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Ephesians 3 in The Voice

Ephesians 3 in The Voice

Well, I continue to read The Voice and it continues to annoy me.

But first let me note that in reading Ephesians 3 I don’t find anything that will lead you astray in your understanding of the chapter. In many cases the material in italics just seems unnecessary. In other words, the translators have already clearly translated the message. You can leave the italicized material out of your reading and you’ll get pretty much the same message.

For example, the first part of verse 20 reads: “Now to the God who can do so many awe-inspiring things, immeasurable things, things great than we ever could ask or imagine ….” Now read the verse without the italicized material. Has anything been contributed? It does make it a little more exhortative, and that might be the intention.

On the other hand, breaking out the prayer of verses 16-19 as a prayer, rather than as a report of a prayer, does fulfill the goals of the translation and is helpful, in my view. Helpful, at least, if one’s goal is to get a more dramatic presentation, which is one of the purposes of The Voice.

This prayer passage has a special place in my life, because I adapted it into a prayer some years ago and it was used as a blessing at my wedding. Our wedding bands have the reference inscribed inside as well.

More on The Voice

More on The Voice

I haven’t had time to read enough of The Voice to draw final conclusions, just to make observations. I do intend to continue reading and try to come up with some more precise and well-supported conclusions. The problem is that I find The Voice the most difficult mix of good and bad ideas I’ve ever encountered in a Bible translation. It doesn’t classify easily.

Chad Whitley commented on my previous post and linked to a review on his site. Well, he doesn’t call it a review, but an “amalgamation of thoughts” which would be  a fair description of what I’ve done thus far as well. I think his amalgamation is well worth reading.

I would add a few notes:

1) I’m less concerned than Chad is with the translation team. When I have the text in front of me, I’m much more concerned with seeing the product and comparing it to the source languages. For someone who does not read the source languages, however, the team is an important consideration, and I use it in my selection tool. (Note that The Voice is not listed there as I have not completed the relevant stats.)

There are some stellar names on the translation team, but as I work my way through the product, I’m getting less and less happy. It doesn’t seem to be consistent. Consistency would allow me to read it with profit even if I disagreed with the translation choices. As it is, when I see italics, I’m not really certain what’s going on until I compare it to the source texts. I found myself thinking a few times, “I don’t think _____ would do it this way.” That leads me to wonder about the team process, which has so much to do with the consistent feel of a translation effort.

2) Taking up from point #1, the methodology is problematic based on the results. When I had just read the preface, I was willing to defend The Voice, even though I was pretty certain the translators (or the publisher) had fallen victim to “translation preface inflation.” If we were talking TV shows, we’d say that the entire genre of translation prefaces had jumped the shark years ago.

The problem is that prefaces tend less to explain how a translation was accomplished than they do to market the translation. Instead of seeking clarity of expression they seek motivation. It’s advertising copy. I have always recommended that Bible students read the preface to their Bible translation, but that is becoming less useful.

3) I find the text very readable, but I also find the italics distracting. Since they don’t seem to be consistent, I can’t really work them into my mental state while reading. I’m not sure that there is any good methodology which would allow for the use of italics–or any other form of distinction within the text–and be perfectly consistent.

Finally, on the matter of the word “logos” in Greek, I have seen and even used other terms to translate it into English. If we are not going to use “word” I often prefer “message.” Then we have the sense that God’s message took on human form. I think that works reasonably well if we compare Hebrews 1:1-3. But in the latter passage we have “spoken.” God spoke through the prophets of old and now he has spoken to us through his Son. So “voice” might work. I’m working through mentally how that might change which passages the texts in question might evoke, which is an important part of understanding.

In any case, I think Chad’s nicely nuanced comments in turn surrounded by caveats (his nuances and caveats, not mine!) will be very helpful if you’re trying to evaluate this version for use in any particular setting.

ERB Review of The Voice

ERB Review of The Voice

Since I’ve been making moderately negative comments about The Voice here on this blog, I’m going to link to a more favorable short review at Englewood Review of Books. Here’s the conclusion:

In some of the introductory material, the editors (led by Chris Seay) note that “Too often, the passion, grit, humor and beauty have been lost in the translation process” and that “The Voice will call you to step into the whole story of God with your whole heart, soul and mind.”  My engagements with this new translation so far confirm that these are not slick marketing ploys, but really capture the essence of this exciting new presentation of the scriptural story.

My experience has been the opposite. I started out defending this translation from objectors, and I would still defend it on a number of points. But after reading it for a longer period of time, I have grown less and less fond of it overall. It does great in some places, but I find the inconsistent use of italicized material, not to mention simply having that much italicized material in the first place, off-putting.

You can find my comments on this issue in more details, in order of posting: Italics and The Voice, Italics in The Voice – The Story of Bathsheba, The Other Extreme on Explanation in Translation, Psalm 51 in The Voice" href="" rel="bookmark">Psalm 51 in The Voice, and Yet Again The Voice and Italics.

I’m guessing my near obsession with this issue will not resonate with many readers. The difference in my review and the one I linked should provide a lesson to those considering any book: Make sure you know why the review author likes or does not like the book in question. You might find his or her “flaws” to be features!

