On Biblical Translator Mentality

Quoted by Brian Abasciano. Originally from Douglas Stuart Old Testament Exegesis: A Primer for Students and Pastors (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 4th ed., 2009)

All the modern translations (and all the ancient ones for that matter) have been produced either by committees working against time deadlines or by individuals who cannot possibly know the whole Bible so well in the original that they produce flawless renderings at every point. Moreover, in the modern business of Bible publishing, the more “different” a translation is, the more risk there is that it will not sell. Thus there is a pressure on translators, committees, publisher’s, and others responsible to keep renderings conservative in meaning, even though, happily, usually up-to-date in idiomatic language. Finally, most people hate to go out on a limb with a translation in print. Many translation problems are matters of ambiguity: there is more than one way to construe the original. But space limitations do not permit translators to offer an explanation every time they might wish to render something from the original in a truly new way. So they almost always err on the side of caution. As a result, all modern translations tend, albeit with perfectly good intentions, to be overly “safe” and traditional. In the working of a translation committee, the lone genius is usually outvoted by the cautious majority.

Therefore, every so often you might actually produce a better translation than others have done, because you can invest much more time exegeting your passage than the individuals or committees were able to afford because of the speed at which they were required to work.

Leave a Reply