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"One example Mark raised is the ESV translation of Luke 17:35. "There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left." He says, "In contemporary English, ‘grinding together’ suggests seductive dancing or something worse.… Most versions clarify that this means grinding ‘grain.’ "

Whose contemporary English? I am 56, and that meaning never suggested itself to me. Call me naïve, but as I read that passage, in context, I never would have thought of a Patrick Swayze or a Kevin Bacon movie. One of the ESV translators was a pastor and acutely aware of how high school students would hear the words of the ESV. He never heard it."
I'm sorry, but I had to laugh :-)
Ok, so I'm not sorry ;-)

On colloquialisms, I think you are correct. I'm from the south...Dixie, a rebel, and a redneck to those Yankees....if ain't ain't in the Bible, it ain't colloquial for me. So what? Just as long as I can read and understand. There must be limits to how far we go in this. The vulgar language is the common language. If it is common to English, the distinction must be between American English or British English, not between New York and Mississippi. To do otherwise is to cause way too much confusion.

Great post. You defended your position without trashing the other side. That is rare at times in this discussion.

"Moe Girkins, the President of Zondervan (and my boss’s boss’ boss), said that the translation had divided people and this should not happen."

To tell you the truth, I don't think the blame should be laid on the TNIV.

"...I am 56..."

I'm 56 too, Bill, and I want to know how you kept your hair and your youthful looks! ;-)

Thanks for this insightful response to my paper, Bill. I especially appreciate the positive and constructive tone. Two quick responses. First, I would never say that the only “proper” or “right” translation is a colloquial one. In the paper I extol the value of various translations. My point is that in terms of a standard reading Bible for the church, idiomatic ones are better than literal ones because they more accurately reflect the meaning of the original. Literal versions are good supplements. Second, I would never say that translation should always be colloquial, in the sense of casual or conversational. Translation should always try to reflect the register (reading level and style) of the original. If the original was written in high or formal language, then the translation should be done in high or formal English. My point in the paper was that the readings identified in the ESV would not appear in any contemporary English, whether spoken, written, formal, or technical. In this regard, I don’t criticize the ESV for using “propitiation” (though I would question its wisdom for most readers) but for using things like “he opened his mouth and taught them saying.” This is not English in any written or spoken form in the world today. Shakespeare is an example of Elizabethan English, which I don’t think is our goal to reproduce since no one writes or speaks in this language today. It is worthy of study and enjoyment, just like any foreign language document would be, but unless we are creating a period piece (like a movie or novel), I don’t think we would want to reproduce its style in Bible translations. In other words, it is not contemporary English, which should be the goal of a “standard English version.” Keats is poetry and so a different animal altogether. Translation of poetry is immensely complicated because it is not just about meaning but about aesthetics. All translations struggle with this (see Silva’s brilliant little article in The Challenge of Bible Translation).

You are absolutely right that Luke 17:35 would not be noticed by everyone (it was fine in the RSV for 50 years!). My point is that we need to be attuned to contemporary English. John Piper says the ESV is the perfect Bible for children, youth, adults, etc. But we need to think about how youth will hear it it if we want to lay claim to the church’s “standard” Bible.

I still think that a good test of a translation should be, “Would anyone speaking or writing English today use this expression.” If not, it is hard to call it “standard English.” My main criticism of literal versions is not that they produce archaic English (though that would not be good), but that they create artificial English, an English that no one speaks or writes. If people don’t speak it or write it, how well will they understand it?

It is, as you say, a challenge to find an English that is “standard” across the country, but the television media does it quite well, as do movies, as do books and magazines. I do think there is such a thing as standard English (within broad parameters) that is neither regional nor colloquial. This is the language the best translation should utilize.

Well, more grist for the mill,

Mark (Strauss)

I am 43 years old, so maybe that is the cut off date for getting it? "...There will be two women grinding together." I would not be able to read this at my church with a straight face especially to our youth. ;-)

Great post, love the tone.

I'm 44 and "grinding" would be way out of bounds with most people I know.

I'm merely 41, but I would be amused! :: grin ::P

On a lark, I thought I'd look up "grinding together" via our modern Oracle, Google. The first 8 hits had to do with dentistry, industry, or biblical exposition. But, lo, the 9th hit was:

« Quote From The Ghost Whisperer - Delia (seeing two teenagers grinding together): "I am as open minded as the next person, but who calls that dancing? This is a public place...!" »

Your mileage may vary, of course.



I'm 31, really like the movie Dirty Dancing, and I would never think of "grinding together" being dancing in this context! V. 34 says there will be two in one bed... what are they doing?! This is ridiculous. How someone wants to interpret it seems to say a lot about the person's frame of mind. Such a mind is going to pervert anything no matter how it's written.

A common mistake in this debate - stated or implied time after time in Dr. Straus' article on the ESV - is that the English Standard Version (ESV) is either attempting to use, or should use, "standard English" if it is to truly qualify as being the "Standard English Version". Certainly people are free to think that one should use "standard English" (whatever that is) in a translation; however, the ESV itself has never claimed that it is the "Standard English Version" nor has it stated that it is trying to use standard English.

Instead, it clearly states in its preface that it stands "in the classic mainstream of English Bible translations over the past half millennium." It then lists William Tyndale's NT, the KJV, the RV, the ASV, and the RSV as its predecessors in this line of translations. It then states that its goal is to "carry forward this legacy for a new century." In short, it seeks "to retain the depth of meaning and enduring language that have made their mark on the English-speaking world and have defined the life and doctrine of the church over the last four centuries." These are its stated goals and it should be judged solely on how well it achieves those goals.

As a 54 year old who grew up with the KJV, RSV, NEB, and GNB until the NIV and, more recently, the ESV came along I greatly appreciate the differences in all of their goals. I use the ESV, the NIV/TNIV, and the NLT as my main Bible versions. I would hope that they all continue to stick to their stated translation philosophies so as to offer the best of each of these traditions to the Bible reading public.

Sorry I was not able to respond earlier; I have been out of town, although I did write Mark privately.

My basic answer is that Mark's repeated phrase "Would I say this in English" is so prevalent in the paper and especially his presentation at ETS that it is hard to imagine anyone not getting the idea that this is the basic test for a translation.

And I wonder about the statement that the best translation for the church is one that helps you understand the meaning of the text. Hmmm. Some of the best Sunday morning experiences I have had is when the pastor takes a difficult passage, the translation allows him to lay out the different options, and then chose one and preach it. I walk out of the church encouraged by the pastor's spiritual gift.

And one last note. If we used the manner of speech on television, especially the news programs, as a measure of standard English, the TNIV's decisions on gender language would have to be dismissed. Or ads: "Prius: the perfect blending of Man, Machine, and Nature" (approximate citation). English is in such a state now that there is no such thing as "Standard English" across the board in many areas.

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