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Reading from the NIrV

Reading from the NIrV

The New International Reader’s Version never got much traction, especially here in the United States, but I do have a copy, and I chose to do my lectionary reading from it this morning. That kind of reading is helpful in getting a quick feel for a version. I can ask myself how I would teach this passage if I were using this particular version. Because the lectionary includes a variety of types of passages, I get a feel for how it will read.

This version is to some extent aimed at the same readers as the New Life Version, about which I blogged a couple of days ago. Those for whom English is a second language should do well with this version, as should children, and those working on their literacy. Christian programs designed to teach reading could use this as a reader.

It pretty much reverses the comments I made on the NLV. First, it is much more even in its style. This probably results from committee work, and from the fact that it is the revision of an existing version. One person will have a hard time matching a committee in terms of making the style even. Of course, one should note that a committee will never produce the likes of The Message either, while one man did!

The NIrV uses very simple syntax. Let me quote a couple of verses from 1 Samuel 16 to illustrate:

The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you be filled with sorrow because of Saul? I have refused to have him as king over Israel. Fill you animal horn with olive oil and go on your way. I am sending you to Jesse in Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

But Samuel said, “How can I go? Saul will hear about it. Then he’ll kill me.”

The LORD said, “Take a young cow with you. Tell the elders of Bethlehem, ‘I’ve come to offer a sacrifice to the LORD.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice. The I will show you what to do. You must anoint for me the one I point out to you.” — 1 Samuel 16:1-3

Now you’ll also notice that unlike the NLV, the NIrV uses some of the somewhat technical terms, “anoint”, “elders”, and “sacrifice.” The NLV avoids all of these. The NIrV answer to the problem of this sort of vocabulary is a dictionary provided in the back, at least of my edition. Many Christian I encounter cannot understand the problems with these words that seem common to them. But if you grew up in church, you actually speak a “church” dialect. Even many unchurched people in the United States grew up with this church dialect. Versions that aim for readers whose English is at all weak, or who are not part of the church community already, have to take such issues into consideration.

This type of simplified syntax, and partially simplified vocabulary works better in some types of passages than others. I was reading lectionary passages for Lent 4 and 5 of cycle A this morning. Let me list the passages in the order of how effective the NIrV translation was. I’m considering here public reading, preaching or teaching, as well as conveying the intention of the passage as it was written. Any Bible translators reading this will almost certainly be able to predict this list if they know the eight passages.

  1. 1 Samuel 16:1-13
  2. John 9:1-41, John 11:1-45
  3. Ezekiel 37:1-14
  4. Romans 8:6-11; Ephesians 5:8-14
  5. Psalm 23, Psalm 130

Basically, the simplified syntax is quite effective in narrative portions. I wouldn’t mind preaching from those passages at all using this version. It is a little bit less effective in the gospels, and that difference is accentuated because it is the gospel of John which is somewhat subtle in vocabulary and symbolism. Normally, I think a passage from the prophets would be difficult to work with in this simplified of a version, but Ezekiel 37 is narrative in form, and it’s actually quite effective there. The epistles lose something in translation. Paul is writing complex, and the translation is simple. Finally, such simplified syntax does very poorly in poetry, though the NIrV does break out poetic lines unlike the NLV.

All of these differences are not faults of the translators or translation; they are simply facts of life. When you translate poetry, for example, you can translate either the literary quality and nuances, to whatever extent possible, or you can stick with the intellectual content. The NIrV, quite understandably, sticks with the intellectual content. You can’t write great poetry with simplified syntax and vocabulary.

There was one really awkward wording, and I’m not sure exactly how I would explain it in teaching. I’d probably simply give my own translation and explain from that. It’s in 1 Samuel 16:5, where Samuel tells the elders of Bethlehem, “Set yourselves apart to him . . . ” I’m not sure what that would mean. I know what the Hebrew means, but I don’t recall heard “set apart to ___” unless the blank was verbal.

Overall, I maintain my initial impression. This version is a good version for outreach or for use by anyone who is working on reading skills in English. Though there are a number of good alternatives, such as the CEV, NCV, or the TNIV. The last of these is not quite a simplified as is the NIrV, or at least that is my impression.

