Sunday, 28 July 2013

The pearl of great *value* - what I hate about modern Biblical translations in a single word

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Matthew 13:45-46  Authorized (King James) Version

45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: 46 who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.


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In many of the most commonly used recent translations The Pearl of Great Price - a phrase that had entered the English language in a proverbial way - is rendered the pearl of great value

Now, that kind of thing I regard as sheer demonic vandalism - destruction for its own sake - a gratuitous, worthless, tin-eared, anti-poetic, anti-English, anti-Good microcosm of much that is worst about modernity and which wants to and will bring everything down around our ears.

Great value is not trivial - not at all; but symptomatic of an evil soul. 

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20 comments:

  1. An offence both to the discerning ear and to the Labour Theory of Value. Roll up, roll up, lots to offend everybody.

    By the by, talking of what offends my ear: why do Americans refer to the handwriting on the wall? Baffling.

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  2. @d - I remember somebody (Shaw? Orwell?) saying that talk of 'the wages of sin' completely lost its rhetorical effect if 'wages' was replaced by 'salary'.

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  3. Oooh, but think how lovely and hissy you could make it.

    The salary of sin, oh Satan's spawn, is slithering to Hades.

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  4. Well, I'm on the opposite side; I can't abide this KJV fetishism. By now it's practically a different language than what we speak today, close to unintelligible (as Shakespeare is) - which is fine if you like that kind of thing - but perhaps more importantly in places it is simply a poor translation of the actual biblical meaning.

    I really only mention all this because it reminds me of the time that I got into it a little bit with Lawrence Auster, on his site, because he held the same position as you. He criticized me in a way that I felt deserved a good retort, and my retort was (in my view) superb - but he refused to publish it. C'est la vie!

    why do Americans refer to the handwriting on the wall?

    Eh? Why wouldn't they?

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  5. Once upon a time there was a word, which was good, like a fluorescent light bulb.

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  6. In the 1950's Dwight Macdonald did a scathing review of the tone deafness in the new RSV Bible. He said he was amazed that they didn't render John 11:35 as 'Jesus burst into tears.'

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  7. @SJ - Aaargh!

    Was English speaking Christianity held back by the KJV and liberated by the proliferation of easy read translations? Did its supposed (extremely minor) inaccuracies of detail lead earlier Christians astray?

    Did using the KJV hold back Martin Lloyd Jones (Britain's greatest 20th century preacher) from clear communication? Does using the KJV stop the Mormons winning converts among the poor and ignorant?

    All the arguments against the Authorized Version have been refuted in practice by the experience of the past many decades.

    In its favour is that it bears the hallmarks of divine inspiration - having been written in the blood of martyrs - and is the second-greatest piece of literature in the English language (second only to Shakespeare).

    Insofar as it is true that the King James language is difficult for modern people to understand, this is more of a consequence of its disuse than a reason for its disuse. The language was understood by my great grandparents who had only a few years of school - because using that language was a major part of their education.

    With so many advantages, so few disadvantages, and so many and various problems from the multitude of alternative Bibles (such that it hardly now makes sense to talk of THE Bible) this is one of the most one-sided arguments I have ever come across!

    And yet it apparently makes no difference, and in practice many people use any-Bible-except the AV.

    Screwtape must be delighted!

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  8. "Pearl of great price" = πολύτιμον μαργαρίτην (POLUTIMON MARGARITEN). The adjective (POLUTIMON) has these glosses from two good sources: A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Bauer & Danker (regarded as the best strictly N.T. lexicon): "very high on a monetary scale, very precious, valuable"; and A Greek-English lexicon Liddell, Scott & McKenzie (regarded as the best lexicon for ancient Greek in general, Homer through the Byzantines. A little more care is required with this resource as meanings morphed over the centuries): "much-revered"; "highly priced", "very costly".

    Personally, I ended up finding the 'translation wars' so tedious I just learned Greek instead. Yes, it was work, but I have found it more than worth the effort. If you're reading this blog you're almost certainly of above average intelligence and industry -- you might consider trying it yourself. Even a little Greek can resolve questions like 'pearl of great price' quite authoritatively. (I did my own very idiosyncratic translation of the N.T. (why repeat what everyone else has done) at http://www.faithfulbible.com .

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  9. @WZ - "Personally, I ended up finding the 'translation wars' so tedious I just learned Greek instead."

    Well, the great thing about being English and having the AV is precisely that we have a 'translation' at least the equal of the Septuagint (or the Vulgate).

    The 'translation' wars are about egos and careerism and against the interests of Christianity - I do my best to ignore them (except, of course, that I am forced to consume their degraded products).

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  10. "Well, the great thing about being English and having the AV is precisely that we have a 'translation' at least the equal of the Septuagint (or the Vulgate)."

    Still nothing like the Original! Translations are like black and white where the Original is technicolor! :-)

    I also presume you're aware of the shortcomings of the underlying Textus Receptus which the AV translators used for their Greek N.T.

