Last week, we looked at why there are so many different versions of the Bible. Moving languages across time and culture takes a great deal of effort to get right. And there are three main ways translators can go about this: word-for-word (which we’ll discuss today), thought-for-thought, and paraphrase.
Word-for-word is probably the easiest to explain. At its most rigid, this simply means that a translator takes a Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek word and renders it as an English word or phrase. The translators even try to keep the word order as close to the original as they can. This isn’t always possible because English word order is much more restrictive than those ancient languages.
You might say that this type of translation is the most literal. And that’s its biggest selling point. These translations get about as close to the original text as you can get.
But, on the other hand, word-for-word translations can also be more difficult for a modern English speaker. The more literal, the more cumbersome some phrases may be. After all, there are some major cultural divides involved. A phrase that made sense in ancient Israel makes little or no sense to us. That’s why even the most direct translations have to make a few updates or add footnotes.
Here are some examples of word-for-word translations: English Standard Version (ESV), King James Version (KJV), New American Standard (NASB), New King James Version (NKJV), Young’s Literal Translation (YLT)
Next week, we’ll tackle thought-for-thought translations.
Why are there so many different translations of the Bible? Wouldn’t one for each language be enough? Not necessarily, and that’s because there are several approaches you can take to translating the original languages of the Bible: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.
Bible translations usually come in three basic styles, which we’ll call 1) word-for-word translations, 2) thought-for-thought translations, and 3) paraphrases. You may have heard other, fancier names for these categories, but we’ll stick with those. (See Choosing a Bible Translation for more detail on that.)
The basic challenge of translating anything is that language doesn’t exist in isolation. Language exists to transmit ideas and culture. We want to communicate something because we want to share our experiences, thoughts, and values. The same is true with what God inspired the authors of the Bible to write. They wrote with the language of their experience.
In other words, the Hebrew writers communicated from their Hebrew-oriented worldview, the Greek from theirs. That may seem elementary, but it means that translating those words involves dealing with how they thought about the world.
Now, to be sure, the Bible presents fundamental truths about who God is and how He acted in history. Those basic facts won’t change. God will always split the Red Sea down the middle, Jesus will always die for our sin and rise again, and Paul will always see Jesus on the way to Damascus. Those are set facts.
But taking Hebrew and Greek ideas and rendering them in English, for example, is complicated. The languages don’t line up exactly. For example, Greek has four words for types of love; English has one. That’s why it takes scholars years of prayer and study to make sure they get it right. Add to that the fact that modern languages such as English keep changing, and you can see why new versions keep coming.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll examine the different approaches translators take for moving the original languages to English. Up next week? Word-for-word translations.
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When you're looking back at Galilee in Scripture, you see hints of the tensions that existed--cultural, social, and theological. But really understanding this area where Jesus grew up requires a bit more digging. Here's how Alfred Edersheim describes it:
Impartial history, however, must record a different judgment of the men of Galilee from that pronounced by the Rabbis, and that even wherein they were despised by those leaders in Israel. Some of their peculiarities, indeed, were due to territorial circumstances. The province of Galilee— which the name might be rendered "circuit," being derived from a verb meaning "to move in a circle"— the ancient possession of four tribes: Issachar, Zebulon, Naphtali, and Asher. The name occurs already in the Old Testament (compare Joshua 20:7; 1 Kings 9:11; 2 Kings 15:29; 1 Chronicles 6:76; and especially Isaiah 9:1). In the time of Christ it stretched northwards to the possessions of Tyre on the one side, and to Syria on the other; on the south it was bounded by Samaria— Carmel on the western, and the district of Scythopolis (in the Decapolis) on the eastern side, being here landmarks; while the Jordan and the Lake of Gennesaret formed the general eastern boundary-line. Thus regarded, it would include names to which such reminiscences attach as "the mountains of Gilboa," where "Israel and Saul fell down slain"; little Hermon, Tabor, Carmel, and that great battle-field of Palestine, the plain of Jezreel. Alike the Talmud and Josephus divide it into Upper and Lower Galilee, between which the Rabbis insert the district of Tiberias, as Middle Galilee. We are reminded of the history of Zaccheus (Luke 19:4) by the mark which the Rabbis give to distinguish between Upper and Lower Galilee—former beginning "where sycomores cease to grow." The sycomore, which is a species of fig, must, of course, not be confounded with our sycamore, and was a very delicate evergreen, easily destroyed by cold (Psalms 78:47), and growing only in the Jordan valley, or in Lower Galilee up to the sea-coast. The mention of that tree may also help us to fix the locality where Luke 17:6 was spoken by the Saviour. The Rabbis mention Kefar Hananyah, probably the modern Kefr Anan, to the north-west of Safed, as the first place in Upper Galilee. Safed was truly "a city set on an hill"; and as such may have been in view of the Lord, when He spoke the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:14). In the Talmud it is mentioned by the name of Zephath, and spoken of as one of the signal-stations, whence the proclamation of the new moon, made by the Sanhedrim in Jerusalem (see The Temple), and with it the beginning of every month, was telegraphed by fire-signals from hill to hill throughout the land, and far away east of the Jordan, to those of the dispersion.
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