God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

The Paradox of Translation

Scot McKnight suggests that, “The sweeping conclusion is this: unless you can read the original languages, you should avoid making public pronouncements about which translation is best.” (emphasis his).

This is yet another example of a fundamental dilemma in translation: the only people capable of doing translation don’t need it. More importantly, the only people capable of creating a translation of the Bible are often unable to judge what it’s like for others to read the Bible only in their translation.

For example, if I know Biblical Hebrew and modern English (which I do), how can I judge what it’s like for someone who doesn’t have this knowledge to read my translation?

I think this is one of the major causes of what I can only call clear nonsense in translations by otherwise qualified scholars.


September 7, 2009 - Posted by | translation theory | ,


  1. ! Yes this a a valid point. It is hammered down well by George Steiner in his wonderful book After Babel – he states also that we can never really know or feel the original authors intentions through translations of their work, especially historical texts.

    Steiner emphasises this point by expressing how one needs to have knowledge of 15th century shipping terminology to “get” some of the humour from The Merchant of Venice, and similary in other works we need to have deep knowledge of the world the author lives in to contextualise the text correctly and appreciate the content.

    Comment by eknxtm | September 9, 2009

  2. I don’t always agree with Steiner, but I’ve included his book as recommended reading in most of my classes on translation.

    I discovered the book a long time ago, when I saw it referenced in Douglas Hofstadter’s Godel Escher Bach. As chance would have it, just yesterday I saw here that an e-group is forming to read and study Hofstadter’s work.

    Comment by Joel | September 9, 2009

    • Hi Joel,

      Thanks for the link, looks quite intriguing.


      Comment by Elliot | September 9, 2009

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.