Thursday, January 13, 2011

Some Problems With Translation Part 2

A literal translation may communicate the wrong meaning

There are times when the Hebrew or Greek, if translated literally, give the wrong meaning. Different languages express things differently, and sometimes a literal rendition does not communicate well. This is especially true with idioms.

The challenge facing translators is, should they translate the original literally, preserving the literal flavor of the original but often forcing the reader to learn from teachers and study aides, or should they translate the original in a way that the modern reader can understand it without much commentary. There is no easy answer to that question, and it is one of the reasons that there is no “best” translation of the Bible.

A less literal version, such as the NIV, is easier for beginners and youth, but lacks much cultural flavor and some of the grammatical “punch” of the original text, while more literal versions such as the KJV or NASB gives more of the cultural flavor, but can be much more difficult for the beginner, youth, or less educated reader. Below are some examples of when a strictly literal translation might cause problems for the English reader.

The evil eye. To us today, if a person has an “evil eye,” it usually means he is evil and hurtful, and wishes others harm, perhaps even wanting to curse them.

Biblically, however, it referred to someone being selfish, greedy, stingy, and resentful about what they had given to others. Proverbs 23:6 says not to eat the food of someone with an “evil eye(KJV), meaning not to eat the bread of a stingy, resentful person. Proverbs 28:22 portrays the person with the evil eye chasing after money.

Demons. It was common among the ancient Greeks that a concept, such as “fate” or “victory” was also believed to be a god or goddess, i.e., Fate or Victory. Thus, when the Greeks in Athens heard Paul preach, they thought that he was setting forth “Jesus” and “Resurrection” as a god and goddess (“resurrection” is a feminine noun in Greek). They said, “He [Paul] seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods(Acts 17:18 KJV).


  1. Back in 1956, President Reuben J. Clark warned that more "modern" or "scholarly" translations he had access to at that time had a strong tendency to systematically remove references to Christ's divinity, His miracles, etc. in a way that greatly diminishes His work for us.

    There may not be a "best" translation of the Bible, but there are certainly worse ones, such as those that tamper with doctrine to conform to the philosophies of men.

  2. My heart is with the King James Version. The NIV (or Nearly Inspired Version)is useful in many ways, but surely has a bias against some Atonement verses. I like the New Living Translation for its clarity--it was published in 1987 and reads like a novel--hard to put down.