Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Hymnals & Pew Bibles, Part 6

Now we are getting some good dialogue going!

I had a great conversation with Dave McShea last night about Bible translation. Yesterday, I also encountered a great example of how Bible translation can impact the meaning of the text in my preparation for Good Friday. Let me show you. . .

I am working on Psalm 22, which is truly an amazing text. (Take a look before Friday!) The passage can be neatly divided into two sections: 1. A Cry of Agony in 1-21, and 2. A Cry of Victory in 22-31. I'm convinced there is a significant turning point, a shift, a transition at the end of verse 21, but not all English translations show it. Consider the four English versions we've mentioned. . . .

New American Standard (NAS): Psa. 22:21 Save me from the lion’s mouth; From the horns of the wild oxen You answer me.

New King James Version (NKJV): Psa. 22:21 Save Me from the lion’s mouth And from the horns of the wild oxen! You have answered Me.

New International Version (NIV): Psa. 22:21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

English Standard Version (ESV): Psa. 22:21 Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

Do you see the difference? James Montgomery Boice says this in his commentary on the Psalms:

The climax of the first part of Psalm 22 and the turning point between part one and part two comes in verses 19-21, as the suffering Savior finds his communion with God restrored. . . . The verb translated "save me" (in v. 21) literally means "you have heard," and it is held to the end so that the final couplet should actually read

Rescue me from the mouth of the lions,
from the horns of the wild oxen. You have heard me!

This is a cry of triumph, not despair. It marks the moment at which the period of darkness passess and Jesus, having sufferend a true alienation from the Father as a punishment for our sins, becomes aware of God's presence and favor again.

So, the NAS and NKJV both capture this idea, whereas the NIV and ESV both miss it. In the NIV verse 21 looks like a continuing cry for help rather than a recognition that God's presence has come. The ESV is better, but still not as good as the NAS or NKJV. In fact, I think I like the punctuation of the NKJV best.

Now this is not a huge deal, but I show it to you just to illustrate the fact that interpreation is always happening with translation. (Note, this is not a textual variant issue, but a translation issue.) I thought it was interesting that this came up yesterday as we have been discussing these issues. Personally, I buy Boice's argument!

Do you get it?

1 comment:

Dave McShea said...

This illustrates some of the difficulty of taking something from one language to another. And it would be even more difficult in poetry and songs.

For anyone that knows a second language, you know that you cannot just "equate" words when you translate. You must understand what is being said in language “A” and then say the same thing in language “B”. Just a glance through a concordance will show you that a single Greek or Hebrew word is translated to several different English words depending on the context of the use. This requires the translator to first “interpret” then translate. Words do not always have equivalence.

And it leaves you hanging with the two questions. What does this passage "say"? (What are the individual meanings of the words that make up this sentence in Hebrew?) And what does the passage mean? (What idea or thought was the writer recording in these words? How is that same thought communicated in English?) Should you be tied to translating words, or it is more important to translate the thought using the best possible words in the receptor language. My opinion is Yes!

Obviously, you can argue for both questions as to which is most "accurate". And both carry their own inherent dangers. Both involve a level of interpretation or choice in English words.

When I have seen and heard about the process that most translations go through before they are published it gives me a lot of confidence in the “essential” accuracy of all the major translations on the market today. The men who make up the committees to oversee and work on these translations are truly seeking God’s will for direction and accuracy. And they take their task very seriously.

It is very similar to the confidence I have in our church leadership knowing that we have a group of men who are earnestly seeking God’s will for our church. Are they perfect? No. Will they ever make a mistake? Yes. Does that affect my confidence and trust? No – because I know that they are earnestly seeking God and will not knowingly do anything contrary to His will or Word. Does that mean I follow them blindly? No. We are always called to be Bereans and look at what is done and hold it up to God’s Word.

The same would hold true for the translations we have of God’s Word. Yes, the original autographs of each book of the Bible is 100% accurate and perfect. We do not have these documents, or speak and understand the language they were written in. Does that make the texts and translations we have useless and untrustworthy? May it never be! God has been in sovereign control on the passing on of His Word at every junction. We just need to understand the limits and reality of the Bibles we use in our daily reading.

There is an excellent book called “From God to Us” that does a good job discussing the processes of translation, and the different manuscripts, and the history of the passing on of God’s Word from generation to generation.

I better quit – Tim you can tell you pushed one of my buttons. I love the Bible!