Lost in Translation (8 January 2021)
Last night I enjoyed some chocolate. I shared some with my wife even though, “It’s not for girls.” (2002 Ad) It was a Yorkie bar. Currently it’s hard to think of this sort of nonsense as ever being acceptable, let alone a positive form of advertising. By 2012 this phrase was replaced by, “Man fuel for Man stuff.” Ten years to get that improvement. So where are we in 2021? Any better?
I started to set up my new MacBook with the same biblical tools I’ve been using on Windows for years. I downloaded my e-sword software library again and discovered so many new versions of the bibles I have been using, even with the same name. NIV, which version, 1978, 1984 or 2011? Is it the UK version? Don’t forget the 1996 NIrV, the readers NIV. NASB versions 1971, 1977, 1995… I went for the latest 2020 version, because this must be best. Right?
Have the original Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic texts changed? New translations may include work from recently found earlier manuscripts produced nearer the time of the originals. That’s the past. It seems to me the greatest translation challenge is the point of delivery. Current culture, context and language continually changes. How does one create a formal equivalence so that the reader understands what the writer intended, irrespective of time and societal divide?
Ongoing personal experience influences our reaction, involvement and understanding. When I had more than full time work, I was envious and puzzled by those able to rest. Unable to work full time I am now envious of those with the health and energy to do so. Context in relation to self is powerful and as varied as people.
It’s no wonder we have so many versions of the bible. People find different versions helpful to them. I’ve also been helped by different versions at different times. The Message, Good News, Amplified, Living and New Revised Standard versions also find their way into my downloaded e-sword and Tecarta Android phone software. I also download different Greek new testament versions unto e-sword. I’ll not go into dictionaries, commentaries, maps and other resources, electronic or physical.
The most recent bible purchased and downloaded is NASB 2020. So what’s new?
I remember asking my parents why it was OK to say that we did not want God, even when sat in Church. “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” (Psalm 23:1 NASB 1995 and many other versions) My parents explanation was probably clear enough but I was too afraid to follow it up with, “so why do they say ‘not want’ then?” I simply had not grasped the importance of a comma, but even with one, “The LORD is my shepherd, I will not be in need.” (Psalm 23:1 NASB 2020) might have been better for the primary aged me in the 70’s. This Good News, NIrV, Amplified or Message translations might also have helped.
And gender issues… Currently we still talk about “man” when “humankind” may better label what we are referring to. And that’s before the complexity of translation from another language. The Greek ἄνθρωπος (ánthrōpos) used to be translated as “men” or “man” in the NASB. It’s now often translated as “person” or “people” unless referring explicitly to males. The prefix “Anthropo-” means relating to humans in the Cambridge dictionary I checked. “And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men. (Mat 4:19 NASB 1995) “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of people.” (Mat 4:19 NASB 2020) “He who” has also been changed. “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Mat 7:8 NASB 1995) “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. (MAT 4:19 NASB 2020) And what of “brothers”? “If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?” (Mat 5:47 NASB 1995) “And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?” (Mat 5:47 NASB 2020) In 2020 version, “and sisters” has been added in italic, here and elsewhere.
Matthew comes up first in new testament computer searches but these changes are quick find examples now seen elsewhere too. However, the masculine terms have been retained in the NASB 2020 when the context suggests it’s referring explicitly to males. Changes other than gender…
Actions speak louder than words. “Let us go” in the 1995 NASB has been changed to “Let’s go” in the 2020 NASB version. For example, Mark 1:38 “He said to them, ‘Let us go (now Let’s go in 2020) somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.’ ” (Mark 1:38 NASB 1995) Why has “Let us Go” been changed in 2020 in this and other verses? In English, in some verses we can understand “let us” as “allow us.” It’s not about permission. The 2020 “Let’s” translation clarifies that it’s a call for action.
I could go on, as your know. Translation is far from simple. I’m the simple one and certainly no trained theologian. But I believe God is for everyone. “In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. Also, since you are Christ’s family, then you are Abraham’s famous “descendant,” heirs according to the covenant promises.” (Galatians 3: 28:29 The Message, other versions are equally clear)
To conclude, what Jesus said is sometimes in red. Verbal and written communications do not always align. Back to food based analogy. There were 30 cows and 28 chickens, so how many didn’t? This may be answerable if heard, but not as written. Too much knowledge can be a hinderance too. Because if you know cows are vegetarian this is harder to grasp even when heard. Let me offer a different version. There were 30 foxes and 20 ate chickens, so how many didn’t? 10!
Communication is exceptionally complex. I find it difficult and frustrating following brain injury, particularly when tired.