God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

The Subjective Nature of Imagery

In response to my recent post about idioms, and, in particular, the translation “lifted up his eyes,” Bob MacDonald suggests that “Eyes lifted up or eyes downcast are both indicative of the mood of the subject. They seem to me to be inherently material and literal in a good way.”

Whether or not that makes “lifted up his eyes” a good translation, his comment highlights another important issue for translation: Imagery is subjective.

For me, “downcast eyes” are a sign of sorrow. In parts of South America, “downcast eyes” are a sign of respect.

I’m pretty sure it would be a mistake to impose our modern cultural notions on the Bible, so we shouldn’t assume that its authors used imagery exactly the same way we do. But what is a translator to do when the most natural translation of the imagery gives the wrong impression?

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September 11, 2009 Posted by | translation theory | , , | 5 Comments

How (Not To) Talk About Translation

A recent post by Nick Norelli cites Cicero, who translated not “word for word, but [by preserving] the character and energy of the language throughout.”

A response by John C. Poirier suggests that the NIV’s “dynamic translation” (his scare quotes) of 1 Cor 12:28 misses the point when it translates dunamis as “those who do miracles.”

The debate should sound familiar: Is word-for-word translation good?

My point here is to suggest that debates about theories should be about the the theories themselves, not particular applications of the theory. Maybe the NIV is right. Maybe not. But that really has no bearing on Cicero, or on Nick’s point in citing him.*

There are translation mistakes in the ESV. But that shouldn’t be how we judge the merit of “essentially literal” translation. There are mistakes in the NIV, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that their philosophy is wrong.

I think the better approach is to decide on our criteria for translation. Then we can see which translations best meet those criteria.

(*)For the record, I’m citing Nick citing The New Testament in Antiquity citing Cicero, in translation, of course.

September 11, 2009 Posted by | translation theory | , , , , | 5 Comments