How Important are Translations of the Bible?
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16-04-2011, 01:36 PM
How Important are Translations of the Bible?
Okay, so I originally thought that differences in translations of the Bible didn't really matter much, but it seems that literal translations are quite different from looser translations. I came across this passage while I was reading Armstrong's A History of God:

"Yahweh, you have seduced me and I am seduced,
You have raped me and I am overcome..." (Jeremiah 20:7)

So, I immediately thought, 'Why haven't I heard this quoted anywhere before?!' I checked a couple of different Bible translations, and it's usually translated along these lines:

"O Lord, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived; thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed..." (Skeptic's Annotated Bible)


The first passage is from The Jerusalem Bible, which is apparently known for its literal, historical translation of the original Hebrew. The King James' Bible is also well-known as an authoritative translation, but I have heard it said by some theists that it is an absurdly literal translation and therefore it should be dismissed.


Another example is the way in which Yahweh is presented in different translations. In The Jerusalem Bible, Moses says to the Israelites:

"For you are a people consecrated to Yahweh your Elohim; it is you that Yahweh our Elohim has chosen to be his very own people out of all the peoples in the earth" (Deuteronomy 7:6)

No other translation that I've come across uses the word Elohim, which basically means "primary god"; i.e. the one god they worshipped above the other gods. Furthermore, the word can be used in the singular or in the plural form, which makes it ambiguous. Yet, the phrase: "Yahweh your Elohim" is usually always translated: "Lord thy God" or something along those lines.


So, anyways, my question is: "How can theists decide which translation to use?" I mean, if someone is basing their belief system on this, I think it would be a pretty important question. Whether or not one takes the Bible literally, there are definitely different connotations to each translation. For instance, if you're someone who believes the Bible is full of metaphors, then there is still a difference between a seduction/rape metaphor and a deceit metaphor.

Any thoughts?

"Remember, my friend, that knowledge is stronger than memory, and we should not trust the weaker." - Dr. Van Helsing, Dracula
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16-04-2011, 06:23 PM (This post was last modified: 16-04-2011 06:28 PM by Lilith Pride.)
RE: How Important are Translations of the Bible?
I've always wondered why English has not gained a more recent well respected iteration. It's been so long since old English has changed that most people reading an English bible have no idea what is being said. I almost want to find a Japanese bible and see how archaic they made it, seeing as how Christianity was introduced to Japan well after most languages had a version. A literal translation in old English is not a literal translation for modern English readers.

There's also no way to complain when discussing the authentic word of god that a translation is too literal. Keep the authenticity. But seriously why haven't they sat down and made a modern English bible?

When you ask Abrahamic Theists which translation is best it's hard to get a real answer, because they decide to use the bible their congregation chooses. Generally this is appointed by the denomination, but sometimes churches within denominations use separate versions. The vast amount of translations and rewrites allow a denomination to seek out the bible which they most agree with. Remember that all of this is done by religious figures, those who devote their lives to the religion. Most Abrahamic Theists are laymen and all of them simply read the version of the bible their denomination or pastor chooses. The idea of the layman being that the word of god will be understood no matter how it is said, and that you can never truly interpret the word of god without the vast knowledge of a clergyman.

So to most Abrahamic Theists the translation doesn't really matter the word of god is the pastor's sermons. They couldn't possibly understand the book as well as he.

I'm not a non believer, I believe in the possibility of anything. I just don't let the actuality of something be determined by a 3rd party.
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16-04-2011, 06:27 PM
 
RE: How Important are Translations of the Bible?
I was raised Methodist and the preacher at my church told me that it is all up to interpretation. He told me that it is the overall message that matters not the individual words and the discrepancies between versions. At that church we used the NIV version, King James version, and the New King James version.

However, I have had other preachers tell me that this one is right this one is wrong and so on. To me, it seems that the general consensus is that the King James Version is the most accepted version among the Protestant denominations. The Catholic bibles contain additional books that they consider important while Protestants exclude them.

It seems that all of the denominations in Christianity can not fully agree on which version is the correct one.

I guess to answer your question how do theist's decide is simply whichever version they where taught is the correct version. Not a very good way to decide on the correct one but it is usually how they do it.

I can tell you which one is wrong easily... all of them.

Oh Lilith Pride, they have made many modern English translations of the bible. Most Christians just get pissed about it and say it looses the meaning being translated over and over again.
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17-04-2011, 10:20 AM
RE: How Important are Translations of the Bible?
Hey, SecularStudent.

Well, I think the biggest problem is for Biblical literalists. If you think that God penned the book and there are discrepancies in translations, I can see that posing a lot of problems. But for non-biblical literalists, it's not such a big thing.

I really wish I could remember the name of the person I'm about to invoke, because the importance of his work has staggering implications. I once saw a man who is associated with Harvard being interviewed on Charlie Rose. He did an in depth study to try and determine which traits best contributed to efficiency and stability within Corporations. What he found was that it did not matter how the corporation, or any organisation for that matter, organised itself. Any method worked so long as everyone got with the program. It was cohesion that mattered most.

From an evolutionary standpoint this makes perfect sense. Selection has no interest in right or wrong, better or worse. Selection only cares about adaptive. What works flourishes and what does not is self-eliminating.

So to answer the question of what version to pick, the answer is, whatever version works for that group. The version they use co-evolved with the other traits present in the group.

As far as translations go, mutations occur in all cultural transmissions. Communications theory says that all transmissions are affected by the presence of noise. So every translation will contain mutations. Just like genetic mutations, they will either be adaptive, maladaptive or exaptive. So it's to be expected that there will be differences in translations.

Also, much like in genetic evolution, if enough of these mutations pile up, if there is enough "cultural drift", then one group will split into two.

