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 On the other hand, “sleep with one’s fathers” might strike many modern readers as a bit outdated.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.