God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

Preserving Parallel Passages

John Hobbins has an interesting analysis of near-parallel passages in Mark 1:16-18 and Matthew 4:18-20.

I’m struck by the fact that I can’t find a translation that makes it possible to follow along in English. (I have a table below.)

The KJV, for reasons I can’t fathom, adds the word “Jesus” to Matthew, and it misses the different wording (“trap-throwing” vs. “throwing a trap net”) between the two passages.

The NAB does better, only missing the different wording for “make you [to be] fishers of men.”

The NLT almost completely masks the differences between the passages.

The NRSV adds the word “Jesus” to Mark, and otherwise masks the differences between the passages.

The NIV adds the word “Jesus” to both Mark and Matthew, and it, too, nearly completely masks the differences between the passages.

Thse are, of course, not trivial passages, and they must have received a good deal of attention. How, then, do all of the translations so poorly match the Greek?

(Regarding “fishermen”/”fishers of men” etc., see our discussion in Scripture Zealot.)

Comparison of Translations

Mark 1:16-18 Matthew 4:18-20
J. Hobins: And while passing along the sea of Galilee he saw Simon and Simon’s brother Andrew trap-throwing at sea for they were fisherman, and Jesus said to them, “Come, after me, and I’ll make you to be fishers of men.” And leaving the nets right then they followed him. While walking along the sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon known as Peter and his brother Andrew throwing a trap net into the sea for they were fishermen, and he says to them, “Come, after me, and I’ll make you fishers of men.” Leaving the nets right then, they followed him.
KJV Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him. And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.
NAB As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Then they abandoned their nets and followed him. As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him.
NLT One day as Jesus was walking along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother, Andrew, fishing with a net, for they were commercial fishermen. Jesus called out to them, “Come, be my disciples, and I will show you how to fish for people!” And they left their nets at once and went with him. One day as Jesus was walking along the shore beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers — Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew — fishing with a net, for they were commercial fishermen. Jesus called out to them, “Come, be my disciples, and I will show you how to fish for people!” And they left their nets at once and went with him.
NRSV As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea — for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea — for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him.
NIV As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him.
NAB As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Then they abandoned their nets and followed him. As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him.
ESV Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him.
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September 3, 2009 - Posted by | Bible versions, translation practice, translation theory | , , , , , , ,

3 Comments »

  1. I don’t understand why KJV added “Jesus” either, though it does help to have it there.

    As a general rule, the more literal translations are going to capture more of the differences across parallel passages than the less literal translations.

    The question for me is theological. Are the differences there for a reason? Do they express different takes on a single block of tradition, and does each take have its own integrity and deserve to be heard? I so believe, and therefore, I am in favor of translations, literal and less literal, that transfer the differences from source to receptor.

    Comment by John Hobbins | September 6, 2009 | Reply

  2. I guess that KJV, NRSV and NLT add in “Jesus” for clarity. This verse begins a paragraph, and that paragraph break is pretty ancienct, since it is recorded in the Eusebian canons). In English, writing a whole paragraph without identifying the subject (for Mt 4:18-22) might be considered unclear. I’ve seen this practice of identifying an unstated subject in translation in other places in the NT.

    In regard to failing to translate differences between parallel passages: could this be because 1) the two passages are translated by different committee members and 2) the translation committee does not highly value translating such relatively minor differences?

    Comment by Gary Manning | September 14, 2009 | Reply

    • My fellow Gary: I would think that translation by different committees should actually produce distinct renditions. I think the point you bring up actually adds to the paradox rather than giving an explanation.

      Comment by Gary Simmons | November 5, 2009 | Reply


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