Word-for-word versus sense-for-sense

Discussion in 'Religion & Philosophy' started by pjohns, Oct 2, 2019.

  1. pjohns

    pjohns Well-Known Member

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    A serious question--and it has been a serious question for quite some time--is this: Is it better to have a word-for-word translation of the Bible, or a sense-for-sense translation?

    Before answering, one should consider that a word-for-word translation is not always (easily) understandable. For instance, in Colossians 3:12, Paul uses the phrase "bowels of mercies," as it is translated in the King James Version of the Bible.

    The problem is that most people probably have no idea just what this means.

    By way of explanation, for the ancient Jews, the bowels were the seat of compassion. (We probably should not laugh too hard. After all, we "enlightened," twenty-first-century Americans consider the heart to be the seat of love--even though it is really only a blood pump.)

    Probably the most literal translation of the Bible is the American Standard Version, done around the turn of the twentieth century. It actually reads quite stiffly.

    At the other extreme is Good News for Modern Man (a.k.a. Today's English Version). It takes liberties that make me feel a bit uncomfortable.

    In my own view, the best method is a sort of compromise: the sense-for-sense translation in the text itself, with a literal translation contained in a footnote. (And this is not just a theory, either. Several translations do just exactly this.)

    What do others think?
     
  2. The Wyrd of Gawd

    The Wyrd of Gawd Banned

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    The Bible was originally written in Latin. All versions since then are based on the original Latin and revisions of the earlier English translations. The main ideas are consistent in all versions but some versions do omit entire verses.
     
  3. modernpaladin

    modernpaladin Well-Known Member Past Donor

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    YLT - Young's Literal Translation is my go-to. It can be quite confusing, and I frequently look to other translations for additional insight when the point seems to get lost, but ultimately I like to be the final judge of what was written vs what is meant.

    I do find that Im often in dissagreement with what authoritative doctrine says it says and what I think makes sense.

    I also frequently search engine historical/cultural context.
     
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2019
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  4. Darketernal

    Darketernal Member

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    Well, one good example might be the Japanese language, due to the extreme difference in how it's written and because just like hieroglyphs it's a symbolical language, it means that when one wants to translate it back to English it becomes impossible to directly translate it, because the English language doesn't have words that exactly express these symbolical meanings into a form that is directly understandable for an English speaker. We speak here of a 'language gap'.

    In order to form a 'comprehensible' translation, the translation must be made either contextual or close in comparison. A direct translation word for word would make no sense, as we sometimes see in google translator, the direct translation of a Japanese webpage in English can create sometimes lots of laughter.

    This is why Biblical translation has always been contextual and attempted to be close in comparison, rather than a strict direct word by word translation of the chosen to be translated material.

    However this started to give problems as the bible became an extremely important book for many people, and when experts start to scrutinize the bible and say 'hey, this doesn't directly translate correctly in this way' and you get variants on the bible who translate the text sorta the same but differently. I therefore don't think you can speak of alternations of the bible but of different translations, and maybe interpretations. To overcome this, you would have to understand the language and meaning directly, but this is not something that many people can do. Because even if you have that capacity it is left up for interpretations if you understood the context correctly. In other words a endless debate. Meaning it's a pathway one should not travel, if one wants to get anywhere that is.
     
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  5. pjohns

    pjohns Well-Known Member

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    I have only a cursory knowledge of the Koine Greek, in which the New Testament was written (and none at all of the Hebrew or Aramaic that form the Old Testament).

    However, I do rely upon the lexicons, as regarding the New Testament--both Thayer (done in the 1890s, I believe) and Arndt-Gingrich (done in the 1950s, I think).
     

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