bible translation

Translation Goals and Guidelines

bible translationBelow are some of the translation goals and guidelines for the Grace English Bible.

Readability

I will try to translate the text as if the writers were living today and writing it for readers today. I do not want the text to sound archaic, outdated, or scholarly. Of course, what one person thinks is readable text is too advanced for one person and too elementary to another.

Modern Idiom

We don’t say “Behold!” or “Verily!” We say, “Listen to this!” I recognize, of course, that my choices for translation may be outdated in a few decades. English is constantly evolving, so that what is modern idiom today will be outdated idiom in twenty or thirty years. People don’t say “Far out!” “That’s bad!” or “Radical!” today, though these were very popular expressions from the 70s and 80s. So while I will try to use modern idioms and phrases, I will at the same time attempt to avoid popular phrases which may be outdated within a few years.

Consistent Translation of Key Words and Terms

Sometimes translators try to “mix it up” by providing synonyms for the same Greek or Hebrew word in the same context. But this is confusing to readers who might wrongly believe that different Greek or Hebrew words are being used when different English words are present. By consistently translating key words and phrases, the English reader can better understand the thought flow of a biblical author. This will create some woodenness in the text, as Hebrew (and sometimes Greek) is overly repetitive in their use of words.

Proper Word Emphasis in Translation

Hebrew and Greek have a way of emphasizing certain words and ideas by placing them in certain locations in the text. English does not do this as much, and as a result, often misses the emphasis of a sentence or phrase. When necessary, I will emphasize words in a sentence by placing them in italics.

Historical and Cultural Context

Though I will try to use modern ways of speaking, and follow word order and word emphasis in the original text, I also want to do something that few other Bible translations do, which is to translate in a way that best reflects the historical and cultural background of the text. Bible translations should not just reflect the words and thought flow of the text, but also the way the words would have been understood in their original historical cultural context so that they are understood in similar ways in our time and our culture.

Translating the Personal Name of God as Yahweh

The traditional method of interpreting the personal name of God has been to either put it in small caps, as in Lord, or to mix the Hebrew letters (YHWH) and Greek vowel from Adonai (Greek for “Lord”) and translate God’s personal name as Jehovah. I am choosing to do something quite different, which is to translate God’s name as Yahweh. I think that this will clear up a lot of confusion in the text about how God’s name is used. Furthermore, the primary reason most Bible translations translate God’s name as Lord is because of the ancient Jewish tradition to not speak the name of God. When a Jewish person sees YHWH in Hebrew, they read “Ha Shem” meaning, “the Name.” The reason they did this is because of the Third Commandment: “You shall not take the name of Yahweh, your God, in vain” (Exod 20:7). Note that the verse does not say, “You shall not speak the name of your God.” It only says, “Don’t take it in vain.” In other words, don’t use it vainly.

The Jewish people wanted to make sure they never broke this commandment, and so decided to put a fence around this law, just as they did with nearly every other law of God. So they decided that the best way to keep from taking God’s name in vain was to just make sure they never spoke God’s name. If they never spoke it, they could never use it in vain. And that is how the tradition started, which had carried down to the modern day, and has even affected our English translations for Christian readers.

But if we tear down this fence around the Third Commandment, and allow ourselves to speak the name of God, whole new vistas of meaning and significance open up from the text of Scripture, and the reader of the text is able to connect more personally with God, especially when one gets into the New Testament and discovers that Jesus Christ identifies Himself as Yahweh in the flesh—a shocking idea to most, but one that helps us understand many of the actions of Jesus, as well as the identity and actions of Yahweh in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Capitalized and Masculine Pronouns for God

I don’t exactly believe God is a “he” any more than I believe God is a “she.” But since God cannot be spoken of as a depersonalized, gender-neutral “it” I had to choose how to refer to God, and chose the traditional method of referring to Him in the masculine. Also, I chose to capitalize pronouns referring to Him. I do not mind when other translations and scholars do not capitalize divine pronouns, but there are numerous texts in Scripture where the biblical author’s pronouns are quite confusing (cf. Heb 2:6-8), and capitalizing pronouns for God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit help the reader differentiate between God and man in the text.

Biblical Text Usage

Though I consider textual variants and the various text families, I am using the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia for my Hebrew text and the Majority Text for my Greek. I know that many will take issue with my choice of the Majority Text, but, following something N. T. Wright said about the Q hypothesis, I have never completely caught the disease called the Critical Text., though from time to time I have experienced that shivery feeling, and the concomitant double vision, that those who have a chronic case of the Critical Text disease reveal as their normal state.[1] I find most of the arguments for the primacy of Critical Texts such as those of Westcott-Hort or Nestle-Aland to be unconvincing or often to be arguments that actually favor of the Majority Text. I have written extensively on this elsewhere, but nothing (yet) for publication.


[1] See N. T. Wright, “The Servant and Jesus” originally published in William H. Bellinger, Jr. and William R. Farmer, ed., Jesus and the Suffering Servant: Isaiah 53 and Christian Origins (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press, 1998), 281–297. http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Servant_Jesus.htm. Last Accessed September 26, 2012.


2 thoughts on “Translation Goals and Guidelines”

  1. I am curious to know how you will control your synonym usage for the whole Bible. Do you have all your text in a database? If you would like to discuss this offline, feel free to use stenagmois at gmail dot com.

    1. I do not have a good plan for this. No, I do not have a database to help me track it.

      I might just take it one book at a time. In Jonah, I didn’t use synonyms for “evil” (Heb., raa) because I think the nature of evil is one of the themes of Jonah and I wanted the reader to see this. But if the nature of evil was not a theme, I might have felt more free to use various synonyms.

      Do you have any suggestions for tracking word usage?

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