Similarly it might suggest to some reviewers to provide more explanation for their view of a book, whether positive or negative. That allows readers to make their own judgments of the value of the review as well.



Yet Again The Voice and Italics

Yet Again The Voice and Italics

I know I’m beating this topic to death, but I can’t help it. Really I can’t. Or at least I won’t.

I was reading Hebrews today, and I ran into some interesting examples, both of positive and (in my opinion) negative uses of italics. Before I look at a couple of cases, however, I do really like the flow of this translation of Hebrews. For the most part they don’t get too wordy in trying to make the text clear in English, but they do clarify a number of points. Other than the standard problem with a clear translation–often the translators must make large numbers of interpretive decisions and then cut out the alternatives in their rendering–this translation is quite good.

Now to the use of italics. In Hebrews 1:1, the word “Hebrew” is added before prophets. This seems to be quite a likely clarification. I do question the necessity. But in 1:13-14, the italics provide some valuable clarification of the text. After “at My right hand,” “in the seat of honor” is added. It is quite possible that modern readers may not recognize that  fact. Then in 14, beginning the answer to the question that opened verse 13, we have “No, of course not.” It’s clear from the context that the answer to the question is going to be “no,” but again, what might be missed is made explicit.

But in chapter 2:2, we have a note that I believe is entirely unwarranted. Verse 2 reads:

For if the words of instruction and inspiration brought by heaven’s messengers were valid, and if we live in a universe where sin and disobedience receive their just rewards, … (note: italics/non-italics reversed)

I believe that this verse refers to the Mosaic law and to the punishments under it, which tradition held was mediated by angels, and not to general instruction and inspiration of angels and the nature of the universe. What we’re being prepared for is the idea that the punishment for rejecting the message of Jesus (“imprinted with God’s image”–The Voice) would be greater, not less than, the punishment for rejecting Torah, brought by angels to Moses.

I’m guessing there’s a desire here not to accept the idea that the author of Hebrews might believe that the Torah was mediated by angels, since that is extra-biblical. But interpreting this otherwise loses some of the emphasis of the message the author is intending to convey.

In summary, thus far I’ve found the use of italics in The Voice as inconsistent as it is in the various formal equivalence versions. There’s no bright line between words that are justified by the source text, and words that constitute additional explanation. Readers will differ on this point and it’s hard to be consistent and also appear to be consistent.

Psalm 51 in The Voice

Psalm 51 in The Voice

I’ve been including The Voice Bible in my lectionary reading for the last couple of weeks. My early impression was that it was fairly good as a paraphrase, though the italics, while fairly consistent, were a bit distracting. I thought they were unnecessary.

I was wrong. I have yet to do any sort of objective comparison of the use of italics in one of the various formal equivalence translations, such as the KJV, but at this point my impression is that these italics are not fully consistent. At the same time, the added material does not all fall into what I would understand as a paraphrase. Since what belongs in a paraphrase is not well defined in any case, however, this may not be a valid criticism.

Readers of The Living Bible and The Message have gotten used to some extensive rephrasing, and also a good deal of cultural translation. In the voice, we have a text that translates the text using principles of dynamic equivalence and then adds notes. Rather than using foot- or marginal notes, these notes are in the text in italics. The feel of reading this version is rather different.

The Psalm for this week is Psalm 51, and some of the notes really grate on me. I probably need to spend more time reading and thinking about this, but let me give some examples again. (These are not intended as a representative sample. I’m listing passages that grated on me. Numbers refer to verses, not list numbers.)

1.  … wipe out every consequence of my shameful crimes. — Huh?

2. Thoroughly wash me, inside and out, — What does this add?

7. If You wash me, I will be whiter than snow. — If you want to make this a conditional, then it’s part of the translation. If it’s not justified, putting it in italics doesn’t help.

9.  and erase my guilt from the record. — Again, what does this add?

16. I would surrender my dearest possessions or destroy all that I prize to prove my regret, but … — This note just seems wrong to me. The verse is not talking about giving up possessions or destroying things you prize. It’s talking about presenting sacrifices to God. There’s a good theological point here, also often made by the prophets, and this note makes it less clear, in my opinion.

Thus far these are just thoughts as I read. I haven’t formed an overall opinion on this translation. But I am concerned about some of this content.


The Other Extreme on Explanation in Translation

The Other Extreme on Explanation in Translation

Yesterday I complained a bit about the explanation that The Voice provides to readers, informing them that since Bathsheba had just completed purification after her period, Uriah couldn’t be the father of the child.

Today I was reading the same passage in the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), and there we get the opposite. In verse 4 it reads, “… purifying herself from her uncleannes.” This would be easy for a modern reader to miss. It’s implied from the context. Why would the writer mention this unless it had something to do with the story? But it requires a little bit of background knowledge. How many Christian readers know that ritual cleansing was required following a woman’s period?

A more balanced translation is provided by the NET: “… purifying herself from her menstrual uncleanness.” In addition, as they usually do, the NET provides an informative note. I find such notes less obtrusive. One can read the story as is, or one can take the detour as one prefers.


