God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

Translation Challenge: The Truth Will Set You Free

John 8:32 — “the truth will set you free” (i alitheia eleutherosei umas) — is one of the most well known lines in the Bible.

The key words are pretty easy to translate. The Greek alitheia is “truth” and eleutherow is the verb “to free.” So even thought we might prefer “the truth will free you,” the usual translation seems just fine.

But what the translation doesn’t capture is the similarity of sound between the two key words: aLiTHeia and eLeuTHerosei. (The -sei at the end is part of the verbal declension of eleutherow.)

John 8:32 is the second half of a thought that starts in 8:31. The usual renderings of 8:31 suggest more confusion regarding translation: “…if you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples” (NRSV); “…if you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples” (NIV); or “…if you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples” (NAB). The difficult word to translate in this context is meno.

I think we again find an important clue in the forms of the words. The conjugated form of meno (“continue,” “hold,” “remain,” or more generally “live”) is meinite, and the word for “disciples” is mathitai.

Taken in isolation, the similarity of forms hardly seems noteworthy (MeiniTe and MathiTai). But in conjunction with 8:32, I think we find two pairs of similar words.

So here’s the challenge: Can you think of a way of capturing that important effect in English?


June 9, 2010 Posted by | translation challenge, translation practice | , , , | 10 Comments