I should like to begin with a confession. As a translator I am an
amateur. Then again, so was Jacque Amyot, who created a French style by translating
Plutarch. So was Sir Thomas North, who in turn translated Amyot so well that even
Shakespeare could quote Plutarch in English without changing a word. So was John Wyclif,
who worked on the first complete rendering of the Bible into English. When Jerome produced
the Vulgate, he doubtless considered himself an amateur, as did Martin Luther when he
produced the first German language translation of the Scriptures.
The truth is that hardly anyone wants to be a professional translator,
mainly because the occasional translator is generally better off than those who, making a
living at their task, are obliged to accept almost any assignment. Having said as much, I
sincerely hope that I do not lose my amateur status by making the following remarks on the
International Standard Version (ISV) translation.
The problem of translation may be treated from three angles: adequate
comprehension of the text to be translated, adequate handling of the language translated
into, and everything that happens in between. All these processes are fraught with various
and sundry difficulties.
A bit of autobiography may help to illustrate the point. A few years
ago I had the pleasant duty of giving a lecture at the University of Madrid for a
symposium on the Gospels. The lectures were to be published in an anthology. Whether
through naiveté or audacity (I am given more to the former than to the latter), I elected
to present my lecture in Spanish.
Upon finishing my little talk, the organizer of the symposium
approached me and said (much to my surprise), "Your lecture was excellent, but before
we can publish it we will have to translate it." It never occurred to me that the
university would have to hire an accomplished and amiable professional to translate my
Latin-American Spanish into the Castillian dialectthat is, into Spanish
This anecdote is mentioned here not because of any contribution it may
have to inter-lingual enlightenment, but because it shows that my Spanish essay, though
adequately conveying the sense of my English original, failed to the extent that it
ignored the nuances of expression that make a translation acceptable to its particular
My experience as a lecturer in Spain (and later as a preacher-teacher
in German-speaking Switzerland) paid real dividends in testifying to the fact that
translation is a difficult art that at best can strive for but never reach a final
perfection. However, there is no need for hopelessness and still less for exaggerated
criticism of any attempt at translation at all. Remarks such as the old Italian pun on the
translator being a traitor are rather over-polemical, I think, and, as such, are beside
the point. The ISV is far from perfect, but neither is it a traitor. Indeed, in many
places I believe it to be a definite improvement over its worthy predecessors. But
its time to get down to cases.