Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Different Kinds of Translation Accuracy

     There are different kinds of translation accuracy, and understanding this will help
us refrain from making harsh judgments against translations without knowing the facts.
It is common practice for some readers of scripture to judge the accuracy of the better
known English versions based on the opinions of their favorite preacher, professor,
Bible class teacher, etc. Their  opinions  may  be of  value  if they have the training
necessary to make informed decisions, and if they are willing to let the facts speak.

     There is literal accuracy. The American Standard Version, published in 1901 is
legendary for its attempt at modified literal accuracy. We use the phrase "modified
literal" because some adjustments have to be made in order for the resulting translation
to be useful to the English reader. Though the ASV is very literal, even it is not strictly
literal as a glance at the Old and New Testament footnotes indicates. Sometimes the
"literal" translation  of  the  Hebrew,  Aramaic, and  Greek is relegated to the footnotes.
Nevertheless, it  is  as close to being a "word for word" translation that we have in our
language. This is what made it very popular  among  students  of  Hebrew  and  Greek
when it was released. The ASV is generally  so  literal  that  many  people  have
difficulty  reading it for long periods. Acts 19:3-5 demonstrates the overall precision
of the ASV.

     When  Paul  found   the  disciples  of  John  in  Ephesus,  he   asked  them, "Eis ti 
oun  ebaptisthete?" (Daly's Translation: "Into what then were you immersed?")   They
said, "Eis to Ioannou  baptisma." (Daly's Translation: "Into the immersion of John."
Paul, then explained John's  immersion  to  them and verse 5 says, "Akousantes de 
ebaptisthesan eis to onoma  tou  Kuriou  Iesou."  (Daly's Translation: "And  hearing
[this]  they were immersed into the name of the Lord Jesus.") The ASV translates the
Greek preposition  "eis"  as "into" in the three passages cited. It reads, "And he said,
Into what then were ye baptized? And they said, Into John's baptism...And when they
heard this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus." The ASV not only
achieves accuracy in verses 3 and 5; it is also consistent in the way it translates the
preposition in the context. The ASV is an excellent study Bible to this day. Neither
the New International Version, English Standard Version, nor the New American 
Standard Bible are as "literally accurate" in Acts 19:3,5, though both the ESV and
the NASB do acknowledge in footnotes that the Greek eis literally means "into."

     There  is idiomatic accuracy.  The  latest  edition of the New International 
Version, published in 2011 is an excellent example of this kind of accuracy. I have
heard people object to the NIV on the basis that "it is not literal enough to be
accurate." This assumes that  "literal accuracy"  is  the  only  kind of acceptable
accuracy. It isn't. The fact is, the NIV is not a paraphrase nor is it designed to be
as literal as the ASV. The NIV strives to translate into current idiomatic English.
When the NIV translators engaged in their work, it is as if they said, "We know
what the Hebrew and Greek texts say. How do we say the same thing in
understandable English?" The modified-literal translations are more "form" oriented.
They seek to be as transparent to the original texts as possible, while maintaining
some degree of readability, and the idiomatic translations make readability and
understandability the primary goal in conjunction with being as literally accurate as

     1 Cor. 1:10  is  a  good  point  of  reference  in this regard. The Greek text says,
"Parakalo de humas adelphoi dia tou onomatos tou kurio hemon Iesou Christou 
hina to auto legete pantes kai me e en humin schismata ete de katertismenoi en to 
auto noi kai en te aute gnome." (Daly's Translation: "Now I appeal to you, brothers
[and sisters], through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that you all speak the
same  thing  and  there  be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same
mind and in the same thought.")   The NIV-2011 says, "I appeal to you, brothers and
sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another
in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly
united in mind and thought."  It is both accurate and clear. It translates the text into
good  idiomatic  English.  I  especially  appreciate  the  fact  that  it  translates the
nominative masculine plural adelphoi with the phrase "brothers and sisters." Paul
is writing to a congregation consisting of both male and female believers. In Greek
literature  as  well  as  scripture,  adelphoi  refers  to  siblings  in  a   family.  In
1 Cor. 1:10  the  word  refers  to  fellow-believers, siblings in the spiritual family
of  God.  Neither  the  ASV,  NASB,  or  the  ESV are as idiomatically accurate in
1 Cor. 1:10 as the NIV-2011. The  NIV-2011  excels  in  idiomatic accuracy.   

     There  are  translations  that  attempt to steer the middle of the road between literal
accuracy and idiomatic accuracy. Examples of this type of translation philosophy are
the Revised  Standard  Version, the  English  Standard  Version, and  the New  
Revised  Standard Version. They are called "essentially literal" versions. They attempt
to be literal where possible and idiomatic where necessary. They tend to fall more on the
literal than the idiomatic side of the translation spectrum, therefore, they are good study
Bibles. The ESV is slightly better than the RSV and avoids some of the extremes of the
NRSV. Each is useful if diligently studied.  
                                                                                                             R. Daly

Copyright 2012