Sunday 22 July 2012

Geeky Bible Translations

It's been a while since I put in a plug for The Human Bible, hosted by that affable heretic of the fringe, Bob Price.  The show is already up to episode 11, and the lead topic this time is Bible translations.

Bob is always worth listening to, even when you disagree with him.  For me this is one such time.  Despite being a radical scholar, Bob is a long-time fan of the unreadable NASB, a fundamentalist monstrosity, and the now pensioned-off 1953 RSV.  He also slates the New Jerusalem Bible, NRSV and Revised English Bible as being "politically correct", largely because of their adoption of inclusive language.  Of the modern New Testament versions, Bob can't much see past the J. B. Phillips translation which first saw the light back in 1962.

Translation is a funny thing.  There are two languages in the case of the NT, one obviously being koine Greek.  The other, however, is English, and not 1950s or 1960s English either, let alone English from 1611.  One of the characteristics of today's English is the use of inclusive language where both men and women are referred to.  To translate first and second century Greek into contemporary English you have to make that shift.  This isn't "political correctness," it's just best practice.  That's why Phillips (which is a tremendous translation), the RSV and other earlier versions now tend to grate on any reader younger than forty.  More on this maybe in a later posting.

But by no means let me put you off.  The Human Bible is one of the very best podcasts currently available, and a lot more entertaining than anything else in the genre.


  1. Although Dr. Price seems more aware of various translation issues than most scholars and clergy, I agree that he is a little short-sighted in his preferences for older literal translations. As a professional translator, I understand how important it is to translate ideas rather than words, and how even preserving word order when the result is grammatical can obscure or alter the emphasis of ideas within the logical structure of a sentence or paragraph.

    That said, I appreciate his plug for the 1966 Jerusalem Bible, which is also my personal favourite. I think the NRSV is better than he gives it credit for (although still a wooden and ungainly translation in places), and he doesn't appear to have looked into any recent translations like the CEB, which I am fairly impressed with.

  2. In the past, as a lay person, I have wrestled to understand NT translation issues discussed on blogs. In 2010 I made this diagram to help me visualize some of the main issues. Looking at this post, I am happy to say that (in order mentioned) my chart includes the RSV, NRSV and the Jerusalem Bibles. But I don't have the NASB, Phillips or the CEB.

    I would love corrects or suggestions to my chart or if you feel I should add any of the one's I missed. Here is the page: