Perspectives in Translation

Search the Blog

Subscribe

About this Blog

Bible Gateway and The Gospel Coalition have teamed up to host a discussion of English Bible translation. We have convened a team of world-class scholars representing different versions of the English Bible who will address specific passages from the Old and New Testaments and answer questions about the translation process.

We hope that by pulling back the curtain on translation, this discussion will help readers understand their Bibles more clearly and learn to love God's Word more deeply. And we pray that careful attention to Scripture will excite readers to behold God's glory as he has revealed himself to us in our own language.

Recent Posts

Browse by Category

Blog Roll

What Is the Best Way to Convey What Happens to David in 1 Kings 2:10? Douglas J. Moo

Posted in New Testament, Old Testament by Douglas J. Moo on December 22nd, 2010

Note from the moderator: Students learning the biblical languages for the first time often produce wooden, overly literal translations dependent on what they know about words’ dictionary definitions. More experienced translators familiar with usage in ancient languages feel greater latitude when communicating God’s Word to contemporary readers. But in their zeal to bridge time and culture, translators must be careful not to disallow potential meaning embedded in literal phrases we no longer use today. This challenge emerges in passages such as 1 Kings 2:10.

Tremper makes good points. “Sleep with one’s fathers” has a certain literary quality to it which might resonate with a certain audience. On the other hand, “sleep with one’s fathers” might strike many modern readers as a bit outdated. It might even, more seriously, be misunderstood by some readers. It could, then, be an example of what some translators call “biblisch”: the preservation of certain English locutions (often handed down from the KJV) which are not used broadly in contemporary English. I think it generally best to avoid “biblisch,” since it tends to put an unnecessary barrier between the modern English-speaker and the biblical text.

Without, I hope, hijacking this thread, I might mention the related issue in texts such as 1 Thess. 4:13. By using the Greek equivalent to “sleep” is Paul making a point about the nature of Christian death? That is, is “sleep” for him a “live” metaphor? Or is it a dead metaphor, a simple euphemism for “die” (for which there is some evidence in Paul’s culture)—something like our “pass away”? If the latter, then nothing is lost and something in terms of clarity may be gained by simply translating “die.” But the evidence for “sleep” as a euphemism for death in Paul’s day is not very widespread, so it might be appropriate to keep the language here.

Douglas J. Moo is Blachard Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, and chair of the Committee on Bible Translation.


0 Comments | Share

What Is the Best Way to Convey What Happens to David in 1 Kings 2:10? Tremper Longman III

Posted in Old Testament by Tremper Longman III on December 21st, 2010

Note from the moderator: Students learning the biblical languages for the first time often produce wooden, overly literal translations dependent on what they know about words’ dictionary definitions. More experienced translators familiar with usage in ancient languages feel greater latitude when communicating God’s Word to contemporary readers. But in their zeal to bridge time and culture, translators must be careful not to disallow potential meaning embedded in literal phrases we no longer use today. This challenge emerges in passages such as 1 Kings 2:10.

Question: What is the best way to convey what happens to David in 1 Kings 2:10?

There is no single best way to render this verse. One has to first ask what the purpose of the translation is. Of course a literal translation of the verse is, “And David slept with his fathers/ancestors (both are literal) and was buried in the city of David.” And if the purpose of the translation is to render this verse literally and retain all original metaphors then the verb slept should be maintained.

However, if we want to render the verse into English that is more immediately understandable to a modern audience that does not tend to use slept to refer to death, we would better render it, “Then David died and was buried with his ancestors in the city of David.” Both are equally accurate, but the latter is more readable and understandable for the majority of readers today, and the former retains the Hebrew idiom for those who want to study the theme. I think serious students will need to consult both (and learn Hebrew themselves).

Tremper Longman is the Robert H. Gundry professor of biblical studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. He has been active in the area of Bible translation by serving on the central committee that produced and now monitors the New Living Translation.


0 Comments | Share

How Do We Decide What ‘Sarx’ Means? Craig Blomberg

Posted in New Testament by Craig Blomberg on December 20th, 2010

Moderator’s note: English speakers today commonly use the same words to mean various things in varying contexts. The same is true of ancient writers. When we study biblical Greek and Hebrew, we observe the fascinating and ingenious use of word pictures and double meaning, among other literary techniques. One word the apostle Paul for multiple purposes was sarx. I asked a panel of scholars, How do we decide what Paul has in mind when he writes sarx, as in Romans 8:8? CBT member Craig Blomberg offers some insight into a change from the 1984 to the updated NIV published online this year.

It is well known that several New Testament authors, but especially Paul and John, regularly use sarx (“flesh”) in two ways—the skin on a person’s body, and by extension, a human body more generally; and a person manifesting sinful behavior or a sinful condition. Context usually makes clear which of these two is involved, but how do we translate the latter? Romans 8:8 is just one of many passages that could be chosen by way of illustration: “but the ones being in the flesh are not able to please God” (a woodenly literal rendering). Most translations historically and today have chosen simply to retain the word flesh here, and the updated NIV has followed suit, after the 1978 and 1984 NIVs used “the sinful nature.” Other options that have been utilized include “the lower nature” (Weymouth’s NT in Modern Speech), “earthly minded” (Montgomery’s Centenary Translation), “their old nature” (Complete Jewish Bible), “the corrupt nature” (God’s Word to the Nations), “their natural inclinations” (New Jerusalem Bible), and “their sinful nature” (New Living Translation).

I confess that when the NIV first appeared, I liked “the sinful nature” (as a translation, not the concept!). It meant I didn’t have to stop and think each time I saw “flesh” how it was being used. I had been schooled in Campus Crusade for Christ’s distinction between the natural, carnal, and spiritual persons, while realizing already then the limitations of the way they described the distinctions among these terms. Through my seminary studies, however, I came to learn that it wasn’t as though Christians had two compartments to them, one in which the Spirit resided and one in which the flesh resided, so that one could speak of their spiritual and their sinful natures. The Spirit always indwells us, and sometimes fills us, but when he doesn’t it is because we are not fully yielded to him. Thus the flesh, as the common Scriptural opposite, is most naturally likewise understood as a power to which we can yield, to varying degrees. “Earthly minded” and “natural inclinations,” of the options noted above, probably capture this better than any expression involving the specific word “nature.”

But occasionally it seems like the negative use of sarx really does shade over into the (metaphorical) sense of a “compartment” of a person. Romans 7:14-25 is an excellent example of this. Paul waxes eloquent about the war going on inside of himself between two powers. So in the two appearances of sarx in verses 18 and 25, even the updated NIV preserves “sinful nature.” In other places, however, it is not even clear if sarx is being used pejoratively (for something sinful) or just neutrally for frail humanity (e.g., “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”). On balance, then, it is best to leave most of the renderings of sarx simply as “flesh” and not foreclose on the interpretive conversation. But the updated NIV does make an improvement by often speaking of “the realm of the flesh” (as in 8:8), which sounds a little bit more like someone under an influence rather than a certain location inside a person.

Craig Blomberg is distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary in Littleton, Colorado. He has been a member of the Committee on Bible Translation since 2008.


0 Comments | Share