Friday, 9 April 2010

Translation choices

Glenn Peoples raised the question why translators use "spiritual" over "reasonable" in Romans 12:1
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (ESV)
There are couple of verses that I think are worth mentioning in this vein. 1 from the Old Testament, 1 from the New.

This I have mentioned before, and is more a best translation issue. Ezra 6:14 states
And the elders of the Jews built and prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. They finished their building by decree of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia;
While the additional conjunction "and" is the most common word for the Hebrew term, the explanatory conjunction "that is" is a legitimate choice and one that seems to fit the context better.

The translation query from the New Testament is more in line with Glenn's question, and perhaps even less justified than Romans 12:1. It is from another Pauline letter, 1 Corinthians 12:1
  • Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed.(ESV)
  • Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. (KJV)
  • Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. (ASV)
  • Now, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand about spiritual gifts. (NCV)
  • Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. (NIV)
  • Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. (NASB)
  • My friends, you asked me about spiritual gifts. (CEV)
  • With regard to spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. (NET)
The question is why "gifts"? when it is not in the Greek. There is no word "gift". Paul uses the word "gift" elsewhere when referring to spiritual gifts (Romans 1:11) but the Greek here is
  • Περι δε των πνευματικων,
  • Now about [the] spiritual,
Granted "spiritual" is an adjective acting as a substantive here, and "spiritual" alone does not work in English. But why not say "spiritual things"?

Some versions do say this.
  • But of spiritual things, brethren, I will not that ye not know (Wyclif)
  • About matters of the spirit: brothers, I do not want you to be unaware. (HCSB)
  • And concerning the spiritual things, brethren, I do not wish you to be ignorant; (YLT)
Also the NET Bible footnotes "spiritual things," the KJV and NASB have the word "gifts" in italics showing that it is not in the Greek.

ESV footnotes an alternative translation "spiritual persons."

The other place "spiritual" is frequently translated "spiritual gifts" is 1 Corinthians 14:1
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.

3 comments:

  1. Doesn't the word gifts appear later in the chapter? It does seem somewhat legit in the sense that it is the topic of spiritual gifts that he is bringing up for the next three chapters.

    Do you think that he word "gifts" there alters the meaning at all?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Not necessarily. The following verses say,

    You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

    Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.


    And then Paul describes things that various people receive. So perhaps "gifts" is implied.

    But perhaps Paul wants to talk about gifts, services and activities as all being types of spiritual things he wishes to address.

    By having the word "things" it allows the reader to decide what he thinks Paul is talking about. If Paul was just talking about gifts, little or nothing is lost, but if Paul was being broader than gifts, then that option remains open.

    Limiting it to "gifts" in translation may be over interpreting. The reader cannot consider it broader than gifts as he reads the word "gifts".

    If there is ambiguity perhaps it is best left in if doing so does not lead to misreading the text.

    ReplyDelete

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