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Lost in Translation

In my last post I began to talk about my involvement with the translation committee for the New Revised Standard Version.  My Doktorvater, Bruce Metzger, was the chair of the committee and he asked me, during my graduate studies, to be one of the scribes for the Old Testament subcommittee.  In that capacity I recorded all the votes that were taken by the translators for revisions of the text of the Revised Standard Version, in whichever subsection of the committee I was assigned to.  Normally the subsection would have, maybe, five scholars on it.  They would debate how to modify the text of the RSV, verse by verse, word by word; they would then take a vote by show of hands; and I would record their decision.

This was an eye-opening experience for me.  Bible translation (or the translation of any foreign-language work, for that matter) is an inordinately complicated procedure.  It is impossible to replicate the exact meaning of one language in another, since the nuances of words vary from one language to another.  Let me give an example from the Greek of the New Testament.  In English we have different terms that mean something like “love” – for example, “adoration,” “passion,” “lust,” “like,” and, lots of others.  Each has its own connotations.  Greek too has a variety of words, and they all, in principle, could be translated with the word love.

One Greek word used in the New Testament, PHILIA, typically refers to …

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Inclusive Language in Bible Translations
My Work for the New Revised Standard Version Committee



  1. Avatar
    dwcriswell  December 20, 2016

    In my lifetime, as much as I see language, usage and meaning of words change, and cultural concepts conveying different meanings to words and expressions change, its hard for me to imagine that translators don’t often get it totally wrong in many instances. Teaching in a University you really see that its hard to understand what people 40 years younger than you are saying and thinking.

  2. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  December 21, 2016

    Do you have an example of eros being used in the NT? I couldn’t find it.

  3. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  December 23, 2016

    “Take another Greek word common in the New Testament. The word DOULOS means “slave” – that is, a person who is owned by another person. The problem is that in our American context, when we think of “slave”…”

    Could you expound on this? I assumed slave was self-explanatory, but apparently it meant something different in the ancient world. Maybe add it to the Mailbag?

  4. Avatar
    dankoh  December 30, 2016

    And then there’s the Hebrew word “‘eved” which can mean servant or slave.

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