Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Translation Notes 3: Psalm 100:3

I apologize at the beginning that this is a somewhat technical post, but many of them will be, due to the nature of the case.

So. Why is it that some translations of Psalm 100:3 have “and we are his,” while others have “and not we ourselves”? In short, because of the Ketiv-Qere (see Translation Notes 2). The consonantal Hebrew text (the Ketiv) in Psalm 100:3 has the word lw’ (note the apostrophe, as it stands for a Hebrew consonant), which means “not.” But the Masoretic scribes have it marked to indicate that it should be read (the Qere) as lw (note: no apostrophe), which means “to him” or “his.” Some translations have followed the advice of the Masoretic scribes, and translated according to the Qere (ESV, HCSB, NLT, NIV84, NIV11), while others (NKJV, NASB, NASBUpdate) have followed the Ketiv. The question is why there is not unity, with all following the Qere.

The answer is that the rest of the textual evidence is mixed. The manuscript that underlies the text of the academic Hebrew Bible (Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia) has the Ketiv and Qere as noted above. However, many other Hebrew manuscripts have the Qere written into the text. That is, those manuscripts have no Ketiv-Qere marking. The Septuagint (LXX) has “and not we ourselves” which indicates either that the translator followed the Ketiv, or in the text he translated from there was no Qere marking. In addition, the Vulgate follows the Ketiv. Perhaps it too was translated from a text not having the Qere marking, or perhaps it was influenced by the LXX. The Targum of the Psalms has “we are his,” as does Jerome in a translation of the Psalms that he did separately from his translation of the Vulgate.

As a result, the evidence is mixed, and translation committees have simply come to different conclusions as to which reading should be preferred. However, the reader should note that neither translation is problematic from a theological point of view. We certainly belong to God, and we certainly did not make ourselves.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Translational Notes 2

Additional sources for textual information
In addition to the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the Syriac version, there are two more major sources for tracing differences in translations. These are the targums and the Dead Sea scrolls materials. The targums are Aramaic translations/paraphrases of the Old Testament text. The primary Targum of the Pentateuch is Targum Onkelos (or Onqelos), while that on the prophets is Targum Jonathan. There has never been any primary or official Targum for the third section of the Hebrew Bible, the Writings. The quality of the targums varies, sometimes being very close to the Hebrew text, sometimes adding material.

The Dead Sea scrolls (DSS) material has become increasingly significant as the various scrolls and fragments have been published, especially over the last twenty years. Almost all the books of the Old Testament are represented among the scrolls, though some of the remains are only fragmentary. In general, the DSS have served to confirm the high quality and faithfulness of the copying of the Hebrew texts over the centuries as they eventually developed into today’s printed Hebrew Bibles. However, they remain a source for study relative to particular passages.

Additional Bible versions not treated
In addition to the versions mentioned in the first post, there are two commonly-used versions that I will not deal with. First, these versions are not ordinarily used by evangelicals. Second, the translation philosophies are heavily influenced by a commitment to theological liberalism. The first is the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). The NRSV appeared in 1989, and is the standard academic translation of the Bible in the USA. Most editions of the Bible required in college and university Bible classes use the NRSV text. Perhaps the most widely used editions are the Oxford Annotated Bible and the HarperCollins Study Bible. Until recently, the NRSV was widely used in the mainline churches, such as the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Methodist Church and others. In fact, it is probably still widely used in those denominations. However, in 2011, the Common English Bible (CEB) appeared under the auspices of the PC (USA), Episcopal Church Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church. As with the NRSV, it is committed to a gender-neutral approach to translating, as well as having the theologically liberal slant of its supporting denominations. The primary difference between the two is that the CEB is a simple-language translation, while the NRSV is more formal in style and in word choice.

One additional note
In the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible, there is a system of text-critical notes made by the scribes. These are cases where the consonantal text says one thing, but the received understanding of the text says something else. Rather than change the characters in the text, the scribes would simply mark the text, and give the correct form in the margin. It would be something like is an English text said “than” but was supposed to say “then” and rather than changing the text, editors simply marked the word and gave the correct reading in the margin. This system is called Ketiv-Qere, and I will say more about it next time in explaining Psalm 100:3.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Translation Notes 1

There are probably six (or eight, depending on how you count them) Bible translations in common use in evangelical churches in the United States. They are: the New King James Version (NKJV); the New American Standard Bible (NASB); the New International Version (NIV); the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB); the New Living Translation (NLT); and the English Standard Version (ESV). Both the NASB and the NIV are available in updated versions. The original NASB dates to 1977, while the updated version appeared in 1995. The NIV original dates to 1984, while the update appeared in 2011.

If a pastor uses the NIV, and congregants have one or more of the other versions mentioned here, there will sometimes be a difference between what the congregant hears from the pastor as he reads what the congregant sees on the page in front of him. Most of the time, the differences will be minimal, and the listener can easily see the source of the differences between the two versions. Sometimes, however, the differences are jarring, and cannot be easily reconciled by the listener. So, for example, if the pastor reads Psalm 100 from the NIV, when he gets to verse 3, he will read, “Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” That will be fine with the readers of the NLT or the ESV, but not for those reading the NKJV or the NASB. The reader of one of these two latter versions will have something like this in front of him: “Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.” (NASB) The primary difference between the two renderings is in that phrase “and we are his,” or “and not we ourselves.” The reader is left wondering which one is right, or if it is possible to get one from the other. Unless the pastor addresses the difference, the solution (even with the marginal note that the versions will have) is not easy to see.

It is my intent to address these kinds of differences in a number of succeeding posts. However, some general remarks will help at the beginning of this exercise. Some of the differences are caused by the differing philosophies of translation that were adopted by the committees that produced the translations. In broad terms, the two philosophies used today are the formal equivalence and the functional equivalence approaches. The former approach produces such translations as the NKJV, the NASB, and the ESV. The latter approach produces the NIV and the NLT, and, to a lesser extent, the HCSB. I have dealt to some extent with these approaches in earlier posts, but for good introductions to the two approaches, I recommend The Word of God in English by Leland Ryken and How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Mark Strauss. The former book espouses the formal equivalent approach, while the latter book argues for the functional equivalence approach.

Some of the differences are caused by the text the translators are relying on. All of the translation committees begin with the  Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT) of the Bible (in the Old Testament) and the Greek New Testament. However, in some places the Hebrew of the MT is difficult, and translators will look to ancient versions for suggestions as to how a particular passage should be translated. The most significant of these versions are the Septuagint (LXX, the old Greek translation of the Old Testament), the Syriac (Syr, a translation done in a late dialect of Aramaic), and the Vulgate (Vg, the Latin translation first done by Jerome in the later fourth-early fifth century).

More general principles will follow in the next post.