Italics in The Voice – The Story of Bathseba

Italics in The Voice – The Story of Bathseba

Last week I mentioned that while I found the italics in The Voice more logical than I usually do in the formal equivalent translations that use the device (e.g. KJV, NKJV, NASB), I still found them annoying in the text. One goal of a dynamic equivalence translation is generally readability, and for me the italics tend to detract from that.

Then there’s logic. Here are some examples from this coming Sunday’s lectionary passage from the Old Testament, 2 Samuel 11:1-15. This is not a complete list, just those that caught my eye. Numbers refer to verses

1. most kings – I think readers could figure out that not every king in the world went to battle; it was the season.

1. Joab out as general in charge of – Again, I think readers could figure this out. Was the addition necessary? Is it necessary to mark it as an addition? It’s pretty clearly implied. But the text also reads very sparsely, “David sent Joab and his servants with him and all Israel.” So why is “as general” in italics and “in charge of” not? Note also that “his” is interpreted (correctly) as “David’s”.

1. whole army of Israel – again, a well justified addition, but I question whether the reader wouldn’t assume this easily, and whether, if one thinks the addition is justified, italics are necessary. It’s pretty clearly implied.

2. Early one evening – In this case I think the Hebrew, l’eth ha;ereb, implies the “early” part pretty clearly, but saying “in the evening” in English seems to me to imply it as well.

2. bathing on a roof below his – Here there’s clear justification for the italics, as this is definitely beyond simple dynamic equivalence translation. I’m not sure if all bathing would have taken place on a roof, but if that’s what the translators believe to be the case, these italics are justified by their rules.

3.Uriah was one of David’s officers who had gone to war with the rest of David’s troops. – Here we get into a problem with the meaning of dynamic equivalence, which is intended to produce the same effect for the reader. It think letting the reader know where Uriah is weakens the story line. We’re only supposed to be reminded of where Uriah is as the story progresses. Thus my suggestion would be not to add this point. It will become clear later. If added, of course italics are justified by the rules expressed in the preface. (Note that in the course of 2 Samuel, the reader has not been introduced to Uriah at this point, so the storyteller is able to introduce the fact that not only had David committed adultery, but he’d committed it with the wife of one of his soldiers currently at war.)

4-5. David couldn’t get her off his mind, so he sent messengers – What are the translators doing to the storyteller? The story line does not imply that David spent time thinking about it. It presents a “see, query, get” sequence that is very stark and does not portray David in a good light. The material should clearly be in italics, if added, but I don’t see that it contributes to the story.

4-5 after the purifying bath after her period, her husband Uriah could not have been the father. – What is this? Bible exposition for dummies? Who missed this point?

6. his general Joab – We have, presumably, forgotten who Joab is since the first verse.

8. go to his own house to clean up, relax, and visit his wife. – Again, are we to assume he was going to his house to clean up and then ignore his wife? Surely this is implied by the text, but it makes for much poorer storytelling than does the original.

That is enough sampling, I think. I see much less logic in the use of italics in this passage as well as in the way in which the translators choose to expand on the text. It’s possible that italics in the text doesn’t bother other people as much as it does me. I’m more than ordinarily aware of typography issues.

But in this case we add an additional problem. Is the explanatory material making this story easier to read in English or is it just adding stuff? Any storyteller will be aware that adding implied information to a story does not necessarily improve it, and will often destroy it. If that added information was something that modern readers would not be likely to know, it might well be justified, according to the rules stated in the preface to The Voice.

But I would say that modern readers are at least as likely as ancient ones to get the point that if Bathsheba was purifying herself after her period, that counted out conception prior to that event, and thus made David the father.

I don’t want to become hypercritical of The Voice. Many people are reading it and benefitting. I don’t think anything here gives a wrong impression. It just takes a rather well done story and reduces its impact.


Italics and The Voice

Italics and The Voice

I’ve always regarded the use of italics to indicate words that “aren’t in the Greek” one of the sillier notions in translating. Considering there are no English words in the Greek text, one could put everything in italics. On the other hand, if an English word isn’t in some way justified by the Greek (or Hebrew) text, what is it doing in the translation at all?

Reading an English text that uses italics, such as the KJV, NKJV, or NASB, can be a bit disconcerting when you know the same text in the original languages or are comparing the English to the source language. The translators just can’t help being inconsistent. Why is one auxiliary verb in English considered original, while another is not, for example?

Enter The Voice. It’s a modern language Bible version, paraphrased in many ways with supporting and explanatory information included. Some items that are merely implied by the text are filled in. The text is formatted for easier reading and comprehension. But when one makes an ancient text clearer, one also tends to make more assumptions and to guide the reader to conclusions favored by the translator.

To avoid some of the problems of such extensive paraphrasing (or going beyond material directly tied to a dynamic translation of the text, as the preface says), The Voice uses italics. I haven’t studied their use extensively, but overall it feels more consistent than the use of italics in various formal equivalence translations.

And I still don’t like it. It just distracts. The justification is good, but I just don’t see it helping that much in practical terms. Perhaps after I’ve studied it further, I’ll feel different.