Bible Translation

by Andrew Host
© Copyright March 1997

Favourite translations | Comparisons | Yahweh / LORD | Love

I have a passion for Bible translations which are modern and colloquial without compromising the original meaning.

The fact that some people still like to read the King James Version of the Bible is astonishing to me. Some say that the "Thee" and "Thou" sort of language is more reverent, and that's why they like it. My answer to that is that much of the Bible and certainly most of the New Testament was written in the colloquial language of the day. That's why I believe the Bible should be translated into the colloquial language of our day.

Surely an accurate translation can only come out one way?

An "accurate" word for word translation doesn't take into account idiom and cultural differences. For example,

"Cool it, man. Let's hit the road."

If that sentence was being translated literally by someone in the future who knew nothing about the colloquialisms of our time, it might come out:

"Reduce the temperature of it male human. Let's strike the road with something."

Whereas a correct translation would be:

"Restrain yourself. Let's depart."

It would be equally correct to say:

"Settle down. Let's go away from here."



So you can see that there are many ways to say exactly the same thought, and that's just in English. The problem is compounded when translating from a different language.

A favourite mis-translation I once heard about was performed by a computer designed to translate into Mandarin Chinese and back again. The example fed into it was:

"Cathay Pacific, the heart of Asia."

After it was translated into Chinese, the translation was fed back into the computer to be translated back into English, whereupon the screen read:

"Cathay Pacific, the blood-pump of Asia."

Not only is the Bible translated from other languages, but also from about two thousand years ago, so that's why there are so many ways to translate the Bible without changing the intrinsic meaning.

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My favourites:

The Living Bible: (published by Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois, USA).
This is one of the best and clearest to understand. The writer acknowledges that this is paraphrased, that is, it's not a word for word translation, but tries to translate the meaning of the whole passage.
The New Testament In Modern English (by J.B. Phillips): (Collins Publishers, Glasgow, UK).
Another beautiful paraphrase. My main criticism of this translation is that when the Old Testament Scripture is quoted, Phillips reverts to the King James version for the quote.
The Message (by Eugene H. Peterson): (Navpress Publishing Group, Colorado USA).
This is a late-comer to the world of Bible translations, having been published in 1993. Peterson is freer than most with his paraphrase. With some passages, the text is so fresh and enlightening that you have to look up a conventional translation to check whether or not that's really what it says.
In some passages, Peterson takes too many liberties with the translation, and there are a few omissions, such as the armour of God in Ephesians 6.
The Good News Bible (American Bible Society).
Clearly written, but a little too simple for my liking. The simplicity of the text doesn't always allow the full meaning to come across.
CEV - Contemporary English Version (American Bible Society).
Simple, like the "Good News", but I think it's truer to the original with good explanations in the footnotes. It's a very readable version, and highly recommended for children. But that's not to imply that it's unsuitable for adults.
Holy Bible - New International Version (Hodder and Stoughton Publishers).
It has much in common with the Good News Bible, but although it's a bit truer to the original, the sentence structures make it a bit more awkward to read, particularly for public reading.
The Holy Bible - New Revised Standard Version (Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA).
In its day, the Revised Standard Version was revolutionary. An accurate translation that was so much more readable than the King James. However, the RSV now sounds quite dated, particularly since they retained "thee" and "thou" in much of the Old Testament and some of the new.
The New Revised Standard Version has gone a long way to fixing many of the problems that the original Revised Standard Version had. "Thee" and "Thou" are gone, and another good feature is that the use of male pronouns has been removed when it's clear that the passage is referring to both men and women.
The problem I have with it is that it sounds like a translation to me. That is, the dialogue doesn't sound colloquial and the letters sound too formal.
The Amplified Bible (Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA).
This is a brilliant translation. It spells out in detail the full meaning of the original translation. This is the opposite of a paraphrase. It is totally useless for public reading, but very useful for private study when you really want to know what the passage means. For example: Romans 10, chapter 8, verse 9: In the Good News Bible it says:
"If you confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from death, you will be saved."
What does "believe" really mean? In the Amplified Bible, it's clearly spelt out:
"If you acknowledge and confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and in your heart believe (adhere to, trust in, and rely on the truth) that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

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Comparisons

Here is a passage from Luke chapter 6, so you can compare the styles of the different versions, including my own paraphrase:

