Wednesday, December 2, 2009

And I am glad and happy and comfortable to be reading and preaching from the NIV

As a church Twynholm BC moved from the NIV to the ESV a few years ago. We have recently made a decision to move back. I'm delighted with the move, particularly this week.
Having preached on Matthew 1:1-17 on Sunday, I'm certainly glad that the NIV made the decision that not every "δε" needs to be translated by the word "and": a comma, or a full stop and capital letter are perfectly adequate and accurate.
The result is, that in 17 verses the NIV has 8 "and"s. The ESV has 42. Is that really necessary? I'm glad I didn't have to read the ESV publically last Sunday.

Here's an email I sent to a friend who asked me why we changed back.

I think we all recognise many of the strengths of the ESV. It is useful for as a bible study aid (rather like the use of an interlinear) for those who don't have biblical languages. It preserves connectives (even at the expense of good English), tries to use the same English word to translate the same oringinal language word where appropriate, etc. Has made some good choices in some places where the NIV has not done so well, (Eg propitiation over sacrifice of atonement etc.)

Anyway, that having been admitted, here are 9 problems with the
ESV divided into 3 categories.

Please don't read the stuff below if you are considering buying the
ESV's off us. Remember it's the extremely sound version, and I'll give you a good price...

A. Philosophy of translation. the "Exclusion of Subtlety Version"

1) it seems to be based on the assumption that a 'word-for-word' translation is more 'accurate' than a 'sense-for-sense' translation. This seems an entirely wrongheaded assumption to me. Surely faithfulness in translation
is that which best conveys the sense of of the original in the target language.
2) the word-for-word thing is shown up by how many of its proponents seem to write as if either they are ignorant of basic linguistics, or they assume their readers are ignorant, and try to pull the wool over their eyes. E.g. to suggest that "adelphos" MEANS "brother" and not "brother and sister" begs the question as to whether the semantic range of two words in different languages, times and cultures are ever identical.
3) It seems interesting that those who are themselves bilingual (such as Carson and Silva) and therefore always trying to translate from one lanuage they know well to another seem to favour dynamic equivalence.
4) the fact that it is based so heavily upon the RSV frustrated even some of the translators. So, I remember [one of the translators of the ESV] saying that where he'd say it was a close call, but on balance he'd prefer to depart from the RSV, "on balance" wasn't enough to go for what he would feel was a more accurate translation.
5) The decisions made on gender inclusivity seem not to understand the ways in which the English language has moved on.
Lots more on this area in
Carson's "The limits of functional equivalence" in "the challenge of Bible Translation" (Incidentally, if you have my copy of that book, please let me know. I can't remember who I leant it to!)

B. Readability. the "Extremely Stilted Version"
1) Surely there would be a way even to have a more formally equivalent translation that wasn't quite so wooden, and incomprehensible.
What is gained in the literalism of Numbers 27:1 "
1Then drew near the daughters ofA)">(A) Zelophehad the son of Hepher" as opposed to "the daughters of Zelophehad approached"? and this isn't a one off example, it's a formalism that runs throughout.
2) Preservation of connectives may be quite useful at times in the development of an argument in Paul (though even
then the pudding may become over-egged. But when every kai and de, and vav of a vav consecutive are translated "and" it becomes utterly ridiculous. There are more "ands" in Mark's gospel than verses! 1241 "ands" in the ESV compared with 693 in the NIV. For a fun exercise, turn to a random chapter of Mark's gospel and try and work out what would have been lost to the accuracy of sense if some of the "kai"s had been translated not with "and" but with "fullstop, capital letter." What would have been gained by the readability?
3) If readability isn't THE most important thing in our private devotions, (we can take time to read and re-read a sentence until we've understood the English) it is of vital importance in public reading. (If you didn't follow, it was too late). For us this has become the overwhelming factor as to why we are planning to abandon the
ESV, particularly as about many of the congregation don't have English as a first language, and another large proportion left school at 16. I have two degrees, but even I don't read too well! Even if it was perfectly accurate, it wouldn't be much good if it is utterly incomprehensible - we might just as well read out the Greek and the Hebrew!

C. Marketing. The "exclusively sound version"?
1) With all the arguments and subtleties involved in bible translation, the way in which the
ESV is being put forward by some as the only sound version for the discerning bible reader who really trusts that every word of the original is inspired, is frankly a little distasteful.

And verily, verily I say unto you, that, I have sufficient upon this subject said.


3 comments: said...

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Anonymous said...

Hi Mike

Thank you for posting this. We are just about to enter a consultation about changing from the Good News version to something else for our public meetings. The NIV and ESV are two frontrunners, in my mind, with readability being as critical as anything else.

Neil Robbie

Young Mr. Brown said...

We use the NIV in our church, and while I personally like the ESV, there is one reason why I would hate it if our church was to go over to the ESV.

It is a purely aesthetic thing, and it is a small thing, but the translation of zanah as "whore" in several places in the Old Testament strikes me as a bit crude for public reading in church - especially considering that a) the ESV translators are not consistent - zanah is sometimes translated "prostitute". They didn't get this from the RSV either!