God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

God’s Word and Joel 2:11

Thanks to Wayne at BBB for pointing out that the God’s Word translation (GW) has a new website.

One page on the site compares representative passages as translated in GW and other versions.

I noticed Joel 2:11, which GW translates as, “The day of the Lord is extremely terrifying. Who can endure it?” I was disappointed to find the poetry (and one of the words) of the Hebrew missing. Here’s the original:

ki gadol yom YHWH v’norah m’od umi y’chilenu
for great day-of ADONAI and-awe-inspiring very and-who contains-it

The passage is tricky for three reasons:

1. The Hebrew syntax here is important. The first part (ki gadol yom Adonai) is the normal way of saying “the Lord’s day is great.” But the addition of v’nora m’od (“and very awe-inspiring”) after the noun creates a second, intensifying phrase. It’s like, “great is the Lord’s day, and very awe-inspiring,” except that “great is the Lord’s day” is hardly normal English.

2. The word nora (“awful”? “awesome”? “awe-inspiring”? etc.) is hard to translate into English. The original idea is the sort of fearful admiration one might feel toward an encroaching lightning storm.

3. The final word normally means “to contain,” or maybe “to hold in.” The progression in meaning may have been similar to the English “to bear,” which is both “to carry” and “to endure.”

Working backward, GW’s choice of “endure it” is reasonable for (3).

“Terrifying” for norah at least has the benefit that it doesn’t seem worse to me than other reasonable choices.

But what happened to gadol and to the Hebrew syntax? I understand that any translation can accidentally miss a few words — I know I’ve published translations that in retrospect seem wrong to me — but the publishers of GW chose to highlight this verse as an example of their success.

So I’m left wondering what happened here.

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March 3, 2010 - Posted by | Bible versions, translation practice | , , ,

13 Comments »

  1. One problem with your suggested rendering is that, at least for Christian English speakers, “the Lord’s day” doesn’t mean the same as “the day of the Lord” – it means “Sunday”.

    Comment by Peter Kirk | March 3, 2010 | Reply

    • It’s a fair point, Peter. I wonder if “day of the Lord” means anything, though, to people who read it in English. I think this may have been a technical term along the lines of “Judgment Day” (or, of course, “Day of Judgment”).

      Comment by Joel H. | March 3, 2010 | Reply

      • Yes, that’s fair too. I know more or less what “the day of the Lord” means, but that’s because I have read Joel (the prophet) before. Others will only guess.

        Comment by Peter Kirk | March 3, 2010

    • That’s a real problem for English. Why do you distinguish them? Is there not one day and that one ever?

      Comment by Bob MacDonald | March 3, 2010 | Reply

  2. Natural English should never be used for Hebrew poetry. Hebrew poetry is by its nature foreign to us and the English result should stand us on our ears.

    Comment by Bob MacDonald | March 3, 2010 | Reply

    • Bob, a good translation of poetry should never mislead the target audience as to the identity of entities. So if the poem seems to be about Sunday but is in fact about the final day of judgment, when there is no such ambiguity or word play in the original, it is a bad translation.

      Comment by Peter Kirk | March 3, 2010 | Reply

      • I agree Peter – I would never use a contracted ‘s for such a phrase. I like the form A of B. The phrase the Lord’s day for Sunday is not common my tradition. So the equivalence of A of B and B’s A was a surprise for me. Then I thought – but are they not equivalent? Isn’t Sunday a reminder of the fullness of the one day of creation and redemption (Gen 2:4) and the day (the acceptable time) that we live in. It’s a troubled day also but it encompasses creation (Genesis 1) and its parallel form in the tabernacle and even the single day of the Gospel of John.

        Comment by Bob MacDonald | March 4, 2010

  3. Whether bad English or not, there’s an amazing effect in,

    “Great is the Day of the LORD, and terrible, and who can bear it?”

    As a kid raised bilingual and a preacher’s kid who read a lot of KJVEnglish growing up, that’s natural and poetic to me. But of course I’m still glad there’s people like you working on more natural sorts of translation for today, when “Great” and “Terrible” are no longer synonyms, and “bear” generally just means a big fuzzy v’norah animal.

    Comment by Mitchell Powell | March 3, 2010 | Reply

  4. […] Word translation (GW) has a new website. HT: God Didn’t Say That via BBB (be sure to read those links also if you’re […]

    Pingback by Around the Web | Scripture Zealot | March 5, 2010 | Reply

  5. I like this rendering:

    “for the day of Jehovah is great and very fear-inspiring, and who can hold up under it?”

    NWT

    Comment by Emeka | April 19, 2010 | Reply

  6. Isn’t “day” being used idiomatically for “time?”

    And doesn’t the Hebrew have “YHVH” instead of “Lord?”

    First of all, “Lord’s day” for Sunday is completely unscriptural, is it not? It should be expunged, not accommodated, no? It is based on the idea that John had his vision on the first day of the week, when in reality, his vision was of the day of YHVH of which Joel speaks.

    And I’m wondering if “endure” might not be trying to communicate “grasp” or “comprehend” what it will be like? Who has the capacity to take in the implications of such a thing? I don’t think that the sense is “who *will be* able to endure it” but rather, right *now*, who can fathom what this will actually be like when it happens. ?

    >>>I like this rendering:
    “for the day of Jehovah is great and very fear-inspiring, and who can hold up under it?”

    I’m just curious; are you a JW?

    I’m wondering if “great” doesn’t imply “really kewl” rather than “a really big deal.” “Great” also means “really large” and I don’t think that that is in view here. I think the idea here is *significance*.

    I guess I might offer:

    “YHVH’s time will be tremendously significant, deserving of tremendous fear, but can anyone comprehend just how significant and tremendous it will be?”

    Comment by WoundedEgo | April 19, 2010 | Reply

    • I might insert “…YHVH’s appointed time…” instead of just “YHVH’s time”.

      Comment by WoundedEgo | April 19, 2010 | Reply

      • Or maybe, “The time that YHVH chooses”… (“appointed” sounds like someone else appointed it)…

        Comment by WoundedEgo | April 19, 2010


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