Mistranslation Pet Peves and the ISV

The International Standard Version, print edition

Let’s face it:  Translation of any sort is tricky work.

If you try to translate strictly word-for-word, you risk losing the real meaning of the text by not explaining the idioms.  Remember Back to the Future, where Marty keeps saying, “Whoah, that’s heavy”?  All of us who remember 1988 knew exactly what it meant, but Doc Brown didn’t:  “There’s that word again; “heavy”. Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the earth’s gravitational pull?”

On the other hand, as soon as you start explaining the idioms and trying to express the text’s thought-for-thought instead of word-for-word–a dynamic-equivalent translation–you’ve just interposed yourself between the text and the reader.  You’re no longer simply a translator; you’re also a commentator, but one whose commentary is embedded in such a way that the average reader won’t realize that he’s reading your thoughts as much as the text.

So my hat’s automatically off to anyone who tries to do a good, solid translation of the Biblical text.  It’s hard work, and it often makes you the target of those who don’t like your particular translation choices and who will accuse you of heresy and conspiracy at the drop of a hat.  But the fact is that we need new translations on a regular basis, both to keep up with the evolution of English and to keep up with the latest research into Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

So why the heck do so many obvious mistranslations from the KJV keep cropping up in later, supposedly completely independent translation work?  Let me tackle two of my pet peeves, just to give examples (links go to more in-depth articles that I wrote for Hebrew Root):

Acts 21:20
The Greek word translated “thousands” here is muriades (μυριάδες), which means not “thousands,” but “tens of thousands.”  If only “thousands” were intended, the word chiliades (χιλιάδες) would have been used instead.  You correctly translate muriades in Rev. 5:11.

As a Messianic Jew, I am continually baffled by my Sunday brethren’s consistant error in underselling the number of believing Jews in the First Century by a whole order of magnitude.

Hebrews 4:9
Most modern translations at least improve on the error of the KJV here, but do not really go far enough.  The word commonly translated as “Sabbath rest” is sabbatismos (σαββατισμος), which is incorrectly rendered in the KJV and NKJV as simply “rest.”  Thayer’s Lexicon notes that the correct translation is “a keeping sabbath.”  Likewise, Barnes’ writes in his Notes on this verse,

It properly means “a keeping Sabbath” from σαββατίζω  sabbatizō – “to keep Sabbath.” This word, not used in the New Testament, occurs frequently in the Septuagint; Exo. 16:30; Lev. 23:32; Lev. 26:35; 2Ch. 36:21; and in 3 Esdr. 1:58; 2 Macc. 6:6.

Why was the translation very deliberately fudged?  Most likely because the KJV translators didn’t want to admit that even the NT there’s a command to keep the Biblical Sabbath.

In several of his recent commentaries, Dr. Chuck Missler–a KJV enthusiast, but not an onlyast by any means–has mentioned the upcoming International Standard Version in glowing terms.  It was enough to get me curious, so I downloaded the NT for e-Sword (the Tanakh isn’t yet available) and started reading it alongside my other translations.  My first impression was pretty favorable.  Yes, there were things I’d have done differently, but there was also a lot to admire.  For example, they have rendered “Christ” as “Messiah”–not because this is a Messianic translation (it clearly isn’t) but because they wanted to divert their readers from thinking of Christ as a surname rather than a title.

So naturally enough I flipped (or clicked, really) back to see how they had translated my pet peeves and . . . . they did it again!  Why can’t anyone get these relatively simple translation errors fixed?  I mean, I understand the controversy that would arise around the Hebrews passage, but what would be the problem of getting the number of Jewish believers in Acts 21 right?

So I wrote them.  I expected that my email would go into a slush pile, maybe come back a few days later with a  “Thank you for your thoughts” sort of form reply.  I was therefore very surprised, and very pleased, that I received back a personal reply from Dr. William P. Welty (who, if you’ve not heard of him, or read his material, you really should; here’s his webpage).  He was very personable and agreeable, addressing not just the above two issues but some other thoughts that I’d had on the ISV (including passing on my request that they produce a study Bible edition at some point).

But the exciting thing is that he agreed to amend the ISV to address my concerns.  Specifically, the next edition will read:

Acts 21:20 “When they heard about it, they praised God and told him, “You see, brother, how many tens of thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and all of them are zealous for the Law.”

Heb. 4:9  There remains, therefore, a Sabbath rest for the people of God to keep, 10because the one who enters God’s[1] rest has himself rested from his own actions, just as God did[2] from his.


[1] 4:10 Lit. his

[2] 4:10 The Gk. lacks did

To me, the quick response and willingness to so quickly fix some translation quibble from, let’s face it, a relative nobody who just happened to email him out of the blue speaks volumes for Dr. Welty’s personal humility and integrity, as well as for that of the ISV as a whole.  While I have other concerns regarding some other passages (in Paul’s letters in particular) that stem from a Torah-observant viewpoint–which I did not raise in this email–I’m already feeling very favorably disposed towards the ISV and am looking forward to their translation of the Tanakh.

In particular, I can’t wait to see how their use of the DSS over the Masoretic affects the translation.

Shalom

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4 Replies to “Mistranslation Pet Peves and the ISV”

  1. Wow, cool.

    My pet peeve (amongst others) is in the translation of the ‘by faith’ passages in Hebrews where the ‘by faith Moses was hid’ of the KJV (and the Greek) becomes ‘by faith Moses’s parents…’ of the NIV and others… totally ruining the parallelism over the life of Moses.

    Ignoring, of course, the horrible translations like ‘The Message’ which, among other horrors, translate the ‘Kurios’ of I Pet 3 as ‘my dear husband’… politically correcting one of Scripture’s least politically correct passages.

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  2. KJV on Moses:

    Heb 11:23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment.
    Heb 11:24 By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter;
    Heb 11:25 Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;
    Heb 11:26 Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.
    Heb 11:27 By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.

    IAV on Moses:

    Heb 11:23 By faith Moshe, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment.
    Heb 11:24 By faith Moshe, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter;
    Heb 11:25 Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of Elohim, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;
    Heb 11:26 Esteeming the reproach of Moshiach greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.
    Heb 11:27 By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.
    Heb 11:28 Through faith he kept the Passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them.

    Mistranslation of the NIV:

    23 By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.

    24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.

    Notice how they even seperate them as paragraphs!

    The Greek, KJV, and IAV all have all the verses with ‘Moses’ as the subject/focus: in the first verse as the passive recipient, in the others as the active subject, but always the subject. The NIV mistranslates the first verse as ‘By faith Moses’s parents’… transforming them into the subject/focus.

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