Bronze-level articleBible translation

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The Bible

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The impressive fact remains that all religions have staunchly resisted any attempt to translate their sacred texts into languages "understanded of the people," as the Cranmer prayer book phrases it. There would have been no Protestant Reformation if it were not for the long struggle to have the Bible rendered into "the Vulgate" and the priestly monopoly therefore broken. Devout men like Wycliffe, Coverdale, and Tyndale were burned alive for even attempting early translations. The Catholic Church has never recovered from its abandonment of the mystifying Latin ritual, and the Protestant mainstream has suffered hugely from rendering its own Bibles into more everyday speech. Some mystical Jewish sects still insist on Hebrew and play Kabbalistic word games even with the spaces between letters, but among most Jews, too, the supposedly unchangeable rituals of antiquity have been abandoned. The spell of the clerical class has been broken.
Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything[1]

Accurate Bible translation is crucial to accurate Christian belief. Many, if not most, Christians believe that they have a mostly accurate version of the Bible as it was "written," that fairly accurately represents "God's Word" (either literal truth or written through man), and that there is in fact some such thing that "is" the single bible which all Christians share. Unfortunately, none of these are true. What you have when you read the King James Bible has little or nothing to do with what a Russian reads, when reading his bible, or a Chinese Christian has in her bible.

There are a number of problems with creating an accurate translation:

  • The source material
  • Compilations of source material
  • Language interactions
  • Cultural context limitations
  • Your local politics

They say "the Devil is in the Details," and this is nowhere more apparent than in the study of the Bible as translated into English. Is it "Thou shalt not kill" or "Thou shall not commit murder"? Is a "sodomite" the same as a "male prostitute," and are they both "homosexual"? And dang it, which one is the correct version of the Bible?

Contents

[edit] The sources

Many people are under the vague impression that "the original Greek/Hebrew" is some sort of monolithic document, possibly even sitting in some vault somewhere to be consulted when you want to start a new translation work. This isn't the case at all.

As a result, one of the key differences between translations is choice of original source. As a general rule, Orthodox churches tend to favor the Septuagint for the Old Testament, the Roman Catholic Church preferred the Vulgate until recently, conservative Protestant denominations prefer Byzantine manuscripts (especially the Textus Receptus) for the New Testament and Biblical literary researchers tend to go with the oldest verifiable manuscripts, favoring Alexandrian-type manuscripts for the NT and working from a mixture of Masoretic, Qumran, and Septuagint sources for the OT.

Similar situations exist on the Hebrew side; while most modern translations (at least for Western churches) come from the Jewish Masoretic texts, other textual traditions existed in the Hellenic world (the Septuagint), the Samaritan world, and even in east Africa — the sole existing full text of the Book of Jubilees is the translation into Ge'ez, the liturgical language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

[edit] The Torah and Jewish Scriptures

The story told round synagogues about the Torah is that it is an exact copy of the Torah written by Moses some 3200 years ago - painstakingly copied so there are no errors at all. Unfortunately, this urban legend was proven untrue when the Dead Sea Scrolls[wp] were uncovered. Not only have minor errors been introduced since the Dead Sea Scrolls were written, major differences exist between the books of the two eras. Further, the care taken to copy Torah scrolls was not equally applied to the other Jewish writings. Copies of those can look as different as the "rumor" from the "source" in any media event.

The first "Bible Translation" is the third century BCE Septuagint; a translation of the Old Testament into the colloquial Koine Greek spoken in Palestine following the Greek invasions by Alexander the Great. The translation was given its name (meaning "The Seventy") much later (around Josephus' time; 50 CE ish) based on the popular legend that it was produced by seventy Jewish scholars. It is often abbreviated into Latin numerals as such (LXX). In terms the history of religion, the Septuagint is quite unprecedented, being a translation of Holy Writ into a "vulgar tongue" with approval by the clerisy reaching high popularity long before most other religions allowed their texts to be translated in the first place. The creation of the Septuagint was also the unintentional site of the first Biblical Canon, the precise contents of the Hebrew Bible hitherto not having been entirely decided upon. It does include the Apocrypha, though their inclusion was controversial. The Septuagint today is mostly of interest to Christians, as it is the version commonly quoted by the Gospel Writers, the apostle Paul and, in theory, Jesus himself.

Modern Jewish translators often look to it for help deciding how the subtleties of the original Hebrew were understood historically. It is probably the chief source of the later Vulgate, though Jerome claimed to be translating from the Hebrew.

[edit] The Textus and Vulgates

Most modern translations are based on texts such as the Textus Receptus (an edition of the Greek New Testament based on Byzantine manuscripts and published by Desiderius Erasmus in 1516) or the Westcott-Hort text of 1881. The "original" manuscripts that these texts are based on break down into several "text-types" based on various lines of transmission of the original material. Similar situations exist on the Hebrew side; while most modern translations (at least for Western churches) come from the Jewish Masoretic texts, other textual traditions existed in the Hellenic world (the Septuagint), the Samaritan world, and even in east Africa — the sole existing attestation of the Book of Jubilees is in Ge'ez, the liturgical language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

As a result, one of the key differences between translations is choice of original source; as a general rule, Orthodox churches tend to favor the Septuagint for the Old Testament, the Roman Catholic Church preferred the Vulgate until recently, while conservative Protestant denominations prefer Byzantine manuscripts (especially the Textus Receptus) for the New Testament and Biblical literary researchers tend to go with the oldest verifiable manuscripts (favoring Alexandrian-type manuscripts for the NT and working from a mixture of Masoretic, Qumran, and Septuagint sources for the OT).

