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Problems with Some Bible Translations, including the King James: A Blast from the Past

    In my Introduction to the New Testament undergraduate class this semester, I have told the students that they can use most any Bible translation they want, but I prefer the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), and I do *not* want them using either a paraphrase or the King James.  Some of them want to know why, and so I explain to them.  Here is a post on the topic from almost exactly five years ago.  (Note: I'm talking about undergraduates; my graduate students read the NT in Greek) (and also note: despite what I say about the NIV I certainly allow students to use it in class, since it is the most popular translation on college campuses today) ********************************************************************* I have indicated that my preferred translation is the NRSV. Everyone, of course, has their favorite. My judgment is that among main-line, serious biblical scholars, the NRSV is far and away the preferred translation. But it is not so among general readers. I believe the King James Bible (the KJV) (or its slight revision: [...]

Problems with Some Bible Translations, including the King James: A Blast from the Past2018-01-12T13:44:24-05:00

What Text Are the Translators Translating?

What is it that Bible translators translate when they are translating?  Let me focus on the New Testament, my main area of expertise.   When a translator wants to make an English version of, say, Mark (what I say about Mark will be true of all the books of the NT), what does she actually translate into English? Obviously she cannot take Mark’s original manuscript and translate it, since we don’t have it.  Or the first copy of the original, or a copy of the copy of the original.   We have hundreds of copies of Mark.  Does she just choose one that seems good and translate that? No, as it turns out, that’s not how it works at all.  She translates a critical edition of the Greek text of Mark as it has been reconstructed by textual scholars.  This will take a good bit of explaining. From near the time in the fifteenth century when printing with moveable type was invented there have been scholars interested in producing printed versions of the Greek New Testament (and [...]

What Text Are the Translators Translating?2020-04-03T02:37:29-04:00

What Do Translators Translate?

What do translators of the Bible actually translate?  This has been the question in the back of my mind for the thread that has been going on over the past couple of weeks.  The question has two components.  (1) Which books do they translate and call “the Bible”?  And (2) when they decide on those books, where do they find what they need in order to translate it?  Do they translate certain manuscripts?  Which ones?  How do they decide?  And when the manuscripts have differences among themselves, which ones do they follow?  And on what grounds? These are among the enormous number of fundamental questions that translators have to deal with even before they translate the first word of the Bible.  But let me be clear and emphatic: they are all questions with which every decent modern translator is intimately familiar, and these scholars always know all the ins and outs of all the issues.  I want to stress this point because about once every other week I get a question on email in which [...]

What Do Translators Translate?2020-04-03T02:37:23-04:00

Problems with Inclusive Language Bible Translation

From the marvels of the universe (yesterday’s post) to the use of inclusive language in Bible translations (today’s post) – easy!   All in one step. The Psalm I quoted yesterday presents a problem to Bible translators who want to render the text to include both men and women.   Here is what Psalm 8 says in the (non-inclusive-language) King James, as quoted yesterday: 3 When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; 4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? 5 For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. 6 Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: When the New Revised Standard Version came out in 1989, it altered the translation by making it more inclusive, as follows: 3When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars [...]

Problems with Inclusive Language Bible Translation2020-04-03T02:44:22-04:00

Problems with Inclusive Language Translations

The policy of the NRSV translation committee on inclusive language was sensible, in my view.    It involved a three-pronged approach. Any passage that was referring to both men and women was to be rendered inclusively, even if the original language (Hebrew or Greek) used masculine terms (“men,” “man,” “brothers,” “he” etc.). Any passage that was explicitly referring only to men, or only to women, was to be left as referring only to men or to women. All references to the Deity that in the original used masculine terms were to be left masculine. Here I will say a few things about each of these policies, in reverse order.  First, the deity.  No one on the committee thought that the deity actually has male genitalia or other sexual distinctions.  But ... THE REST OF THIS POST IS FOR MEMBERS ONLY.  If you don't belong yet, JOIN!  It costs less than a coffee at Starbucks a month, and every penny goes to help the needy.  You get a good deal, they get a good deal, the world [...]

