although none can be completely literal.

Javier said...

Biblical Catholic,
english is a second language for me, so I might perfectly be wrong about this. But I would argue that if a native english speaker who is not familiar with the Bible -and its particular idioms- read 'Adam knew his wife Eve', he would not understand they have had sexual intercourse. If I am correct and that is the case, then "knew" in that sense is no translation at all. It does not convey the original meaning. If it was indeed euphemistic in the original hebrew (which I don't know), then some modern english euphemism might be used. But not "knew".

CarlHernz said...

You have a point, Javier.

Many who are familiar with my posts in the past about how "accurate" new additions to the NABRE are have had somewhat of a disservice performed by me through my comments. As Javier brings out, what may be considered accurate by one will not give an accurate picture to another who is not familiar with the words used in the translation.

Thus new renditions in the NABRE such as "oracle of the Lord" for "thus says the Lord" and the odd-sounding "Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero..." etc. of Isaiah 9:5, while applauded by me because they hit the target for a Hebrew-speaking Catholic like me nevertheless totally do the opposite for most English-speakers.

Yes they are "technically accurate," but they are not good translations. They are foreign expressions that don't bring up anything in the mind of American Catholics.

You have to hit the knowledge-base of your target audience when you translate. You can't use the excuse that "this expression more closely resembles the original Hebrew" because unless you speak Hebrew then such a literal parade of words is of no value to you. You don't know what Hebrew sounds like to begin with or means when it says that someone "knows" this person, or that a particular female is a "maiden" or "young woman" or stops in mid-sentence to say"--oracle of the Lord." Without understanding Hebrew, how are you supposed to know if it is a more accurate translation? By understanding it less?

True, it may be accurate if you know the culture and talk the talk, but it is gibberish otherwise. And gibberish is never an accurate translation. There are few Jewish Catholics. And it isn't Hebrew-speaking Catholics who need a translation, it's those who don't know the language.

So while these charts can be fun and even a little helpful, in the end they are like works of art: products of the imagination and convictions of those who create them.

Gerald de Belen said...

Agree with rolf, seems doubtful over NAB and RSV, Seriously?

But regarding Hebraic idioms, I think it does makes sense to retain them in the text. Well, there's the textual notes to fill in the gap. If we are to find an equivalent to that just sound more "English", we lose the allusions and Hebraic context of the Bible.

1. Paul intentionally alluded in the letter to the Galatians his origins "from the womb" as an inspiration for his ministry, which is a reference to the same calling to those of Jeremiah.

2. Jesus also himself tend to use allusions from the Old Testament in His ministry to make His words connect to the deposit of faith Jews at that time at least is familiar.

By the same virtue, we Christians are connected by Jesus to the Abrahamic lineage through his allusions to the fulfillment of the Hebraic hopes to the Messiah, which is Jesus.

3. A notable example is the Letter to the Hebrews, if we are to check the modern scholarship, it is a general consensus that the book was meant to be filled with Hebraic imagery so that the Hebrews at that time find the connection of Jesus to the Hebraic salvation history that had originated since the Creation and to ultimately believe that Jesus is indeed their hoped Messiah.

We must never forget that the Scriptures is a Judeo-Christian literature that must never be devoid of its context. Through these allusions, we have the right to claim our origins from Abraham.

Javier said...

Hi Gerald,
this time I can't agree. I think a translation should translate into the natural target language. Retaining hebraisms would cripple the translation. The hebraic cultural context can perfectly be shown by the meaning of the text itself, while at the same time using natural american english.
I will resort again to an example from spanish (because it is my language). If you are translating from english into spanish, and in order to convey the american cultural context you keep american idiomatic expressions, you might translate something like “are you pulling my leg?” into spanish literally as “¿me estás tirando la pierna?” which makes no sense at all in the target language. It is completely meaningless in spanish. The correct translation of course is “¿me estás tomando el pelo?” (literally: are you taking my hair?). So, no, I do not think keeping idiomatic expressions helps in any way to convey a culture.

CarlHernz said...

Gerald and Javier,

You both are correct in your viewpoints, but you are arguing apples and oranges.

Gerald, you are arguing “allusions” and not idioms. An “allusion” is an expression that is meant to call something from the past to mind.

But Javier is talking “idiomatic expressions.” An “idiom” is an expression that means something unique to the language and culture using the expression, but the meaning is independent of or cannot be deduced from the individual words used.

