God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

Bible Translation: Where Melody and Mirrors Merge

Still following up on my question about accuracy and choosing Bible translations, and by way of answering my question about whether it’s okay if people choose what the Bible is, it occurs to me that music might be a useful comparison.

Many, many parts of the Bible have been set to music, and the options for any single passage usually range considerably. So people get to choose, for example, if they want Isaiah to be majestic or meditative, or if they want the Lord’s Prayer to be glorious, powerful, or pensive.

And most people — myself included — don’t see any problem with this. We should be able to choose how we want our religious music to sound.

But most people also agree — and again, I’m one of them — that we don’t get to choose what our religious texts mean, or, at least, that the options are more constrained.

So it seems to me that another way of looking of the question of choosing a Bible translation is this: Should a Bible translation be more like a melody (where everything is fair game), or more like a mirror (where accuracy is paramount)?


July 12, 2010 - Posted by | translation theory, using Bible translations | , , ,


  1. Speaking of mirrors…

    I’m of the opinion that when Paul says “now we see through a reflecting device in enigmas…” he was referring to the practice of scrying. This is the practice of gazing at a reflecting device until you start to have visions.

    I think this is implied in Ezekiel as well when he sat staring at the river for a week before having his whacked out enigmas.

    Comment by WoundedEgo | July 12, 2010

    • Well, we weren’t exactly speaking of physical mirrors, but thanks. 🙂

      Comment by Joel H. | July 12, 2010

  2. Possibly the direct, factual meaning should be like a mirror, while the overtones could be according to taste, as no one translation will be able to mirror it perfectly in the first place.

    Comment by John | July 12, 2010

    • John: What do you think about tone, register, etc.? Should those be mirrored, too? Or can they be adjusted to taste?

      Comment by Joel H. | July 12, 2010

      • I was considering the possibility that at least in one type of translation, these facets of the text might be suited to taste. Of course the ideal ‘perfect translation’ would not do such a thing, but no such perfect translation exists, and a variety of translations that do not try to mirror everything may as a whole give a good idea of the text.

        Comment by John | July 12, 2010

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