Why I Hate the KJV

Why I Hate the KJV

It’s about time for one of my periodic posts on the King James Version, signaled by comments from a KJV-Only advocate to some earlier posts.

As is usual, the commenter does not interact with anything I say about this issue, but merely affirms the need for a solid foundation, provided in the KJV. In this case, the commenter tells me that the KJV has never been proven wrong. I can hear his question: How can you be so perverse as to fail to give homage to the Bible. To the KJV-Only advocate, Psalm 19:7 does not read “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul” but instead reads “The King James Version is perfect, converting the soul.” This particular commenter didn’t ask me why I hate the KJV, but that usually comes somewhere in the discussion.

Well, the answer is that I do not, in fact, hate the KJV. The title is tongue in cheek, though I wouldn’t be surprised to have it used as evidence of my hate. I also do not hate the Douai-Rheims version, the Geneva Bible, Wycliffe’s translation, or the Latin Vulgate. I just don’t recommend that you use any of those as your primary study Bible nor do I recommend you use them for scripture readings. Some exceptions can be allowed for those who are experts in the appropriate language. I consult all of those except Wycliffe on a fairly regular basis.

The KJV is simply one translation of the Bible. It is special because of the time, place, and circumstances of its translation. It is, perhaps, the single most important accomplishment of English Bible translation, though that would be debatable. Its translators worked out some quite good translation principles, and they worked with substantial literary skill. To one who has any feel for the language of that period it is truly a work of beauty. (I must, however, give a nod to the considerable subjective element in beauty. I find it beautiful.)

Having said that, it is also an historical artifact. It is no longer easily understood by modern audiences. Our knowledge of the Biblical languages has advanced. We have many new manuscripts available, and we also have more advanced tools with which to study them. As a choice to use as a study Bible today, or for Bible readings in church, or as a reading Bible, it is not good for the majority of readers. I would make an exception for that small group of people who have actually mastered that language.

The KJV-Only movement is thankfully getting smaller. It has the effect of turning people away from the Bible rather than toward it. It is largely a means of maintaining personal authority for pastors and teachers who have placed their dependence on a particular English version rather than either going to the original languages, or using multiple translations to help get perspective.

Again, I must make clear that I do not refer in the previous paragraph to people who prefer the KJV while respecting other translations, or to pastors who use the KJV in teaching a congregation where that was the preference. I question the wisdom of such a thing, but I do not call it dangerous. What I call dangerous is the teaching that the KJV is the one, true word of God.

I used to write about this frequently, but I don’t any more, fundamentally because I’ve run out of things to say, and I haven’t seen a new or interesting KJV-Only argument to which I can respond in some years. They just repeat the same thing over and over. I’m more interested now in getting people to move to newer versions that are suitable for outreach, such as the CEV, TNIV, or NCV amongst others.

But having gotten some comments I just had to blow off a bit of steam on the topic. I now return you to your regular programming.

Translation Comparisons in Isaiah 63

Translation Comparisons in Isaiah 63

Why Isaiah 63? Well, I was reading it in Hebrew for my devotional time this morning, and then I compared some modern versions purported to be readable, and I thought it would be valuable to provide a complete comparison.

Note that I’m not attempting to provide a comprehensive list. I’m just comparing some poetic and idiomatic phrases that caught my eye. The versions I will use here are the ESV, TNIV, CEV, and NCV. Of these, I have recommended the TNIV, CEV, and NCV as options for outreach Bibles, that is, Bibles suitable for people who are not well versed in the church environment and dialect.

I would first note that all four of these versions capitalize “Holy Spirit” suggesting divinity in an Old Testament passage in which this was likely not in view. That is not terribly surprising, but it does illustrate the evangelical Christian roots of all four of these versions.

I am only going to post the phrases I’m comparing, so you may need to get out your own Bible and work with the context.

