What’s in a translation?

image53I just read a fascinating article about the history of Bible translations, in a Bible I bought at the Stowe Library book sale (The New Oxford Annotated Bible).

The original Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek. Apparently most English translations of scripture up till the 20th century owe much of their approach, if not their word choice, to a 16th century translator named William Tyndale. The King James and other later translations used much of his word choice, sentence structure, interpretation of meaning, etc.

Oh, and there’s this: “Tyndale was bitterly opposed. He was accused of perverting the meaning of the Scriptures, and his New Testaments were ordered to be burned as ‘untrue translations,’ intended ‘for the advancement and setting forth of Luther’s abominable heresies.’ He was finally betrayed into the hands of his enemies, and in October 1536, was executed and burned at the stake.”

One problem with so many translations is that the original Hebrew or Greek words had multiple possible meanings and, for instance, the council that executed the King James version made word choices that, according to this article, were “often determined by a marvelously sure instinct for what would sound well when read aloud.” In other words, translation choices were sometimes made for literary reasons.

While this gave the KJV merit as a literary work, it also meant that certain subtle meaning might get perverted.

So where the earlier Geneva Bible translated Proverbs 3:17 as “Her wayes are wayes of pleasure and all her paths prosperitie,” the King James Version went along with previous translations (the Great Bible, the Bishops’ Bible, etc) and presented it as “Her wayes are wayes of pleasantness and all her pathes are peace.”

I’m seeing that this is why a concordance is necessary. When there’s a verse that doesn’t quite ring true, a concordance gives you the multiple shades of meaning in the original language. Subtle, seemingly insignificant words (like, oh, say, “pleasure” and “pleasantness”) can change the entire meaning of a passage.

As Mark Twain said, it’s often the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

And, of course, as Neville Goddard pointed out repeatedly, understanding the work not as literal history (“The Bible is not about any person or thing that ever existed”) but as a metaphysical document written in symbolic language changes its meaning as well. This is the approach that 20th century translators such as James Moffatt and George Lamsa took. 

To be continued…

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