Posts Tagged ‘Better Bibles’

Lovers of obscure 80’s movies may recognize the title of this post from Real Genius; it’s a line spoken by a young Val Kilmer.  This line comes to my mind most often not when I’m thinking of random movie quotes (though I do that frequently), but when I’m reading an English translation and find it to be, well, awkward.  I find myself asking, “who talks like that?”

Truth be told, I find myself asking this question a lot when I’m reading the ESV.  Sure, it’s a fine translation, and it sticks closely to its translation philosophy, which is a fairly literal one.  But almost on every page I read something and ask, “who talks like that?”

So, I’ve been following a paper presented by Mark Strauss at last week’s Evangelical Theological Society meeting.  This paper critiques the ESV and shows how it often translates the original languages into English that hardly anyone actually uses.  The paper is being posted by Wayne Leman over at Better Bibles Blog (my proposed subtitle: Making Good Translations Even Gooder) in a series of posts, which I will link to below.  There’s also a mini-response at Koinonia by William Mounce, NT editor for the ESV, which I will also link to (he promises a full response in next year’s ETS meeting).  Strauss gives numerous examples of where the ESV can be improved, many of which I’ve noticed and many that were new to me (largely because I don’t use the ESV as my every day translation). 

For instance, I was recently reading 2 Samuel in the ESV and ran across 2 Samuel 18:25 (which is also noted in Strauss’ paper): “If he is alone, there is news in his mouth.”  So, I ask, “who talks like that?”  Seriously, I can’t even imagine saying such a thing, unless I was intentionally trying to sound like an overly wooden Bible translation (which I’ve been known to do on occasion for comic effect, see my use of “with child” in a previous post).  I don’t even see what you gain from such a translation.  It’s just odd, plain and simple.

So, here are the links for the paper.  But I want to make some preliminary comments for my readers:

1. I am a whole-hearted believer that for in-depth study of the Bible, you are better off using translations from multiple translation philosophies, simply for the fact that no translation gets it entirely right.  We even mention this in our Learning the Bible article (where we recommend the ESV under the “literal” category).  So, I’m not arguing that the ESV isn’t worth using.  I’m just saying that it’s far enough from normal English that it’s hard to use it on an every day basis when other translations are available.

2. I don’t think this is a matter of using a more formal or educated form of English.  “There is news in his mouth” is not formal English.  It does not sound educated.  For the record, I believe that we ought to teach and use proper English grammar.  That isn’t to say that mine is always perfect (in fact, I’ve noticed grammatical problems in this post, which I’ll leave as is out of sheer laziness), though I’ll point out that I’m one of about 5 people on the planet who still make a strong effort to avoid split infinitives.

3. I think Mounce brings up a good point.  Sometimes Strauss’ language is a bit inflammatory, specifically when he says that the ESV translators didn’t “consider” a possible translation.  I’m not sure how Strauss could have such knowledge, unless he was there when they were making decisions (and he wasn’t) or got a play-by-play breakdown from someone who was present (highly doubtful).  He’s better off not pretending to know what they did or did not consider and stick with what’s actually on the page in front of him.  With that said, it doesn’t negate his many valid points.

4. It’s helpful to remember that Strauss’ paper is entitled: Why the English Standard Version (ESV) should not become the Standard English Version.  It isn’t Why the ESV is an Imperfect Translation, because any translation could have been critiqued.  The question is whether or not the ESV should be the standard translation.  I’m amazed at how many people argue that very thing- that the ESV is the best translation around and should be the most widely used English translation.  The thought of a translation that causes me to say “who talks like that?” becoming the standard translation is a baffling one to me.  It’s good for what it is, but it’s hardly “standard.”

5. I learned my lesson back in seminary from Dr Roy Ciampa, who blasted me on a paper for an overly wooden translation.  In our exegesis papers, we were to provide a translation at the beginning that reflected our exegetical decisions, providing the defense of those decisions in the body of the paper.  I won’t give my actual translation (sorry, it’s embarassing), but I translated a phrase awkwardly, then said in the body of the paper, “this means _____.”  Ciampa’s comment in the margin was telling: “if it means that, then why don’t you translate it that way?”  Ouch.  Point taken.

Anyway, here are the posts, in order with the titles.  I’ll warn you, the formatting is a little weird, but you’ll figure it out.  Thanks to Wayne Leman for taking the time to put these up, to Mark Strauss for making his paper available, and to William Mounce for his response.

Mark Strauss’ Paper

Why the English Standard Version (ESV) should not become the Standard English Version

Oops Translations in the ESV (this one made me laugh out loud at points)

Idioms Missed in the ESV

ESV Lexical Errors and Problems

Exegetical Errors in the ESV

Collocational Clashes in the ESV

ESV Archaisms

Inconsistent Gender-Language in the ESV

Awkward and Unnatural Style in the ESV

Word Order Problems

Run-on Sentences and Tortured English

Mistranslated Genitives

Conclusion (at the end of this post is a link to download the entire paper in a pdf format)

William Mounce’s Response

Go here.  It’s a little ways down in the post.

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