BIBLE TRANSLATORS — WHAT are they REALLY doing?

TRANSLATION CONFUSION?
After 48 years of New Testament Greek studies, what can one learn? One major thing I’ve learned is this: There is not ONE English translation on the planet that is true to the Greek texts. Not even the beloved King James Version. Yes, I know, that is quite a statement. The problem is, it is true.

In 1963, I began my first university class in New Testament Greek. Then, in 1964, after graduating and getting married, I signed up for my second year of classes. My professor at the time was Dr. Charves V. Dorothy. He is also the minister that performed our wedding in 1964.

According to Fred Coulter, one of my fellow students at college, he began the Greek class under Dr. Dorothy 10 years later than I did.

I bring up Fred in this article because I know him, studied under the same professors he had, and am still in contact with him today. But, for this article, mainly because he has translated and published his version of the New Testament. And, because he is someone I can personally relate to. I do not know other translators.

Fred finished his Bible project by combining his NT with the Hebrew Scriptures to publish the complete Bible in the manuscript order. He describes it as a “faithful version.” I have copies of this translation, both the first and second revision. The revision copies were sent by courtesy of Fred.

POSSIBLE MISUNDERSTANDING
Let me preempt a possible misunderstanding up front. It is very possible for those reading this article to feel that I am overly criticizing Fred’s translation. If one came to that conclusion they would be way off track. Fred’s translation is one of the better translations on the market. But, like them all, there is room for improvement, sometimes vast improvement! What I am doing with this article, maybe a series, is using a known factor in explaining problems with translating the Bible. And, I have discussed with Fred a couple of the points I’ll be making. He knows and understands the problems involved. Sometimes the problem is knowing how to handle these problems, and where to draw the line. Also, remember, the reading public is very fickle. And, there’s another big rub for translators — satisfying the public so they will buy the end result.
Having explained that, I recommend Fred’s translation for several reasons. Wide margins, quality paper and printing, excellent cover, easily readable type, books in correct manuscript order, many errors in KJV & others corrected, etc. etc.

SPECIFIC PROBLEMS OF TRANSLATION
For our purposes, let’s begin with the simple and work up to the “difficult” and “complicated.”

1. Is It YOU or YOU-ALL?
One of the first things I pointed out to Fred was that his use of the word “you” was unclear, and misleading. The problem here is, this isn’t just Fred’s problem, it is the problem of virtually all new translations. It is part of the new translation fallacy. Let me explain.

One of the important points given by Scripture is this:

LET THE READER UNDERSTAND!

If this were not important it would not be mentioned. It is mentioned more than once. Why? Did the Father know in advance how the Scriptures would be watered down in our day?

So, if the “reader” is to understand, what does that say to translators? Translate 100% ACCURATELY so the “reader” of your work can understand what the Greek is really saying. The translator is not the reader. He or she is the one presenting what is to be read. And he or she already knows what the Greek says. The READER doesn’t. Are translators assuming the readers know what the translator sees in the Greek, even though not in their translation? If so, why bother with a new translation?

Now, back to “you.” When I brought this up Fred’s response was “I know.” Then he explained his reasoning why his usage was acceptable. I disagree, just as I disagree with other translators doing the same thing. It leaves the reader in the dark. They may think they understand when they read “you” in the translation, but do they? Actually, too often they don’t. This can be deceptive since doctrine can and is built on these things.

Steven E. Runge, in his Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament, speaks clearly to this problem. Let’s see:

“The pronoun ‘you’ provides something of a challenge, since it can be used in both SINGULAR and PLURAL contexts….
“In the case of ‘you,’ the person is clearly signaled (second person), but the NUMBER is not. It could be singular OR plural.” pps. 10, 11

Thus, by simply translating “you” in both contexts, as Fred and other modern translators do, the READER is not permitted to UNDERSTAND clearly what is being said to whom.

One example of this involves the seven ekklesias of Revelation chapters 2 & 3. No one pays attention to the fact the comments there are addressed to a SINGULAR “you” versus the PLURAL “you.” Those letters are written directly to the “messenger” NOT the group or assembly, ekklesia in the Greek text. This brings on all kinds of doctrinal teaching about the group, and their “history” and/or future position in prophetic events built upon misunderstanding which “you” is spoken to here. I suggest one re-read those chapters noticing the places where the singular “you” is used.

2. Let This MIND Be In YOU!
This brings up a second problem that is exemplified by this misuse of “you” in translation. That is, all these translators are trying to turn Greek thinking into English thinking. That is the MIND or thinking process of a Greek speaker into that of an English speaker. This is NOT the way to understand another language. And, one of the major reasons our high school and college language classes leave too many “speechless” when it comes to using the languages they were “taught.”

All translations should lead the reader to thinking the same way the Greek author thought. Then, and only then, can the reader get the full impact of what is being said in the New Testament, or even the Old Testament. Remember, this is one of three languages used by the Creator to preserve His Word. So, that is how He thinks. The same kind of exactness in thinking as claimed for these languages. Now, more on “you.”

“Believe it or not, this kind of ambiguity happens quite a bit in language, with one form wearing multiple hats. It may seem strange to an outsider, but to the native speaker it is ‘normal.’ In English, we have no concern for insuring that the listener [or reader] knows which ‘you’ we mean, except perhaps in the southern United States, where the form ‘y’all’ is used to disambiguate second person plural from singular (though I have heard this form used for a singular person – me!) Similarly, Old English used the distinct form THOU and YE to differentiate singular from plural. Pressure for efficiency and other factors in the historical development of the language led to a streamlining of the forms until the two finally came to share a single form [you],” Runge, p. 11

Over the decades the New Testament Greek grammars have also changed what they teach about this. One sees them going from a clear explanation and usage of the singular and plural “YOU” to confusion. One of the silly reasons is this: “To avoid sounding religious.” What does that mean? Only this. To PROPERLY and ACCURATELY use the actual grammar of the Greek text is to be labeled “being religious.” Ergo, forget accuracy, one must sound “normal.” What is “normal?” Believe it or not, “normal” is to be “carnal and unconverted.”

How does using the correct grammar rules sound “religious?” Well, using THEE, THOU, THINE, YE. Yet, in those words are the CORRECT way to express what is actually said in the Greek texts IF one wants to represent that in English. In other words, using correct grammar. It has nothing to do with “religion.” It has to do with being accurate, and using proper grammar, and not being a dummy.

Remember, “let the READER UNDERSTAND.” That is a command translators. That is YOUR job!

Does this misuse of the second person pronoun singular and plural help the READER? Absolutely not. A “small” deception, but when one starts compiling these “small” deceptions on top of one another, the wall gets pretty high. Is that what YOU want in your translation?
To be continued:

Author: Bob Petry

Student of the Bible since 1953. And am still learning.

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