God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

What to do with significant Bible mistranslations?

In a comment on Dr. Claude Mariottini’s excellent blog, a reader named Daniel asks: “Since we have cleared up centuries of inferior translating, and presumably inferior application, now we should do …?”

It’s an excellent question.

Normally when we find a better way of doing things, we move on: “Out with the old and in with the new.” But as I frequently point out when I present to communities, “out with the old and in with the new” is not a phrase commonly heard in seminary.

At first glance, part of the problem concerns passages that are so familiar that everyone knows them. But it seems to me that if a biblical passage was new and innovative, it’s actually a mistake to translate it as a familiar quotation. (This kind of thinking quickly leads to the irony of the first time that “there’s nothing new under the sun” was penned, and other dilemmas that are a little too close to Eastern philosophy for my rational mind.)

More generally, though, we expect a certain amount of familiarity in a Bible translation. This makes it hard to change familiar but wrong translations.

I think that the first part of answering Daniel’s question is whether we should keep a familiar but wrong translation. If not, we have a lot more work to do deciding how to fix things. But if we’re going to keep things the same, we at least have a final answer.

So here are three examples of the problem, which, in my mind, represent three different kinds of issues:

1. The last commandment is more accurately translated “do not take,” not “do not covet.”

2. The word “shepherd” in Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd”) is a mistranslation that hides the original image of might and power.

3. The opening line of Genesis is better translated as “It was in the beginning that God created…”

Should we “correct” these in future Bible translations? Keep them the same? Something else?

What do you think?

April 6, 2011 Posted by | translation theory | , , , | 17 Comments