From an evolutionary standpoint, m80kamikaze's Methodist preacher is right. It's the overall message that's important. The analogy is that the human is important. Blue eyes, brown eyes, green eyes, are not.

To put it in secular terms, if you ask most people to explain evolution, or AIDS, they're most likely going to get the details wrong. But as long as they get the gist, they're good.

That being said, you're always going to have people argue about which version is "better" as if better mattered. Then there's others who will say that their traits are the best and that all other traits are shit. But by and large, rational people dismiss that second kind of people whenever and wherever they are encountered.

Peace and Love and Empathy,

Matt
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17-04-2011, 03:54 PM
RE: How Important are Translations of the Bible?
(16-04-2011 06:23 PM)Lilith Pride Wrote:  I've always wondered why English has not gained a more recent well respected iteration. It's been so long since old English has changed that most people reading an English bible have no idea what is being said. I almost want to find a Japanese bible and see how archaic they made it, seeing as how Christianity was introduced to Japan well after most languages had a version. A literal translation in old English is not a literal translation for modern English readers.

Like m80kamikaze said, there are modern English translations of the Bible available, but I do agree with you that there seems to be a consensus that the more archaic the language used, the "better". So when Joseph Smith "translated" the Book of Mormon, he wrote in Early Modern English, even though he was writing in the 19th century, well after the Early Modern period.

Just an interesting aside: the first English translations of the Bible were in modern English for their time. Wycliffe wrote his Bible in Middle English because he was writing in the Middle Ages. Likewise, the King James' Bible is written in Early Modern English because it was written in the Early Modern Period. For some reason though, people must've liked the James version, 'cause they kept on using "thees" and "thous" for ages Tongue

@Ghost:
I agree, for biblical literalists, this is an issue. But even for non-literalists, the variation on words is important. The difference between the "one God" and "primary god among many" is the difference between monotheism and polytheism.

Also, and I can't remember whether it's in the Hebrew or the Greek, there's a word that can mean either "woman" or "virgin" depending on the context... So there may or may not have been a prophecy about a virgin birth, but since the Graeco-Roman pantheon is full of demi-gods born of virgins, it just made sense to translate the word as "virgin". Now, I know that not all Christians believe that Jesus was actually born of a virgin, but for many of them, the accuracy of this translation determines whether or not their saviour was divinely conceived.

Quote:From an evolutionary standpoint this makes perfect sense. Selection has no interest in right or wrong, better or worse. Selection only cares about adaptive. What works flourishes and what does not is self-eliminating.

This is pretty much what A History of God says about early religions. I.e. they were pragmatic and did what worked for them without worrying too much about the philosophical questions. I know that language works like this too, and I'm glad you pointed this out ^.^


I know this is a lot of detailed semantics that doesn't really affect the overall message of the books, but I find it fascinating to trace the history of the translations Big Grin Perhaps I'm the only one? Blush

"Remember, my friend, that knowledge is stronger than memory, and we should not trust the weaker." - Dr. Van Helsing, Dracula
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17-04-2011, 06:03 PM
RE: How Important are Translations of the Bible?
Hey, SecularStudent.

Quote:The difference between the "one God" and "primary god among many" is the difference between monotheism and polytheism.

This is the beauty of selection. You can pick just about any Christian sect and they’ll be monotheist. But say that unto them cometh a new book of our lord that dost sayeth unto them, lo and behold with thine eyes that there be not Elohim, but the Lord father the creator, he upon high surrounded by the pantheon of holy deities. Most of the people in the sect will be like, "uh, dude, we're monotheists. What's all this polytheism crap?" Most of the time, they'll just reject it because the religion is a co-adapted meme complex, or memeplex, or memosome (all synonyms) and is resistant to invasion. But say it does manage to gain a foothold within the population. Say one person accepts it. They then begin to disseminate it throughout the rest of that population. It might amount to nothing, they might all be crushed in a cleansing of the faithful, or that polytheistic idea might gain a large enough representation in the meme pool of that population that it causes a schism. In some cases, that schism can be repaired, perhaps by a little meme flow between the two groups, and other times, it will force a split and create a new group, the cultural equivalent of a speciation event. The Jesopolytheites are born. And lo they did eat their ice-cream upon their mighty pogo sticks to they might reach the heights of the mighty pantheon of deities that they might dip their cones in the warm chocolate of our Lord and carry their prayers on high to the creator of all.

Quote:Now, I know that not all Christians believe that Jesus was actually born of a virgin, but for many of them, the accuracy of this translation determines whether or not their saviour was divinely conceived.

Exactly. And that difference in belief, virgin birth or no, that mutation, might be adaptive, maladaptive or exaptive. It could be decided that one was right over the other, it could be a hot topic by the punch bowl, it could be incredibly divisive, it could force Martin Luther to staple some stuff to a door, and all manner of other things.

Quote:This is pretty much what A History of God says about early religions. I.e. they were pragmatic and did what worked for them without worrying too much about the philosophical questions. I know that language works like this too, and I'm glad you pointed this out ^.^

I don't think that's quite my meaning. I don't think that the not worrying factors into anything. I think that most theologists spend a great deal of time agonising over the details. Mutation isn't about negligence. It's just a part of what Dennett refers to as the evolutionary algorithm.

Quote:I know this is a lot of detailed semantics that doesn't really affect the overall message of the books, but I find it fascinating to trace the history of the translations Perhaps I'm the only one?

Nah, dude, it's neat. It's like looking at the fossil record to see the evolutionary links between humans and amphibians. The Protestant church split from the Catholic Church and then divided further and eventually led to the Unitarians, religion’s platypus.

Peace and Love and Empathy,

Matt
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