Translations and Paraphrases
As we discussed in the lessons on the Old Testament and the New Testament, the texts of the Bible were originally written in a variety of languages. This lesson will discuss the different ways in which the difficult task of translating Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, and Latin texts into English is tackled.
I. Two Approaches to Translation
Broadly speaking, there are two basic approaches to translating the Scriptures (or actually any text from one language into another):
1. Complete (or formal) equivalency or correspondence: a literal translation, even going so far as to preserve the original wording or word order.
An extreme example of such a translation is the Septuagint (Greek) version of the Hebrew Scriptures. The ancient translators, revering the Sacred Text as the Word of God, took a very literal approach. "Sometimes their Greek is so close to the Hebrew original that it must have been almost unintelligible to a pagan." (The Hebrew Christ, Claude Tresmontant). The translators often just kept the original Hebrew word order, which was verb-first in the sentence and unlike the Greek subject-first order. So, the translation would sound much as this might sound to our ears: "He learned, Jacob, that there was grain in Egypt, and he said, Jacob, to his sons...." This did not sound any more normal to Greek ears than it does to ours!
|Sts. Peter and Paul, El Greco|
So, many of the ancient translators used a very strict standard. They translated the Biblical text with the express idea of keeping the actual words as close to the original as possible. Whether the translation was understandable in the new language was not of such great concern to them.
You want to use a more literal translation when you are undertaking word studies and serious Bible study.
Neither the King James Version (KJV) nor the Douay-Rheims translation were based directly on the original languages. Both are translations of St. Jerome's very literal Latin Vulgate.
2) Dynamic equivalence: a type of translation that attempts to preserve the meaning of the text, as opposed to the original grammar, word order, or phrasing.
So, a translator using a dynamic equivalent approach, is going to be sure that the text (as he or she understands it)
is clearly understandable in the new language. Using the quote above, such a translator might render it something like: "Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, and he said to his sons...." In this case, there is little change in meaning, but that is not always the situation. In fact, since the basic idea behind this technique is to capture the meaning of the text, the translation can be heavily influenced by the theological outlook of the translator himself. Not only can the original meaning be obscured, but the text is often so loosely and inconsistently translated that word studies become extremely difficult to do.
A more dynamic translation can be a good choice if you just want to read through the Bible and get an overview of the text.
|Q, of the Continuum!|
All modern Bible translations fall on a continuum which extends from very literal (formal equivalency) translations all the way to extremely loose (dynamic equivalency) translations. (Hey, you try to find images for this post...just sayin'!)
From most literal to most dynamic:
King James Version
New King James Version
New American Standard
Revised Standard Version
New International Version
New Jerusalem Bible
New English Bible
Revised English Bible
Contemporary English Version
Good News Bible (A.K.A. Today's English Version)
Inclusive language is a term that expresses a current trend to change gender-based terms to gender-inclusive terms. Inclusive language can, on the one hand, simply clarify meaning. Thus, it is an approved use of inclusive language to say "brothers and sisters" in place of "brethren", as the traditional meaning of "brethren" included both men and women. On the other hand, the use of phrases such as "one" to replace "man" or "personkind" to replace "mankind" actually affects understanding by undermining the theological and philisophical ideas that Adam (literally, man) was create in God's image, that woman was created from man, and that we are all of one type of being which is "man". The use of such terms for mankind also obscures the whole idea behind OT texts that refer to Christ as "the man" and that link Him to Adam ("man"). Finally, God has presented Himself as a Father and the Church honors His will in this case. While God is neither male nor female, and while there are some Scriptures that describe God in feminine terms, the Church intends to respect God's own revealed self-description and uses "Father", "He", "Son", and so on to refer to God. Use of inclusive language in this last instance is not allowed by the Church. EWTN provides a more extensive discussion.
In addition to translations, there are also paraphrases. A paraphrase is not based on the original languages of the Bible, but on a re-wording of an English translation. So, if I took the first verse of the Gospel of John, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God...", I could paraphrase it myself by writing something like, "The Word, Who was God, existed in the very beginning....". I just put the English translation into my own words, and, voila! a paraphrase. The most familiar paraphrase today is probably the Living Bible.
IV. Choosing a Bible
For an in-depth examination of several available Catholic bibles, you may want to read over this article at EWTN.
No Homework! It was all included in Day 8's lesson!
Main Idea: Bible translations range from very literal to very loose. The more literal the translation, the better the Bible will be for in-depth study.
Next lesson: Bible Study Aids