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How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth: A Guide to Understanding and Using Bible Versions by Gordon D. Fee & Mark L. Strauss

How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth: A Guide to Understanding and Using Bible Versions by Gordon D. Fee & Mark L. Strauss

Author:Gordon D. Fee & Mark L. Strauss [Fee, Gordon D. & Strauss, Mark L.]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: book, ebook
Publisher: Zondervan
Published: 2009-05-25T17:00:00+00:00

Implicit and Explicit Background Information

Contemporary Bible versions sometimes make explicit what was implicit to the original readers. This may be as simple as adding a clarifying word. Matthew 3:13 (TNIV) reads, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.” The NET Bible, together with most functional equivalent versions, clarify that this is the Jordan “River” (NET, NLT, CEV, GW). Although the word “river” does not appear in the Greek, adding it helps to clarify the meaning.

In other cases, cultural customs are clarified for readers who may not understand them. In Genesis 37:29 Reuben “tore his clothes” when he discovered that his brothers had sold Joseph as a slave (TNIV, NET, ESV). In Hebrew culture this was a sign of mourning or grief, so functional equivalent versions add that he tore his clothes “in grief” (NLT, GW) or “in sorrow” (CEV, GNT; cf. Mark 14:63). In Exodus 34:13 God commands Israel to “cut down the Asherah poles” of the Canaanites. Some functional equivalent versions clarify the nature of these poles. CEV has “tear down the sacred poles they use in the worship of the goddess Asherah” (cf. GW, GNT). NCV says simply “cut down their Asherah idols.”

In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, Jesus says that two men entered the temple to pray, “one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector” (Luke 18:10 TNIV). The NLT describes the latter as a “despised” tax collector. The purpose is to show how Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries —who hated tax collectors as Roman collaborators — would have heard his words. A few sentences later, we learn that the tax collector “beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner’ ” (Luke 18:13 TNIV). Again the NLT clarifies that he beat his chest “in sorrow.” What was implicit for the original readers is made explicit for modern readers.

Some might object to these expansions, since the words “despised” or “in sorrow” do not appear in the Greek text. While this is true, the meaning that they convey was part of the author’s intention and would have been immediately recognized by the original readers. Again we are faced with the dilemma of whether to reproduce the form or the meaning of the original text. If the goal of translation is to transfer as much of the meaning as possible, then implied meaning must be taken into account for readers who would not normally recognize it.

Of course, care must be exercised here, since it is possible to introduce the wrong meaning. The first edition of the NLT (1996) identified the tax collector as “dishonest” rather than “despised.” This was inaccurate, since nothing in the parable suggests the man was cheating people. Calling him “dishonest” might also imply that his repentance was insincere, which is the opposite of Jesus’ point.

The challenge for translators is to determine how much implicit background material to provide. If too little is given, readers may miss important nuances of meaning; if too much, the translation becomes a commentary.


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