Friday, December 9, 2016

Knox on Translation

"The work of translating the Bible, really translating it, is being taken in hand in our day for the first time since Coverdale.  Moffatt and Goodspeed began it, with their fearless challenge of the Authorized Version; their work has been followed up by a text issued with official sanction in the United States.  Quite recently, the proposal for a new rendering has been gaining ground among non-Catholics in our own country.  Meanwhile, the Catholic hierarchy in the States has entrusted a large body of Biblical scholars with a similar commission.  They began with caution; their New Testament was merely a revision, with certain verbal alterations , of the Douay.  The Old Testament, to judge by the single volume of it which has so far appeared, is on a far more ambitious scale.  They seem resolved, if I may put it in that way, to out-Knox Knox in baldness of narrative and modernity of diction.  The germ is spreading, and there will be more translations yet.  Indeed, it is doubtful whether we shall ever again allow ourselves to fall under the spell of a single, uniform text, consecrated by its antiquity." -Ronald Knox (Mells, 1949)


Ed Rio said...

Interesting to read his thoughts on translation and modern language. Is his translation more of a formal or dynamic equivalence?

JDH said...

Doubtful, indeed!

Timothy said...


Ed Rio said...

I thought it might be. Thanks Timothy. I've gotta say, my mind has changed concerning the JB vs NABRE translation of Genesis. I ended up going back to the NABRE for a few reasons, one of which being more modern American English. So, the NABRE large print from Oxford is getting a second full reading. I, for one, am glad we don't have "...a single, uniform text, consecrated by its antiquity."

Jerry Mc Kenna said...

I wonder what Knox would make of translating the Bible into English for non-native English speakers, such as the Bibles published for India.

Timothy said...


I think that is a very interesting question. I also wonder which current translation he would have liked. Since he was, in many ways, ahead of his time in regards to dynamic translations, I wonder what he would have thought of the New Jerusalem or New Living Translation.

Biblical Catholic said...

" Indeed, it is doubtful whether we shall ever again allow ourselves to fall under the spell of a single, uniform text, consecrated by its antiquity."

That is probably true, but I'm not sure that it is a good thing. One very important downside is that it is no longer possible for people to quote from or allude to the Bible with all listeners understanding the allusion. They understood it not only because of the greater Biblical literacy in that time period but also because they were all reading from the exact same translation.

Abraham Lincoln once said about slavery that "A house divided against itself cannot stand", everyone in his time understood that he was quoting the gospels. It would be close to impossible for a modern politician to make a similar allusion with everyone understanding the reference, due to the wide variety of translations.

So many of our popular sayings come from the King James Version, with many of them being much older than the KJV and coming straight from Tyndale:

The blind leading the blind
Escaped by the skin of my teeth
A man after my own heart
The apple of my eye
The left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing
it's only a stone's throw away
he was beside himself

etc etc etc

With literally dozens of translations currently in print, many of them frankly very pedestrian and unidomatic, it is doubtful that any of them will ever make the kind of impression on its readers or make the kind of impact on its readers, that the KJV did.

Jerry Mc Kenna said...

I think Knox himself was conflicted on this subject. As a translator he wanted to be free to expose what he saw hidden in the older texts, but he also knew how the best of those older passages rang bells in our heads when we hear them or read them. I don't think there is a perfect solution. I read the Douay version online to get those familiar words that may not be in the NAB version.

As an aside, I would love to know what versions our Spanish speaking citizens prefer. Many of those I know speak good English but don't have the vocabulary to enjoy the older versions.