Problems with Inclusive Language Translations2020-04-03T02:44:32-04:00

Inclusive Language in Bible Translations

One of the most difficult issues that the New Revised Standard Version translation committee had to address involved the use of inclusive language.  Part of the problem was that this issue was not a generally recognized issue (by the wider reading public) when the translators began their work, but was very much an issue when they were already finished with a large chunk of it.  The translators were mainly senior scholars who had acquired their linguistic skills before virtually anyone in the academy knew (or at least said) that there even was a problem with inclusivity, and so they themselves were learning how to communicate in the new idiom.  And it took a while before they figured out how exactly to handle it. I myself was first introduced to the problem when I entered graduate school, and like a lot of people from my generation (especially, but not only, us males) at first I thought it was a fairly ridiculous much ado about nothing and that writing inclusively simply threatened to destroy the beauty of [...]

Inclusive Language in Bible Translations2020-04-03T02:44:40-04:00

My Translation of the NT?

QUESTION: Do you have any plans to publish your own "best" version of the NT in English? From reading several of your books, it does seem as though you probably already have a translation sitting in a drawer somewhere. I have not been able to find scholarly reconstruction that was produced in the last three and a half decades. Most of the newer "translations" are theologically motivated and sound more like modern slang. Have any of your colleagues/ students produced a readable version you would recommend? (Thousands of footnotes do not make for a readable text!) I would very much like to see your translation/interpretation sitting on a bookshelf. RESPONSE: No, as it turns out, I have never written out a full translation of the New Testament.   For several reasons.  First, there are a number of excellent translations already available that have been done by some of the best NT scholars on the planet.  My translation would be different, but not necessarily better.  Of course, I would think that where mine differed it would be [...]

My Translation of the NT?2020-04-03T19:16:43-04:00

Problems with the NRSV (Part 3)

Translators of the Bible have a terrifically complicated and difficult (and usually thankless) task. I always knew that, of course, with my head – ever since taking Greek back in college. But I did not relate to the problems emotionally until I started publishing translations of my own. It’s HARD. My first translation project was a two-volume edition of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classical Library (published by Harvard University Press). It was at that point that I realized that what translators do is not at all what the rest of us do who can teach the ancient languages and read Greek and assign Greek translation exercises to classes of graduate students. When you are with a class of students, you can sit around the table, discuss the various options about how a text can be translated, talk about the pro’s and con’s of various English renditions, make a few suggestions for how to provide nuance to a rendering, explicate the fuller meaning of the Greek by paraphrasing a phrase or a clause in [...]

Problems with the NRSV (Part 3)2020-04-03T19:24:47-04:00

Problems with the NRSV

One of the pleasures and problems that I am finding with this blog is that it is oh so easy to get side tracked from my original plan and intention.  The current series of posts was originally a response to the question of how Bruce Metzger reacted to my loss of faith.  (To anticipate the final answer: I don’t think he had much of a reaction at all!)   But instead of dealing with that question directly, I decided to use it as an opportunity to talk about my long-term relationship with Metzger; this has occupied a large number of posts.  The most recent of those had to do with my work for / with him on the New Revised Standard Version.  In response to those posts several people have asked me questions about the NRSV, and now I am dealing with/ responding to these.  But I promise: I will get back to the original question eventually! On the NRSV, several people have wanted to know if I had problems with any of it.   And as [...]

Problems with the NRSV2020-04-03T19:25:02-04:00

Problems with Other Translations

I have indicated that my preferred translation is the NRSV. Everyone, of course, has their favorite. My judgment is that among main-line, serious biblical scholars, the NRSV is far and away the preferred translation. But it is not so among general readers. I believe the King James Bible (the KJV) (or its slight revision: The New King James) and the New International Version (NIV) are better sellers among the population at large. So let me say a few words about these two. (Some readers of this blog will want to write to me to ask what I think of their own preferred translation: the Jerusalem Bible; the New English Version; the New American Standard Bible; etc etc. Most of the time I tell them that it’s fine. It just isn’t the one that I think is the best) First: The King James. Published in 1611, the KJV (or “Authorized Version” as it was called, since it was a translation “authorized” by the head of the Anglican Church – guess who? King James of England), is [...]

