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.

March 3, 2010 Posted by | Bible versions, translation practice | , , , | 13 Comments