An example of an “allusion” is when I was trying to help a friend look for some patch cords for his A/V system. He asked me to examine them and see if he had purchased the right ones, but I shook my head and replied: “These aren’t the droids you're looking for.” (If you are a geek like me, you know what I am alluding to. If not, look it up.)

An example of an “idiom” is the expression “son of man.” It means “male offspring of a human male” in modern English, but only sometimes has this meaning in ancient Semitic culture. The expression also meant “any human being,” so it was common to use it to mean “me, myself.”

Mark 14:62 is a perfect example of idioms where the High Priest charges Jesus with blasphemy because Jesus says that the High Priest “will see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of Power.” The High Priest didn’t hear “Son of Man” or “right hand” or even “Power” as English readers do, but heard “you will see me, myself sharing the same authority as YHWH,” which is what the expression in Mark 14:62 means in Hebrew culture.

Post Script to Gerald: The “Letter to the Hebrews” is likely not a letter to Jewish Christians. You are very correct that there are many allusions, but these are to the Tabernacle from the era of the Exodus and entry into Promised Land. Judaism of the first century was represented by the Temple which structure was somewhat different and doesn’t readily match the allusions made by the author of Hebrews (who seems oddly ignorant that the Temple even exists). It makes no sense to base an argument on imagery of the Tabernacle if, as some once argued, the letter was meant to teach Jewish Christians the need to abandon Mosaic Law observance which is very unlikely in the light of the events recorded at Acts 21:15-26.

Apparently someone other than St. Paul wrote Hebrews especially as this would not fit Luke’s narrative in Acts 21. Because of the very fact that the allusions are very focused on the Tabernacle itself and its details in the Mosaic Law, it seems more likely that this was apologetic against the views of non-Jewish Christians who like some Fundamentalist and Advent movements today found an appealing novelty in Torah practices. Hebrews is more probably an argument against Gentile Christians who claim that such observances are obligatory for salvation.

Javier said...

very interesting entry. I don't know if I understood correctly your concept of “allusion”. But it made me think that by advocating a translation into the natural vernacular of today, I might be missing something. What I mean is: when I read the Don Quixote in spanish, I don't expect 21st century argentinean spanish. I expect something that at least sounds like 17th century spanish. (I guess something similar happens to you when reading Shakespeare: you probably don't want it to sound like a New Yorker of today).
But, what should I expect when reading -say- the "Book of Kings"?. What register of spanish (or english, etc.) will sound natural and intelligible, and at the same time transmit an atmosphere that says "Kingdom of Judea" and not “Soap Opera”?.

CarlHernz said...


In my post above I "alluded" to the movie Star Wars by borrowing a line from the film. It has nothing to do with language, archaic or modern. To allude is to borrow or quote.

Of course when I read Shakespeare I am reading a foreign tongue too. My mother tongue is similar to yours, called Ladino, which is a mixture of Hebrew, Spanish, and Arabic. So I understand where you are coming from with that example of Don Quixote--which is an example of you alluding to something else!

When reading Scripture it should read as you understand it. The Old Testament was written in the Hebrew that was common in those days and the New Testament was written in the Greek of the common people of the first century. Some people prefer an antiquated style in English, like the KJV or the Douay, but that is because they are thinking from their only point of reference of what sounds proper and sacred in English. They are Spanish versions that do this too like the Reina-Valera, but the original Bible sounds like none of these.

They are written in average talk, nothing fancy. The closest in style to what you read in the original language would sound like a cross between the New Jerusalem Bible and the Good News Translation, with just a little NRSV stuck in there. I am not saying these are the most accurate versions. I am just saying that the Scriptures just sound like this type of vocabulary, just like someone talking. They are rarely formal, never stiff, and most of all composed of simple speech. They aren't the paraphrase of the Living Bible or the Message, but they weren't specially written to sound like lofty liturgical texts meant for a religion either. They sound "matter-of-fact" in style, to use an English idiom. They are special in how un-special they sound.

So choose a Bible you readily understand but keeps just a little of the traditional speech in it. The most accurate Bible translation is the one you most accurately understand, not what someone else does.

Javier said...