An important distinction made in the context of academic scholarship, is between the ancient versions and mediæval-modern translations. Ancient translations of the Bible from the original languages — the Septuagint, the Peshitta[wp], the Vetus Latina, the Vulgate[wp], etc. — potentially represent manuscript traditions no longer available to us, and give us useful information on how the text was understood in times nearer to the time of its original authorship. By contrast, later translations, such as the KJV, tell us little about the original text, but their study can yield much useful information on how the text was understood in later periods, and on the evolution of those languages the Bible has been translated into.

The Septuagint, because of its claimed translation by 70 scholars, is commonly known as the LXX. The Septuagint was the earliest, but not the only, ancient translation of the Old Testament into Greek. The Septuagint was in some places a less than literal translation of the Hebrew — in particular, passages were about God were often translated to make the language less anthropomorphic than the original, since Greek thought of that period had a particular distaste for anthropomorphism — and furthermore, it was made from a Hebrew text which was different in places from that later adopted by the Jews as the official Hebrew text. As a result, the need was soon felt for a more accurate translation from the Hebrew, and thus it had a number of successors — which were either revisions of the LXX to make it agree more with the Hebrew, or fresh translations — these successive Greek translations include that of Lucian, that of Theodotion, that of Aquila, and that of Symmachus.

There is evidence for the existence of a number of distinct but related Hebrew textual traditions. The main Hebrew text which survives is the Masoretic text. However, there is also surviving in Hebrew portions of the Bible in the Dead Sea Scrolls. There is also the Hebrew of the Samaritan Pentateuch (and Hexateuch, since the Samaritans also accept Joshua). The Samaritan text varies in a number of places from the Masorectic Text — in some of those places, it seems clear that it has been altered for sectarian reasons, to suit the beliefs of the Samaritans; but in other cases, it may represent an alternative Hebrew textual tradition which may have been accepted by some Jews also. The Greek of the Septuagint shows evidence in parts of having been translated from a somewhat different Hebrew text than the Masoretic Text. Of particular interest to scholars is those places where the Septuagint seems to agrees with the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Samaritan Pentateuch against the Masoretic Text.

Opinions differ as to which textual tradition is to be preferred. Orthodox Jewish and conservative Protestant scholarship prefers the Masoretic Text, tending to see it as more accurate than the other Hebrew textual traditions. Liberal scholarship, and Catholic and Eastern Orthodox scholars, are more ready to accept the idea that in some passages the Septuagint, the Samaritan texts, or the Dead Sea Scrolls may more accurately reflect the original than the Masoretic Text does.

By the time of Jesus, Hebrew had ceased to be the everyday language of Jews in Palestine — it had been replaced by Aramaic. Use of Hebrew was largely limited to scripture and religious ceremonies. As a result, Jews felt the need for a translation from the Hebrew into Aramaic. The result was the Targums, of which there are several versions. These were often more in the manner of paraphrases than literal translations; they did not hesitate to add to the text additional details drawn from Jewish traditions, legends or folklore. Many Christians also spoke Aramaic; they soon developed their own distinct dialect of Aramaic, which is known as Syriac. Their translation of the Bible into Syriac is known as the Peshitta — it has some degree of commonality with the Targums, but on the whole tends to be much more literal — and of course, it also includes the New Testament.

The language of the NT is Greek, and more specifically Koine Greek, which was the common language which developed in the Eastern Roman Empire (and previous to that, the Empire of Alexander the Great and its Hellenistic successor states.)

There are a number of different manuscript traditions of the Greek New Testament which scholars have identified. The three main groupings are the Western, the Alexandrian and the Byzantine. The earliest translations of the NT into English were based on the Textus Receptus, which on the whole represents the Byzantine tradition. However, the oldest manuscripts we have of the NT (see below) tend to represent the Alexandrian text type instead, and this forms the basis of many newer translations. Many conservative scholars prefer the Byzantine text type, believing it to be the best preserved; other conservative scholars, and most liberal scholars, believe in using a combination of all three traditions, but tend on the whole to prefer the Alexandrian. The Western text type has the least defenders, having in some parts (especially Acts) significant divergence from the Alexandrian or the Byzantine. The Western version of Acts adds a significant quantity of text to what is present in the Alexandrian or Byzantine versions — although, what it adds is of little significance, being just expansions upon what is already present. As a result, most scholars believe the Western version is later, containing expansions by later scribes for added clarity; although a minority of scholars believe the Western version of Acts was the original, and the Alexandrian and Byzantine versions represent condensations.

It is important to note that, despite the many variants between different manuscripts of the NT, very few of them are of any import — mostly they are differences in spelling, or the addition or deletion or substitution of a single word. These differences very rarely make any difference to doctrine or morals. There are a few well-known passages, which could possibly be of doctrinal import — such as the Johannine Comma — although many claim the same doctrines are taught even without these additions.

[edit] Issues in translating the Bible

Translation, be it between ancient languages or from those languages into modern languages, is always first and foremost an art of "what is the closest thing I can say." You will never be able to say the exact same thing in two languages.

