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Musings -- A Continuing Series of Comments on Specific Translation Issues within the International Standard Version New Testament

by Dr. David Alan Black

"So great is the force of established usage that even acknowledged corruptions please the greater part, for they prefer to have their copies pretty rather than accurate."


drblack.jpg (5141 bytes)
Dr. David Alan Black
Associate Editor


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 dialect—that is, into Spanish 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 audience.

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 it’s time to get down to cases.

Introduction Poetry Lettuce? Press on? Good Giving Good Citizens Can Faith Save? On Poets & Liars An Ode to Love The Disciple Teachable? Sloppy Agape Mustering Mystery Alliteration Whom Sweet Whom Conclusion

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