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Problems with Lake’s Translation of the Apostolic Fathers

Some people have asked if I could give some examples of the problems with the translations of the Apostolic Fathers in the original edition done by Kirsopp Lake. It’s a fair enough question – although I do want to stress for the 29th time that I think on the whole he made a very fine translation indeed. But there are some serious and widely recognized problems with it.

As one might expect, the translations are dated in places. No longer do we use intentionally archaizing language in translations to indicate their sacrality or antiquity. Lake did do that. It’s like speaking King James English, though, when talking about religion, instead of just talking as one normally talks. Technically it’s not wrong, but it’s a bit strange. Even the authors of the Bible (not to mention the Apostolic Fathers) spoke in the language of their day, not stilted language of 400 years earlier (despite what you hear from the people who still think the King James Version is the one and only inspired translation of the Bible!).

And the English language itself, of course, has changed over the past nine decades since Lake did hs translation.  Take an example of a dated rendering, which happens to embody both problems (archaizing and dated language), Lake’s rendition of Barnabas 2:5, a quotation of Isaiah 1 in which God spurns cultic practices performed by rote: “Henceforth shall ye tread my court no more [Lake translates].  If ye bring flour, it is vain.  Incense is an abomination to me.  I cannot away with your new moons and sabbaths.”   I would assume that the verbal use of “away” to mean “endure” or “put up with” is intentionally archaizing (that is, Lake used the word to make the quotation *sound* like an old, venerable piece of Scripture).  The word was used this way in Tyndale’s translation in Matthew 19:11, “If any man can away this teaching.”  But it was changed already by the King James translators.

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A Stranger Problem with Lake’s Translation
A Common Criticism (of me!)



  1. Avatar
    Yentyl  November 7, 2012

    Yikes! My head hurts already.

  2. Avatar
    dewdds  November 7, 2012

    Fascinating stuff, all this business on translating. Though speaking for myself, I wouldn’t know the difference between neuter singular participle vs. masculine singular in Koine if they came up to me and hit me on the head!

    To Dr. Ehrman: How similar is Koine to the Ancient Greek? Are they similar enough for you to read older works of the various Greek philosophers and playwrights? Just curious.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  November 7, 2012

      Koine is a form of ancient Greek, that developed out of “Attic” Greek (that is, the Greek of Athens). It’s a later and somewhat simpler form. Anyone who learns to read Attic (e.g., Plato, Euripides, and so on — Attic writers) will be able to read the NT (in Koine). But it’s hard to go the other way around. It’s kind of like someone who can easily read James Joyce will have no problem reading the sports page; but if someone is accustomed only to reading the sports page, Joyce may be an impossible task for them.

  3. Avatar
    ecbrown88  November 7, 2012

    Hey, if the English of 1611 was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for you!

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