[edit] "Murder" or "Kill"

The second book of the Torah (Exodus 20:12 in the Bible) reads: לֹא תִרְצָח "Lo tirtsach". The traditional translation for this sentence is "Thou shall not kill". Besides the fact that the informal, singular 2nd person pronoun is not used in English any more, the real problem is the word "ratsach". The word is used throughout Hebrew scripture and secular writing for actions that take a life. But clearly, you can kill your dinner, and God himself orders you to kill people who have transgressed against Him, though "stoned" or "take their life" are generally the term used.

So, is the answer to retain the word "kill", or to use the word "murder"? And does it matter?

If someone is writing a fiction book, it probably is fairly irrelevant whether the writer says "Tom pulled out a gun and killed John" or "Tom pulled out a gun and murdered John". But when someone is trying to establish a set of laws, a code for behavior, especially with some divine being looking over your shoulder, it makes a huge difference. If one is not to "kill", shouldn't we all be vegetarians (Or one can circumvent the systems to have infidels/automatons to kill animals for your consumption); If one is not to kill, then the death penalty (including everything outlined in Leviticus) should not be enforceable (We are still waiting for God to enforce his own laws); if one is not to kill, we should never go to war, religious or not. Clearly, none of those are understood as prohibited by the authors of the Torah.[2]

[edit] Gender in a genderless world

Grammatical gender is an interesting issue for translators for two reasons: 1) In a language without gender, there are weighted impressions of human/not-human, male and not male of "he," "she," and "it" that are not reflected in the same pronouns from gendered languages, and 2) it has been effectively argued by linguists that people "see" male and female "things" differently, based only on the grammatical gender.

Hebrew nouns have grammatical gender, male and female. Each thing, from a tree to a burning bush, is a "he" or a "she" and not an "it." This applies equally to "god." YHWH is a male gendered word. And "he" is the appropriate way to refer to it. Elohim, on the other hand, is a female noun (it's also plural), and is in fact referred to as "she." Yet it refers to the same entity. So when translating, what is the best process? Decide "god" must be a male and use male pronouns for that god, give into the shifting nature of the language and make your god he and she, depending on the title for the God that is used? Or call god an "it," and deny that god its human nature (assuming it has a human nature)?

[edit] Early translations

[edit] The Septuagint

Sometime between the 4th and the 1st century BCE, Jewish scholars, in an attempt to broaden the reach of the Jewish Bible, translated the bible into Greek, producing the Septuagint. Due both to the process of translation as well as the source material, this translation resulted in extra books being added to the canon which are not generally recognized by Orthodox Jews or Protestant Christian Churches. The Septuagint is one of the main sources for the Greek authors of the New Testament.

The Septuagint, not the Hebrew texts used by Judaism and modern Christian Bible translators, is still the official form of the Old Testament as used by most of eastern Christianity.

In Jewish tradition (and in the Talmud) the Rabbis translated the Torah, the five books of Moses, and the other books were translated by others. This led to the incorrect translation in Isaiah 7:14 of "עלמה" ("almah") to "virgin".

[edit] Targum

The term Targum was given to translations of the Jewish Bible into Aramaic, made by the convert Onkelos for the Torah and by Jonathan Ben Uziel for the prophets. It was the vernacular language of Roman-era Judaism, as well as much of the Levantine area overall. It would also have been the vernacular of Jesus.

[edit] Peshitta

Similarly, many early Middle Eastern Christians spoke Syriac as a lingua franca, and their Bible translation (still used by many Eastern Christian rites, particularly those not in communion with the Orthodox Church) is known as the Peshitta.

[edit] The Vulgate

The Vulgate, approximately meaning "common language", a 5th century translation of the Christian Canon into Latin by St. Jerome, was the first form of the Roman Catholic Bible, and the one on which the modern Catholic canon is based. This was the first time that a Latin version of the Old Testament was based on the Hebrew Tanakh and not on the Greek Septuagint, which was the basis of the earlier Latin translations, collectively known as the Vetus Latina (Old Latin). While the Vulgate is still used as the primary Latin translation by the Vatican, it is no longer the basis for modern Catholic Bible translations except among traditionalist Catholics.

[edit] Luther - giving the bible to the rabble

While the bible hade been translated into the vernacular and even into a (now extinct) Germanic language[wp] before, the translation of the bible by Martin Luther in addition to the recent invention of movable type printing was probably one of the most notable events in European history and the history of bible translation. It created a style and language that is still admired and emulated (similar to the KJV a half century later) and gave the common people a tool to understand the bible for the first time in ages. This had both good consequences like questioning clerical authority and bad ones like witch hunts, religious wars and ultimately exactly the biblical literalism and fundamentalism we know and love today.

[edit] English translations

The medieval Roman Catholic Church maintained that the Bible should remain in Latin only, and actively discouraged with lethal force any translations into vernacular languages. This position was challenged in the later Middle Ages, and some scholars began translating parts of the Bible into English and other languages, including John Wycliffe's 14th century English version of the New Testament. These unauthorised translations were denounced by the Catholic Church.

Vernacular translations were a major demand of the Protestant Reformation, and the invention of the printing press allowed such translations to be published on a large scale. William Tyndale translated the New Testament, Book of Jonah and Pentateuch into English during the 1520s, and was executed for heresy in 1536. His translation was "completed" and slightly revised by Miles Coverdale. However, his translation was highly influential on later versions, particularly the King James, and introduced several words and phrases into English which have since become common.[3] Another translation, The Great Bible, was published in 1539 as a "safe" translation of the Vulgate using some of Tyndale's phraseology. It was the first "official" English translation and Henry VIII required a copy to be placed in every Church under the newly seceded Church of England.

