God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

On “Hearing the Word the Way it Was Written”

The updated NIV has been released on-line. According both to an interview with Douglas Moo and to the translators’ notes (available in PDF format), one goal of the NIV is “hearing the Word the way it was written,” which, Dr. Moo explains, means “trying to reflect in English something of the form of the original text.”

I’ve already explained why I think mimicking the form of the original is a bad idea.

I’m not sure what “reflect” means when Dr. Moo says he wants to “reflect … the form of the original.” It sounds like he means “mimic.”

But to properly translate Hebrew or Greek into English, the Hebrew and Greek forms have to be translated into appropirate English ones, not merely mimicked, just as vocubulary has to be translated.

For example, the Greek word isuchia has a variety of possible English translations: “Silence,” “quiet,” “quietude,” “quietness,” etc. are all reasonable choices. But the way to decide among these possibilites is not to ask which has the most sounds in common with the Greek isuchia, or which has the same number of syllables, or to look at any other formal quality of the word. For instance, it’s usually a bad idea to rule out “silence” as a translation because it has only half the number of syllables as the Greek, or because it has two sibilant sounds (“s”) where the Greek has only one.

It is the same kind of mistake to think that the English translation for en isuchia must have two words, and that one of them must be “in,” to match the Greek en. Yet in I Timothy 2:11 that’s exactly what we find in the (old and new) NIV: “A women should learn in quietness.” This translation is all the more astonishing because just one verse later, the same Greek phrase is correctly translated as “[she must be] quiet,” not “[she must be] in quietness.”

I chose these verses because — as David Ker points out (in a PDF as part of a post) — NIV11 changed some of the wording here. So we know that the translation committee took note of this passage.

My point is not to highlight a mistake — I know as well as anyone that publishing a translation means publishing at least one mistake. Rather, I wonder about the approach that led to “in quietness” even being considered, let alone accepted.

It seems like a case of “hearing the Word the way it was written,” and, I think, it highlights the drawbacks of that approach.


November 1, 2010 - Posted by | translation practice, translation theory | , , ,

1 Comment

  1. Are you saying that the word is adverbial? As in “learn quietly” or “quietly learn”?

    Comment by WoundedEgo | November 1, 2010

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