Problems with Other Translations2020-04-03T19:25:18-04:00

My Preferred Bible Translation

A number of people have responded to some of my recent comments by asking what my preferred Bible translation is. I get asked the question a lot – especially since my book Misquoting Jesus, where I talk about the changes scribes made in the manuscripts they copied over the years. A number of readers were alarmed and wondered whether I should let scholars know about these problems. In every case I responded that yes, indeed, scholars – all scholars of the Bible – do know about these problems. Intimately. Inside and out. This is the kind of thing scholars work on. Nothing in the book would have come as a shock to anyone in the field. Most especially to Bible translators, who have to decide which Hebrew and Greek words to translate before even starting to think about how to put them into English. And so, as a result, every modern Bible translator knows about and deals with these problems. But back to the question: which translation do I prefer? It will probably come as [...]

My Preferred Bible Translation2020-04-03T19:25:24-04:00

The NRSV Bible Translation Committee (Part 2)

A CONTINUATION OF MY POSTS OF MY RELATIONSHIP WITH BRUCE METZGER I served as one of the secretaries for the NRSV, as explained in my previous post, for a couple of years. It was not onerous work and was quite a privilege to be able to associate with some of the greatest biblical scholars and Semitic philologists of the time. I was, of course, a complete nobody. Some of the members of the committee treated me (and the other secretaries) as complete nobodies (these tended to be the less qualified and more insecure members of the committee; I won’t name names!); others treated me (and the others) in a dignified and respectful way, realizing that we were, after all, just graduate students, but knowing that we were advanced and heading into academic careers of our own. When I graduated from my PhD program I was teaching part time at Rutgers, but I did not have a full time, tenure-track position there.   It was a slightly oppressive situation, as adjunct positions at universities typically are.   I’ll [...]

The NRSV Bible Translation Committee (Part 2)2020-04-03T19:27:12-04:00

Autobiographical. Metzger and Me. The NRSV Bible Translation Committee

A CONTINUATION OF MY RECOLLECTIONS OF BRUCE METZGER, MY MENTOR. When I was still a graduate student in the PhD program at Princeton Theological Seminary, Metzger invited me to serve as a secretary for the committee that was producing the new revision of the Revised Standard Version translation of the Bible. The RSV (on which the new translation was to be based) had come out in 1952, and it had caused a huge furor at the time. It was an “official” revision of the King James Bible, that was supposed to update the language (English has changed a lot since 1611), to take into consideration new manuscript discoveries (especially important for the New Testament, since the KJV was based on only a few medieval manuscripts that were not of very high quality; hundreds of better ones had since been discovered, and to incorporate the findings of modern Biblical scholarship). The RSV of 1952 was an “official” translation because it was authorized by the National Council of Churches in the U.S. But in the opinion of [...]

Autobiographical. Metzger and Me. The NRSV Bible Translation Committee2020-05-11T13:51:09-04:00

Which Bible Translation Do I Prefer?

QUESTION: Dr. Ehrman, most of your readers in the ancient languages that the Bible was written in, therefore must rely on translations. Clearly no one translation is conclusive, but for clarity of reading and reliable research, can you recommend some translations to us? Conversely, do you have any that readers should avoid, because of clear bias or a little too loose?   RESPONSE: When I published Misquoting Jesus, I received a lot of emails from a lot of people asking a lot of questions.  But the one question I got asked more than any other was this one (in various forms):  which translation of the Bible do I recommend?   I should have answered it in the book itself; it would have made my life oh so much easier. There are lots and lots of good translations that are available today.  The first thing to stress about them is that just about every one of them (just about!  I’m sure there are exceptions, although offhand I can’t think of any) has been done by bona [...]

Which Bible Translation Do I Prefer?2020-04-03T19:40:02-04:00
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