[edit] Genevan Bible

The Coverdale-Tyndale Bible was lightly revised as the Genevan Bible. In this form, it achieved enormous popularity and came to be the Bible of preference even up to the time of the English Civil War. This version was begun by Protestant exiles in Geneva, Switzerland, during the reign of Mary I, and was completed and dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I in 1560. It is also known as the "Breeches Bible", from its translation of Genesis 3:7: "and they sewed figge tree leaues together, and made them selues breeches." (The King James Version has "aprons".)

The Genevan Bible was printed with extensive annotations and cross-references. It was in fact a revolutionary book in terms of user-friendliness; not only did it contain this extensive teaching apparatus, but it was the first Bible to be printed in the humanistic Roman type instead of black-letter type. It also contained concordances, maps, and indexes of names, and was the first English bible to break up the Biblical text into numbered verses, which enabled specific texts to be found easily. It is praised for its clear and vigorous language, though King James felt the annotations, written by Calvinist exiles, were seditious and anti-Royalist.[4]

These early translations are seldom if ever used now, since the King James Version superseded all previous editions. Their study is usually restricted to biblical scholars and historians, and are of some interest in the study of Shakespeare and Milton, who used the Genevan Bible exclusively. Some U.S. far-right political cranks have also adopted the Genevan Bible and maintain its political superiority over the King James version.[5]

[edit] King James Version

In sixteen hundred and eleven, the King James Bible fell from Heaven
—Anon

Originally commissioned in the 1600s by King James VI/I of Scotland and England and published in 1611, the King James Version (KJV, also known as the Authorized Version) is the most famous translation into English and the favorite of many fundamentalist Protestants. It claims on its title page to be "Translated out of the Original Tongues: And with the former translations diligently compared and Revised". In reality, it is a correction of the previous Genevan Bible, which is considered by non-fundamentalists to be of limited use, due to the outdated pre-Jacobean English and the reliance on manuscripts that are now believed to be less accurate than those currently used. The KJV has nevertheless been a major influence both on subsequent Biblical study and on the English language itself, being (along with the works of William Shakespeare) one of the major early touchstones of modern English literature. It is also the source of a great many code words that give evangelical English its unusual cant. (And, gosh darnit, it just sounds more Biblical than these modern-language translations. But, would it be so popular with them if they knew that King James was romantically involved with men?[6])

The KJV is really quite important to the English language, as an enormous number of commonplace sayings, proverbs, clichés and common allusions come directly from it. You need at least some knowledge of the KJV to be highly literate in English. (The same reason you need to know your Shakespeare.) Parts of it are also really quite well-phrased and translated. Noted atheists such as H. L. Mencken, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have endorsed it to this end.

The text is in the public domain in all countries except for the United Kingdom, where rights to it are held by the Crown under a special copyright easement. (Which has never been tested in law and may not be valid.)

The King James Version has been updated a number of times, in 1629, 1638, 1762, and 1769, meaning that the KJVs sold today are not even the original 1611 version. (You can still get a 1611 KJV but you'll have to hunt long and hard; you're about as likely to find one in a Christian bookstore as you would a Douay-Rheims or Tyndale Bible.)

Several modern versions based on the KJV have also been issued, an early example being the late-1800s Revised Version (RV) which was of only limited popularity but influential on later translations like the ASV. The most notable is the 1982 New King James Version (NKJV), which uses the same original texts as the KJV but is translated into modern English while trying to maintain the superficial feel of the old KJV text. The NKJV is somewhat controversial. It is disliked by Christian fundamentalists for taking out their favorite code words, and by non-fundamentalists for using outdated source texts. The Gideons happen to like it, though; most of the Gideon Bibles currently being placed are NKJV Bibles. Other recent updates include the 21st Century King James Version (KJ21), which appears to be merely the KJV with the most archaic words replaced with their modern equivalents using find-and-replace, and the more obscure Authorized Version Update (AVU) in easy-to-read language and of Anabaptist origin.

A humorous reference is sometimes made by using the quote: "If the King James version was good enough for the apostles, it's good enough for me." Unfortunately, there are a few rather dim fundies who actually mean it when they say that.

The King James Only movement holds that the 1611 Authorized Version, both as a translation and not only in the original text, was newly inspired by God to ensure an error-free version in the English language. This creates an interesting dilemma because Acts 12:4 describes the Jews celebrating Easter.[7] Somewhat less hard-line KJV-onlyers prefer to defend the KJV based on its use of the Textus Receptus; the more extreme ones, however, deny even the existence of competing manuscripts, claiming the Septuagint was a hoax.

The King James version is the preferred translation of the Mormons.

[edit] Douay-Rheims Bible and relatives

Translated in France (the town of Douai for the Old Testament, Rheims for the New) for the English-speaking world, the Douay-Rheims Bible was the major competitor to the Anglican KJV. Unlike the KJV, which referenced the original Greek and Hebrew extensively, the Douay-Rheims Bible was translated from the Latin Vulgate, and was liberally salted with Latinisms (Eliseus for Elisha, Josue for Joshua, Abdias for Obadiah being three randomly chosen examples) as well as untranslated borrowings ("azyme" for matzo[wp] or unleavened bread, from the Greek αζυμος, azymos, "unleavened"), many of which left little trace outside the then-limited circles of Anglophone Catholic practice. On the other hand, many of the Latinisms present in the KJV are derived from the Douay-Rheims.