Verse

RSV

NRSV

NIV

Amplified

Living

Phillips

Peterson

Host

27
"But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, "But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, But I say to you who are listening now to me: [in order to heed, make it a practice to] love your enemies, treat well (do good to, act nobly toward) those who detest you and pursue you with hatred. "Listen, all of you. Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. "But I say to all of you who will listen to me: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, "To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. Now listen to this: love your enemies. Yes, do good for those who hate you.
28
bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you. Invoke blessings upon and pray for the happiness of those who curse you, implore God's blessing (favour) upon those who abuse you [who revile, reproach, disparage, and high-handedly misuse you]. Pray for the happiness of those who curse you; implore God's blessing on those who hurt you. bless those who curse you, and pray for those who treat you spitefully. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. Bless the people who curse you, and pray for those who abuse you.
29
To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. To the one who strikes you on the jaw or cheek, offer the other jaw or cheek also; and from him who takes away your outer garment, do not withhold your undergarment as well. If someone slaps you on one cheek, let him slap the other too! If someone demands your coat, give him your shirt besides. As for the man who hits you on the cheek, offer him the other one as well! And if a man is taking away your coat, do not stop him from taking your shirt as well. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone hits you in the face, don't stop them hitting you again. And if someone takes your coat, don't stop him taking your shirt as well.
30
Give to every one who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Give away to everyone who begs you [who is in want of necessities], and of him who takes away from you your goods, do not demand or require them back again. Give what you have to anyone who asks you for it; and when things are taken away from you, don't worry about getting them back. Give to everyone who asks you, and when a man has taken what belongs to you, don't demand it back. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. Give to everyone who asks you for something, and if someone takes your possessions, don't ask for them back.
31
And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them. Do to others as you would have them do to you. Do to others as you would have them do to you. And as you would like and desire that men would do to you, do exactly so to them. Treat others as you want them to treat you. Treat men exactly as you would like them to treat you. Here is a simple rule of thumb for behaviour: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! You should do for others the things you'd like them to do for you.
32
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. If you [merely] love those who love you, what quality of credit and thanks is that to you? For even the [very] sinners love their lovers (those who love them). Do you think you deserve credit for merely loving those who love you? Even the godless do that! If you love only those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you love only the people who love you, what's so good about that? Even bad people do that.
33
And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. And if you are kind and good and do favours to and benefit those who are kind and good and do favours to and benefit you, what quality of credit and thanks is that to you? For even the preeminently sinful do the same. And if you do good only to those who do you good--is that so wonderful? Even sinners do that much! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that much. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you do good things only for those who do good things for you, what's the point of that? Even bad people do that.
34
And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. And if you lend money at interest to those from whom you hope to receive, what quality of credit and thanks is that to you? Even notorious sinners lend money at interest to sinners, so as to recover as much again. And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, what good is that? Even the most wicked will lend to their own kind for full return! And if you lend only to those from whom you hope to get your money back, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners and expect to get their money back. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that's charity? The stingiest pawnbrokers do that. And if you lend money only to those people that you hope will repay you, what's so good about that? Even bad people lend to each other if they think they're going to be repaid.
35
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. But love your enemies and be kind and do good [doing favours so that someone derives benefit from them] and lend, expecting and hoping for nothing in return but considering nothing as lost and despairing of no one; and then your recompense (your reward) will be great (rich, strong, intense, and abundant), and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind and charitable and good to the ungrateful and the selfish and wicked. Love your enemies! Do good to them! Lend to them! And don't be concerned about the fact that they won't repay. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as sons of God: for he is kind to the unthankful and to those who are very wicked. No, you are to love your enemies and do good and lend without hope of return. Your reward will be wonderful and you will be sons of the Most High. For he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked! I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You'll never - I promise - regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way the Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we're at our worst. No, you must love your enemies, do good and lend to people even if there's no hope of being repaid. If you do, your reward will be great. You will be the children of the Highest. After all, he is kind to ungrateful and bad people.
36
Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. So be merciful (sympathetic, tender, responsive, and compassionate) even as your Father is [all these]. Try to show as much compassion as your Father does. You must be merciful, as your Father is merciful. Our Father is kind; you be kind. So, be merciful, just as the Father is merciful.

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YHWH (Yahweh / LORD)

The most frustrating thing that is present in nearly all English translations is the use of "LORD" in upper case letters to replace the Hebrew letters representing YHWH.

YHWH is the name that God gave himself as revealed to Moses. It means "I am", the full name being "I am who I am" or "I will be who I will be".

Some time many centuries ago, the Jews decided that God's name was too special to pronounce. So when the Scriptures were publicly read, if YHWH appeared, they would read "Adoni" (which means "Lord") instead. After a few generations of that, because there are no vowels in ancient Hebrew, nobody knew how to pronounce the word YHWH. Some have though it should be pronounced Jehovah, but most scholars agree that it would probably be Yahweh.

The problem I have is that we continue a Jewish custom which has not been instigated by God. God never said, "Don't say my name out loud." So I resent having "LORD" appear in my Bible where the name "Yahweh" should be.

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Love

Another problem of translation is where several foreign words have only one English equivalent. An example is "Love".

The various Greek words which are translated in most Bibles as "Love" are:
 

agapao: The sort of love that God has for us.

thelo: To will or to wish, eg, "The scribes love to go in long clothing..."

phileo: The love one has for a good friend or for family.
 

One passage in particular where the mainstream Bibles fail to differentiate between the different types of love is John chapter 21:

Firstly, from the New Revised Standard Version:

15When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." 16 A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep." 17 He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.
 

The above translation fails to give any indication that two different Greek words are used for the English word love. Phillips and The Living Bible correctly show the difference between the different "loves".
Following is the same passage from The Living Bible:

15After breakfast Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these others?" "Yes," Peter replied, "you know I am your friend." "Then feed my lambs," Jesus told him. 16 Jesus repeated the question: "Simon, son of John, do you really love me?" "Yes, Lord," Peter said, "you know I am your friend." "Then take care of my sheep," Jesus said. 17 Once more he asked him, "Simon, son of John, are you even my friend?" Peter was grieved at the way Jesus asked the question this third time. "Lord, you know my heart; you know I am," he said. Jesus said, "Then feed my little sheep.
 

And, just for comparison, the same passage as I've paraphrased it:

Jn21:15After they'd eaten, they went for a walk, and Jesus asked Simon Peter, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?"
"Yes Lord," he answered, "you know that we're the best of friends."
"Feed my lambs," Jesus said.
16A second time, Jesus asked him, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?"
He answered again, "Yes Lord, you know that we're the best of friends."
"Feed my sheep," Jesus said.
17Then Jesus asked him a third time, "Simon, son of Jonah, are we the best of friends?"
Peter was really upset because the third time he'd asked, "Are we the best of friends?" And he answered, "Lord, you know everything, you know that we're the best of friends."
"Feed my sheep,"


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© Copyright 2016 Andrew Host.