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My Favored Translation Method

My Favored Translation Method

John Hobbins divided translations into two classes in a recent post.

Which do you prefer: (1) a translation that makes sense on its own, without off-site explanation, or (2) a translation that is a head-scratcher until an explanation is given which clears things up, and even then leaves you wondering if you have it right?

Almost everyone I know, except J. K. Gayle whom I wish to congratulate for his well-earned doctorate, prefers, all others things being equal, a type (1) translation. …

Now I have a bit of a problem with that division of the types of translations.  I’m guessing that John thinks I prefer type 1 translations, since he has responded to some of my comments and I’m not J.K. Gayle, so I’m going to respond as though his answer refers to me.  As for J.K. Gayle, he has produced a new blog on Bible translation, which I won’t claim to completely understand, but will certainly read regularly.

That leaves me as a “type 1 preferer” by default.

But is that actually the case?  Frankly I have a hard time understanding this division.  I am, in fact, an advocate of just about every variety of translation, depending on the purpose for which it is used.

Thus when one is going to sit at one’s desk and study out a passage with commentaries, concordances, and other reference sources, I would often be quite happy with John’s variety #2.

On the other hand, if I’m giving a Bible to a child or young person, or someone who has not previously read the Bible, I’m likely to start with #1.

I frequently ask people to read lengthy passages from the Bible, such as whole books, and again for that purpose I like a Bible that is easy to comprehend without going to external references.

Some may wonder if this is not giving people a wrong impression of the meaning of the various passages they read.  The problem here is the assumption that the result of one person’s long study of an obscure verse in a translation that leaves it obscure will result in enlightenment.  (John does not partake of this error.  He recognizes the tentative nature of conclusions in the post I cited above.)

A person who uses an easy-to-read translation in order to get an overview will not discover all the possibilities for interpretation of the text.  That should be no surprise.  One won’t do that while reading for overview in any case.  Getting an overview of a passage or book is simply one part of studying the passage and should be supplemented by others.

So I would have to say, if asked whether I choose the Bible versions behind door #1 or door #2, “Yes.”  On any particular occasion it would depend on the individual (or audience) and the purpose for which the translation would be used.

No translation conveys all that the source text will convey, nor can it be expected to.  One must match what is conveyed to the needs of the situation.


The Value of REB Eccentricity

The Value of REB Eccentricity

Or perhaps I should say REB uniqueness.

One of the major reasons for using multiple Bible versions when studying the Bible in English (or any other language other than the originals) is to make yourself aware of alternate translations for particular passages. This goes beyond different ways of expressing the thought in English, to places in which the source language could be interpreted multiple ways, but even in the most literal translation, one must choose one or another option.

This morning in doing my lectionary reading, I chose the REB, and quickly found two examples: Genesis 12:3b and Psalm 121:1-2.

In Genesis 12:3, most translations use “in you will all nations of the earth be blessed” or something very similar. It is possible, however, to translate as the REB does:

All the peoples on earth
will wish to be blessed as you are blessed.

Now it happens I prefer the option presented in most other versions, but most people would not be aware of the alternate possibility unless they check a footnote, or use the REB. This is a positive value for a version which is known for accepted readings that are a bit out of the mainstream. (Note that I love the REB for my own reading; I will disagree with any translation on various renderings, and I don’t let that concern me. As long as a reading is well supported technically, I would never count it against the translation.)

The second one is in Psalm 121. Verses 1 & 2 are normally translated in a slightly ambiguous way. Is one looking to the hills for help? Is one rejecting the hills in favor of the Lord? This becomes more interesting when one seeks a Sitz im Leben for the passage. For example, if it is a processional song going toward the temple mount, looking to the hills could stand in for looking to the Lord.

The REB, on the other hand, renders unambiguously (or less ambigously, if that is possible!):

If I lift up my eyes to the hills,
where shall I find help?
My help comes from the LORD,
maker of heaven and earth.

In this case, I like the REB rendering slightly better. But my preference is not the point here. I think the REB can be a valuable addition to the library of the serious Bible student who does not know the source languages simply because it showcases some unusual readings. Of course, one hopes the student will be directed to the footnotes in all versions, as they often provide the same service.