God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

Top Translation Traps: Pretending Some Words Don’t Exist

The KJV popularized the tradition of using italics to mark the English words of a translation that are not actually in the original Hebrew or Greek (or Aramaic) of the Bible.

But I think this typographic custom creates the false impression that translation words come in two varieties, with the first kind supposedly representing words that are really in the original, and the second (italicized) those that are not.

For example, Revelation 1:1 in the KJV reads, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ…; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John.” The thinking was that the Greek doesn’t have a word for “it” here, and that this fact is important to a reader of the passage in English.

As it happens, the Greek in Revelation 1:1 also doesn’t have a word for “he” here, but my point is not that the KJV did a bad job of applying the italics (though I think that it did), but rather that it’s a bad idea in general, because it propagates two wrong notions.

What does “only implied” mean?

First, it gives the impression that there are two kinds of words in a translation, some “really” in the original, some only implied by the original. But I think that all of the English words are “only implied” by the original. After all, the original contains no English words.
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January 26, 2010 Posted by | translation theory, Translation Traps | , , , | 11 Comments

A Sweet Translation

I stumbled across this blog post that laments what the author calls “Cultural Diabetes.” She starts by pointing out that Americans (in particular) have become so accustomed to sweetened food that anything unsweetened seems unacceptable, but her point is that the problem is more widespread:

Just as the American palette cannot bear the taste of non-sweet foods, our brains and appetite for news and information seem unable to process or stomach anything that hasn’t been coated in a fine sugary glaze.

I wonder if the same hasn’t become true of Bible translations.

And I wonder if modern translations — in particular, the wildly popular The Message — aren’t like overly sweet food: they seem appealing, but they dull the reader to the subtle underlying beauty of the original.


January 26, 2010 Posted by | Bible versions | , , , , | 4 Comments