The Douay-Rheims was revised in the 19th century by Bishop Challoner, then heavily modified into the Confraternity Version in the 20th, later to be replaced by the New American Bible and the Jerusalem Bible. A small contingent of traditionalist Catholics maintain a Douay-only belief similar to the KJV believers in Protestantism, going so far as to keep the translation in print (through print-on-demand and other services) when mainstream distributors ignore it, and sometimes holding the Vulgate text above the original Greek and Hebrew as sources. Most copies of the Douay-Rheims which circulate today are actually Challoner's revision, rather than the original.

[edit] New International Version

The standard in many evangelical churches, the New International Version (NIV) is the most popular[8] English-language translation in the world, and was sponsored by the International Bible Society in the 1960s. The NIV was conceived as an evangelical reaction against perceived liberalism in the Revised Standard Version. Unlike the U.S.-centric translation committee of the RSV (and its U.K.-centric competitor the NEB), the NIV used a translation committee from several English speaking countries for better acceptance internationally, hence the name. While quite readily available in low-cost editions, the NIV suffers from several perceived faults that hamper its use by non-evangelicals:

  1. It is seen as overly biased towards an evangelical view.
  2. It lacks any Apocrypha in any edition, limiting its use to Protestant churches.
  3. It is thought of as somewhat dry in tone.
  4. Less commonly, it is criticized for being written at a "7th grade reading level."[9]

Much study and apologetic material is based on the NIV text. The NIV has been revised several times since its release, including an inclusive language version and a newer retranslation known as Today's New International Version (TNIV), published in 2002 (the New Testament) and 2005 (the full Bible). The TNIV's use of gender-inclusive language tarnished the reputation of the NIV as a whole among many evangelicals who formerly viewed the NIV as the evangelical standard, because they felt they could no longer trust the NIV's sponsor, the International Bible Society. It also has a rather highly acclaimed NIV Study Bible edition, with extensive footnotes and sidebars explaining its translators' and maintainers' perspectives on the text.

The NIV (or, in Romance languages, NVI) trademark is used on numerous translations into languages other than English as well.

Until quite recently, preference for the NIV was a status symbol that meant "I go to an evangelical megachurch where we sing schlocky contemporary praise choruses and raise our hands in the air." Since the dustup over inclusive language, this status symbol has passed to several new translations like ESV and Holman.

[edit] New American Bible

One of the most common English language translations in the Roman Catholic Church, the first edition of the New American Bible (NAB) was translated by the Confraternity for Christian Doctrine and published in 1970. It includes the full Catholic canon, though in a slightly different order from the Vulgate, and is the primary source for Bible readings in Catholic services.[10] The NAB was reissued with a newly retranslated New Testament in 1986 and the Psalms were similarly revised in 1991, so some editions will differ depending on the publication date even though all carry the name New American Bible. The 1986 revision of the New Testament was done to correct a perceived bias toward paraphrase in the original translation but also added gender-inclusive language, making the revision somewhat controversial among conservatives who prefer the original NAB or older Catholic translations like the Confraternity Bible.

Recently, the Catholic Church has commissioned the New American Bible Revised Edition, which will update various words and phrases that have experienced semantic drift. Of note, "booty" will be replaced with "spoils of war", while all instances of "almah" in the original text will be translated as "young woman" rather than "virgin" as the NAB had before. This of course, also occurs in the famous verse of great contention: Isaiah 7:14, which Christians widely hold to be a prophecy of Jesus's virgin birth.

[edit] American Standard Version and related

The American Standard Version (ASV), released in 1901, was the first modern English translation to become popular in the United States. It is now obscure and hard to find, having been replaced by the Revised Standard Version (RSV). The RSV was a revision of the ASV with the New Testament published 1945 and the complete Bible published 1954. The RSV New Testament was popular but when the Old Testament was released in 1954 it became a hotbed of controversy, because the translators approached the Old Testament prophecies in their Jewish context rather than linking them to the context of the New Testament; verses translated "a virgin shall give birth to a child" in the KJV were translated as "young woman" in the RSV Old Testament while leaving them "virgin" when quoted in the New Testament. This led to accusations that the RSV had a liberal bias. Evangelicals who had accepted the RSV New Testament in 1945 denounced the RSV in 1954 and its popularity among them was limited, but it became for a while the most popular Bible translation among mainline to liberal Protestants.

The RSV was eventually revised into the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). The NRSV is considered one of the most ecumenical of translations, having been produced and reviewed by a committee of scholars of multiple religious backgrounds, including Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, and even Jewish members. While not universally accepted for all purposes,[11] the NRSV is the only widely available modern English translation that includes both Catholic and Orthodox canons as well as the Protestant canon.[12] The NRSV is the standard translation for the Oxford Annotated Bible. Conservatives, upset at the growing trend toward gender-neutral language, used the RSV as the basis for another translation, the English Standard Version, released in 2001. The ESV is a revision of the RSV to bring the Old Testament back in line with evangelical understanding of those verses, among other things. An edition of the ESV including the Apocrypha was published in 2009.

