Posts Tagged “bible translation”

Pope Francis Philadelphia 2015 (cropped)This is one story I couldn’t resist commenting on. Not just because it’s about the relatively-unconventional Pope Francis, but also because it concerns Bible translation … which has been an interest of mine since I first learned Biblical Greek during the early 1980s (while I was a Protestant fundamentalist). As the New York Times (among many other outlets) reports, the Pope proposed that the common translations of a portion of the Lord’s Prayer may not reflect the original text (Archive.Is cached article):

It has been a question of theological debate and liturgical interpretation for years, and now Pope Francis has joined the discussion: Does the Lord’s Prayer, Christendom’s resonant petition to the Almighty, need an update?

In a new television interview, Pope Francis said the common rendering of one line in the prayer — “lead us not into temptation” — was “not a good translation” from ancient texts. “Do not let us fall into temptation,” he suggested, might be better because God does not lead people into temptation; Satan does.

“A father doesn’t do that,” the pope said. “He helps you get up right away. What induces into temptation is Satan.”

In essence, the pope said, the prayer, from the Book of Matthew, is asking God, “When Satan leads us into temptation, You please, give me a hand.”

The text of the Lord’s Prayer is found in Matthew 6:9-13, with a much briefer version in Luke 11:2-4. Here is the passage the Pope is talking about, from the (Catholic) New American Bible, and in the original Greek:

and do not subject us to the final test (Mt 6:13a)

και μη εισενευκης ημας εις πειρασμον (Mt 6:13a)

The language from Luke, for this particular passage (i.e. Lk 11:4c), is exactly the same, so I didn’t bother quoting it here.

It’s true there’s been some discussion over how best to translate this, and there’s been some dissatisfaction with most of the translations that have been offered.

Even so, the original Greek text does not agree with what the Pope proposes. Nowhere in this is it even implied — much less stated outright — that the supplicant is asking for God’s help when tempted. The original Greek definitely presumes God is instigating the “test.” εισενευκης (eiseneukés) is a form of the verb εισφερω (eisferó), meaning “to lead in, to carry in, to bring in.” Thus, “lead us not into temptation” is an entirely valid translation.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it when Pope Francis bucks Christian and Catholic convention. Few things in this world are in more desperate need of a stern challenge, than Christianity! But I just I can’t get on board with this.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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The history of Bible texts has long been something that’s interested me. Thus, I tend to keep my eyes open for new Bible translations that are proposed or produced. I came across a proposal recently that is so ridiculous, I’m forced to wonder how genuine it is. It’s a proposal for a “Conservative Bible,” to be hosted by that bastion of Right-wing philosophy, Conservapedia (created by some folks who think Wikipedia has a “liberal” bias — I’ll let their juvenile whining about Wikipedia speak for itself). So it may well be genuine. Here’s what the Conservative Bible Project has to say about itself:

Liberal bias has become the single biggest distortion in modern Bible translations. There are three sources of errors in conveying biblical meaning:

  • lack of precision in the original language, such as terms underdeveloped to convey new concepts introduced by Christ

  • lack of precision in modern language

  • translation bias in converting the original language to the modern one.

Naturally, these folks equate “disagreement” with their views or “problems in translation” with “bias,” even though “bias” is not necessarily to blame. (Sometimes alternate views are sincere differences of opinion.) At any rate, here is how they plan to go about their project … and this statement shows immediately not only what’s wrong with it, but why whatever it produces, is guaranteed to be garbage:

Of these three sources of errors, the last introduces the largest error, and the biggest component of that error is liberal bias. Large reductions in this error can be attained simply by retranslating the KJV into modern English.

Let me be clear on this, folks. The King James Bible (which its advocates call “the Authorized Version” in order to make it seem better than it is), is crap. Not only is it complete crap, now, compared with more current Bible translations, it was complete crap even back when it was translated, because its translators knew there were problems with it. You see, those translators based their New Testament on a problematic collection of Bible texts, known as the Textus Receptus of Erasmus. Erasmus had intended to produce a Latin New Testament superior to what was part of the then-prevailing Vulgate, but ended up publishing the New Testament texts in the original Greek as well. His problem was that he did not actually have Greek manuscripts for the entire New Testament; pieces of it were missing, particularly most of the book of Revelation. So what did he do? He translated Latin portions of those missing passages (which themselves in classical times had been translated from Greek) back into the Greek. This is a serious flaw, and while arguably Erasmus had done the best he could, the translators of the King James Version, who lived decades after he published, knew of the existence of those flaws. But they used his texts anyway.

What’s more — and stick with me here — the Textus Receptus mostly follows what later became known as the Byzantine text-type or the “Majority Text.” You see, not all the old manuscripts of the Bible books agree with one another; rather, they follow what one might call a chain of copying over the course of centuries. As one might expect, those copying-chains diverged over time and distance into distinct “tracks” that can seen now. Other text-type traditions include the Alexandrian, Caesarian, and Western. (These chains of copying can also be seen in quotations of Bible texts in other places such as in the writings of the Church Fathers … in fact, these quotations provide useful snapshots of what those books may have said, at the time they were quoted.) We have, since Erasmus’s time, discovered that the very-oldest manuscripts follow the Alexandrian text-type, not the Byzantine/Majority. Granted the KJV translators were unaware of this particular issue (it hadn’t been noticed and cataloged until after their time); but the inherent translation flaws of Erasmus’s work were. This means there’s really no excuse for anyone, now, to build a modern English translation of the Bible around the KJV and its antecedent, the Textus Receptus. None.

Not to mention, I don’t really see anything here about going back to the original manuscripts (mostly in Hebrew for the Old Testament, and Greek for the New). These people appear to want to take an existing English translation, and parse it out in their own way. The logic behind this kind of “translating” is pathetic and stupid … every modern translation of the Bible worth reading has, at some point in the process, referred back to old manuscripts. That’s just how Bible translations are done.

At any rate, the motive of this project appears to be an effort to remove passages from the Bible that “conservatives” and Rightists find troubling … and to do so at minimal cost and effort, by basing it on a public-domain work (i.e. the KJV) and by calling on people who aren’t even literate in Hebrew or Greek.

In sum, this plan is pure bullshit, all the way through. They’re just trying to satisfy their own ideology … and that’s pathetic.

At any rate, as I stated initially, I’m not even sure this effort is genuine. It might have just been put up on Conservapedia by a lone wing-nut and is not even sanctioned by its organizers; it might also be a joke, hoax, or parody. I just don’t know. I do know, however, that if it ever happens, it’s going to be insipid and dumb.

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