Why Do Bible Translators Make Adjustments to Their Translations?

In his excellent book, One Bible, Many Versions, David Brunn devotes a chapter to explaining why translators make adjustments to their translation. There are four basic reasons:

1)      It is required by the grammar of the target language.

2)      It is needed to make sure the correct meaning comes through.

3)      It is needed for clarity of meaning.

4)      It is necessary for naturalness.

Using these four criteria he takes a passage of Scripture from the NASB as a test case: Matthew 1:6b which has nine words in Greek (Δαυῒδ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Σολομῶντα ἐκ τῆς τοῦ Οὐρίου) “David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah.”

Jumping ahead we will see that the NASB omits three Greek words, adds eight English words and replaces a verb with a noun. Let’s take a closer look.

Adjustment 1: The word “wife” was added. The Greek word for “wife” is not in the Greek text. It literally reads “the of Uriah.” But English grammar won’t allow this. A reader will wonder “the what of Uriah.” Since Greek uses the feminine article (tēs) we know it must refer to something feminine. “That is why nearly every English version added the word wife.” (90) Is this required by the grammar? Yes.

Adjustment 2: The word “the” was omitted twice. In Greek we read “the Solomon by the [wife] of the Uriah.” But English does not use the definite article in this way so because of grammar the article was dropped.

Adjustment 3: The phrase “who had been” was added. This was added to ensure the correct meaning would come through. “The translators realized that if they added the word wife by itself, that could be understood to mean that Bathsheba was still Uriah’s wife at the time David fathered Solomon. That would mean Solomon was conceived in an adulterous relationship.” (91) This is not required by grammar but it does ensure the meaning is clear.

Adjustment 4: The name “Bathsheba” was added. Brunn immediately notes that “the NASB is in the minority since most English versions did not add ‘Bathsheba’ here.” (93) He reasons this was added for “increased naturalness” and “perhaps clarity.” (93, 94)Why? It’s not required by the grammar and “[n]o one disputes who Solomon’s mother was. Bathsheba is clearly identified as the mother of Solomon at least three times in Scripture.” It is also interesting to note that in earlier editions of the NASB Bathsheba’s name is not included.

Adjustment 5: The word “and” was omitted. The Greek starts out with “and David fathered Solomon.” The NASB omits the word and here and 26 other times in the genealogy. Brunn says that the repetition of and “reflects good literary style in Greek. But in English, it sounds a bit tedious and repetitive.” (93)

Adjustment 6: A Greek verb was replaced with an English noun. The Greek reads “David fathered Solomon” (KJV = begat). The NASB translators got rid of the archaic verb and replaced it with a noun–father. (The HCSB translates this as “fathered.”)

Here’s how the NASB compares to five other translations:

 

English   Words Added

Greek Words   Omitted

Verb   Changed to Noun

NASB

8

3

yes

ESV

4

2

yes

NIV

8

4

yes

HCSB

1

3

no

NKJV

5

3

no

KJV

5

2

no

 

Brunn notes of this chart that the HCSB “appears to be the most literal of these six versions, but this is not always the case. . .” (98)

Brunn has no objections to any of these adjustments made by the NASB translators. In fact he says even with “several significant adjustments . . . the inspired meaning of the original remains intact!” (97-98) This was an incredibly helpful chapter as is the whole book. If you want to understand Bible translation—read this book.

One Bible, Many Versions

 

 

 

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About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
This entry was posted in Bible Translation, New Releases. Bookmark the permalink.

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