Along a different track, Rainbow Missions of Colorado, USA has created the World English Bible (the "WEB Bible") as a revision of the ASV with the specific aim of producing a modern English Bible that is completely in the public domain.

[edit] Early "modern English" translations

From the start of the 20th Century continuing through the 1930s, several English translations appeared which were (unlike the ASV) not in the KJV lineage and were translated fom the Wescott & Hort text rather than the Textus Receptus. For the most part these were the work of single individuals, and for the most part they did not use archaic formal language (thees and thous). The most popular of these was the James Moffatt translation. The Goodspeed translations of the New Testament and Apocrypha and the related Goodspeed-Smith An American Translation of the entire Bible, the Ferrar Fenton translation (described in more detail below), and the Weymouth, 20th Century, and Charles B. Williams New Testaments, were all popular during this time. The arrival of the Revised Standard Version right after World War II became the new state of the art and effectively rendered these earlier efforts obsolete, but during the Roaring Twenties, Great Depression, and World War II, if one wanted an easy to read English Bible these were the ones. Today many of their renderings would be considered paraphrases. Moffatt's translation moved entire verses around to make the text flow better.

[edit] Holman Christian Standard Bible

This is another conservative translation sponsored by Holman Bible Publishers, a subsidiary of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Holman Bible was translated by a group of about 100 who were committed to Biblical inerrancy. The Holman New Testament was released in 1999, and the complete Bible in 2004.

The Holman Christian Standard Bible logo has a shield-and-cross design suggestive of the spiritual warfare imagery presently in vogue. Numerous packagings of the Holman Bible have been marketed with American flag-based designs on the cover and names like the "Soldier's Bible", "Policeman's Bible", "Airman's Bible", "Sailor's Bible", "Firefighter's Bible". All are printed in South Korea. No word yet on whether they will market a "Democrat's Bible" or God forbid, an "Anti-War Protesters Bible".

Snark about their obnoxiously patriotic marketing technique aside, the Holman Bible is considered a good translation overall and it steers a middle ground on several contentious issues: Holman's translation of gender-specific terms aims for being gender neutral without being gender-inclusive, and the translation aims for a middle ground between formal and dynamic equivalence. Another interesting feature is bolding Old Testament verses when they are quoted in the New Testament. On the other hand Holman has a preference for loaded modern terms ("troops" instead of "soldiers", "recruiter" instead of "him who hath chosen him to be a soldier", etc.) possibly intended to appeal to the mall ninja set and arguably changing the meaning far from its original intent.

[edit] New American Standard Bible

Not to be confused with the Catholic NAB, the New American Standard Bible (NASB) is generally considered to be one of the most literal translations available, though it has been criticized by the usual extreme fundamentalist KJV-onlyers for excessive use of inclusive language and perceived introduction of liberal theology. In reality, the NASB was written as a conservative translation, done as a reaction by evangelicals against the perceived liberal bias of the then-popular RSV. If anything, the main legitimate complaint about the NASB is that, like YLT below, the style is so strong in the direction of literal, word-for-word translation that it is difficult to read.

[edit] Amplified Bible

The Amplified Bible is a Bible translation from 1965 based mostly on the 1901 American Standard Version. The Amplified Bible is noteworthy for incorporating different marks and types of typography ("arbitrary punctuation") which clarify the text or highlight problems in the translation. This allows for a more comprehensive analysis of the text than is possible by using only footnotes. See Wikipedia for further details.

[edit] The Living Bible

Story is pretty much the same as the Amplified Bible, only it was written in 1971, and started out as a father rewriting parts of the Bible so his kids could understand it more easily, and later some people decided to publish it. The Living Bible is a paraphrase rather than a strict translation. It became very popular because it is easy to read, and it is known for having many popular editions with names like The Book and being given out at Billy Graham crusades. It has been accused of having a bias toward Arminianism[wp] in its theology.

More recently, the New Living Translation (NLT) was published, with gender-inclusive language. The NLT started as a project to revise the Living Bible, but eventually became a new translation.

[edit] Good News Bible

Another version that came about because of a perceived need to publish a translation understandable by children, the Good News Bible has also gone by the names Good News For Modern Man, the Good News Translation, and Today's English Version. This version was heavily promoted by the American Bible Society, but when the translator made known his contempt for conservative theology and Biblical inerrancy, evangelical donations to the ABS dropped off. The translation itself doesn't have a particularly liberal bias but nonetheless is often perceived as a liberal translation. It is illustrated with atrociously dated stick figures that probably looked hip back in 1968.

[edit] The Message

A more recent paraphrase for the kiddie market. The translation is... odd. For example, Romans 13:4:1 comes out "But if you're breaking the rules right and left, watch out. The police aren't there just to be admired in their uniforms."

[edit] J.B. Phillips Translation

This is yet another version intended to be easily understood by children. J.B. Phillips was an Anglican and friend of C.S. Lewis. He only got around to publishing the New Testament, and a few Old Testament books. His translation of the New Testament is highly regarded in some circles and still popular.

[edit] New English Bible and related

The New English Bible (NEB) was an ecumenical project of several churches in the United Kingdom. One goal of the NEB was to produce an entirely fresh English translation of the Bible from scratch, instead of yet another revision in the RV-ASV-RSV lineage. The New Testament was published in 1961 and the complete Bible in 1970. The translators translated along the lines of dynamic equivalence (phrase by phrase) rather than formal equivalence (word for word), but this resulted in some oddities such as placing verses out of numerical order. It has been accused of being a paraphrase, as well as having a liberal bias. Highly regarded when published, it was a product of its time and has fallen out of favor. More recently it was revised into the Revised English Bible.

