Tranlsation Error? Sure?

I’ve mentioned this before, but let me drop it in again.  Be very careful before you tell a congregation their Bible translation is wrong.  I was in a church a while back where somebody corrected the translation with the comment, “the NIV committee pulled a fast one here.”  Very unhelpful.  Whatever decisions they made that we might disagree with, I doubt they “pulled a fast one.”  What’s more, it was clear from the explanation given that the person commenting didn’t know his Greek almost at all. 

1. The notion of word for word direct equivalence is naïve.  Each word in the Greek has its own semantic domain (essentially a range of potential nuances/connotations/senses and potentially appropriate glosses or equivalents in English).  So word X might be translated as A or B (to keep things simple).  Word Y might be translated as C or sometimes B.  To say the translation is wrong because they translated Y as B when you think it can only be C would be naïve and unhelpful.

2. Listeners are naïve.  Generally speaking, when the speaker makes some judgment of the translation or comments on the Greek, the listeners will mostly assume they have someone with some level of expertise before them.  This is massively naïve.  I tend to see those who are very capable in the Greek barely letting it show in any overt way, while those who refer to it often are desperately lacking in Koine competence.

3. Preach your passage.  Does your passing comment about the translation really help people understand the passage?  Really?  Is it worth undermining their confidence in the translation for that insight?  And honestly, although this is hard to answer, do you have enough competence in translating the Greek to make your critique (or second-hand critique) stand up with integrity?

Tempting as it may be, for several reasons, to correct the translation you are preaching from, it is typically better to avoid overt critique and simply allow your insight to shape your explanation of the text.

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One thought on “Tranlsation Error? Sure?

  1. Good advice. I had Dr. Goodrick as a professor (of the NIV Concordance fame in the years after I knew him). He once said that comparing 5 good translations was as good or better than 2 years of Greek study.

    We may disagree with the translation in hand, but the folks that worked on them I do believe have a sincere desire to faithfully translate, and they have a lot more education than I have, so I with you am cautious.

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