Wednesday, June 24, 2009

ESV and KJV: Is the kingdom of God become words or syllables?

I would like to recommend to you this informative post on the Aberration Blog - a new biblioblog - for those who are keeping count! It provides some useful insight into Leland Ryken's involvement in Bible translation.

Bryon discusses an article written by Ryken on Bible translation. First, Ryken lists the stated goals of many other recent translations and then discusses them. Bryon continues,
    Ryken seems to suggest indirectly that these people are sloppy.
    “It is easy to miss what is being denied in these statements…What is being denied is that the translator has any responsibility to translate the exact words of the original (poster's emphasis)
This is consistent with the preface of the ESV,

    The ESV is an “essentially literal” translation that seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. As such, its emphasis is on “word-for-word” correspondence, at the same time taking into account differences of grammar, syntax, and idiom between current literary English and the original languages. Thus it seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original.

The preface to the KJV, however, which the ESV seeks to emulate, states,

    An other thing we thinke good to admonish thee of (gentle Reader) that wee have not tyed our selves to an uniformitie of phrasing, or to an identitie of words, as some peradventure would wish that we had done, because they observe, that some learned men some where, have beene as exact as they could that way.

    Truly, that we might not varie from the sense of that which we had translated before, if the word signified the same thing in both places (for there bee some wordes that bee not of the same sense every where) we were especially carefull, and made a conscience, according to our duetie.

    But, that we should expresse the same notion in the same particular word; as for example, if we translate the Hebrew or Greeke word once by Purpose, never to call it Intent; if one where Journeying, never Traveiling; if one where Thinke, never Suppose; if one where Paine, never Ache; if one where Joy, never Gladnesse, &c. Thus to minse the matter, wee thought to savour more of curiositie then wisedome, and that rather it would breed scorne in the Atheist, then bring profite to the godly Reader. For is the kingdome of God become words or syllables?

The King James Bible did not have the goal of using "the same English word for important recurring words in the original" as the ESV does. This is a well known contrast, I am sure, but I hope it provides a good background for other thinking about Bible translation.


CD-Host said...

A bible that does in fact use the 1 greek word (or 1 hebrew word) -> 1 english word is the concordant bible. If people want to give it a shot it is out of copyright and available at

J. K. Gayle said...

Is שִׁבּוֹלֶת just one word? Some just try to call it "shibboleth." Literally, it means something like, "an ear of corn" or a "grain stalk." Dylan Thomas translates it "the synagogue of the ear of corn" in "A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London." But, of course, most English Bibles (ESV) included transliterate it (not translate it word-for-word) in Judges 12:5-6 - as if to "pronounce it right."