[edit] Young's Literal Translation

Young's Literal Translation is an obscure translation by Scottish biblical scholar Robert Young in 1862, with two Revised Versions published in 1887 and in 1898 (the latter ten years after Young's death). As its name suggests, it goes for formal equivalence whenever possible, based on the Textus Receptus and the Majority Text. It also frequently uses the present tense where other translations would use the past tense; for example, Genesis 1:1 is rendered as "In the beginning of God's preparing of the heavens and the earth — ". The result is a good literal translation of the Hebrew, though one that becomes practically unreadable at times.

[edit] Rotherham's Emphasized Bible

Joseph B. Rotherham published several editions of part or all of the New Testament during the late 1800s, starting in 1868. His complete Bible translation came out in 1902. Similar to Young's Literal Translation as a strict word-for-word that is difficult reading, but with two key differences. Rotherham's final edition used the Wescott & Hort manuscript, where Young used the Textus Receptus. The bigger difference is use of various accent marks in Rotherham's translation to denote different tenses and senses in the original Hebrew and Greek.

[edit] Jewish Publication Society

As Jews came to North America and started to use English as their common tongue, Jewish leaders realized they needed their own English translation because the common English translations (e.g. the KJV) either relied on texts not accepted as authentic by Jews or were written in such a way as to imply Jesus' coming. The most widely circulated version of the Bible intended for Jews is the one printed by the Jewish Publication Society (JPS). The 1917 edition is the first edition and, perhaps as a way of giving it legitimacy amongst their gentile neighbors, it uses Jacobean English. JPS completed a more modern version in 1985 (although they started the project in the late 1950s) and will substitute Biblical idioms for ones that make sense to modern readers. Several different versions exist intended for use in Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox synagogues, although some Orthodox groups have their own versions as well. Some versions actually give you the original Hebrew if you're interested, but the books open right-to-left (since Hebrew is written right to left). Certain Jewish bibles (particularly those used by Orthodox congregations) will also incorporate commentary by noted sages.

[edit] Fringe, crank, and joke translations

  • Pretty much the exclusive property of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the New World Translation was created to replace the ASV as the standard translation for JW worship. NWT is widely condemned by mainstream Christian scholars, primarily because it renders many verses in non-standard ways that do not admit traditional interpretations. Non-religious scholars are more approving of it, considering it a fairly good translation. Robert M. Price, for instance, rarely discusses JW on his voluminous podcast without mentioning that the New World Translation is surprisingly accurate and in many places superior to mainstream translations. At one time, Watchtower published an interlinear version of the New Testament (that includes original text above every translated verse) known as the Kingdom Interlinear Translation.
  • Any other "Sacred Name" translation issued by a sect insisting the name of God must correctly be rendered as Yahweh or Jehovah. There are many.
  • The Ferrar Fenton translation of 1903 was the lifelong project of a London businessman who had an amateur's understanding of the Greek and Hebrew he was working from, but it had a brief run of popularity in the early 20th century alongside other then-modern translations like Moffatt, Rotherham, and Goodspeed. It is filled with oddities and the books are rearranged in an unusual order. It is most famous for its rendering of Genesis 1:1 as "By periods, God created that which produced the Solar Systems, then that which produced the Earth", Jonah as being picked up by a ship instead of swallowed by a literal whale, and the Psalms as heavy metal lyrics English poems. The Fenton translation does have its fans today. It may be one of the few English Bible translations fitting the definition of a "cult classic". Some British Israelists have also tried to claim it in recent years, this apparently because of Fenton's dedication of it to "all those nations who sprung from the race of the British Isles" and not anything in the translation itself.
  • The Inspired Version or "Joseph Smith Translation" (JST) was an attempted revision of the King James Version by Joseph Smith, Jr. to make it fit Mormon theology. It is filled with wholesale replacements of some verses, especially in the book of Genesis, which would later be published in "The Pearl of Great Price." It has limited use in Mormon circles, as Mormons prefer the KJV in English-speaking countries. Mormon scholars argue that the JST is best understood as a type of Midrash rather than an actual restoration of the original biblical text.
  • The Recovery Version, much like the New World Translation, is the work of a sect intended to be used as their in-house Bible. In this case, the Local Church movement of Chinese evangelists Watchman Nee and Witness Lee. Like the NWT, it is considered a rather good translation for the most part except for a quirky translation style to make it fit Local Church doctrine, such as sometimes translating God's name as "Jah".
  • The New Testament: A Purified Translation is a teetotalist translation whose intent is to "correct mistranslations" that may lead to "grave consequences such as the beverage use of alcohol". The primary translator, Stephen Mills Reynolds, earlier took part in the translation of the original NIV. The Purified Translation appears to have a one-issue agenda: Jesus didn't turn water into wine, he turned it into grape juice. Paul didn't drink wine, he drank grape juice.
  • The Lamsa Bible, sometimes called the Holy Bible from the Ancient Eastern Text, is a 1933 translation by George Lamsa that translates the Syriac Peshitta, an ancient Aramaic version of the Bible, rather than the Hebrew or Greek. The Assyrian Orthodox Church holds to the primacy of these Aramaic texts.[13]
  • Teh Lolcat Bible[14] can be finded on teh Internets. This translashun is inspureded by miaow of the Ceiling Cat. Is true, rly![15]
  • The Conservative Bible Project is the brainchild of Andrew Schlafly. It is an ongoing collaboration between Schlafly, Conservapedia editors, and the occasional parodist to remove the "liberal bias" present in more mainstream translations. The project is more about rewording the KJV than translation, given that Schlafly appears to have little experience with biblical languages, and contributors who did have given up. The Conservative Bible uses "powerful conservative words" to tell the story of Christ — the champion of free market conservative principles. Jesus now appears to be in total agreement with Schlafly's beliefs.
  • Good As New: A Radical Retelling of the Scriptures is a recent new translation of the New Testament including the Gospel of Thomas, omitting several minor epistles and the Book of Revelation, and completely removing homophobic and misogynist references in the remainder. If Andrew Schlafly can rewrite the scriptures to suit his own preconceived biases so can the left, proving once again that the right wing by no means has a monopoly on insulting one's intelligence with rank partisanship.
  • The Jefferson Bible, otherwise known as The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, was written in the early 19th century by Thomas Jefferson and is not so much a translation as it is a recompilation and redaction of the New Testament in order to remove supernatural aspects and parts Jefferson believed to have been misinterpreted or altered for the benefit of priests.[16] Jefferson's Bible is not commonly used for acts of worship and is pretty much exclusively for deists, secularists, Jefferson scholars and fans, and for some reason, weird libertarian "individual sovereigntists".
  • There are partial translations of the Bible into regional English dialects, such as The Bible in Cockney: Well Bits of it Anyway (ISBN 1841012173), More Bible in Cockney (ISBN 1841012599) and Ee By Gum, Lord! The Gospels in Broad Yorkshire (ISBN 185825065X), which are really only intended to be a bit of fun.
  • A combination of joke and serious translation is Da Jesus Book, a Hawai'ian Pidgin translation of the New Testament. Hearing someone narrate it is... quite interesting. Due to some words not having an equal in actual English and stuff, some words become phrases, and some phrases words (For instance, God becomes "Da Big Guy in'a Sky").
  • The entire New Testament[17] has been translated into Quenya, one of J.R.R. Tolkien's Elvish languages from The Lord of the Rings universe. The translator declares that since he is "not even religious", this may be regarded as "the ultimate literary monument of Nerddom." A running back-translation into English is provided throughout the text, just in case your Elvish is deficient.