Verse Version Phrase;
1 ESV crimsoned garments
TNIV garments stained crimson
CEV clothes stained red
NCV dressed in red
In this verse, the ESV strikes me as not quite being English, and I’m not certain of the value of its text in literal terms. Just what does “crimsoned” mean? I believe I know, but I read the text in Hebrew first. The NRSV uses “garments stained crimson” just as the TNIV does. Both the CEV and the NCV simplify with “red.” There is a significant difference in meaning between “clothes stained red” and “dressed in red.” In context one can still get the picture, but the phrase itself is a bit weak. I give the CEV points for both “clothes” and “stained.”
2 ESV and your garments like his who treads in the winepress
TNIV like those of one treading the winepress
CEV your clothes look stained from stomping on grapes
NCV as if you had walked on the grapes to make wine
The ESV wording in this verse is extremely awkward, and I don’t think they gain poetic value from it, though it does follow the KJV tradition “and thy garments like him that treadeth in the winefat.” TNIV is again content to provide natural English, though treading the winepress is no longer a common term. NCV is the most explanatory.
9 ESV In all their affliction he was afflicted
TNIV In all their distress, he too was distressed
CEV It troubled the Lord to see them in trouble
NCV When they suffered, he suffered also
This is another completely non-radical rendering by the TNIV. CEV and NCV are much bolder, and with good effect, in my view. I would ask the ESV translators whether when their child is in pain they would say, “In all your affliction I am afflicted,” or whether they might instead say “I’m hurting with you” or something similar.
10 ESV and grieved his Holy Spirit
TNIV and grieved his Holy Spirit
CEV and made his Holy Spirit sad
NCV and made his Holy Spirit very sad
One thing I’m noticing in this chapter is how frequently the TNIV and ESV have the same reading. With all the exaggerated criticism, you might expect more radical renderings from the TNIV team, but they seem quite restrained.
14 ESV to make for yourself a glorious name
TNIV to make for yourself a glorious name
CEV The name of the Lord was praised for doing these things.
NCV and by this you won for yourself wonderful fame
Note that the CEV rendering combines thoughts in different lines of Hebrew poetry and thus doesn’t fully correspond with the phrase cited from the other versions. NCV conveys the information that “name” in this context refers to fame or reputation.
15 ESV the stirring of your inner parts
TNIV Your tenderness
CEV Show us that you care about us
NCV your love
This is a clear instance of an idiom translated word for word in the ESV, but idiomatically in the other three versions. The difference in the amount of text I quoted is based on other issues in the translation of the verse, in which the CEV and NCV both deal with repetition in poetic lines by combing them into more standard English style. That type of translation of Hebrew poetry, which loses the form, but may well convey the meaning more clearly is not my topic here.
17 ESV and harden our heart, so that we fear you not
TNIV and harden our hearts so we do not revere you
CEV Why did you make us want to disobey you?
NCV Why do you make us stubborn so that we don’t honor you?
Again, combination of parallel thoughts into single elements tends to make it difficult to quote precisely the phrase desired. I think TNIV’s “revere” is better than “fear” in this context.

I would have just a few observations on this. First, of course, studying a few instances that caught my eye in a single chapter does not fully characterize Bible versions. That should be obvious, but I don’t want there to be any mistake.

Second, one of the clearest differences between formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence comes in the translation of idioms. Do we preserve the source language idiom, however little sense it may make in the target language, or do we find a good target language idiom to convey the same meaning. Depending on what the reader is looking for, one could answer that question either way. The ESV consistently translates idioms word for word in this chapter, while the TNIV takes a few steps away from that, but the NCV and the CEV generally seek a new idiomatic way of expression.

While it was not my focus for this comparison, the same differences could be noticed in handling poetic lines. ESV and generally TNIV reflect the Hebrew poetic lines, while the NCV and CEV scramble them as necessary to express the meaning. That conveys certain elements of meaning to audiences who are not acquainted with Hebrew parallelism–a very large percentage of Bible readers–but at the same time it loses the opportunity to see the structure of the Hebrew poetry.

The differences occur on a scale, i.e. there is not a clean break between the two styles of translation. If you compare the CEV and the ESV, it looks like two completely different approaches, but the TNIV is somewhat mediating, and I know that if I added several more translations, the scale would be even more evident.

Being aware of such differences, we can more intelligently select a Bible version for any particular setting and use.