Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Some Problems With Translation Part 1

The next few post come from a variety of study notes. There are some interesting things to consider.

Before we begin studying translation problems in the Bible, we must acknowledge that there is no way to bring the full meaning of one language into another. Words are not equivalent in different languages, natural word order differs from language to language, ways of saying things differ dramatically, and every language is full of idioms that cannot be translated word-for-word into another language.

For the purpose of this study, a “mistranslation” is a translation that misrepresents the original text, causing the reader to believe something other than what is being communicated in the original text, or one that significantly diminishes the impact of what is being said in the original.

Sometimes what is clear in Hebrew or Greek, if brought literally into English, actually gives the English reader the wrong impression. In those cases, a more literal translation actually may become a mistranslation. The purpose of translation is that someone reading the translated version would understand the meaning of the text to be the same as someone reading the text in the original language.

There are verses where the translators made a simple mistake.

Joshua, not Jesus. In Acts7:45, which is in the context of Stephen speaking about the history of Israel, the KJV says that “Jesus” was the one who brought the Tent of Meeting (Tabernacle) into the Promised Land. It was not “Jesus” who did that, but Joshua, Moses’ helper. The Greek name of both people is the same, but it is still the responsibility of the translators to correctly bring the Greek into English.

Vultures, not eagles. In Luke 17:37 (NASB), Jesus said, “Where the body is, there also will the vultures be gathered.” In Greek, the word aetos is primarily used of eagles, although the ancient Greeks sometimes used the word for vultures. The KJV and NKJV translate aetos as “eagles,” but eagles do not gather around dead bodies. “Vultures” is more likely to be the correct translation.

Lamps, not candles. Matthew 5:15 and a number of other verses in the KJV, Geneva Bible (1599), Webster Bible (1833), and other older versions of the English Bible, use the word “candle.” But the wax taper we know as a candle was not invented in biblical times. In biblical times, various types of oil lamps were used for light, and olive oil was usually the fuel. We see this in Matthew 25:3, where even the older versions read “lamp.” The common use of candles, as well as a certain amount of ignorance about the biblical culture, led the translators of the older versions to use “candle.”


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