11 December, 2008

I Want A LITERAL Translation of the Bible

Many Christians want a literal translation of the Bible. This is usually the argument that so many Fundamentalists make for using the King James Version of the Bible. They argue that it is a literal version of the Scriptures.

Now, as much as I love the King James Bible (and other translations that follow the same translation philosophy: ESV, NKJV, NASB), the idea of a LITERAL translation is a myth. Let me illustrate:

Today, in my Hebrew studies, I translated this section from Psalm 118:23:

מֵאֵת יְהוָה הָיְתָה זֹּאת

The way that the text would be translated LITERALLY is:
From with the LORD, she (or it) was this.

Now, frankly I do not want a translation that does not clean a verse like this up for me. I do not want a translation that refuses to understand that readability as well as textual integrity are part of the translation philosophy. Of course, many translators understand this and they make phrases like this make sense by putting them in English that is read- not just garbled English words.

Here is how I translated it:
This is from the LORD.

Here is the KJV, NKJV, NASB:
This is the LORD's doing.

Here is the ESV:
This is the Lord's doing.

This, along with hundreds and hundreds of other passages in both the Hebrew and the Greek show us that we do not want a LITERAL translation of the Scriptures. What we want is one where:
  1. The translators believe that the Hebrew and Greek texts ARE the ACTUAL Word of God.
  2. Where the sentence is translated Word for Word- and at the same time readability is taken into consideration.
When the American Standard Version came out in 1901, Charles Spurgeon wrote a review of it. He was quite impressed with the faithfulness to the text, but found it VERY awkward to read. His quote is famous- "The ASV is good Greek and horrible English!" Of course, he was an Englishman commenting on the American tongue as well!


Esteban Vázquez said...

A nod, a quote, and a plea for help. :-)

(Also, Spurgeon's "strong in Greek, weak in English" actually referred to the English Revised Version of 1881.)

Mark said...

Good points. I've never taken Hebrew or Greek, but I do have some German under my belt, and it's easy to see where exact literalism would lead. If anything, the idioms need to be dealt with. Thanks for sharing.

Daniel Ritchie said...

Spurgeon was dead by the time the ASV came out.

Good post though.

An Eshelman said...

My mistake on the translation. I repent. :)