    But if I had to choose a translation, AV would be my first choice. Another somewhat unknown but very interesting one is the "NET" Bible--interesting because the 'full' edition includes translator 'notes'--discussions of difficult passages, the alternate translations they considered, and the decision making process they underwent.

    Meanwhile, I'm trying to improve my 18th century German reading (Fraktur, olde spellings) because there is too much untranslated literature from that era that I want to read. For practice I managed to find an olde Luther Bibel (with Fraktur and the olde spellings) which has been its own very interesting exercise. From what I understand, Luther's Bibel is to German what the AV is to English.

    As peerless as the AV is, it has its own hazards! The problem with the 'translation wars' is that all sides are too provincial.

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  11. @WZ - "I also presume you're aware of the shortcomings of the underlying Textus Receptus which the AV translators used for their Greek N.T."

    No, I'm not aware, and I'm not interested! I firmly believe that the AV is, as I said, divinely inspired - so the normal issues of secular translation are completely irrelevant. Not just relatively insignificant, but completely irrelevant.

    "...nothing like the Original! Translations are like black and white where the Original is technicolor! :-)"

    But the AV isn't a translation. And it cannot be bettered - it is as good as writing can get.

    I will not go near this translation stuff. It is - as I think two hundred years of experience since Strauss have proven and proven again - toxic to faith.

    The AV has sustained a level of Christianity far far higher, deeper and broader than my own, so I have no worries about being constrained by it.

    Can the same be said of any modern translation? They have their uses, I use the ESV study Bible, NIV and an Orthodox study Bible as glosses, commentaries, or to try and unravel difficulties - but the AV is THE Bible.

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  12. To me the doctrine of The Divinely Inspired Text borders on a red herring. For one thing we are not in position of the Perfect Exemplar: we are certainly not in possession of the Original Greek texts (e.g. Paul's handwriting), and even the AV went through several revisions--which is the True Divinely Inspired one?

    But more importantly, even if we are in possession of a letter perfect copy, we are still profoundly limited in our ability to understand it. People misunderstand simple English in ordinary discourse all the time -- how much worse with Divine Scripture? In the end we are utterly dependent on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And if that is the case (and I believe it is), then I almost believe that someone who is truly open to the Holy Spirit could profitably read the telephone book.

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  13. I neglected to point out that both Koine Greek and King James English are both dead languages -- with all the attendant problems. In the end I believe it's not the Holy Scripture, but the Holy Spirit that does all the real Work. "The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life."

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  14. I was raised on the KJV, and the language just isn't all that difficult to learn. It's certainly far easier to understand than Shakespeare or Spenser. As for the handful of inaccuracies and obscurities, they're easily dealt with by adding a few footnotes.

    I was also taught to address God in prayer as "thou," and to use the corresponding verb forms, from an early age. Again, it's just not all that difficult. Colloquial prayer language with "you" ("Lord, we just wanna thank you tonight because you are so awesome...") still rubs me the wrong way.

    I also found as a missionary that converts, even uneducated ones, adapted very quickly to the Jacobean language. I can't remember a single case in which it posed a serious problem.

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  15. The KJV is clunky, but I stick with it because every other translation I've read goes out of its way to be ugly.

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  16. Having to look up some Shakespeare recently, I came across a site that handily illustrates the comical nature of undiscriminating 'modernization':

    http://nfs.sparknotes.com/macbeth/page_2.html

    Having the 'original' and 'modernized' language side-by-side just makes the site even more self-parodying.

    I can't really speak to the overall quality of non-KJV Bible translations, specifically. The only one I've had any experience with is the NIRV (which is apparently proposed as a Bible for small children and adults who have "English as a second language"); I can certainly attest that the NIRV was thoroughly miserable to read.

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  17. People who find reading Shakespeare difficult just didn't do enough Chaucer at school.

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  18. "To me the doctrine of The Divinely Inspired Text borders on a red herring. For one thing we are not in position of the Perfect Exemplar: we are certainly not in possession of the Original Greek texts (e.g. Paul's handwriting), and even the AV went through several revisions--which is the True Divinely Inspired one?"

    Why must there be only one?

    Why cannot the original be Divinely Inspired, and some translations (like the KJV) also be Divinely Inspired?

    The Lord wanted us to use many different languages... why should He not inspire people to translate His word into those languages in a fittingly beautiful manner which will vary from language to language?

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  19. From the site Arakawa linked: "Life is a story told by an idiot, full of noise and emotional disturbance but devoid of meaning."

    Wouldn't that have made a great title for a Faulkner novel: The Noise and the Emotional Disturbance?

    By the way, the absolute worst Bible translation ever is the one used by Jehovah's Witnesses. "And the sucking child will certainly play upon the hole of the cobra; and upon the light aperture of a poisonous snake will a weaned child actually put his own hand." I mean, light aperture!

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  20. "the absolute worst Bible translation ever is the one used by Jehovah's Witnesses..."

    Or, Ps. 23: "with oil you have greased my head"!

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