Wow!. So you are a real native ladino speaker, Carl?. That's fantastic!. It is the tongue of the sephardic diaspora, as you know (the jews who were expelled from Spain by the Catholic Kings in 1492). And to me it sounds like an archaic form spanish. I remember back in the 80's watching a movie with Tom Hanks. He played a WWII pilot on leave in Jerusalem. And he fell in love with this sephardic jewish girl (played by spanish actress Cristina Marsillach). The thing is her family in the movie spoke ladino among them. And so I was watching this american movie, and all of a sudden I found myself understanding what these people were saying. They were speaking spanish!. A weird, old form of spanish. But perfectly intelligible to me (but for some isolated words).
I have watched some youtube videos of ladino speakers from Israel. And it is spanish, no doubt. I could communicate with them.
Have you ever tried it on speakers of regular spanish?.

As for the Bible version, I'm right now trying to read it cover to cover (it would be my second time). The spanish translation I'm using is called “La Biblia del Peregrino” (Pilgrim's Bible). It is a very nice translation into a good, modern, colloquial but at the same time educated, spanish. It is a translation from Spain, so there's the odd word here and there which meaning I miss (but I get it from context).

Gerald de Belen said...

Good points there, Carl.

I didn't have an idea that the Biblical Hebrew in the Old Testament was written in a somehow informal tone, colloquial, accurate to say.

For the New Testament, I am much aware that the Koine Greek is the "popular" Greek of that time.

Now I understand your fascination in the NABRE, Carl. It is strikingly has this "Hebrew" text while being less formal.

O, man, you just inspired me to adopt a translation philosophy.

BTW, from your experience and knowledge, Carl, does the language level of the Torah is somehow equivalent to the Septuagint? Or the Septuagint made the translation more formal? As far as I know, scholars are unanimous in saying that the Septuagint is uneven in many places, too loose in some but too literal on some.

Biblical Catholic said...

Here's the problem I have with trying to replace idiomatic expressions in the original with supposedly 'simpler' expressions in English: most of the 'dynamic equivalent' translations seems to be written under the assumption that the reader is stupid and cannot understand the concept of idiomatic language.

I gave the example of the passage in the book of Acts about King David, a literal translation would be 'King David then rested with his fathers'.....the Living Translation translates this as 'David died'....

Besides the fact that there is important symbolism in the specific phrase 'rested with his fathers', symbolism that points to the death as being only 'falling asleep' and awaiting the resurrection, symbolism about David being part of an important historical legacy, symbolism about the importance of the house of the David..there's tons of symbolism there which is lost.

But besides, the biggest problem I have with translating it as 'David died' is that this translation assumes that the reader is something of an idiot, someone who is so simple minded that he can't understand the concept of a metaphor and needs to have everything spelled out word for word. It is the equivalent of a television critic taking time to explain that the people you see on the TV screen don't actually live inside the television. It is really very condescending to the reader.

And that right there, being condescending, trying to eliminate all idiomatic expressions under the assumption that the reader is not smart enough to understand them.

And this is why you will notice that literal translations tend to use a bigger vocabulary, bigger words and have a more complex sentence structure than do dynamic translations.

Translations like the RSV, the KJV, NASB and the ESV tend to be written at a very high reading level usually somewhere between a 10th grade and a 12th grade reading level. They tend to use formal theological words like 'atonement', 'propitiation', 'vindicate', 'justification', 'sanctification' etc etc etc This means that they are good for doing really deep and meaty theology.

Dynamic translations tend to be written at a much lower reading level, usually about a sixth grade reading level. And these translations tend to avoid theological words, the Good News Bible avoids these theological words, meaning that it is pretty close to impossible to use these translations to do any really deep theology.

If you want to really dig deep into the text and understand it in a deep way, you need a more literal translation, dynamic translations are simply not useful for that purpose, especially not with the recent trend of dumbing down the language a little more with each revision.

People aren't quite as dumb as some of the dynamic translations in popular use these days seem to think, most people can actually understand metaphor and symbolic language, they don't need to have the Biblical 'know' replaced with 'slept with' in order to get what is happening...and even if they do, catering to their ignorance is not doing them a service. It is not helping them understand the Bible.

CarlHernz said...


I grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas thinking I was of Mexican-American descent until I grew older and could understand the meaning behind the differences I noticed right away between me and my school friends. The fact that I spoke Ladino was discouraged by some Spanish speakers in the United States who told me to stop using Ladino words because it was "speech of the lower class" or "from people of bad breeding," and even got teased and outright persecuted for it when I was among the Jehovah's Witnesses.

But people from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Spain, anywhere else who spoke Spanish felt totally opposite of the antiSemiticism I faced in South Texas. I often get asked to just talk in Ladino because people love to hear it. A delegation from Mexico who I was asked to translate for at work wanted to follow me around all day afterwards because they wanted to hear more of mr "real Spanish" as they put it.