[edit] Further afield

SIL International[wp], an alleged CIA stooge,[18] and a few allied groups have taken upon themselves the task of translating the Bible into every arcane language around the world previously lacking such a translation. These Bibles are translated from the KJV English version, not the original languages, raising the question of whether there could be a Chinese whispers[wp] effect of mistranslation, whether the translation could be completely inscrutable due to cultural reasons, or whether the translation could be deliberately translated by an infiltrator into jibber-jabber or something rather un-Christian like the works of Aleister Crowley. Many of these languages have very few fluent speakers, (e.g. less than 1000), and even fewer who are literate, so it would be hard to independently validate the translations, even for SIL.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Page 125.
  2. See also: Why most people believe the Bible is against the death penalty
  3. See the "Legacy" section in the Wikipedia article on William Tyndale for some examples.
  4. See the Wikipedia article on Geneva Bible.
  5. See, e.g., the 1991 reprint from L. L. Brown & Co, ISBN 0962988804, and the 2010 "Patriot's Edition" from White Hall Press, ISBN 1450742491.
  6. When he was young, King James had a special friend or favourite, a Frenchman called Esme Stuart d'Aubigny. Later, in middle age, James came to love a much younger fellow named Robert Carr. Both were sad stories, James was buried beside two of his lovers. See The Secret Life of King James and King James I
  7. For a laugh, check out the Chick tracts website's wildly inaccurate explanation of this error -- an explanation that includes the erroneous (yet still popular) claim that the word "Easter" is taken from the name of the ancient Egyptian god Ishtar and not from the name of the Anglo-Saxon goddess Ēostre (Ôstara in Old High German).
  8. Of course, popularity is usually a bad sign in religious circles. It's sort of like indie rock except everyone's heard Jimmy Stewart's greatest hit already.
  9. Conservative Bible Project
  10. Text of the NAB at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops site
  11. Outside of Canada, the Catholic Church uses it only in study and instructional material, preferring an older version of the NAB for its lectionary purposes. The Orthodox churches, as well, sometimes find it a bit evangelical for their tastes.
  12. The Coptic and Ethiopian canon would be nice too, but no one's done that one yet. At any rate, it's enough to make one user feel that if you need a print Bible on hand, the NRSV + Apocrypha is the one to get.
  13. George Lamsa Bible
  14. http://www.lolcatbible.com/
  15. It's actually surprisingly accurate, because this is what biblical scholars do to let off steam.
  16. "In extracting the pure principles which he [Jesus] taught, we should have to strip off the artificial vestments in which they have been muffled by priests, who have travestied them into various forms, as instruments of riches and power to them.... Correspondence between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson
  17. http://folk.uib.no/hnohf/nqnt.htm
  18. Misperceptions, Missionaries And The CIA Colby & Dennett's letter to the Los Angeles Times regarding a review of their book Thy Will Be Done: The Conquest of the Amazon : Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil
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