Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Individuals v. Committees


Most popular Bible translations are the work of committees, but there have been many versions made by individuals. Some of these have been influential, some popular, some just weird.

Late in the 4th century, St. Jerome produced the Vulgate, a translation of the Bible from its original Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic into the common language of the day, Latin.

In the 16th century, Martin Luther translated the Bible from its original languages into vernacular German, so that the common people could understand the Scriptures for themselves.

At about the same time, William Tyndale published a complete English New Testament, translated from the Greek. He also translated parts of the Old Testament.

In more recent times, Robert Young made Young's Literal Translation (1862) into English that scrupulously reproduced the verb tenses and other grammatical idiosyncrasies of the original languages. (English verb tenses do not correspond exactly to those of Hebrew and Greek).

R.F. Weymouth made a fussy, old-fashioned English translation of the New Testament in 1903.

In 1924, James Moffatt's New Translation rendered both Testaments into "effective, intelligible English."

Edgar Goodspeed translated the New Testament into very readable English in 1913. An Old Testament by 4 other scholars was added in 1924 and published as The Complete Bible: An American Translation.

Ronald Knox translated the Vulgate into lovely English. His version, with imprimatur, was published in 1948.

J.B. Philips published a fun, loose, popular, and highly readable translation of the New Testament in 1957.

In 1959 came the conservative Berkley Version, with New Testament by Gerrit Verkuyl and Old Testament by a team of U.S. translator.

Australian classicist Ann Nyland published her translation The Source New Testament with Extensive Notes on Greek Word Meaning in 2007. It was controversial for the translator's handling of passages regarding homosexual intercourse and the role of women in church, home, and society.

I have hard copies of most of these Bibles and electronic copies of the rest.  I have made use of them all from time to time.

I've heard it said that translations made by committee are more trustworthy than those made by individuals. A team effort is less likely to reflect the translator's biases. I observe, however, that translation committees are just as likely to have biases as individuals. The New English Translation (NET) was largely the work of scholars from Dallas Theological Seminary, a conservative school with a inerrantist view of Scripture. The popular English Standard Version (ESV) was made by a committee that was heavy on Calvinists and complimentarians (i.e. Christians who do not allow women roles of leadership in their churches). My own go-to Bible, the New Revised Standard Version  was produced by a team of scholars with what I would call an academic bias.

In short, committees can be just as biased as individuals.

I found Caravaggio's dramatic painting of St. Jerome at the website of the Ronald Knox Society.

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