The Maoretic Text and the LXX are very different. Where it is clear that the Hebrew is colloquial, the LXX is no longer handling the words this way. But it is a different Greek than in the New Testament. Koine is like speech we read in a popular magazine by comparison, and the LXX is written in a bit of a different tone.

For all its weaknesses, Septuagint Greek also got viewed as "special" by the time the NT was written, and Luke thus uses it in the first two chapters of his Gospel to give his account that "holy" feeling. While the rest of the Christian Scriptures is cosmopolitan in its use of vernacular, the book of Hebrews in the NT, however, is written in Greek that sounds like it's being a religious text, the only one out of the bunch, in form and style that none of the other authors seem to attempt or even have the ability to match.

Javier said...

that was really interesting. (All of it, the part on the ladino, and the explanation of the language register of the LXX).
Thank you!.

I don't advocate dumbing translations down. I advocate translating into the natural form of the target language. And keeping the register of the source language into the target language (poetry into poetry, educated into educated, everyday into everyday, and so on).
But -to use the same example we have been using- if a regular native speaker of the target language (english in this case), who has no previous familiarity with bible idioms, reads 'Adam knew his wife Eve' and can't understand they have had sex, then the translation has failed. It would not even be a translation into english. It would be a translation into some biblical patois, into biblish.

Gerald de Belen said...


Glad to know that you are from Argentina. There had been rumors that the Pope, your Archbishop Emeritus, will come back home some time next year.

Anyways, thanks for clarifying that up. And sadly, there is no English version already doing that translatiin approach you describe, amigo. And it does makes very sense. For a lack of a better term, I would like to refer to it as "natural equivalence".

By the way, as far as I know, the official liturgical version of the Bible there in Argentina is El Libro del Pueblo de Dios, the same version uploaded as the Spanish version of the Bible. In your opinion, did that version is good for you? Did that follow the "natural equivalence"? Sonrisas :D

Javier said...

you are right, the bible version "El Libro del Pueblo de Dios" (The book of the People of God) is the official liturgical version for Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay. It is also the spanish version of the Bible presented in the Vatican site. It is a local translation by Fr. Levoratti and Fr. Trusso. I have read it cover to cover. It reads as regular educated latin american spanish (not particularly argentinian, as our speech has some very local features). It is quite natural. Still, there are places, particularly in the Old Testament, were the hebrew shows, and so the meaning of the particular passage in spanish is not really comprehensible or straightforward. Ezequiel 14:3 comes to mind (in this verse I think the "Biblia del Peregrino" does a better job. But as I can't read hebrew, I am not really sure which got it right).
I think it is a good Bible version overall.
If you are interested, you can get it in the States as the "Biblia Católica de la Familia", which has different notes than the argentinian version.

Biblia Católica de la Familia

Pope Francis and the Bible

Timothy said...

Thank you to all of you who have contributed to the discussion on Spanish language Bibles. If one, or a couple of you would be interested, I would love to have a guest article explaining the various major Spanish language Catholic Bibles. It is something I am unqualified to comment on. Let me know if you are interested.

Javier said...

I can contribute a non-expert article on the subject, if your audience is interested.

Timothy said...

I am. That is good enough around these parts. ;)

Javier said...

Ok Timothy.

Then, I'll begin to work on it.

Timothy said...


rolf said...

After reading all the comments above on this subject it is obvious that one English translation of the Bible would not work that well. Due to our various backgrounds in the English language (whether it is our native language or our second), whether we are from the U.K. or the USA or elsewhere, we all have different needs. It also is a good reason to have more than one copy of the scriptures. Some times I am in the mood for study and I might choose the NABRE or RSV-2CE, sometimes I want to pray with the Scriptures and want a more dynamic translation like the REB, Jerusalem Bible, CCB,etc. I don't ever see myself being confined to one translation, just my thoughts!

Gerald de Belen said...

Exactly, rolf, you can't keep with the One Year, One Bible. :D

On the other hand, Tim, though I would doubt that your would appreciate it.

But if you will let me, I'll like to do a similar overview of Catholic Bibles in my native language, Filipino.

It is also interesting to add to the guest post of Javier (and mine as well if it do happen), a little background of the situations of the Biblical versions in our respective countries. (which one is popular, the one you will find most often, bible versions preferred by denominations, etc.)

I think that would be an interesting read.

Timothy said...


I would enjoy posting it. Go for it!