On Translation

My FAQ explains why I don't get into debates about translation:

Q. What's your favorite edition of the Bible? What's your favorite translation?

My favorite is the one I daydream about in my head. If I could name a perfect edition, I'd probably spend all my time writing about that one. Since I can't, I write about everything. But it's no secret I'm partial to the good stuff -- high end Bibles from R. L. Allan's and Cambridge, for example. I like goatskin covers a lot.

When it comes to translations, I subscribe to St. Augustine's advice. He said the way to understand the Bible if you don't read the original languages is to compare translations. Some people lament the proliferation of translations in English these days, but I see it as a blessing. As a practical matter, I typically refer to the English Standard Version when writing and teaching. I like the fact that it's on the literal side and appreciate its location in the Authorized Version tradition. Still, no translation is perfect, so I make use of both literal and dynamic versions, everything from the NRSV to the REB, the NASB to the NLT. I've even been known to dip into The Message.

Since the purpose of the Bible Design & Binding Blog is design and binding, I don't get into translation debates here. If you're interested in discussing translation issues, there are many great places to do it where the writers are much better equipped than I am to enlighten.

Then the Mother-of-All-Off-Topic-Threads comes along, and I feel the need to explain at length. By creating this post and leaving comments open, I'm also providing a venue for anyone who feels the need to talk about translation issues. I'd appreciate it if you'd confine such discussions to the comments here.

In the FAQ, I say there are writers "much better equipped than I am to enlighten." What sort of equipping do I have in mind here? It's simple. Translation questions are not something you can proof text. The Bible doesn't include a theory of translation. It does, however, record incidents that tend to undermine certain theories. (For example, the notion that God is obligated to prevent any part of the text from being lost over time doesn't sit too well with a rather famous Old Testament instance when "lost" Scripture is rediscovered and read anew.) Instead, it behooves a writer to be (a) well versed in English and (b) well versed in the original languages before venturing too far into the water. While I can make a pretty decent claim to facility with English, my knowledge of Greek is barely enough to let me sound out the words, and Hebrew to me is just a series of squiggly lines.

I have opinions, sure. Who doesn't? But I've chosen to focus narrowly here on a neglected topic instead of piling on where angels fear to tread. "Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise," the proverb says, "and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding." 

Sadly, I'm a fan of the King James Version in an age when coming clean about that is akin to admitting a fondness for Wagner. You can't do it without the qualification, "but I'm not one of them." The modern KJV Only movement, a veritable Screwtape of an innovation, is a great example of how some friends are worse to have than enemies. They've succeeded only in stigmatizing the thing they claim to love, and it's a real tragedy to see it happening even here. With the 400th anniversary of the venerable translation on the horizon, I'm looking forward to seeing many new editions. I hope new readers will be able to rediscover that august work (complete with the translator's preface, let's pray) without the taint of hucksterism and conspiracy theories.

One thing I'm not going to do, however, is moderate non-spam comments. We'll have the discourse, warts and all. But out of consideration for the focus of this site, I ask that the sound and fury be confined to this thread alone.